If you’re an architectural history geek in the market to buy some property, your dream home might be waiting in Corso Italia.
The semi-detached house at 133 Boon Ave., a few blocks northeast of Dufferin St. and St Clair Ave. W., boasts 2.5 storeys, fours bedrooms and two bathrooms, front and back porches, a walkout basement, and is listed for a mere (by Toronto standards) $799,000.
What makes this house unique? It hasn’t been on the market since 1919.
“A hundred years within one family, that’s pretty rare,” said Simon Wright, one of the realtors representing the house.
He said the home has remained in the same family since it was last on the market 100 years ago, owned first by a woman named Jamie Shaw and later by her relative, Alan Shaw, who died in December. The sale is now being handled by an estate trustee.
Not only does the century home come with a smaller price tag — data from the Toronto Real Estate Board reported the average price for a semi-detached home in the city of Toronto was $911,100 last month — but, according to Winnipeg-based architect and columnist Brent Bellamy, it’s a rare opportunity to experience a piece of history.
“Especially in a market like Toronto, I think there’s good investment in redoing the inside completely, but this one … doesn’t look like it’s been renovated,” he said. “People like the quality of old houses, the craftsmanship and that handmade quality, but they definitely like new kitchens and those kinds of things, so it’s pretty rare to see a house that’s factory original.”
While it’s unclear how much the house was bought for back in 1919, records of similar homes for sale in Toronto that year show an average price of around $2,500 (about $36,000 adjusted for inflation). Property records for the home show it had a registered mortgage of $1,500 when it was transferred from Jessie to Alan in 1946 for $1.
“(Alan) was born in the house, actually right on the dining room table,” said Bob Barnett, the executer of Alan Shaw’s estate.
According to Barnett, Shaw was a radio operator in the Second World War, before working in the post office. He died at age 97, in the veteran’s wing of Sunnybrook hospital.
In his will, Shaw split his assets between the Bruce Trail Conservancy and the Escarpment Biosphere Conservancy, Barnett said.
Wright said a Syrian family briefly inhabited the house from April 2018 and until April of this year as part of a refugee sponsorship group managed by the estate, but otherwise the home has remained empty since Shaw’s death.
Aside from the now-enclosed porch, which would have originally been open, and some renovations to one of the bathrooms, the home has mostly kept its original configuration, Wright said.
The house’s age is in line with many other turn-of-the-century homes in the Corso Italia neighbourhood, but in staying off the market for a century it has avoided the structural and design changes new owners might have made in pursuit of trendiness.
“There are some interesting wallpaper patterns in the house,” Wright said. “And the stairs that go up to the third floor loft are pretty tight, almost like a ladder, but it’s an interesting space up there.”
Architect Bellamy pointed to the wood trim along the walls, floors, doors and windows as evidence of the house’s contemporary design elements, as well as the glass doors, narrow staircases and more closed-off rooms.
“Typically we now design houses with the great room and the kitchen overlooking the living room, but in the old days houses were more compartmentalized,” he said.
In the ’70s and ’80s especially, many old houses would have had the contrasting wood trim either removed or painted white, and walls were often shifted or removed to open up the floor plan. While some of the trim in this house has been painted out, Bellamy said, some rooms still have the dark, contrasting colour that was fashionable in the early 1900s.
Wright couldn’t confirm the house’s exact age, estimating it to be somewhere around 1910. Bellamy pegged it at not much older than 1919 due to the seemingly original forced air heating, which would have been an uncommon feature at that time.
“Most old houses like that had radiator heat,” he said, noting the ornate grilles likely mean the heating system is original to the house.
Joey Giaimo, a heritage conservation architect and principal at Giaimo architecture firm, said the house is a “modest version of an Edwardian house” that might have been influenced by other local neighbourhoods, noting the Annex had similar Edwardian-style houses that were much larger.
“Because this house is part of a larger subdivision, a lot of the subdivision homes are sort of stripped-down versions of (an) architectural style.”
He said while modern buyers still want open-concept houses, he’s noticed a demand for more closed-off spaces — like the ones this home offers.
“It’s going back, in a way, to the way early 20th-century houses were designed in Toronto,” he said.
Historical records back up Bellamy’s claim that a house like this is a “unique find.” According to 2016 census data from Statistics Canada, only 4.7 per cent of houses in Toronto are 100 years or older.
Though Toronto ranks sixth on the list of Canadian cities with the most houses 100-year-old houses (Winnipeg is first with 9 per cent), Bellamy says this number is surprisingly high considering the city’s size and development pressure.
“That’s pretty impressive, for people not to have lost very many old houses,” he said. “It speaks to the character of the city.
Wright, when asked about the state of the house’s electrical and plumbing systems, said the new buyer may want to make some upgrades, noting “I would expect that there will be some sort of renovation that new owners will take on … but I think it’s a diverse field of people who would be interested.”
But Bellamy says he hopes the new homeowner will resist making alterations.
“If it was redone it would probably be worth way more, but hopefully they find someone who really appreciates the historic character of it,” he said.
“I might buy it,” he joked. “If I did that, I wouldn’t change anything.”
With files from Sherina Harris, Raneem Alozzi and Emma Sandri
Rhianna Jackson-Kelso is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @RhiannaJK