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Tag Archives: mansions on jarvis

The Mansions on Jarvis – 539 Jarvis Street

At a time when city dwellers treasure unique living spaces more than ever before, the conversion of one of Jarvis Street’s original mansions is truly significant. In terms of history, architectural merit and its central downtown location, the Mansions at Jarvis is one of the most exciting projects the city has to offer.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Unfortunately, most of the history of this 1880s mansion has been hidden

The mansion was originally built in the late 19th century (likely sometime 1885-1889), in the heart of the Jarvis Mansion District. On this street, wealthy landowners built their dream homes, and today’s residents are painstakingly restoring these homes to their former glory. Prior to the conversion, Mansions at Jarvis was the Victoria Daycare Centre. Just next door is where Canada’s once-Governor General Vincent Massey and his brother, actor Raymond Massey, were raised. And beside that is the very famous Keg Mansion. Some people confuse the 1970s restaurant Julie’s Mansion with 539 Jarvis, but that was the original restaurant that was bought by The Keg in 1976.

Julies on Jarvis 1960s

The house was originally built in 1868 for dry goods merchant A. R. McMaster, nephew of McMaster University founder William McMaster. In the early 1880s members of the Massey family occupied the house. They were followed by Tommy Ryan who turned the house into a popular art gallery and antiques store. In 1961 the house started a downward spiral when it was unsympathetically converted into a coffee house – with more than a few unsavory customers. Fortunately Jules X. Fine did and soon Julie’s on Jarvis was transformed into one of the city’s most popular and unique restaurants. Anyone remember the upstairs Bombay Bicycle Club and Julie’s double-decker bus? Today this historic structure is the Keg Mansion, the pride of The Keg chain of restaurants.

In the late 19th century, an anonymous wit commented: “In Toronto, there are but two classes – the Masseys and the masses.” The Masseys and their neighbours dominated Toronto business and society, and their mansions stretched along Jarvis Street, forming a “gilded row” from just north of Wellesley to Rosedale.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Original sales materials in front of The Mansions at Jarvis at 539 Jarvis Street

There was some trouble with the development. In 2007 Panterra Mansions Joint Venture Corp. (Panterra Federated Properties Corp.) went into receivership with some of their units just days from completion. Though the buyers had the opportunity to repurchase their suites, the prices were adjusted to reflect the 2007 market value, not those of 2003 when most of their deals were made. Those who chose not to buy got their deposits back – with interest – but not any money spent on upgrades, nor any of the equity accrued in the hot Toronto real estate market.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Inside one of The Mansions at Jarvis lofts at 539 Jarvis Street

A bankruptcy trustee was appointed after two of the five mortgage holders filed an application to have a receiver take control of the development after the project came to a standstill because of nine liens against it, including a $2,043,876.94 claim by the general contractor. It was a crappy time in the project’s history and it left many bitter buyers in its wake. But that is history now, water under the condo bridge. It was completed and sold in 2009 by Elm Developments and Brad Lamb.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Example of ground level outdoor space at The Mansions at Jarvis

The interior of the mansion has been re-configured for individual suites. The building’s original exterior architecture has been refreshed with an eye to once again bringing to life the original beauty of the structure. Having been a mansion, the building has mixed rooflines, extraordinary window detailing and an elegant entrance – plus the property is enveloped in wrought iron fencing.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

You can see some of the original architecture of the old 539 Jarvis Street mansion coming through from underneath the new stucco facade of The Mansions on Jarvis

Christoper Hume noted: “This new project, grafted onto a pre-existing building, barely looks real. But then, perhaps it wasn’t intended to. With its ultra-clean, cream-coloured exteriors, it looks more like injection-moulded plastic than bricks and mortar. Though the imperfections might have been eliminated, so has much of the building’s character.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

This project, grafted onto a pre-existing building, has an ultra-clean, cream-coloured exterior

The building offers a total of 34 units. The mansion interior was restored and the house divided into about a dozen one- and two- bedroom condominium units. The new three-storey townhouse project includes 10- one- and two- bedroom garden suites and 11 two-level, two-bedroom penthouses with extraordinary roof-top pavilions and roof terraces.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Some of the lofts at The Mansions at Jarvis have been furnished in a funky style

All of the homes offer a rarity – outdoor access, either private terraces, Juliette balconies or spacious rooftop gardens. Some of the floor plans are open-concept, others have more separate room layouts. Some suites have skylights, others have pantries and walk-in closets and some have double-sided fireplaces.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

