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 surrounding 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 wharves.
The Gooderham Building & Its Architecture
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 N.Y.C.’s by a decade.
In 1957, the Gooderham estate sold the structure. In 1973, the building received heritage designation from the city.
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 like it’s pinned to the building and 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 C.N. 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 of 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 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. He had 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.
- In 2011, Woodcliffe Landmark Properties completed the restoration of this iconic building. The development firm restores heritage properties, including The Shops of Summerhill and the C.P.R. North Toronto Station.
Gooderham “Flatiron” Building Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 49 Wellington St E
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 49-51 Wellington St E
- Canada’s Historic Places: 49 Wellington St E
- Distillery District Heritage
- History Flatiron Building
- Waterfront Toronto: History & Heritage
- Woodcliffe Landmark Properties: Gooderham Flatiron Building
- The Globe Newspaper Archives: May 2, 1905, pg 1
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Oct 12, 2011, pg A3
- Toronto Star Newspaper Archives: Dec 15, 2011, pg B4
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & Toronto Public Library
- Vintage Map: Atlas of the City of Toronto 1912 by Chas E Goad from the Toronto Public Library