Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The Richard Bigley Lofts is a very rare and small loft conversion just east of the downtown core, with interesting ties to stoves and the Eaton Centre

History of the Richard Bigley Lofts

This rare and desirable loft conversion was originally built in 1875 (according to the carving on the building) and is named after its builder. In the late 1990s, it was converted into 3 massive hard lofts, each on its own floor. The building has a large brick and tile lobby, indoor parking, very large windows and significant architectural details. City council voted it into the Toronto Heritage Building Inventory in June of 1973.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The Richard Bigley Lofts is a great anachronism against the backdrop of modern Toronto

The Richard Bigley Lofts are gorgeous open spaces – and each loft has its own private elevator access. I have only ever seen one for sale, they just don’t come up for sale very often. Maybe once a decade… maybe… Arches carved into the side of the original building (obscuring part of the original painted sign) create light along the side of the lofts. Windows have been installed around them to create lightwells, almost atriums.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Light pours into the Richard Bigley Lofts through the arches in the side of the building

The Richard Bigley building does have underground parking, and the lofts come with large lockers. Maintenance fees are quite reasonable (as of 2010) and are less than $0.40/sf including parking and lockers. The lofts are huge, around 2,200-2,400 square feet each. They have 11-foot ceilings and are filled with marble, granite, and other luxury finishes. The top floor unit has an incredible private rooftop terrace with city views to die for.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The Richard Bigley Lofts is one of the last remnants of the 19th century this close to downtown

The Richard Bigley lofts are extremely spacious, with versatile open concept living areas that are perfect for entertaining. The master bedrooms have ensuites and some units have gas fireplace. Expect to find maple hardwood floors in this exclusive boutique loft conversion in a great downtown location.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Each loft in the Richard Bigley building is long, with light to the interior coming from lightwells or skylights

The building’s namesake, Richard Bigley, was born in 1857 and went into business as a young man, but later became a well-known man about town by selling the Happy Thought line of stoves (“‘Grate’ Happiness at Home” promised an 1885 ad in the Globe). The building that bears his name was finished in 1875. As for Bigley, when he died in 1933 he was eulogized in the papers as a “noted stove man.” He had been operating out of 92-94 Queen Street East for years before, which is still there and is currently a pawn shop. It is pretty neat to see the two buildings side by side, to see the change in his fortunes! Oddly enough, there is a note in the Irish Canadian newspaper of 1887 mentioning his base of operations being 92 and 94 Queen Street east. But 98 Queen had been built more than 10 years earlier, in 1875.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

One of Richard Bigley’s ads, date and publication unknown. Must have been prior to 1920 when the William Buck Stove Co. changed its name to the Happy Thought Foundry Company.

Richard Bigley was a furnace and stove dealer who built his reputation as the Toronto distributor for Happy Thought stoves. He started selling stoves and gradually expanded his business into distributing furnaces across the province. He retired in the mid 1920’s due to ill health and spent his remaining years living in Parkdale, passing away in 1933.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

It is incredible that Bigley’s name and the date stone have survived all these years

The stoves were never manufactured in Toronto. Mr. Bigley was just the local agent for the William Buck Stove Company / Happy Thought Foundry Co. Ltd in Brantford. The Happy Thought Foundry made stoves and furnaces, known for their “Garnet” furnace model. Bigley sold the Happy Thought line of ranges, and sold cookbooks out of the building on Queen Street East.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The Happy Thought Foundry in Brantford around the turn of the century

The Happy Thought stove brand was first manufactured by the William Buck Stove Company of Brantford, Ontario. William Buck started making stoves in the 1850s at the Victoria Stove Works on Colborne Street. The company was incorporated as the William Buck Stove Company in 1897. William Buck died suddenly of heart disease on July 15, 1897. The factory relocated, first to the Brant Avenue and West Street corner and then to Elgin Street. As well as stoves they also manufactured heavy castings, furnaces, and gas ranges. The mounting department of the Buck Stove Works was destroyed by fire at a loss of approximately $75,000 in May of 1920 after which The McClary Company of London, Ontario purchased the plant. The factory became known as the Happy Thought Foundry Company. The Happy Thought Foundry was included when the McClary Company merged with the Thomas Davidson Manufacturing Company of Montreal and became General Steel Wares Limited. The Happy Thought Foundry Company closed at the end of 1931 when all manufacturing was moved to London, Ontario.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

