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Living History
Three centuries .. one address

Dominion Bank of Canada 1914 - TD Archive
Dominion Bank of Canada 1914TD Archive

The prestigious address of One King West was first home to the original Michie & Co. Grocers & Wine Merchants, established in Toronto in the mid-1800s. In 1879, the much sought-after Yonge and King location changed owners to become home to the head office of The Dominion Bank, a residency that would last an impressive 126 years.

In 1914, the bank’s rise to national prominence led to the construction of an early 12-story skyscraper. Beaux-Arts in style with Renaissance Revival detailing, the building was a major work of Darling and Pearson, Architects, in co-operation with Harkness and Oxley, Engineers.

In 1955, a merger with the Bank of Toronto resulted in the formation of The Toronto-Dominion Bank. Following this, many head office functions were relocated to the current Toronto-Dominion Bank building, while a branch continued to operate at 1 King West into the nineteen-nineties.

Ownership once again changed hands in 1999 and the Dominion Bank Building, now deemed a Heritage Building, was carefully redesigned for residential use by Stanford Downey Architect. This redesign saw the creation of the second tower adjacent to the building, aptly nicknamed “The Sliver”, due to its dramatically slender profile.

By 2006 the transformation was finally complete, resulting in One King West Hotel and Residence. Today, guests of the hotel are treated to the historical splendour of the Dominion Bank Building along with the modern sophistication of luxurious hotel amenities and services.

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Michie & Co's facade<i>Archives of Ontario
Michie & Co's facadeArchives of Ontario

Birth of a Bank

The first branch and head office building of The Dominion Bank was opened in 1871 at 40 King Street East. At the time, the structure was more commonly know as the Harris Store. Archives reveal that the monthly rent for the Bank premises was $92.50.

With the rapid expansion of the Bank, The Harris Store was soon found to be inadequate. Land was purchased on the southwest corner of King and Yonge. A new five-story Head Office building was constructed at a cost of $40,000 and opened for service during the year of 1879.

Growth of the bank continued and by the early 20th century Dominion Bank had outgrown the five-storey structure. In order to provide for the expanding business, the Directors secured the land and buildings south-west of the existing structure and construction on the present-day building was quickly begun. Top

Dominion Bank Building 1890 - Archives of Ontario
Dominion Bank Building 1890Archives of Ontario
Skyline from Front & Yonge 1925 - Archives of Ontario
Skyline from Front & Yonge 1925Archives of Ontario

Construction Controversy

Plans for the new head office of the Dominion Bank, unveiled in 1910, caused a great deal of controversy. Critics argued that the 13-storey skyscraper, one of Toronto's first modern commercial buildings, would ruin the city's skyline.

Despite the controversy, demolition of the original building at One King West began on March 24th, 1913, with construction of the new structure beginning on June 1st. A mere thirteen months later, on July 1st, 1914, the bank began to take up residency.

Upon completion of the Dominion Bank Building in 1914, all controversy ended. Messrs, Darling and Pearson, who also designed the Parliament Building's Centre Block in Ottawa, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto and the Sun Life Building in Montreal, were heralded as creating an architectural masterpiece.

Today, the Dominion Bank Building is considered one of Toronto's finest architectural landmarks and has earned the designation as a Heritage Building. Top

King Street West, looking west from Yonge Street - 1909 - 1912 - City of Toronto Archives
King Street West, looking west from Yonge Street1909 - 1912 - City of Toronto Archives
Dominion Bank Grand Banking Hall - TD Archives
Dominion Bank Grand Banking HallTD Archives

Early Architectural Footnotes

The turn-of-the-century 12-storey bank was originally one of the tallest buildings in Toronto and boasted 45 foot ceilings in its Grand Banking Hall. To accommodate the structure, excavations were carried thirty-five feet below the street level, in addition to underneath the curbing of what was considered at the time to be the busiest corner in America (outside of New York City). The adjoining building likewise had its foundation extended twenty feet below its original footing.

The building's exterior is faced with Italian Renaissance styled glazed terracotta from its granite base to the roof fifty-two feet above street level. One feature which exemplified the craftsmen's careful attention to detail is the vertical lines incorporated into the structure. Mounted as they are with no horizontal interruptions, and designed so that no vertical joining becomes apparent, the result of the facade is not only one that is ornate, but lends considerable solidarity to the general effect, each piece presenting in appearance a square tile.

