Toronto Through My Lens

Tag: SumachSt

The Future of Toronto’s “Cube House”

Last year I published a post on the unique “Cube House” in downtown Toronto. A lot of readers expressed interest in that post, found here.

The Cube House recently surfaced in the news, and I instantly thought of the post I had written earlier. Further to that, here’s an article on the Cube House from CBC News, written by CBC Toronto Reporter Ryan Patrick Jones.

Uncertainty swirls for Toronto artists after iconic cube house sold to developer

Property at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue sold for more than $19M in November

Musicians renting Toronto’s unique cube house say they’re unsure how long they’ll be able to keep their creative gathering space alive after a new developer purchased the site.

Block Developments bought the 8,700-square-foot parcel of land at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue, along with several nearby row houses, last year with plans to redevelop.

But Luis Vasquez, a music producer who’s rented one of the three cube units for the past year and a half, said he’s not sure what the plans are, the timeline — or what it will mean for the community of music lovers currently using the space.

“There’s this uncertainty,” he said. “We’re kind of in the dark.”

The ownership change is the latest in the saga of the unusual structure, which has been used as a billboard for a local coffee shop, a private residence and, most recently, as a space for recording artists and musical performances.

The cube house was built in 1996 by two Canadian architects inspired by cube homes in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The three elevated green cubes include a residential unit and two commercial units.

While it isn’t a designated heritage property, the cube house land is listed on the city’s heritage register, meaning it’s believed to be of cultural heritage value or interest.

Vasquez, owner of The Audio Station, transformed his unit into a music studio where artists pay for recording, mixing and mastering services. He hosts live music and other community events on weeknights and weekends.

The cube house has become an important gathering place for musicians and music lovers, said Ronan White, a musician who puts on community events. He said he would be sad to lose it to development.

“The more and more these things happen, the less spots we actually have to congregate and be ourselves,” he said.

The potential loss of the cube house shows that art, culture and music aren’t being prioritized as the cost of living increases, Vasquez said.

“I think the community is really hurting for it.”

Redevelopment plans already underway

Plans to redevelop the cube house land have been in the works for years. 

Previous owners submitted a development application in August 2021 for a mixed-use community called Sumach Artsplace. It would have resulted in a 35-storey, triangular-shaped tower being built on the site with 443 new homes, including 324 market-rate condo units, 119 affordable rental units, and a public plaza. 

However, former co-owner Taso Boussoulas told CBC Toronto that the application fell apart shortly after it was submitted because it incorporated nine homes across the street that his company did not own.

Boussoulas said he had an “arrangement” with the homeowners but some pulled out. As the project sat idle, Block Developments swooped in.

“We negotiated a deal, something that we felt was fair for us and fair for them, and we sold,” Boussoulas said.

New developer working on ‘revised application’

Property records show Block Developments purchased 1 Sumach St. for $19.125 million on Nov. 30, 2023. That same day, records show the company purchased six of the nine homes across the street from the cube house.

In an email statement, Block Developments said it is working on a “revised application,” incorporating feedback from city staff on the previous proposal as well as “community priorities that have been flagged for us.”

“We are taking our time and do not want to rush this process until we feel we are ready for a robust resubmission that represents Block’s best vision for the site,” the statement said.  

The first quarter of 2025 is the earliest tenants would need to vacate the cube house, according to Block Developments. It did not respond to a question about whether the company plans to demolish or move the cube house. 

In the meantime, the developer said its staff are inspecting the buildings to identify any issues and to make essential repairs to make sure the units are “safe and suitable” for the existing tenants.

The company didn’t respond to a question about whether it plans to demolish or move the cube house.

Alex Walker, owner of recording studio 3CubeMusic, said he hopes he can continue running his business out of the cube house while the developer plans the site’s next steps. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The city of Toronto confirmed via email that it’s been talking informally with the new developer about potential changes to the previous development application, but that no new plans have been formally submitted.

Alex Walker, a beatmaker and music producer, recently opened the 3CubeMusic recording studio inside one of the cubes. He hopes he can keep operating out of the cube for at least a year.