While other Mansions at Jarvis units have more traditional decorating

This design approach blends seamlessly with the restored elegance of the mansion, where enormous care and attention to detail will be combined to produce unique residences. Architectural touches such as the 12-foot ceilings, cornice moldings, extra-tall baseboards and window treatments will be preserved. At the same time, the conversion process will put emphasis on the maximum utilization of space.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

One of the larger terraces, next to some skylights

Spectacular new details have been incorporated, such as a large skylight over a kitchen area in one suite, as well as an elevator serving all suites from the underground parking garage. In both aspects of the project (refurbished and new), access to private outdoor spaces is stressed, with ground-floor suites that offer garden terraces and top-floor residences featuring roof decks with panoramic views.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Sunlight abounds in the lofts of The Mansions at Jarvis

Looking at the 1890 Goad’s map, there is a building that has the right shape to be the front structure of 539 Jarvis. The lot is labeled H.S. Mara and it certainly appears to me that the lot is numbered 539, and I swear I see 541 right to the north. I found the First Annual report of the Toronto Orthopedic Hospital from 1900, which lists the Ladies’ Committee members and has an H. S. Mara and shows her address as being 539 Jarvis! Her husband was Henry S. Mara, and they were noted in the Tyrell’s Society Blue Book from 1903-4 as being willing to receive visitors on the 1st and 2nd Mondays of the month. The same name re-appears on the 1893, 1899 and 1903 maps. Interestingly, it seems that Mr. Mara hired the famous architect Eden Smith to design a house on Chestnut Park Road, near Roxborough Street East, in 1906. I wonder if they moved then, as I found a wedding announcement from 1906 mentioned that Sarah Blakeman lived at 539 Jarvis.

1890 Goads Map showing Henry Mara House

1890 Goads Map showing Henry Mara’s house, just north of the Masseys

The 1908 Blue Book mentions Mr. & Mrs. Henry S. Mara as living at 90 St. George Street (and receiving visitors on the 2nd Tuesday of the month). BUT – there is a Miss S. Mara at 10 Chestnut Park Road (which happens to be right at the intersection with Roxborough Street East). I would assume this is their daughter, in a very nice home her father had built for her. The house at 90 St. George is now buried deep in the heart of U of T’s downtown campus, demolished at some point. In 1920, Suzanne S. Mara is listed at 10 Chestnut Park. Interesting, in the 1913 edition, it mentions Mr. & Mrs. Louis S. McMurray (nee Mara) as living at 10 Chestnut Park. But 7 years later, it is back to just Miss Mara. Mind you, the 1921 census has Louis Sawrin McMurray as being the spouse of Susanne Stephens Mara.

1913 Torontonian Society Blue Book

1913 Torontonian Society Blue Book, where the “elite families” were listed

We can only prove that the Maras lived at 539 Jarvis from 1890 to 1903. The 1884 map shows the lot as empty. So we know it was built sometime after 1884 and before 1890. Starting with the 1910 map, the house is not labeled, so we don’t really know who lived there at the time. Even worse, it appears that 90 St. George and 10 Chestnut Park were both demolished at some point – the former for a U of T building and the latter for the subway. But I fell down the rabbit hole and suffered upon you all the historical tidbits that I found.

Charles Adams and brother Frank

Charles Adams on the left, and his brother Frank

The best-known resident would have to be Charles Adams and his wife Clara, who lived there in 1921, as mentioned in the Torontonion Society Blue Book. They lived there with their sons Lorne, Stanley and Russell. This is the same Charles Adams whose father founded Toronto’s famous Adams Brothers Harness Manufacturing Company, whose factory still stands at the northeast corner of King Street East and Frederick Street. He was probably most famous as political figure in Manitoba. He represented Brandon City from 1893 to 1899 in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba as a Liberal.

Adams Brothers Harness Manufacturing Company

The Adams Brothers Harness Manufacturing Company Building at 204 King Street East

I think it is safe to assume that Henry Mara had the house built in the mid to late 1880s. He lived there with his family until 1906 or so. At some point prior to 1921, Charles Adams moves in. Sarah Blakeman seems to have lived there in between. Adams died in 1931 and I don’t know what happened to the house after that. At some point it was the Victoria Daycare Centre, the final use before the conversion process began in the early 2000s.

The Mansions at Jarvis - 539 Jarvis Street

Be sure to contact me if you are interested in The Mansions at Jarvis at 539 Jarvis 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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