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Now Magazine: TD Centre
Richard Longley | October 19, 2017

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TD Centre fallout

From Issue No. 261 | October 26, 2017

When Ontario Premier John Robarts cut the ribbon at the formal opening on May 13, 1968 of the Toronto-Dominion Centre’s two black towers, the timing was fortuitous. Less than six weeks earlier, humanoids of an imagined future made first contact with a mysterious black monolith in the premiere of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In Don Mills, construction of Raymond Moriyama’s Ontario Science Centre would not be completed until 1969, and Eb Zeidler’s Ontario Place, the city’s most Expo-like structure, not until 1971. But downtown, where the only high buildings were Commerce Court and the Royal York Hotel, the two colossal structures of 56 and 46 storeys completed in 1967, in black-painted steel and bronze-tinted glass, rose like arrivals from another world over the city’s core.

What caused this marvel?

When the Dominion Bank and the Bank of Toronto merged in 1955, it was determined that a new Toronto-Dominion bank would replace the majestic Beaux-Arts Bank of Toronto. Where it needed only seven storeys of floor space, TD would build a total of 102, convinced that where it built, it would grow and others would come.

Developer William Zeckendorf proposed the largest concrete building in the British Commonwealth. Toronto-Dominion president Allen Lambert rejected it and turned instead to Fairview, the real estate arm of realtor and whisky magnate Sam Bronfman’s Cemp Investments. Bronfman had a daughter, Phyllis Lambert (no relation to Allen) who shared Allen’s passion for architecture.

She had made her mark on Canadian architecture years earlier as “she who shall be obeyed” after a letter she wrote to her father regarding the Seagram Building he was about to build in New York. Its design appalled her.

“You must put up a building which expresses the best of the society in which you live, and at the same time your hopes for the betterment of this society. You have a great responsibility and your building is not only for the people of your companies, it is much more for all people, in New York and the rest of the world.”

The first design was abandoned, and German modernist Mies van der Rohe would be commissioned for the Seagram Building. The result was a triumph that would be repeated in Toronto, when Phyllis persuaded Allen Lambert – without much difficulty – to select van der Rohe to design the Toronto-Dominion Centre.

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