99 Jarvis is a heritage structure that is easily overlooked. In the shadow of The Vu condominium and facing Lombard Street, it is currently the showroom for the contemporary kitchen and furniture retailer Poliform. The mysterious “M” engraved into the decorative detail above each second-storey window suggests the building has an untold story.
The building was completed in 1898—the date is stamped into the metal frieze below the cornice—and was designed by Frederick H. Herbert, a prolific architect at the time. Along with E.J. Lennox, Herbert was the architect of choice for wealthy Torontonians building mansions on Jarvis, in Rosedale, and the Annex. Herbert also designed many commercial buildings, including the recently restored Dineen building at Yonge and Temperance. Herbert’s client for this building was Mrs. Mary Macfarlane who wanted a new hotel to replace the one she owned next door.
Mary Hawkshaw was born in Ireland in 1834 and immigrated to Canada when she was 15 years old. It not clear when she married Malcolm Macfarlane; they had their first child together when she was 30 and he was 35. Malcolm Macfarlane was born in 1832 in Glasgow, Scotland and immigrated to Toronto with his father, Duncan, in 1851. He started working in the printing trade for which he was trained but switched to operating a grocery business. In 1862, he opened a grocery and tavern on the southeast corner of Jarvis and Richmond, which still stands today (read my post about 113 Jarvis).
In 1876, Macfarlane took over the hotel business a few steps south of his saloon at 79 Jarvis, which had been run for years by John Blair. The 1889 Goad’s Fire Insurance map shows a three-storey wood building with a brick façade, labelled “hotel”.
Malcolm and Mary Macfarlane had five children: Mary, Robert, Jessie, Matilda, and Alexander. When Malcolm died in 1895 at the age of 63, Mary and her youngest son Alexander continued to operate the hotel. Business must have been good because, only three years later, Mary decides to hire Frederick Herbert and build 99 Jarvis.
The 1903 Goad’s Insurance map shows the three locations on Jarvis relevant to the Macfarlanes: Malcolm’s tavern and the first and second hotels.
By either luck or keen market astuteness, the Macfarlane’s sell their hotel in July 1929 for $50,000 to Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell, who renamed it the Campbell Hotel and opened The Maple Leaf Café on the main level. “It is the intention of the new proprietors to build a modern hotel on the site”. It looks like the stock market crash in October of that year scuttled those plans.
By 1935, a new owner, William Flanigan, is running the building as Hotel Jarvis and continues to do so for almost three decades until 1963. By then it was being run as a brothel, an indication of the general deterioration of the area; Jarvis Street had become a bit of a red-light district as Lombard had once been.
In 1965, the hotel legacy started by the Macfarlane family on Jarvis Street ends. For the next two decades the building was the Jarvis House Tavern. The Jarvis House catered to the musical tastes of the day. It started as an “old-fashioned men’s beer parlor” and by the 1970s it was a music venue and pub for teenagers hosting folk music sing-a-longs.
An August 21, 1971 Toronto Daily Star article described the Jarvis House: “Generally, it’s less easy for the young people to meet others from the opposite sex in these places… One conspicuous exception to that rule is the Jarvis House on lower Jarvis Street…There are noisy seats near the bandstand, some quiet tables near the shuffleboard machine, and a long, well-patronized stand-up bar. The crowd, mostly braless young ladies and sockless young men, does a lot of mingling without dance facilities.” In 1975, funky soul singer, Tobi Lark performed there when the Jarvis House was calling itself a discotheque bar. In the 1980s it hosted nightly concerts by various jazz artists.
The man behind The Jarvis House Tavern was Tom Kristenbrun. He was the CEO of the Chrysalis Group, a company that went on to own several well-known restaurants in Toronto in the 1980s including, the Bellair Café, Bemelmans, Rhodes, Toby’s Goodeats (remember the mac & cheese?), Bistro 990, and The Copa. Around 1985, he remade the building into a gay club called 101 Jarvis, dropping 99 and using the 101 address instead.
