Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Old City Hall Toronto

Located at the corner of Queen and Bay Street in the centre of downtown Toronto, Old City Hall was completed in 1899.  The building was designed by prominent Canadian architect Edward James Lennox, who is responsible for designing over seventy buildings in Toronto.  It took over a decade to build and cost 2.5 million dollars to construct.  The building was designed in a slight variation on the Romanesque Revival architecture, known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  Developed by the prominent American architect, Henry Hobson Richardson, Richardsonian Romanesque is a free revival style that incorporates 11th- and 12th-century French, Spanish and Italian Romanesque elements.  It has a strong emphasis on picturesque massings, rounded arches, cylindrical towers and conical caps. 

Built primarily from sandstone, the Old City Hall features a two-tone fa├žade.  A light brown-grey sandstone provides one tone, and a dark reddish stone known as Sackville Sandstone is used as the contrast.  The sandstone was transported to the site from quarries located in Westmorland County, New Brunswick.  It took 1360 railroad loads to transport all the stone, needed to erect the building, to the site. 

Situated at the front of the building is the clock tower.  It was placed slightly off-centre to provide a terminating vista for Bay Street.  The clock tower is 103.6m (340ft) high.  The face of the clock has a 6m (20ft) diameter.  There are three bells in the clock room, the largest one weighing over 5443kg.  A glass room encloses the clock's mechanism.  Although the clock originally functioned manually, it was automated in the 1950s.  In more than a century the clock has only ever stopped once, and that was for maintenance in 1992.  On the clock tower there are four gargoyles.  In 1938, the original sandstone gargoyles were removed from the tower due to weather damage.  Bronze cast gargoyles replaced the original ones in 2002.

The entire building has ornamentation reflecting ancient Roman art.  Near the entrance to the building there are several grotesque carved faces.  The architect Lennox included his own face on one of the carvings. 

Bidding entrance to a two-storey main hall are three large oak doors.   Entering the building there are murals designed by Canadian artist and painter George Agnew Reid.  The murals depict Toronto Pioneers and Angels.  A huge stained-glass window with three arches and twelve life-sized figures was created by Canadian stain-glass artist Robert McCausland to decorate the interior of the building.  Entitled 'The Union of Commerce and Industry', the stained-glass window depicts the city's waterfront. 

Despite the size of the Old City Hall, within a couple of decades of the building being completed it was no longer big enough to accommodate Toronto's growing municipal government.  The then Mayor, Nathan Phillips, decided that a new building was required, and launched an international architectural competition to create a new City Hall.  A striking Modernist City Hall and public square were completed in 1965.  In the 1960s, plans for the Eaton Centre called for the demolition of Old City Hall.  However, public outcry saved the building.  Old City Hall was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984.

There are supposedly over fifty spirits that haunt the Old City Hall in Toronto.  Two of the most notorious ones are Ronald Turpin and Arthur Lucas, the last two men to be hanged in Canada.  Executed in December 1962, the two were hanged at the same time.  Turpin was convicted of killing Metropolitan Toronto Police Officer Frederick Nash, after the police officer pulled Turpin over for a broken tail-light as he was fleeing from a robbery.  US-born Lucas was convicted of killing a US police informant in Toronto.  The attending Chaplain is said to have revealed on his deathbed that the hangman got the weights wrong, and Lucas' head was almost ripped off when he was hung.  These spirits reportedly haunt Courtroom 125 ( formerly known as Courtroom 33).  Judges working in the building have heard unexplained noises and had their robes tugged at on the back staircase.  Moans have been heard coming from the cellar, and a presence has been felt in the northwest section of the attic.  Footsteps have been reported coming from empty hallways.

