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Oxford Lofts – 75 Markham Street

Located at 75 Markham Street in Toronto – and originally housing the Oxford Picture Frame Company – the Oxford Lofts inhabit a late-1920s industrial artifact that was converted in 1986 into 16 multi-level loft, retaining many of the original heavy timber and brick details from its previous use.

Oxford Lofts 75 Markham Street

The old Oxford Picture Frame Co. factory at 75 Markham Street

Converted by Bob Mitchell as one of the early group of loft conversions in Toronto, only 4 years after his first project at 41 Shanly. Mitchell added a third story to the Oxford Lofts, raising the existing parapet with salvaged brick, and then carved out underground parking for 19 cars. Every unit is different. The top units are all skylit, although the skylights can appear over a living room, a bathroom, a kitchen. All of the lofts have at least two levels, with some rising to three. Some of the lofts walk out onto roof terraces. Others open onto patios. Each unit has a fireplace and everywhere you look, you see eccentric things like cupboards tucked under staircases, niches, even exposed ductwork and metal trusses.

Oxford Lofts 75 Markham Street

Some vintage shots of the work done by Bob Mitchell in the 1980s

The Oxford Lofts have typical loft attributes such as exposed brick, hardwood floors, fireplaces, timber columns, and steel joists. Ceiling heights range between 10-20 feet. Underground parking is available. The lofts range from 1,000 to 1,900 square feet with one, two or three bedrooms. No elevator, but only 2 stories. Lots of groovy 1980s glass block, if that’s your thing, and some still have the original Jacuzzi tubs.

Oxford Lofts 75 Markham Street

Some old photos from just after conversion

The Oxford Picture Frame Co. (now known as ASI Oxford) and can trace its corporate roots back to 1917 when Sam Cohen and his wife Rose started a picture frame company on Oxford Street in Toronto. It seems the company grew and required new and larger space. The Oxford Picture Frame Co. building at 75 Markham (though it was known as 71 Markham Street at that time) was designed by architect Benjamin Swartz originally as a single-storey factory in 1927. Later on, the building was expanded in both 1930 and 1936.

Oxford Lofts 75 Markham Street

The building as it was before the Mitchells got to it, as it looked during conversion to lofts and then the final product, the Oxford Lofts (originally called Oxford-on-Markham)

Swartz started his career around 1923, with a major commission to design the Kiever, the new synagogue to house the congregation of Rodfei Shalom Anshei Kiev. This was likely his first major project in Toronto. However, in later years he went on to design projects for the Jewish Old Folks’ Home on Cecil Street, the First Narayever, Mount Sinai Hospital, and the Hebrew Men of England Synagogue, as well as several other buildings in the Toronto area. The Kiever Synagogue remains today at 25 Bellevue Avenue, an important landmark in Toronto’s Jewish history.

NB: As a kid I lived at 81 Bellevue, around the mid-70s.

Kiever Synagogue

The Kiever Synagogue as it appeared in 1973

Researching the history of the Oxford Lofts has not been easy. One of the first things I found is a single mention in 1925 of the Oxford Picture Frame Co. at 104 Claremont Street, with the owner S. Cohen listed as living at 77 Markham Street. Only 5 blocks apart, it makes a lot of sense. Maybe Mr. Cohen built a factory next to his house… Yet the story goes that he started the company on Oxford Street. Maybe started on Oxford in 1917, moved to Claremont at some point and then finally to Markham in 1927. The company stayed until 1962, when it moved to its current home in Richmond Hill.

Oxford Lofts 75 Markham Street

Inside one of the Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

And then there is a whole other narrative that might fit with the building. It has to do with the Phillips company.

Francis Phillips came to Canada in 1856 and after a series of business ventures, end up associated with C. G. Cobban in a company that manufactured mouldings, looking glasses, picture frames and all kinds of cabinet work. In 1905, Cobban Mfg. was changed to Phillips Manufacturing Co. and in 1907 the firm bought a building at 258 Carlaw building, moving in in 1908. The smokestack on the Carlaw building still shows the name of Phillips Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Later the company name was change to Phillips Toronto Limited and produced mainly picture frames.

Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

Inside one of the Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

The firm was sold in the late 1930s and the company moved to Strathroy in 1953, then again to Richmond Hill in 1962 – and was later known as Oxford Picture Frame Co. Interesting that the Oxford factory on Markham was expanded in 1930. And the name change, that is pretty obvious. And the Richmond Hill connection, very suspicious. But it is all inconclusive.

Speaking of which, I am certainly VERY curious what the building was used for between 1962 and 1986… But I cannot find anything.

Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

Inside one of the Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

But, they are still around today. In Richmond Hill. As their website states “ASI Oxford provides top quality picture frame mouldings and framing services to industry professionals, businesses, restaurants, and private customers. We consider good customer service to be our number one priority. Over the years, Oxford Picture Frame manufactured and distributed high quality mouldings throughout Canada and the US. Today, ASI Oxford is a leading edge picture frame supplier for today’s diverse market. ASI Oxford designs and imports quality framing products from around the world.” Pretty cool that Sam Cohen’s company from 1917 is still around 100 years later.

Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

An entry from the Toronto Jewish Directory in 1931

I always wondered where the name Oxford Picture Frame Co. came from, assuming it was based on a street or town or something. The story always went that the company started on Oxford Street in Toronto. But it could be related to the framing term “oxford frame”, which is a specific style of frame where the sides cross each other and project some distance at the corners. The Oxford frame was popular for framing prints and reproductions in the late nineteenth century. It first became common in the 1860s but its introduction remains obscure.

Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

An example of an oxford frame, with extending corners

No matter the Oxford Lofts today are in a great location, sandwiched between Queen West and Dundas Street. So close to much of Toronto’s growing resto scene, as well as the Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Take a short walk to Ossington and the Gallery District, or hope a streetcar to the city’s core.

Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

The heritage plaque on the Oxford Lofts at 75 Markham Street

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information – 416-388-1960

Laurin Jeffrey is a Toronto real estate agent with Century 21 Regal Realty.
He did not write every article, some are reproduced here for people who
are interested in Toronto real estate. He does not work for any builders.

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Summary
Oxford Lofts - 75 Markham Street
Article Name
Oxford Lofts - 75 Markham Street
Description
Located at 75 Markham Street in Toronto - and originally housing the Oxford Picture Frame Company - the Oxford Lofts inhabit a 1930s industrial artifact that was converted in 1986 into 16 multi-level loft residences, retaining many of the original heavy timber and brick details from its previous use.
Author
Laurin Jeffrey - Century 21 Regal Realty