Admittedly, I’ve never been to Harry’s. I’m absolutely certain that the love it earned in Parkdale over its 48 years was both earned and well-deserved. Though I’m not familiar with Harry’s itself, the story is one I believe we’re all familiar with. The family-owned establishment becomes a neighbourhood staple, the owners retire, and a new one comes in with promises not to radically alter what has been established. The promises are often broken as the new owners soon discover that the business fundamentals weren’t as healthy as the community love or that an entrepreneur close to retirement is rarely motivated by future growth. Sometimes, as is the case with Boushey’s on Elgin street here in Ottawa, the retirement means the end of business entirely. For the purposes of this story, however, it is not actually Harry’s that has captured my imagination as such,1Though I do now regret not stopping in at least once on my walks in the area. but rather it is the smart midcentury retail plaza on King West between Jameson and Springhurst that has served as its home that has.
For most of its developed existence until 1955, Parkdale’s Jameson Avenue had the same built character as the overall neighbourhood: single family homes. By then, of course, many of them had been subdivided into apartments and – quite commonly – into rooming houses. The 1957 amendments made to the city’s comprehensive zoning bylaw squelched the construction of apartments in most parts of the city, though as a number of apartment projects along Jameson were already in the planning stages, it was exempted, sparking a construction bonanza along the short street.2Thomas Sloan. “Avenue Paved in Argument: A building boom and a bylaw battle rage on this half-mile Toronto street,” Globe and Mail, December 25, 1959, p. 10.
It should be noted that 1955 was also the year that construction began on the Gardiner Expressway, with Jameson being being chosen as the new highway’s exit to both the Parkdale and Roncesvalles neighbourhoods. This promised quick access to and from the neighbourhood, making it a particularly attractive target for developers.
One of the lead personalities behind Jameson’s dramatic makeover was Alex Grossman and his Belmont Construction.3Belmont Construction was founded in 1955 by Grossman, had taken off rapidly, and quickly became one of the largest residential property developers in Toronto. By 1960, there were 20 apartment buildings that had either been completed or were on the way on Jameson, and seven of them were Grossman’s. Although residents may have, the City did not necessarily see a problem: the taxable assessment of the street increased from $1.5 million to $7 million in five short years.4Sloan (1959).
In 1959, the Globe and Mail reported that the Toronto Planning Board had begun studies of both the Parkdale district and Avenue Road north of MacPherson to understand how the introduction of miniature shopping plazas would serve to alleviate traffic. The idea was to gauge the performance of small plazas, labouring under the apprehension that too much land had been zoned commercial previously. The site north of MacPherson was selected as the result of the Avenue Road widening project and Springhurst due to the rapid construction of apartments along Jameson in Parkdale.5”City Planners Study Miniature Shopping Plazas,” Globe and Mail, October 8, 1959, p. 1. It should not have come as a surprise that Belmont Construction had just such a plan in the works. Given council approval, construction was projected to begin in February of 1960. According to Grossman, the plan for a commercial development was an “indication of his faith” that the area would not be “a future slum area.”6Sloan (1959).
Grossman received his approval and construction began on time. Kinhurst Plaza and its new tenants opened during the Spring of 1961. Among the notable establishments to sign on early with the project were Shea’s Parkdale Bowl, a Dominion Grocer, Taylor’s Drive-In Cleaners, and a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia. In 1962, in the office building portion were Bi-Rite Drugs, Post Office Sub-station No. 181, Curran’s Beauty Salon, the Kinhurst Plaza Barber Shop, and that most indispensable of restaurants, a Scott’s Chicken Villa.7Might’s City of Toronto Directory, 1962.
Unlike his other commercial development at Yonge and St. Clair, it does not seem to be the case that Grossman faced much – if any – opposition to his commercial development. In the case of the former (which included a 10-storey office), the ire of the Deer Park Residents’ Association was aroused and included a successful appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.8”Residents’ Association Protests: Approve Offices, Supermarket on St. Clair W.,” Globe and Mail, December 10, 1959, p. 1; Stanley Westall. “Metropolitan Toronto: Don’t Forget the Promises,” Globe and Mail, December 11, 1959, p. 7; “OMB Supports City’s Opposition To Rezoning Bid,” Globe and Mail, July 5, 1962, p. 4.
|↥ 1||Though I do now regret not stopping in at least once on my walks in the area.|
|↥ 2||Thomas Sloan. “Avenue Paved in Argument: A building boom and a bylaw battle rage on this half-mile Toronto street,” Globe and Mail, December 25, 1959, p. 10.|
|↥ 3||Belmont Construction was founded in 1955 by Grossman, had taken off rapidly, and quickly became one of the largest residential property developers in Toronto.|
|↥ 4||Sloan (1959).|
|↥ 5||”City Planners Study Miniature Shopping Plazas,” Globe and Mail, October 8, 1959, p. 1.|
|↥ 6||Sloan (1959).|
|↥ 7||Might’s City of Toronto Directory, 1962.|
|↥ 8||”Residents’ Association Protests: Approve Offices, Supermarket on St. Clair W.,” Globe and Mail, December 10, 1959, p. 1; Stanley Westall. “Metropolitan Toronto: Don’t Forget the Promises,” Globe and Mail, December 11, 1959, p. 7; “OMB Supports City’s Opposition To Rezoning Bid,” Globe and Mail, July 5, 1962, p. 4.|