Gooderham “Flatiron” Building – One of Toronto’s Most Famous Gems

1898 - Looking west towards the Gooderham Building, along Front St E and Wellington St E
1898 – Looking west towards the Gooderham Building, along Front St E and Wellington St E (Toronto Public Library r-6249)

The Gooderham “Flatiron” Building is located at 49 Wellington St E (at Church St and Front St E) in the Old Town, St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.

The Coffin Block

In the early 1800s, Front St E followed the very nearby shoreline of Lake Ontario. It was most noticeable in the area bound by Front St E, Scott St, Wellington St E and Church St as it created a triangular-shaped block. The point was especially visible at the eastern tip of the wedge where Wellington St E and Front St E converged. In the 1830s, The Coffin Block was built at the point. Aptly nicknamed, the structure ominously resembled a coffin.

At the time, the area that surrounded The Coffin Block was the downtown core of Toronto, hence the name of the neighbourhood, Old Town. Not only was it a high foot and horse traffic area, but it was also home to the wharfs.

The Gooderham Building & Its Architecture

2020 - The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west
2020 – The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west

George Gooderham of Gooderham & Worts Limited wanted to move his corporate head office from the distillery to the then financial centre of Toronto. Mr Gooderham commissioned architect David Roberts Jr to design a building for the unusually shaped property.

Combining modern Gothic and Romanesque Revival architectural styles, the five-storey red brick building sits on a foundation of Ohio sandstone. It has a steeply pitched mansard roof with dormers on the north and south sides. The prestigious tower at the east end features windows with curved glass and sashes along with a steep conical copper roof topped with a decorative finial.

Mr Gooderham’s office was at the top of the tower. When completed in 1892, the Gooderham Building was the city’s most expensive office building constructed in its time at the cost of $18,000. It was also home to one of Toronto’s first manually operated elevators. It remained the office of Gooderham & Worts until 1952.

Also Known as The Flatiron Building

Because of the similarities to New York City’s famous skyscraper, the Gooderham Building is sometimes referred to as The Flatiron Building. Toronto’s building predates NYC’s by a decade.

In 1957, the Gooderham estate sold the structure. In 1973, the building received heritage designation from the City.

The Mural

2020 - The trompe l'oeil wall mural by Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant, on the west side of the Gooderham Building
2020 – The trompe l’oeil wall mural by Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant, on the west side of the Gooderham Building

On the west side of the building, overlooking Berczy Park, is an incredible trompe-l’oeil mural. Painted in 1980 by Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant, the mural looks as though it’s pinned to the building and is blowing in the wind. With a three-dimensional appearance, the faux facade artwork features windows from other 19th-century buildings in the area.

Over the Years

While the building has had a few owners throughout the years, it has also been preserved and renovated. In 1999, the 20,000 sq ft Gooderham Building sold for $2.2 million, in 2005 for $10.1 million and in 2011 for $15 million.

Today it’s one of Toronto’s most recognized and photographed structures, second to the CN Tower. It’s home to offices, commercial space and a pub.

Who was George Gooderham?

George was the son of William Gooderham, co-founder of the world-renowned distillery Gooderham & Worts. Known as a tower of strength in the business community, Mr Gooderham was the President Gooderham & Worts as well as the President of Bank of Toronto and Manufacturer’s Life Insurance Company.

Along with being a financier, George invested in mining, railways and even the hotel industry, building the King Edward Hotel. When he passed away in 1905, Mr George Gooderham was recorded as the wealthiest person in Ontario.

Did You Know?

  • In the early Town of York, the harbour was once was close to Front St. It took several decades for land south of The Esplanade to be filled and was not completed until the 1950s.
  • The Gooderham Building is close to other heritage properties, including the Cathedral Church of St James , St Lawrence Hall and St Lawrence Market.
  • There’s an underground tunnel from the Gooderham Building to the Bank of Toronto that once stood across the street at 60 Wellington St E.
  • Keeping it in the family, Mr Roberts father, David Roberts Sr, also a skilled architect, worked for Gooderham & Worts. In what we know today as the Distillery District, Mr Roberts Sr designed the Stone Distillery (1860) and much of the milling and distilling machinery. When his father retired, David Roberts Jr became the primary architect for Gooderham & Worts and has many structures to his credit in the Distillery District, including the Pure Spirits complex and Rack House D.
  • David Roberts Jr designed Mr Goodherham’s mansion located on the northeast corner of Bloor St W and St George St. The heritage property today is home to The York Club.
  • Gooderham & Worts was one of Toronto’s largest employers and one of the world’s leading spirits-producing companies.