1923 ad for Happy Thought ranges and furnaces from the Port Dover Maple Leaf

Happy Thought Ranges were adapted to burning wood, coal, or gas, according to information on the inside front face of the binding of a cookbook they sold in 1890. Interesting note, the cook book was printed by Toronto Lithographic Co., before it became Stone Ltd. in 1909, later to become Rolph Clark Stone which left us the Printing Factory Lofts on Carlaw. William Buck must also have been producing Happy Thought merchandise before the company changed hands, as witnessed by the 1890 cookbook bearing that product line’s name.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Happy thoughts promotional catalogue from 1899, printed by the Toronto Lithographic Co.

Declared a heritage property in 1973, the Richard Bigley Building was converted to lofts as the twentieth century drew to a close. The building has been a landmark since 1875 and, in addition to the sign at the front of the building, it has a very large ghost sign, still discernible, on the west side of the building. Many believe this to be the oldest ghost sign in Toronto. The Richard Bigley building fronts on Queen Street East, and backs on to the laneway extending between Mutual Street and Jarvis Street, north of Queen Street.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

You can just make out the remains of “IGLEY” on the side of the Richard Bigley Lofts. Unfortunately the creation of the arches / light well has destroyed some of it.

Local residents have worked hard to clean up and maintain the laneway running north of the lofts and requested that the laneway be named in honour of Richard Bigley. On Friday June 21 2013, there was a Lane Naming Ceremony and Street Sign Unveiling. The Richard Bigley Lofts now back onto Richard Bigley Lane, which seems only fitting. There are tons of cool things going on with Toronto’s laneways. Check The Laneway Project to see what’s happening with the city’s hidden gems.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Maria Pede and Nicholas from the Garden District Residents Association pose with City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam at the unveiling of Richard Bigley Lane

In the 1970s, Bigley’s building little building spawned a giant one: this was where architect Eb Zeidler drew up plans for the Eaton Centre. He designed the Eaton Centre in 1973, so one would assume his company – Partnership Architects – was located in the Bigley building at least as early as then. An interview in the Globe and Mail has him moving his company to Toronto (from Peterborough of all places) prior to 1972. He is noted in a 1975 book of contemporary architects as being at 98 Queen Street East. And in the photo from 1979 we see his company name still in the window.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The Richard Bigley building in 1979, with Eb Zeidler’s Partner Architects on the main floor. Many iconic Toronto buildings were designed here.

Zeidler’s career was one major project after another. He was the architect for the hospital at McMaster University beginning in 1968. He was developed Ontario Place between 1968 and 1971, and developed plans for Harbour City that were never fulfilled. Eaton Centre was the dominant project from 1969-1977 – and the firm is still working at the Eaton Centre. He led the redevelopment of Queen’s Quay in 1979-1988, an imaginative project working within the existing warehouse building. During the 1980s he was the master architect at Yerba Buena, a three block development in San Francisco, and was also the architect for a hotel and a shopping centre within the development. He also designed the little-known, but very cool, Market Galleria Condos at 71 Front Street East. It has the same style atrium as the Eaton Centre. Many of these projects would have been drawn up in the Richard Bigley building.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The atrium of the Market Galleria Condos at 71 Front Street East

I cannot find any information on who was in the building from Bigley’s retirement in 1922 through to Zeidler’s time there in the 1970s. Nor is there anything from the 1980s into the mid-1990s. In 1996, there was a listing on MLS showing the owner as the Sun Life Trust Company. They were renting out 4 commercial/office spaces at the time. They sold it in 1997. A company called Motion Picture Guarantors Inc. shows up as first offering loft style spaces in 1997. Then 572550 Ontario Limited shows up as a subsequent seller.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

