100 Watts : The George T. Browning House

My column this week has to do with my disgust for a recent decision by Aurora’s Heritage Advisory Committee to not only remove the Heritage Delegation from the George T. Browning House, an Aurora landmark, but to actually recommend demolishing it.

You can read it here:

V12N09P04.pdf
Download this file

Tearing down the home of one of Aurora’s prolific builders does nothing to honor our town’s heritage.  Yet 5 out of 8 members of the Heritage Advisory Committee seem to think otherwise.

To undertand George Brownings connections to our town’s heritage one needs to first understand the scope of the buildings he was responsible for building.

In referencing page 3 from Thursday March 18ths edition of the Newmarket Era from 1937 we learn that: 

The late George T. Browning commenced building in Aurora over 70 years ago.
He built most of the large structures in Aurora and vicinity, such as the buildings of the Collis Leather Company, Sisman’s Shoe Co. and Office Specialty Co., Newmarket.
He was succeeded by his son, Fred Browning, who has built up a.large successful business. His wide experience made him able to undertake any class of work, and he has been a very valued employer of labor. He has had among his patrons in the past few years: Sir William Mulock, Davis Leather Company, Imperial Oil Company Rogers Majestic Corporation.
His most recent work has been the Royal Theatre, Aurora, Imperial Oil station, Newmarket, Aurora Flour Mills, CFRB transmilting station.  During the winter the health of Mr. Browning suffered an impairment, and for time he will have to take absolute rest.

You can read the full article here:

In addition to these commerical buildings Browning has been attributed as the builder of several residental homes here in Aurora.

16 Catherine St., and 48 Spruce St. are both are listed on Aurora’s Register of Properties of Cultural Heritage Value or Interest.

Both 98 Temperance Street (http://www.town.aurora.on.ca/aurora/index.aspx?ArticleID=4052 ) and 70 Wellington St. E (http://www.aurora.ca/aurora/index.aspx?ArticleID=4130 ) both have notices of delegation with respect to historical association with George Browning. 

So what about his abode?

Sitting at 15086-88 Yonge Street his 1800’s home sits at a high elevation.

Up until recently it was surrounded by large trees.  It has a porch and its windows were not boarded up.

Here is a street view photo captured by Google Maps, not too many years ago:

6-16-2010_11-43-07_am

And here is what it looked like earlier this year:

Dsc_4328

Over on Clr. Buck’s blog, she seems unimpressed with the heritage significance of the Browning house

“The owners of the building, propped up with two-by-fours on Yonge Street have applied for a demolition permit.
Why would that be controversial? It’s a horrible eyesore. A blight on the street scape. There are plans for something new. They remind me of the Wells Street School.
Why anyone would opt to save that old pile of bricks beats me.”

Seeing as you weren’t in attendance at the HAC meeting  I’ll tell you why Clr. Buck.

There was no reference in the meeting to the building being propped up by two-by-fours.
In fact a Structural Engineer representing the owner was present at the meeting.
There is a structural concern, but only in regards to moving the house, but if it was to be restored in place it could be sufficiently shored up.

It is unfortunate that as soon as someone puts up plywood in a quasi attemt to preserve the building it suddenly becomes an eyesore.

I will certainly agree that without the trees the house, without its porch can be clearly seen from the street, and it needs much work to restore its former glory.  I’m sure it’s not the only landmark in town that has looked like this prior to a restoration.

This is the same property that Clr. Buck made refernce to the house along with unlawful removal of several large trees in her post here: http://evelynmbuck.blogspot.com/2010/04/all-is-revealed.html

I followed it up with a post as well, which can be found here:

By attending last Friday’s meeting I learned that the owner of the property purchased it with the original intent to restore/expand for the purposes of allowing his two precious daughters live their dream of running a Montessori school.

The owner, recognizing the historical significance of the house was involved in the process with the town to have it designated.  This was recorded in the Monday October 5th 2009 HAC meeting:

3. PL09-078 – Designation under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act,
“The George Browning House” Located at 15086-88 Yonge Street
 
Moved by John McIntyre                                    
Seconded by Andries Godschalk
 
THAT report PL09-078 be received as information, and
 
THAT the Heritage Advisory Committee recommend to Council:
 
THAT the report from the Heritage Building Evaluation Working Group regarding 15086-88 Yonge Street 
be received and endorsed; and
 
THAT the George Browning House located at 15086-88 Yonge Street be approved for designation as a 
property of cultural heritage value or interest pursuant to the provisions of Section 29, Part IV of 
the Ontario Heritage Act; and,
 
THAT the owners of 15086-88 Yonge Street be thanked for their interest in the preservation of the 
heritage property at 15086-88 Yonge Street; and
 
THAT the Customer and Legislative Services Department be authorized to:
 
Publish and serve Council’s Notice of Intention to Designate as per the requirements of the Act; and
Prepare a Designation By-law for the property
CARRIED

It appears restoration efforts with this house got derailed shortly after access via a small lane-way behind the house would not be sufficient to operate such a school.

Duh!

When that happened the owner seemed to have a change of heart.

Up went the plywood boards, and instead of looking elsewhere to build his school, the owner has now approached with concept plans for the same property to house a monster Montessori school with access off of Yonge St.  To accomplish this underground parking is necessary, and a regrading of the property, with it would require moving the house, which is not feasible.  So it has to go.

The Heritage Advisory Comittee on Friday either unknowingly or conciously decided to overlook several of the findings of the report produced by the Heritage Building Evaluation Group which I will share here.

  • The structure is of Italianate/Tuscan Villa style and of substantial size that given even greater visual importance by its commanding position well above the present level of Yonge Street.
  • It is also one of the punctuation points of one of the very few surviving stretches of dwellings on Yonge Street.
  • The original yellow brickwork has been painted in deep red.
  • The house is a significant and unique contributor to the character of yonge Street.

and most importantly :

The rating is 91.2/100, Considered “Group 1”, indicating the building is of major significance and importance to the Town and worthy of designation under the Ontario Heritage Act.

The associated policies with the Group 1 Category are as follows:

  • Every attempt must be made to preserve the building on its original site
  • Any development application affecting such a building must incorporate the identified building.
  • Appropriate alternative uses for the building will be encouraged when necessary to ensure its preservation.

The entire report can be viewed here with some poorly photocopied pictures luckily more photos exist in some archives:

HAC-8 PL09-078_20091001135034.pdf
Download this file

I fail to see any rationale that can be given to suggest the George Browning house needs to be demolished simply because it canot become a Montessori school.

It needs to be respected, restored and given a new use that is compatable with its position on the Yonge Street landscape.

I applaud the efforts of comittee member former Deputy Mayor Bob McRoberts for his motion to deny the demolition of the house, and for both comittee members David Heard and Pamela Vega for both recognizing the importance of this property.

I think it is deplorable that comittee Chair Clr. Humfreys, Clr. Abel, Erina Kelly, Jaquie Stewart and John MacIntyre voted for the unecessary fate of one of Aurora’s landmarks.

What is even more absurd is that both Jaquie Stewart and John MacIntyre were part of the Evaluatiuon Group that provided the high rating, and pushed for the delegation.

Another in a long line of H.A.C. inconsistencies that I have observed since attending their meetings this year that need to stop.

 

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