124 Park Rd. and its history on National Post

124 Park Rd. and its history on National Post

124 Park Rd. is really a one-of-a-kind listing that has been drawing attention for its unique historic character and tastefull modern updates that corespond with the history of the house. National Post writes about it in their article:

The Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale is studded with magnificent old mansions whose histories are intertwined with the relentless growth of a major city. But very few have risen, and fallen, and risen again in quite the manner of Caverhill, the pre-Confederation house set on a sprawling property overlooking the Rosedale Valley ravine.

Caverhill, also known as the Davis House and the Geary House, is the second-oldest home in Rosedale (only Drumsnab, overlooking the Don Valley on the other side of the neighbourhood, is older). But not so long ago, it was nearly lost, a victim of neglect and the city’s shifting attitudes towards its historical buildings. The story of Caverhill’s rescue is a testament to what can happen when a great house is acquired by owners with the resources — and more importantly, the will — to recognize a treasure worth preserving.

Today, the country-like drive along Rosedale Valley Road is pretty much the nicest route from Yonge Street to Bayview Avenue for mid-town commuters, but back in 1857 the Rosedale ravine was a daunting barrier for people seeking land for a new home. By that time, developers had already subdivided the area north of Bloor Street and were promoting building lots; but early on, there were few takers.

One of them was a young barrister named James Boyd Davis, who bought approximately an acre on a winding dirt lane, later known as Park Road, and built a single-storey red-and-yellow brick house with a Regency-style front porch, setting it just back from the crest of the ravine. Six years later, presumably to make room for a growing family, he added a second storey and Italianate features — all the rage at the time — such as eave brackets, symmetrical French windows and temple-like front gables.

Some years later, Davis sold the property to George Geary, another young lawyer and the person most closely associated with the home’s history. Geary served as Toronto’s mayor from 1910 to 1914, a time of great expansion when many neighbouring hamlets were incorporated within city limits. Geary’s political fortunes continued to rise; he went on to become a member of Parliament in 1925. Geary had bought the house as a bachelor, but when he married, he named the house Caverhill, after his bride’s maiden name. Caverhill remained in the Geary family until 1984, when it was put up for sale. Then the home’s fortunes took a turn.

The buyer at that time was an investor from a prominent family who wanted to raze it and build a new, larger house on the property, but the proposal was rejected by the increasingly strict Rosedale heritage board. For the next 12 years, Caverhill stood empty and vulnerable, home to wildlife and vandals. (People who grew up nearby tell of breaking in and playing there as children, à la Rebel Without a Cause.)

By 1996, it was near to falling down when financier Robert Bourgeois and his wife bought it. Knowing something of its history, they embarked on the daunting task of painstakingly restoring it. The couple engaged the firm of Den Bosch + Finchley to help, working in partnership with Taylor Hazell Architect, specialists in conservation architecture.

As Den Bosch restoration specialist Robert Barber, who oversaw the project, recalls, “When we took the project over, it was in significant disrepair; there were animal carcasses inside, the roof sagged and the whole house was in pretty sorry shape. But slowly and methodically, we began a complete restoration, from the ground to the roof.”

Sadly, most of the interior had been removed by the previous owners, so much of the restoration involved careful detective work, says Barber. There were a precious few elements still salvageable: the imposing front door casing, with its leaded glass top and sidelights, was cleaned, repaired and reinstalled. Other details, such as the elaborate acanthus-leaf plaster crown mouldings and other decorations, were replicated from remnants still clinging to crumbling walls.

“The original library was finished with beautiful, first-growth pine,” recalls Barber. “So we used those remnants to guide the rebuilding of the library, and today it’s considered one of the iconic rooms in Toronto.”

Heritage rules are most specific when it comes to exteriors, the portion of the house that is shared with the neighbourhood. The original brick was carefully cleaned, repaired and, where required, replaced with heritage brick. Chimneys were straightened; shutters were repaired or replicated; dormers were rebuilt and eaves and brackets replicated.

Figuring out the exact colour of the original pre-Confederation painted trim was one of several tasks that called for special investigative work. “There had been some interesting colours used over the years, “ Barber says with a chuckle, “but with careful paint removal, we were able to uncover the original paint, which we were then able to match exactly.”

As with every old-house renovation, there were setbacks. The family had commissioned an underground tunnel to the coachhouse just across the garden, which was used as a guesthouse. In the process, it was discovered that the soil was contaminated and needed complete removal. To make room for the machines, the entire coachhouse was dismantled, board by board and brick by brick, and resssembled after the work was completed.

The result was truly spectacular. Caverhill’s original grandeur slowly re-emerged: 14-foot ceilings, the long centre hall with formal drawing room on one side and panelled library on the other, the dining room with its bay window overlooking the shaded porch and gardens. The restoration took more than two years and at one point was heralded as “the largest private-house restoration in Canada.” A few years later, it was put on the market again.

Read the rest of the story on National Post

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