Once inside the main entrance, the feeling of security is immediate. On the right is the main stairway leading to the Commercial Banking Hall (now the Grand Banking Hall) above. Straight ahead, two lamp standards mark the opening into the Personal Banking Area (now the hotel lobby). This area is practically a continuation of the entrance hall, extending back some seventy feet and leading directly to the vault below by means of a broad marble stairway. The flooring, as in the Commercial Banking Hall above, consists of light grey Tennessee marble slabs thirty inches square, set within a reddish border.

At the top of the monumental marble and bronze stairway leading from the entrance hall is the Commercial Banding Hall. The entire room, measuring one hundred and fifty-four feet long, sixty-eight feet wide, and thirty-three feet in height, is designed in Travernelle marble of grayish colour. Eighteen pillars enclose the large public space. The ceiling in this area is spectacular. It is separated into eighteen panels, each enclosed in an ornate floral band in the centre of which are the coat-of-arms of the then nine provinces. Even today, the colours are sharp and clear. Top

>King Street - City of Toronto Archives
King StreetCity of Toronto Archives
Dominion Bank Grand Banking - TD Archives
Dominion Bank Grand BankingTD Archives
Horses dragging Vault door up Yonge Street - TD Archives
Horses dragging Vault door up Yonge StreetTD Archives

The Vault

Located at the bottom of the wide marble staircase leading from the personal Banking Area is the bank's original vault. At the time considered the largest and best equipped bank vault in Canada, the vault is approximately 33 feet square by twenty-five feet high, and is divided into two stories; the upper or Safety Deposit Vault and the lower or Treasury Vaults.

To enter the upper vault, one must first pass through one of the largest and heaviest doors ever built. Circular in shape, 4 1/2 feet thick and with an opening of 7' 6", the complete door assembly weighs in excess of forty tons. Despite this mammoth weight, the precision of the door's construction is so fine that a paper clip accidentally dropped in the opening will halt the door from closing. During the vault's construction, the door was dragged up Yonge Street to much fanfare and newspaper coverage by a team of 19 horses and 8 teamsters.

To negate the possibility of someone tunneling into the vault, passages were built around and even beneath the vault. These passages were outfitted with steel grills, mirrors, and lights, thereby allowing security complete access and enhanced surveillance. Below the vault, upon the sold rock bed, eighteen inch square steel beams encased in concrete were used to form a series of pillars which support the vault, while also permitting an unobstructed view of all open space beneath. The vault also had a telephone and ventilation system, in the unlikely event that a depositor was locked in while placing valuables in a safe-deposit box. Top

The Dominion Bank Vault - TD Archives
The Dominion Bank VaultTD Archives
One King West Hotel & Residence today
One King West Hotel & Residence today

Birth of a Hotel and Residence

A major component of the bank's transformation was the construction of the 51 storey condominium tower by Stanford Downey Architects Inc. The tower, nicknamed "The Sliver", is the tallest residential building in Canada at 578 feet, and boasts the most slender height to width ratio in the world.

The Suites at 1 King West was designed in the spirit of 19th century apartment hotels, and as such, features an almost equal percentage of residential condominium units and hotel rooms. Adding to this number is the historic portion, which houses 200 units and a six-storey atrium enclosing 42 private suites.

In 2009, the Suites at 1 King West received a refresh of its own, and is now known more simply as One King West Hotel and Residences, in tribute to this historically significant and prestigious address. Top

A Modern Marvel

In 1914 when the Dominion Bank Building was first constructed, there were no earthquake construction codes. Stanford Downey ingeniously used the new tower, however, to anchor the old building and make them both earthquake-proof. This was accomplished by tying the columns and beams of the old building to the new concrete tower, through a complicated system of cross bracing in the floors and in the walls.

Added to this was a unique structural feature consisting of a 5,000 sq. ft. rooftop mass damper. The damper reacts to sudden wind bursts and minimizes perceived building sway. The swimming pool-style damper has 10 compartments of water, each designed to move opposite to the movement of the building.

Architectural precast concrete wall panels were also a unique feature of One King West. RES Precast Inc. developed a mix for the precast curtain wall that is almost indistinguishable from the original terracotta cladding on the old structure. There were 1,071 precast panels covering 93,000 sq. ft. installed on the One King West tower. Top

King & Yonge corner today
King & Yonge corner today
One King West Hotel & Residence today
One King West Hotel & Residence today