I think that Old City Hall is a magnificent building, and I was shocked to learn there was ever a time that anyone considered demolishing it.  The building stands majestically amongst the more modern buildings of Toronto.  I love the clocktower in particular.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Knott's Berry Farm

Located in Buena Park, California, Knott's Berry Farm is a 160-acre (65ha) amusement park.  Walter Knott was born in San Bernardino, California, and grew up in Pomona, California.  A somewhat unsuccessful farmer, Knott changed his fortunes when he nursed several discarded berry plants back to health.  The large berries produced by the hybrid plants were a huge success.  Walter, his wife Cordelia and their children began selling berries, preserved berries and pies at a roadside stand along State Route 39.  In 1934, Knott's wife Cordelia started selling chicken dinners at a tearoom on the property.  "Mrs Knott's Chicken Dinner Restuarant" became so popular that customers would line up for several hours.  In 1940, to entertain the waiting crowds, Knott built a ghost town, using buildings and authentic furnishings he found in old deserted western towns.

By the early 1950s, the attractions had become so popular that Knott opened a "summer-long country fair".  At this time, the attractions included the ghost town and Calico Railway, a San Francisco cable car, a Mine Train and the Timber Mountain Log Ride.  Despite Disneyland opening in 1955 only 8 miles (13km) from it, Knott's Berry Farm remained a popular attraction.  In 1968, the Knotts fenced in the farm and started to charge an entrance fee of 25c, officially making Knott's Berry Farm an amusement park.  In 1969, the Calico Log Ride was added to the attractions.

On April 12th 1974, Cordelia Knotts died.  Walter became more interested in politics, and started to turn his attention to the political arena.  The Knott children, Russell, Marion, Virginia and Toni, took over the day-to-day running of Knott's Berry Farm.  During the 1970s, a nostalgic amusement area was added to the park's attractions, as were bumper cars and the Knott's Bear-Y Tales.  A 1920s-era Airfield was created in a Northern expansion of the park, featuring the Cloud Nine Dance Hall.  A Sky Parachute Jump and Sky Cabin were constructed with a Motorcycle Steeple Chase. 

In 1975 the Corkscrew Rollercoaster, the first modern rollercoaster to complete two 360-degree inverting elements, was added to the park.  Designed by Arrow Development, the Corkscrew still operates today despite having been sold and relocated to Silverwood in Athol, Idaho.  Former President, Richard Nixon, visited Knott's Berry Farm in 1975 with his wife and children.  The large Rollercoaster, Montezooma's Revenge, was opened in 1978 and still operates in Knott's Berry Farm. 

Walter Knott died on December 3rd 1981, leaving Knott's Berry Farm to his children.  The Knott family continued to run the amusement park for the next fourteen years.  In the 1980s, the Knotts built the Barn Dance, which featured an in-house band called Bobbi and Clyde. 

In response to Amusement Park competition, the Knott family added a Kingdom of the Dinosaurs in 1987 and the Big Foot Rapids, a white water rafting ride in the Wild Water Wilderness Area.  The Corkscrew Rollercoaster was replaced by the Boomerang in 1990.  Another attraction recreates a quiet summer night in the village of Alert Bay, British Columbia.  A storyteller then tells guests the importance of the role of the family.  Another rollercoaster called the Jaguar was added in 1995.  In the late 1990s, the Knott family decided to sell Knott's Berry Farm.  In 1995, the Knott family sold the food specialty business to ConAgra food, which later sold it on to the J.M. Smucker Company in 2008.  The Buena Park Hotel was sold to Cedar Fair, which sold it on to the Raddison group.  The hotel was later renamed the Knott's Berry Farm Resort Hotel. 

In 1997, Cedar Fair Entertainment bought the amusement park.  Originally, Disney had offered to buy the park and, despite Walter Knott and Walt Disney having had a cordial relationship in the past, the Knott children feared that Disney would change the park too much.  Cedar Fair added many new "thrill" rides, including the Perilous Plunge, the tallest and steepest water ride in the world, later removed from the park.  