In 1987, Johnny Katsuras bought the building and opened the Tazmanian Ballroom, a.k.a. Taz. “There was no real sign for the Tazmanian Ballroom; you found the place by looking for the crowds gathered out front. Inside, hundreds partied on a main floor that had a 1920s-meets-70s cocktail vibe, complete with black-and-gold paint, velvet curtains, vintage sofas, dimmed chandeliers and a huge aquarium.” In 1988, they introduced Friday nights at the Rock & Roll Fag Bar. “Although there was initial controversy surrounding its name—complete with CBC coverage and letters of complaint in a local weekly—Rock & Roll Fag Bar was an instant success.”
The Tazmanian Ballroom ran for just two years. After the real estate crash in 1989 the building cycled through a few owners, including the Ken Thomson family and Kiosk Furniture. In late 2011, Poliform (a business operated by the same owner of Kiosk) opened a kitchen design store.
In 1994, the building was designated as heritage. Architecturally, it has Edwardian Baroque elements, but I hesitate to call it that because other examples of this style in the neighbourhood are much grander, like the Consumers’ Gas head office on Toronto Street (now the Rosewater Supper Club). In fact, several clues point to the Macfarlane Hotel emulating the popular design characteristics of grander buildings of that period using less expensive materials. The first example of this is how the base of the building is constructed. Toronto business owners often showed their wealth and prestige by carting quarried stone from outside the city—Toronto does not have any local stone. If you walk by many of the city’s heritage structures you will notice great hunks of red Credit Valley stone running along the base of a building; on 99 Jarvis, Frederick Herbert uses red brick instead. The buff-coloured brick used on the rest of the façade delineates the base and gives the overall appearance of a stone base.
Another cost saving measure is the use of deep brick reveals every fourth row on the first-storey to copy the look of rusticated or channelled masonry. And while stone was more commonly used for quoins on the corners of a grander building to create an impression of permanence and strength, here bricks are again the material of choice.
These options would have certainly saved Mrs. Macfarlane money. So too the use of stamped white terracotta window surrounds on the second-storey. The use of terracotta on buildings in Toronto was introduced in the late 1800s; red examples are quite common, white less so. While the moulded white terracotta allowed builders reproduce ornamentation that looked like stone, the horizontal seams expose their trick!
Nevertheless, the classical details found in these window surrounds are impressive, from the dentils on the underside of the window cornice; the egg and dart moulding around the opening; the elaborate frieze of curled acanthus leaves, and the monogrammed “M” cartouche.
The first and third-storey windows are more simply adorned; but attention to detail is still evident. The first-storey windows have wooden mullions that are turned like the legs of furniture, and minute bead-and-reel moulding and dentils at eye level are details that can easily be appreciated. The jack arch of the third-storey window lintels has no center keystone, but the middle and corner brick segments protrude slightly, again emulating what was often done in stone.
Amazingly the metal cornice remains. This is often one of the first things to disappear from older buildings. The cornice has a metal frieze stamped with a classic bow-and-flower festoon and acanthus leaf modillions. One last element is the chimney, expressed on the exterior with corbelling at the base (scaled back layers of brick). These elements could use some care; pigeon poop is having its impact.
The Macfarlane Hotel is a wonderful heritage building that has fortunately resisted demolition. It is a fine example of the many hotels that lined our streets at the turn of the century when the city’s economy was expanding. The 1893 Goad’s Fire Insurance Map shows four hotels within half a block: the Schiller Hotel, Commercial Hotel, Imperial Hotel, and an unnamed one next to Nasmith’s Bakery.
For some reason the provenance of the Macfarlane Hotel has remained obscure, unlike some of its celebrated counterparts such as the Dominion Hotel (1889) at Queen Street East and Sumach, the Gladstone Hotel (1889) on Queen West, the Broadview Hotel (1891), and the Richardson House (1885) at King and Spadina. The proprietor, Mary Macfarlane, while thrust into the role when her husband died, embraced the business and commissioned a new hotel to attract customers. Her instructions to architect Frederick Herbert to embellish her hotel with cost-effective features and the timely selling of her business suggest that Mary was a shrewd and successful business woman.
Sources Consulted: Architectural Conservancy Ontario (ACO) TOBuilt database; Commemorative biographical record of the county of York, Ontario, published by J.H. Beers, 1907; Goad’s Fire Insurance maps as captioned; 1871 Canada Census; Then & Now: Tazmanian Ballroom, by Denise Benson, September 24, 2014; Toronto City Directories; Toronto Daily Star and Globe and Mail Historical Newspapers via ProQuest.