Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Eaton's College Store/The Carlu

A vintage postcard depicting the auditorium on the 7th floor.

On a personal note, back in 1977 when I was in high school I had a girlfriend who worked as an elevator operator at Eaton's College (she operated the elevator and called out the floors, just like the movies) and drove downtown the night it closed to pick her up.
The Eaton family was there to celebrate the opening of the new Eaton Centre down the street.
Eaton's began secretly assembling land at Yonge and College Streets in 1910 for a new store. The First World War put the plans on hold, but Eaton's retained the land. During the 1920s, plans were made to shift all Eaton's operations from their existing location at Yonge Street and Queen Street West to the College Street site. Eaton's even offered to sell part of its landholdings to its main competitor, Simpson's, in an effort to shift the heart of Toronto retailing northward and to preserve the synergy created by having two retail giants next to one another. The effort was unsuccessful, and Simpson's chose instead to expand its Queen Street store.

In 1928, Eaton's announced plans for the largest retail and office complex in the world to be constructed on the site, featuring 5,000,000 square feet (465,000 square metres) of retail space and a 38-storey 1920s era skyscraper. Just as the war had intervened a decade earlier, however, the Great Depression curtailed the grandiose plans for the site. The first phase of the project, a department store of 600,000 square feet (56,000 square metres), was the only part of the complex that was ever built. On October 30, 1930, the new store was opened by Lady Eaton, the matriarch of the Eaton Family, and her son John David Eaton, the future president of the company.Even though the rest of the complex was never constructed, the new store was nonetheless a true retail palace, the likes of which had never been seen in Toronto, and was a testament to the retail dominance of the Eaton's chain at that time. Tyndall limestone was used for the imposing exterior. Accentuating the Tyndall limestone was granite and a corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper (Shoemaker, and Smith 22) called monel metal. The monel metal was used copiously on the building as trim and in panels along the window and door frames (CARLU: College Park - Canada's Landmark for Style and Elegance). In addition to this metal trim, cast stone and carvings acted as detailed decorative elements on the façade
Marble was imported from Europe for the interior columns and colonnade. Lady Eaton arranged for two entire rooms to be removed from two manor houses in England and reassembled in the furniture department of the College Street store. The French architect Jacques Carlu (who later designed the Rainbow Room in New York City and the Eaton's Ninth Floor (or the "9ième") in Montreal), was retained to design the interior of the Eaton's Seventh Floor, including the 1300-seat Eaton Auditorium and the elegant Round Room restaurant. Itself an Art Moderne masterpiece, the Eaton's Seventh Floor was at the heart of Toronto's cultural life for many years. The Auditorium played host to the major performers of its day, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and the National Ballet of Canada. Canada's own Glenn Gould, fond of the Auditorium's excellent acoustics, used the hall for a number of his recordings.
The lobby of the seventh floor.

Classified specifically as a stripped classical art deco style, Eaton’s College Street emphasized symmetry in the plan and rhythm in the arrangement of the fenestration, doors, and pilasters. A distinct repetitive pattern can be distinguished with the windows and pilasters as well as with the arrangement of large entrances. There are three small windows on the upper levels between each pilaster, and three large shop windows between each entrance. The original Eaton’s College Street was designed with large shop windows on the floor level in order to attract window shoppers and pedestrians. The floor level also highlights another classical art deco characteristic of having a large distinctive base. Aside from the oversized windows, on Eaton’s College Street, the base was made even more prominent through the use of the granite and stone carvings framing it. On higher levels however, the fenestration became long vertical strips separated by large pilasters which highlighted the verticality of the structure as opposed to its mass (another distinguishing feature of art deco buildings).
The pilasters of the upper levels have fluting and capitals of ionic composition and support a rather large entablature. Art Deco architecture, well known for its geometric patterns and ornamentation is demonstrated in the detailed entablature, with a sculpted architrave, dentils on the cornice, and a monel metal trim along the top. Along the frieze are round ornamental metal pieces placed in a rhythmic order between the pilasters. Each entrance is flanked by a slightly protruding cast stone frame decorated with sculpted square shapes, dentils and bordered by a spiral ribbon-shaped cast stone. The monel metal trim on the window frames represents the art deco style of having natural shapes such as flowers or sunbursts, as influenced from the Egyptian and Mayan styles (New York Architecture). As can be observed, the trim is indeed a very natural organic shape.
However these features are only present on the Yonge Street and College Street frontage. The back of the building, facing the park, while still maintaining a rather symmetrical and repetitive fenestration pattern, is sparse on decoration and entrances have been kept rather nondescript.

The focus of Eaton's College Street, as the store was known, was on furnishings and housewares, although the latter were very broadly defined. In fact, Eaton's boasted that the store was "the largest furniture and house furnishings store in the British Empire". The larger Eaton's Main Store, only a few blocks south on Yonge Street, was never closed, as had been originally intended in the 1920s, and Eaton's ran a shuttle bus between the two stores for two decades until the Toronto subway opened in 1954.

A selection of photos over the years.
During Subway construction 1952.

An ad from the Toronto Star 1945.
Looking north up Yonge during construction, 1930.


  1. It seems that this might be an interim step to saving money at the college store, and a smart move to reduce the budget, but it is not a significant overall savings for a college with big buildings, and huge facilities to run, with high-paying professor jobs and incredible legacy costs dragging down their yearly budgets.

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