A surviving Happy Thought stove

On a side note. Douglas Leiterman founded Motion Picture Guarantors Inc., in the 1970s in Canada and The Motion Picture Bond Company Ltd., in the 1980s, the second largest completion bond company in the world for motion pictures. Completion bonds are a a financial contract that insures a given project will be completed even if the producer runs out of money, or any measure of financial or other impediment occurs during the production of the project. Leiterman was originally a television producer. Leiterman got his start in journalism in British Columbia, before becoming a correspondent on Parliament Hill in Ottawa for the Southam News Service. His television credits include This Hour Has Seven Days which he co-produced with Patrick Watson from 1964 to 1966. It was the second most popular CBC program. After that series was cancelled, Leiterman joined CBS to provide advice for the development of the 60 Minutes series. He produced a special “Sixteen in Webster Grove” for CBS. He produced other series such as “The Fabulous Sixties” and “Here Come the Seventies” for CTV from 1969 to 1972. He produced documentaries for the United Nations and a nature film documentary series. He founded Wired City Communications, a cable company in Toronto, in the 1970s. He passed away in Florida in late 2012.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

This Hour Has Seven Days, one of the CBC’s most popular programs of the 1960s.

One is led to wonder if he ever worked in the old CBC building at 90 Sumach. The timing is certainly right. I would love to be able to connect the Richard Bigley Lofts with the Lofts at 90 Sumach (nee the Brewery Lofts) in addition to its connection to the Printing Factory Lofts on Carlaw Avenue. It can be a small world sometimes!

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Richard Bigley mentioned in the Irish Canadian newspaper in 1887

The MLS listing in 1996 states the building as being just under 23,000 square feet. But it seems that the wing fronting onto Mutual Street (#3 Mutual) was severed and sold off, as it is now a separate property. I cannot figure out how 23,000 square feet turned into 3 lofts of 2,500 square feet each. Where did 15,450 square feet go? The Mutual Street wing (built in 1901) is smaller than the building at 98 Queen…

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The 1901 building at 3 Mutual Street, of unknown provenance

3 Mutual is 5,500 square feet: 1,375 square feet per floor on 4 floors. That building was sold off by Motion Picture Guarantors Inc. in 1997 and was then turned into luxury loft rentals. The owner/converter/landlord then sold it in 2008 and it should still be a cool rental loft building today.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

More of the great historical architecture along Queen Street East

Now we have 7,500 + 5,500 square feet accounted for. Still almost 10,000 missing square feet. No retail on the main floor… I can only assume that when it was sold by Sun Life, they noted the address as 98-102 Queen, so it probably included part of the block next door, where the Mohammad Yousof Rug Company is. Land registry shows 102 Queen as a separate lot, so that makes sense.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

The lobby of the Richard Bigley Lofts at 98 Queen Street East

Back to 98 Queen Street East – it seems there were live/work lofts being sold in 1997, not sure how well that went. In 2000, there are MLS listings from Live/Work Inc. noting that the condo is not yet registered. The gospel date had always been 1999 when they were converted, but it seems like the process went from 1997 to 2000.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

Great detail of the Richard Bigley Lofts with nameplate and lovely arched window

Regardless, the Richard Bigley Lofts are rare and unusual… these are some of the most exclusive and extraordinary units in the Toronto loft market. Each of the three lofts occupies its own floor and has its own private elevator, as well as gorgeous hardwood floors, soaring eleven-foot ceilings with floor-to-ceiling bay windows from which you can enjoy breathtaking city panoramas.

Richard Bigley Lofts – 98 Queen Street East

More historical buildings along King Street East

Close to King Street East’s quickly developing restaurant scene, complete with multiple venues for live music – as well as the neighbourhood’s high-end furniture stores – everything is at your front door. The Financial District is close enough to mean that work is a short walk away. The Queen streetcar out front connects you to the rest of the city. With such easy accessibility and your own private elevator to whisk you away to your secluded loft oasis, how can you go wrong with the exclusivity rich heritage of the Richard Bigley Lofts?

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