Former home of hippie Yorkville's Purple Onion coffeehouse to be destroyed?

Developer proposes demolishing heritage building to make way for a 33-storey condo


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The building at Yorkville Avenue and Avenue Road is known as York Square

Toronto developer Empire Communities had once proposed to retain the facade of the designated heritage property on the northeast corner of Avenue Road and Yorkville Avenue and incorporate it into a 33-storey development proposal. However, following a failed four-year consultation process with local residents, the developer has now elected to demolish the heritage building entirely.

The property was once home to the Purple Onion Coffee House, a popular venue for folk music between 1960 and 1965. It played host to a number of performers, including Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian and Sylvia Tyson and Gordon Lightfoot.

Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is against its demolition. 

“It’s a building of tremendous interest in the neighbourhood,” said Wong-Tam. “The developer had put together some renderings that clearly show their interest in maintaining the property.… It was a bit surprising to see the demolition application come in.”

The Toronto Preservation Board (TPB) recommended that Toronto City Council refuse the demolition permit and the matter will go to a vote on Jan. 31. If denied by city council, Empire Communities can still appeal the decision to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

“It was a bit surprising to see the demolition application come in.”

Catherine Nasmith, president of the Toronto branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), is also troubled by the proposed demolition. “ACO Toronto nominated this property for designation and is on record as favouring full conservation,” she said.

The property is also architecturally significant because it features a 1969 renovation by award-winning architect Jack Diamond.

Diamond said that he is not against the building’s demolition, as long as the new design balances public and private interests — preferably including a public courtyard and human-scaled streetscape.

Wong-Tam noted that many heritage properties in Yorkville are successfully restored and integrated into new developments.

Empire Communities is also at odds with the city about the height of the proposal, with the city planning report stating the building is taller than what local zoning allows. Empire Communities appealed this decision to the OMB, with a hearing set for Jan. 9.

Empire Communities did not respond to requests for comment.

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