With a history stretching back more than a century, 401 Richmond has stood as an enduring fixture at the corner of Richmond and Spadina in the heart of Downtown Toronto.
Construction occurred in several stages on what would eventually become 401 Richmond Street West. The old MacLean Homestead and the surrounding property were acquired near Queen and Spadina (then called Brock), and work began in 1899. 401 Richmond began as a modest, 2-storey building on the south side of the property, but with the significant growth of the company, the complex saw four 4-storey expansions between 1903 and 1923 extending to the west, north, and northeast. From the sky, 401 Richmond looks like a capital “A” with a crosswalk or bridge (also known as the “Skywalk”) connecting the north and south buildings.
The earliest portion of the building was raised between 1899 and 1900. This building, known as Building #1, was 2 storeys with a basement that was dug out by pick, shovel and wheelbarrow. In 1903, the third storey was added. The building had a different address then: “Catharine Street near Brock”, since the original entrance was from Catharine Street, a short road which ran into the property from Peter Street. The original building was just 240 feet long and 60 feet wide.
To accommodate increased production and the transition from handwork to heavy machinery, construction on a second building began in 1904, coinciding with the extension of Catharine Street to Spadina. The street name then changed from Catharine to Richmond Street. This building, known later as Building #3, was completed in 1905. The shipping room was moved to this new space , and Richmond Street was paved, right to the edge of the building, making it much easier for the horse-and-carriages to haul deliveries to and from its doors (remarkably, the south side of Richmond Street West beside 401 remained without a sidewalk until 2010!). Special permission was obtained to use the address 145 Spadina, as the building was the closest on the block to the street itself. Later, when Spadina Avenue was filled in with other buildings, the building acquired the address is has today: 401 Richmond Street West.
In 1907, construction on a third building began, designed to connect Buildings #1 and #3, known as Building #2 (where you’ll now find the Roastery Café). The coach house on the south west corner (Cinecycle), as well as the central connection hallways, were also built during this time.
As business continued to increase, an extension was added onto Building #3 in 1913, known as Building #4. Around this same time, galvanized iron canopies were built to protect deliveries against bad weather, which were removed in more recent history.
In 1923, the final extension was added to 401 Richmond Street West, the north-easternmost section, about 100 feet long, with an “L” shape extension of about 35 feet (now home to our Northeast Entrance). This building was the strongest of all 5 buildings, and came to house much of the heavy machinery. This building came to be known as Building #5.
401 Richmond has been attributed to architect John Wilson Siddall. The brickwork is simple: regular running with Flemish headers and segmental masonry arches. The only listing found for the building’s contractor is Cooper and Brown who were awarded an $18,000 addition in 1912.
In 1994, when 401 Richmond was purchased by the Zeidler Family, the building underwent a transformation that restored the century-old building to its former glory. Many surprise features were discovered as the renewal project took shape. Over the years, unattractive renovations had concealed the original features in most of the building: 100 year old antique wood floors were hidden beneath industrial carpeting, interior brick walls were covered by drywall, corridors were long and dark, and most of the over 800 original double-hung wood and metal frame windows were sealed shut. The new owners began peeling away the layers and were thrilled to discover the beautiful structure preserved underneath. On every floor, walls were repainted, hallways were opened up, high clerestory windows were built to allow sunlight to fill the interior hallways from studio spaces, steel doors were replaced with vintage wooden styles, and floors were refinished. Today, clear sight lines exist along almost every hallway, not only for safety, but to enhance a sense of openness in the building.
A key feature of the building’s design is its fenestration or grand windows. When the new owners took over, the windows had been neglected for decades. A conscious decision was made to restore them, a mammoth job and an ongoing commitment for our restoration team. This restoration project was originally headed by former Property Manager, Mike Moody and to his knowledge, there are few examples in the City of Toronto that compare to the care taken to preserve these windows. The restoration continues to this day, now overseen by long-time maintenance team member, Redentar Paragas. There are two basic window types: metal (found on the easternmost portion of the building) and wood. The metal windows were originally cleaned, removing opaque glass with propane torches, then repainted and glazed. The others, made of white pine, require continual upkeep, which includes removing the old glass (saved where possible), heat stripping the putty and several layers of paint, and replacing broken and rotted parts. Then they are primed, painted, reglazed, puttied, weather-stripped, and rehung with new sash cords.
In 1995, the front lobby stairwell, old valences, carpeted flooring, and stair enclosures were removed, and in their place steel handrails and aluminum checkerplate treads were installed. In addition, the entire area was sandblasted to expose beautiful century-old brick and a Douglas Fir ceiling.
On the Ground Floor, the original iron door that led to a one storey tin vault (in what is now the courtyard) was revealed, along with wonderfully preserved tin ceilings showing pristine examples of some of the test proofs from the building’s manufacturing days. The best designs can be seen in the Urbanspace Gallery.
The Fourth Floor (all 30,000 square feet) was completely empty when the building was purchased save for the rows of majestic wood columns. Studios were parceled out as tenants signed on, and extra wide halls were created to promote a feeling of spaciousness.
Lying just beyond the main lobby of 401 Richmond, the open air interior Courtyard offers a sanctuary in the centre of the building. Two small brick structures, including an old tin vault, were removed to provide space for the inner courtyard and its cedar benches, towering trees, flower beds, and children’s sandbox. An open steel spiral staircase was installed, making the courtyard available to tenants from all four levels and providing a lovely view of the interior section of the building, including the glass entrance to Studio 123 and the skywalk bridge connecting the north and south sections of 401 Richmond.
Above the courtyard entrance to Studio 123 Early Learning Centre there is a Latin phrase Spiritus in nobis qui viget illa facit. If you look on the courtyard stairs you will see the translation: The Spirit living within us fashions all this.
The original ELEVATOR was closed down in 1997, and was replaced by a new passenger elevator, complete with a steel and wood interior, and glass windows that provide a remarkable view overlooking the courtyard.
The restoration team also removed rusted corrugated siding from the second and third floor Bridge, revealing a beautiful cross-hatch wood structure beneath. Painstaking work followed including glazing and sealing the existing framework, and creating new hinged windows to match the style present in the rest of the building. Glass was added, and the Skywalk now offers a fantastic view to the east and west sides of the building, and has become a treasured sunny spot for tenants and visitors alike.
A gorgeous Roof Garden was constructed on the south side of the building; what began as an informal collection of potted plants, has grown to become an award winning urban oasis. Learn more on the dedicated Roof Garden page.
To this day, we continue to restore and improve 401 Richmond! Our most recent efforts have seen the installation of a Northeast Entrance on the lower east side of the building. We opened up a corner of the building onto Richmond Street, replacing former storage spaces with bright and unique commercial spots like Spacing Store, Swipe Design | Books + Objects, Dark Horse Espresso Bar, and yumart gallery.