Gooderham “Flatiron” Building Photos

2020 - The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west
2020 – The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west
1972 - Looking west towards the Gooderham Building, along Front St E and Wellington St E from Church St
1972 – Looking west towards the Gooderham Building, along Front St E and Wellington St E from Church St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 428)
2020 - The Flatiron Mural on the west side of the Gooderham Building
2020 – The Flatiron Mural on the west side of the Gooderham Building
1970's - Berczy Park and the back of the Gooderham "Flatiron" Building, looking southeast
1970’s – Berczy Park and the back of the Gooderham “Flatiron” Building, looking southeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 470, Item 16)
1970's - An aerial view of Wellington St E, Scott St and Front St E with the Gooderham Building near the top left
1970’s – An aerial view of Wellington St E, Scott St and Front St E with the Gooderham Building near the top left (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 470, Item 1)
1898 - The Gooderham Building, looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from Church St
1898 – The Gooderham Building, looking west along Front St E and Wellington St E from Church St (Toronto Public Library r-6249)
2020 - The Gooderham Building at 49 Wellington St E, looking southwest
2020 – The Gooderham Building at 49 Wellington St E, looking southwest
1983 - The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west
1983 – The Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 351, Item 13)
1972 - The eastern tip of the Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west
1972 – The eastern tip of the Gooderham Building at Wellington St E and Front St E, looking west (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 69, Item 35)
2020 - The top of the tower at the Gooderham Building featuring ogee arches above the windows and a steep conical copper roof topped with an ornamental finial
2020 – The top of the tower at the Gooderham Building featuring ogee arches above the windows and a steep conical copper roof topped with an ornamental finial
1983 - The Flatiron Building and the CN Tower, looking west
1983 – The Flatiron Building and the CN Tower, looking west (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 623, Item 10)
2020 - The north entrance of the Gooderham Building
2020 – The north entrance of the Gooderham Building
2020 - The north side of the Gooderham Building on Wellington St E
2020 – The north side of the Gooderham Building on Wellington St E
2020 - The trompe l'oeil wall mural by Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant, on the west side of the Gooderham Building
2020 – The trompe l’oeil wall mural by Canadian artist Derek Michael Besant, on the west side of the Gooderham Building
2021 - Decorative stone carving with the completion date of 1892, on the south side of the Flatiron Building
2021 – Decorative stone carving with the completion date of 1892, on the south side of the Flatiron Building
2021 - The Gooderham Building tower and south side
2021 – The Gooderham Building tower and south side
1968 - An aerial view of the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood, looking east
1968 – An aerial view of the St Lawrence Market neighbourhood, looking east (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, ID 25)
2020 - The Gooderham "Flatiron" Building heritage plaque
2020 – The Gooderham “Flatiron” Building heritage plaque
1912 – Goads Map showing the location of the Gooderham Building (Toronto Public Library )
1872 - The Coffin Block stood at Wellington St E and Front St E prior to the Gooderham Building
1872 – The Coffin Block stood at Wellington St E and Front St E prior to the Gooderham Building (Toronto Public Library r-6243)
1838 - Sketch showing the fish market at Toronto Harbour, looking west from the foot of today's Jarvis St and Front St E, with The Coffin Block in the background
1838 – Sketch showing the fish market at Toronto Harbour, looking west from the foot of today’s Jarvis St and Front St E, with The Coffin Block in the background (Toronto Public Library b1-26b)
2021 - The York Club, formerly George Gooderham's mansion at Bloor St W and St George St, northeast corner
2021 – The York Club, formerly George Gooderham’s mansion at Bloor St W and St George St, northeast corner
1892 - George Gooderham's mansion at Bloor St W and St George St, northeast corner
1892 – George Gooderham’s mansion at Bloor St W and St George St, northeast corner (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 3049)
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