Over the weekend, both Jane and I were included in a very passionate email chain between Hamilton City Council, fellow small business owners, and concerned citizens regarding the threatened demolition of 24-28 King Street East, along the Gore Park streetwall.
Without going too much into the specific details of the ordeal (Kieran and Sean do a much better job of that over at Raise the Hammer) it is an astonishingly disheartening fight. A great number of us feel as though we've been in this exact same spot before (I have written about Hamilton and the wrecking ball here more than I would like to) and so much bad history is at risk of being repeated. While individuals try to do so much small good where they can, City Council and speculators can take them ten steps backwards with one short-sighted decision.
The Gore is our city square. It is an irreplaceable public space that needs to be preserved. Gore Park lies in the centre of our city, and the remaining buildings that line it are beautiful examples of Victorian architecture in Canada. As Canadians, we have such little in terms of historical buildings, when compared with the old architectural beauty of Europe, or even America. We have to protect these assets that tell our history. Especially when (in this case in particular) there is no plan in place for development - only for destruction.
Not to mention the fact that 24-28 King Street East currently sit on the Heritage Canada Foundation's Top Ten Endangered Places list.
I thought I would share some of the more compelling ideas from the email chain. I think they not only highlight why the buildings should absolutely be saved, but also they underline how fundamentally broken Hamilton is. I am still hopeful that this isn't true, but it is getting harder and harder with each piece that is taken from us.
"These buildings can and should be returned to their former glory. I know they can be because this is what I do. They have in no way outlived their useful life, they have simply been neglected to appear that way.
Pretty much everyone would agree that a lot of downtown Hamilton has seen better days. The ghosts of this flagged prosperity linger most streets in the form of old run down buildings. But even more troubling are the empty spaces and vacant lots, gaps and entire blocks of once vibrant buildings reduced to at best lowest possible use. The buildings that do remain need a lot of care and attention. They need people with vision. Luckily for Hamilton there are plenty of those people around, leading the new wave of renewal, taking charge of these liabilities and turning them into amazing assets and opportunities. One building at a time, one street at a time, one neighbourhood at a time. Locke Street, Ottawa Street, James Street South, James Street North, Augusta Street, and more, all beacons of hope in a landscape that desperately needs it. These areas are just the beginning though, others will follow this same model. This is the near future of Hamilton, small scale regrowth. This isn't a magic bullet to save Hamilton, it's real, and it's working.
I have lived a couple of blocks from the gore for over a decade. Imagine someone assembling and tearing down a city block of your community and leaving it a weed filled dead zone. In most areas of this city it would be unthinkable. Sadly in the core it is the reality of the last 40 years.
The speculators, like Blanchard, will tell you that the only option is to take a gamble with the future of downtown with demolition and hope that one day it might make sense to rebuild. But we reject that false choice and instead have begun renewal at a small but real and growing scale. But we need help. For every step we take forward, a large speculator can set back the downtown years in one weekend. and with every building that comes down the pool of people able to help rebuild this city becomes drastically smaller. There will be a time in the future when the plethora of building lots are shiny new buildings that we need to consider taking down structures to have room to grow; sadly we are decades away from that day. In the meantime standing structures are what we desperately need for growth."
- Gary Buttrum
- Lindsay Bishop
"There are few days where I felt more proud to be a Hamiltonian than I day I read Emma Reilly's article in the Spec regarding the restoration of the Lister Block. I browsed that photo tour with a full heart and wet eyes. As a young person growing up in Hamilton, who had walked by that deteriorating, sad building many times, it was incredible to see such a transformation take place. My civic pride was SOARING that day - even now thinking about it, my eyes water with gratitude towards the hardworking individuals who saved it.
Please council, it is URGENT that we save and preserve 24 and 28 King - they are gems, jewels, diamonds the in rough. The Lister Block shines on James Street -- these buildings deserve the same chance. They will be worth every reinvested dollar, if you step up to save them. And the time to stop the impending demolition is right now."
- Elizabeth Simpson
"I write to you today from London, UK, but I choose to make my home in Hamilton. Everywhere in London there are stellar examples of heritage preservation and adaptive reuse. The flat where I am staying was adapted from an early 20th century seal-skin tannery, which sits among other industrial building adapted for commercial and residential use. Bermondsey, in south London, is a highly desirable and trendy neighbourhood and destination in part because of it's industrial architectural heritage, but it was once a derelict quarter. Perhaps it is easier or more expedient to simply raze buildings that have fallen into disrepair and disuse, but with ingenuity, imagination and integrity, neighbourhoods can be revitalized without sacrificing architectural and local character."
- Thea Haines
I was filled with pride and admiration reading these letters, and the many more that sent heartfelt pleas to stop the demolition. There are so many people who want good, honest, true things for this city. To the best of my knowledge, no one has received a response from any members of City Council as of yet. These buildings are still on the chopping block.
If you want to speak up too and request for this process to stop and for the designation of these buildings as heritage properties you can find the contact information for City Council here. Or there's this easy petition that will take only a moment of your time for you to sign.
I want to have a bleeding heart, fighting spirit for the rest of my life, but man, does this city ever get me down sometimes.
All images sourced from Raise the Hammer or Henley's Hamilton.