Sunday, March 16, 2014



You have to hand it to the Toronto school board. The province really doesn't allow it to do much but trustees and educrats can be dumb, dumber and dumbest when they fumble to a decision.
The routine task was to build a room at the end of an old elementary school building that had a fame because of its simple but classic lines.
Not only did the contractors start before school ended with noisy equipment beside Grade One and kindergarten classes, which are notorious for being easily disrupted, they kept working all summer and produced a shack of a room that a chicken farmer might consider as an office.
For the time, money and equipment consumed, you would have thought it was a start on City Hall, which is, indeed, what the first architect built.
The dunderheads involved in this would think a pimple on Mona Lisa's face was a beauty spot.
For five decades, I have lived across from Sunnylea Junior School in the Royal York and Bloor area. My sons and grandsons have gone to school there, I have played basketball and volleyball against the neighbours in the little gym, and I've watched as generations of teenagers gobble beer and trade drugs  in the strip parking lot where the stern signs say for staff only.
So much for watching your taxes at work.
Once upon a time, when the original school was replaced in 1947, the creation was hailed as "modernist" and cited as a model for school construction in Canada. Lots of light from all the glass brick. Each classroom with an outside door. Pleasant halls. I have read a critique that called the lean post-war construction the best example of its kind in the province. It resembles an internationally famous school that Eeron Saarinen built at Crow Island in Illinois.
The legendary Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus design school that left it mark on the world,  probably talked about it at Harvard where one of his students was John C. Parkin, who returned to Toronto as an influential architect and planner and formed a prominent firm with John B. Parkin. (Believe it or not, they weren't related.)
Their famous creations dot Toronto, led by famous City Hall. Viljo Revell may have the justified fame as the architect but Canadian regs required him to have Canadian associates. The Parkins really took over when he died before his creation was finished.
John B. went off and founded a California office, leaving John C. to move easily like a tailored baron among Toronto society, particularly the ladies.
 The Sun hired him to design its headquarters, which has now been drawn and quartered like a butchered beef by other companies, and he became a familiar face at the wonderful parties that Doug Creighton gave as the blithe spirit who made the Sun a success.
It was the era of developer paranoia. Creighton boasted to me that the Sun building was going to be only 44' 6" high to get around Mayor David Crombie's 45-foot-bylaw. Except what people kept missing was that council would approve taller buildings if they weren't extreme. I made that argument to Creighton and Parkin but they didn't trust politicians. We added another three stories later.
I had plenty of opportunity to tell John C. about how well Sunnylea worked.. You see, it wasn't that remarkable, a showboat of design. Most have probably never given it a second glance. However, it just made sense in its function, the way teachers and kids used it. It's the highest praise you can give a building!
Ironically, enrolment shrank in the 1980s to such an extent that the school was going to be closed. Quite a fate when it had had fame as an elite "advancement" school. Then it was rented to an Ukrainian group which included some of the worst parkers in the western world.
It returned from ethnicity when the birthrate of the neighbourhood soared along with the incomes, bringing the menace of monster homes, meandering nannies and harried female drivers. When the provincial Liberals hit on expanded kindergarten as an election gimmick, Sunnylea had to grow by one room. So we got a prefab tool shed. Probably took an hour to work up the plans. Too bad there wasn't some hot young architect around with enough sense not to bugger up the clean lines from the hotshot of 60 years ago.
But then these days six decades is considered, stupidly, an eternity for a building. They opened BMO Field in 2007 and now they want to make $100 million in alteration for a team that used to play a few feet away in a stadium that was 50 years old when it was demolished using the $5.5 million set aside for repairs.
 With loony politicians planning like that, it's a miracle that structures like the Colosseum are still around after 2,000 years.
When officials can't build a simple room to match an entire school, they should be sent back to kindergarten and given a remedial course in building blocks.

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