Knott's Berry Farm is said to have several haunted places within its grounds.  Strange noises and eerie feelings have been reported by employees in the area that is known as the Peanut Playhouse.  Lights have also been seen turning off and on when no-one is present.  The old Dinosaur ride was supposedly haunted by a maintenance worker and a small boy.  The Teddy Bear Store, which was once known as the Print Shop, had several strange things happen within it, including things falling off the wall with no explanation as to why.  The upstairs of Virginia's Gift Store, which is on the exterior of the park, as well as Mrs Knott's Chicken Dinner Restuarant, are both supposedly haunted too. 

I love Knott's Berry Farm.  It's quaint and interesting, and has historical significance in the preserved buildings bought from all sorts of old towns in the U.S.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Art Gallery of Ontario

The Grange, an historic building in downtown Toronto, was the first home of the Art Museum of Toronto and, later, became one of the buildings of the current Art Gallery of Ontario.  The Grange was built in 1817 by D'Arcy Boulton, a member of the powerful Boulton family.  The Boultons were members of the Family Compact, a group of men that exercised a lot of the political, economic and judicial power in Upper Canada from the 1810s to the 1840s.  An ultra-conservative group, the Family Compact opposed democracy. 

D'Arcy Boulton married his wife, Sarah Anne Robinson, when she was nineteen.  Sarah's family were loyalists who had left America to settle in Canada after the American Revolution.  Although trained as a lawyer, Boulton worked as a merchant with his brother-in-law, Peter Robinson.  Boulton purchased the land for the Grange in 1808 for £350 from the estate of the Solicitor General, Robert Gray. 

By the time the Boultons moved into the completed Grange they had five children, and would have three more while living in their new home.  Sarah was very involved in the community and did much charity work, including working with St George the Martyr Church which had been built on land that had once been part of the Grange estate.  With the death of his parents, the eldest surviving son of D'Arcy and Sarah, William, inherited the Grange.  William was a lawyer and served a tenure as Mayor, even using his wages to pave roads in the city. 

William married Harriet Elizabeth Mann Dixon.  She came from a very wealthy family, and the Grange and seven acres of surrounding land were deeded to her as a wedding gift.  Harriet involved herself in many charities.  Garden parties, balls, and regular tennis matches were all held at the Grange during this period.

Following William Boulton's death, Harriet married Goldwin Smith.  Born in England, Smith had attended Oxford.  During the American Civil War he had travelled to America to see the situation first-hand, and voiced his support, unlike most Englishmen, for the North.  He became a professor at Cornell, but left his tenure when the university allowed women to attend.  He was a prolific journalist and, during his time living at the Grange, he established the Round Table Dining Club.  This group met at the Grange to discuss and debate a wide variety of topics.  Between 1890 and 1892, Algernon Blackwood worked at the Grange, assisting Godwin Smith with his work.  Blackwood was an English short story writer and novelist, as well as being one of the most prolific writers of ghost stories in the history of the genre. 

William Chin, first a coachman and then butler for the Boultons, remained in the service of Goldwin Smith until his death.  Chin, his wife, and seven children lived in the Grange Gatehouse. 

The Grange was left to become the Art Museum of Toronto in 1910.  In 1966, it was renamed the Art Gallery of Ontario. 

A cleaner at the Grange claimed to have seen a spectral figure of a man standing at the top of a staircase staring at her.  A former guide at the Grange reported being aware of three different spirits haunting the building.  One was a gentleman that wore a yellow coat and, seemingly, materialised through a wall.  A Lady in Black has been seen wandering around the bedrooms, and a more frightening Woman in White has materialised near the main stairwell.  A shadowy male figure seen in the library is believed to be Goldwin Smith or William Chin.  Chin's last entry in the household ledger said, "Left dear old Grange at 1.00 o'clock p.m. to be the wanderer."  Some witnesses have alleged that the ghost is that of Algernon Blackwood, the famed horror fantasy writer. 

The Art Gallery of Toronto is an amazing building incorporating various types of architecture, including the impressive Grange.