“The future is uncertain and it’s a little scary for me as a tenant here trying to run a business,” Walker said.

“I’d be happy just to be able to say that we were part of the cube’s legacy, you know? We go down with the building.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan Patrick Jones

Reporter

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.

TOcityscapes is One Year Old!

That’s right – I started this blog on July 31, 2022. Happy First Birthday!

Thank you to all my loyal subscribers for sticking with me all this time. There’s still a lot more TOcityscapes to come!

If you’d like to take a look back at the year that was, I’ve created an Archives page where you can select and view any post from the past year.

As a bit of a retrospective, here are links to a few of the posts that generated the most viewer response or comments from the past year. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for a whole lot more to come…

Magic on Sumach Street

Walking down Queen Street East this past weekend on my way to photograph Riverside, I passed Sumach Street; the colour of these interesting pieces caught my eye and drew me in.

At 60 Sumach Street sits The Magic Building. I’m not sure exactly what goes on at said building, and I couldn’t find much on the Web, so I guess it’s open to interpretation:

Above the door an annoyed-looking witch casts a weary eye on any interlopers…

… while a figure not unlike Metallica’s James Hetfield broods quietly on each side of the door…

Elicser on the Magic Building

BUT!… the best part of this location is the massive, impressive canvas by Elicser, wrapping around the corner of the Magic Building:

On the other side of Sumach Street at the corner of Queen Street East, is this utility box – unmistakably Elicser:

Elicser is one of Toronto’s best street artists who has helped define our cityscape. In photographing Toronto over the years, I’ve encountered a lot of Elicser’s work, all of it impressive and distinctive. You can read more about him here and here.

Here’s a short video on the man himself:


Leaving the magic behind and heading a little further east across Queen Street, I encountered these in an alley beside a building at 533 Queen Street East:

Quite good, actually. The only identification on the mural was a little inscription on the one side: Not Art by @ITSMAHYAR. After some minor Googling, I found a little bit more here about the Not Art Gallery and the artist Mahyar Amir.

I’m not sure if this mural on the opposite wall was by Mahyar Amir as well, but I thought the scales of justice were particularly well rendered.

So, all in all, it was an interesting little diversion that day on Queen Street East.

The Cube House

I’ve known about the so-called “Cube House” for several years and have always wanted to get some shots of it. I finally paid a visit to the building this past weekend.

The Cube House is located at 1 Sumach Street beside the busy Adelaide Street East and Richmond Street East overpasses, which is kind of an odd location. Sumach Street is strangely laid out near the Cube House – it ends in a stubby dead end with a second Sumach Street running parallel to the first, then the two streets pick up as one on the north side of the Richmond Street East overpass:

I remember the Cube House being very popular years ago during the Doors Open Toronto events. Sadly, this unique piece of Toronto architecture is now abandoned and derelict. This being Toronto, where we don’t preserve our past or any interesting structures, there is a move to demolish the building to construct – wait for it – more condos.

The Cube House was built in 1996 by Canadian architect Ben Kutner and his partner Jeff Brown. When the architects designed their cube home, they modelled it after Dutch architect Piet Blom’s cube houses in Rotterdam which were built in the 1970s:

Piet Blom’s cube houses in Rotterdam, Netherlands
This photo courtesy of blogto.com

The Canadian architects intended to use the home as a solution for affordable housing on unusable parcels of land and originally planned to construct more. The architects envisioned that the Cube House would be moved around to different locations across its lifespan rather than permanently staying in its current location.

I found some interesting facts about the Cube House:

  • It took architect Ben Kutner 10 years to get permission from the city to get the plans approved.
  • The ownership of the property became a legal battle for over a year because the cubes were built on land that was not owned by the architect. As a result, the cubes were deemed the property of the landowner.
  • Eventually, in the early 2000s, the land and structure were sold to Coffee Time founder Tom Michalopoulos for $265,000; he utilized the cubes as billboards for his coffee business.

In May 2016, the property was purchased by commercial real estate expert Taso Boussoulas and real estate developer Jeff Craig for $2,750,000.

I’m glad I got these shots when I did; the Cube House’s future is very uncertain. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens to it down the road.

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