Art deco among us

Area fire station featured in new book on Toronto’s architecture

There is no denying Tim Morawetz’s love of art deco architecture.

He studied it at Carleton University and got hooked on the works of Ernest Cormier, noted for the Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa, and John M. Lyle, an English-Canadian architect. He’s attended four world congresses on art deco and lectured at two of them. And he’s led downtown art deco walking tours during Toronto’s ArtsWeek for more than 15 years.

In 1993, after returning from his second world congress, held in Australia, Morawetz set himself a project to find and photograph art deco buildings across Canada. Over the next few years, he travelled to all 10 provinces documenting the buildings he loves.

Armed with just a city map and not knowing exactly where these gems were hidden, Morawetz said over time he developed a sense for where they might be by referring to historical patterns and original downtown core maps.

He’s just published a book called Art Deco Architecture in Toronto: A Guide to the City’s Buildings from the Roaring Twenties and the Depression showcasing and describing more than 70 of the city’s art deco buildings, mostly constructed between 1925 and 1940.
Fire Hall 324 at 840 Gerrard St. is one of the buildings he mentions in the art deco showcase.

“The motif above the main facade was carved in stone and heavy with detail,” Morawetz said. “The lightning bolt either side and in the centre shows a symbol of a flame to represent a fire station.”

Morawetz said the design elements revolved around great use of geometry and were used in an elegant, understated way to create lots of visual interest.

In his book, Morawetz explains Toronto was for the most part a very conservative city in the 1920’s.

“If you compare the art deco you find in Toronto to New York City, it is more muted in its decoration,” he said. “It was a reflection of the character of Toronto and architects around that time really embraced the style.”

Most of the book’s photographs were taken between 1980 and 1995 and, Morawetz admitted, it was a tough task determining which buildings to exclude.

“There are more art deco buildings in Toronto than there was space for,” he said. “Picking images that best represent the building and to reveal it’s uniqueness was quite a challenge for me.”

The art deco period was accessible and friendly, Morawetz said, so he wanted to make the kind of book you could throw in your knapsack and use as a guidebook while walking around the city or have sitting on your coffee table.

“Art deco is a very populist style,” he said. “It’s not overly academic and it’s not intended to intimidate people.

“It was really capturing the positive spirit of the ’20s — the jazz age.”

About this article:

By: Justin Robertson
Posted: Aug 19 2009 11:12 am
Filed in: NEWS
Edition: Toronto