Sunday, January 15, 2012

Wild things we found long ago

Once upon a time, in 2002, we faced the choice that so many young(ish) homeowners face. Renovate or move... Our house was built in 1911 and probably had 4 bedrooms as well as a "second parlour." Someone came along in the late 1970s and took all the interior walls out, making a giant master bedroom on the top floor, and a giant bathroom and two sort of bedrooms -- separated by the staircase but with no walls around them -- on the second floor. The people we bought the house from had two small children and a live-in nanny, who slept behind a huge and wonderful curtain -- they obviously had chosen the move option!

We now had two little kids and the prospect of rooms with walls was very appealing. So, we got some guys to come and move stairs, redo the kitchen, make walls, take the roof off and put it back on again, slightly different... It was madness.

But! At one point we took down the wallboard above the living room fireplace. The previous, minimalist owners had built the wall straight up, and we wanted a mantlepiece.

And we found this:

It's clearly the Eiffel Tower and something we call the Empire State Building, but I suppose it is just a generic skyscraper.

It is not really wallpaper. The paint is rolled right onto the wall somehow. You can see here the plaster and the image are cracked together.

It was very intriguing and we wished we could save it, but there were problems beyond a few cracks:

We covered it up again, and it sits there hidden behind our present wall.

I don't know if this was original to the house. The Eiffel Tower was built in 1889. Early skyscrapers that kind of look like this are the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool; and the Woolworth Building in New York, built in 1913. I would bet, though, that it is from the 20s or 30s.

This past weekend I went to the Toronto Archives and found out that the first person to live in the house was a Mrs Agnes McIvor, in 1911. Much more research can be done in microfilms of assessment rolls and city directories. We found a few names scribbled on hidden walls during the renovation, too, and we'd like to see if we might match up previous owners with those names. It's kind of like genealogy for your house.

One day, if you're lucky, I'll scan an old photo of the wallpaper we found under the kitchen sink in our very first apartment. It had scenes of St Basil's Church in Red Square on it. Maybe there's a trend here and we should look into some modern architectural wallpaper. Here's houses. Here's Paris. Ah, Paris....


  1. That is interesting I don't think I have ever seen anything like that before!

  2. wow, your house has a very stylish past! love the towers!!

  3. Our house was built in 1885, and redone several times by not always skilled craftsmen! We haven't found anything as cool as that.

  4. wow that is so super cool! what an amazing find! and how wonderful to have such a deliciously aged and lived-in home that you have an excuse to go through some microfilm! awesome!


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