King West has undergone a great deal of development over the past 25 years. What was once a desolate stretch of King West has become a thriving condo community. Amongst the few remaining relics from the past is the now iconic Palace Arms at the corner of King and Strachan. As with a lot of historic properties, the 130-year old Palace Arms building that has been used as a rooming house for the socially and economically disenfranchised is now being wrecked and demolished, and replaced with – you guessed it – condos.
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As derelict as Liberty Village/King West’s classic Palace Arms building is, it’s been a major part of Toronto history in this part of the city. Constructed in 1890 in a Romanesque Revival architecture design as a hotel, it’s been many things to many people in its history. Since the 1970s, it’s been purposed as a rooming house specifically for men struggling with alcohol, drug issues, and mental illness. For these people, when they’ve had no place else to turn, Palace Arms was a place they could come for some respite.
Now, Palace Arms is set to be removed and in its place will be a 16-storey residential condo development. Some of the original building will remain and/or be incorporated into the final design. Prior to leaving in May 2014 however 14 tenants remained in the building. Further complicating things, the building doesn’t actually have a rooming house license, according to the City of Toronto. The tenants remaining are expected gone by the time construction is to begin.
It’s not necessarily the people living there or the demolition of the historic building that has people up in arms about having another condo in the neighborhood. As communicated in a community consultation meeting this past March with councillor Joe Cressy, people just don’t like the way the building looks. The Liberty Village Residents Association (LVRA) have also received dozens of comments from people calling the design ‘ugly’ and disputing the actual shape of the architecture.
Regarding the architecture design, even the City has stated the design is not supported in its current form. There are also questions regarding whether it will adhere to heritage policies and the loss in affordable housing is no doubt going to be a hit for people who used to live here.
Currently, a final report based off of recent consultations are expected before summer 2019. A new design for the Palace Arms property is expected and some of the concerns expressed by Liberty Village residents are no doubt on the table to be addressed.
Is it worth it to keep the Palace Arms open – unfortunately, it doesn’t appear so. There’s more revenues for the City in a condo development here than in keeping the Palace Arms open. Though it’s a heritage property, the Palace Arms is also in terrible physical condition. A restoration would be far too expensive with current owner Rod Bell suggesting it to be infeasible.
For some, the Palace Arms demolition will be yet another sign of gentrification in Toronto with little concern given to the most disenfranchised. As affordable housing continues to grow increasingly scarce, it’s unclear the long-term impact a lack of respite shelters will have. Looking to this past winter, the shelter were full and with record-breaking cold on the streets, there was nowhere for dozens of people to go.
Is the Palace Arms the answer – absolutely not. It violates health, fire, and safety standards plain and simple, and has fallen into such a state that it cannot be brought back from in a financially responsible way. The living conditions there were also terrible in recent years, with no bathroom or kitchen and rooms painted in beige.
So to the Palace Arms, we say goodbye. We only hope the architecture design and the condo building which will come to occupy this property gives at least a little nod to its past and/or bare minimum, is a design accepted by the Liberty Village community surrounding it.