Piece work: James Street façade numbered and stored
They’re putting a rebuilt face on a new body down on James Street North to maintain a streetscape in keeping with the Lister Block.
Workmen have been carefully taking apart the façade of the historic Thomas building at 42-56 James North, numbering the pieces and storing them at LIUNA Station for reassembly.
John Spolnik, director of Hamilton’s building services division, says the project to remove the heritage pieces and reassemble them on a brand-new building at the same site is one of the more complex construction jobs in Hamilton.
“They’re down to about nine feet above ground level and the demolition permit will be executed,” he said. “The condition of most of the building meant new construction was the only way to preserve heritage elements.”
He said the owners, LIUNA, acted quickly to shore up non-heritage elements of the building following a city order.
They were hoping to stave off a potential collapse like the Balfour building nearby on King William Street.
Meantime, a heritage consultant recommended the owner be allowed to build a new main structure and be granted a permit to deconstruct the façade following a 30-point guideline in removing, repairing and replacing elements to preserve as many original features as possible.
A heritage assessment said William Thomas’ commercial building reflected the prosperity of Hamilton in the 1850s and included high levels of craftsmanship which included flourishes such as cornices, decorative window trip and ornate masonry.
Thomas was a key figure in the Renaissance Revival school of architecture and designed buildings across Ontario, and includes St. Lawrence Hall and Market Toronto and Brock’s Monument in Queenston.
Kathy Drewitt, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Area, said work on the Thomas building is taking a potentially dangerous structure and recreating an exciting streetscape.
“There were actually sections of the façade leaning away from the building and some pieces were hitting the sidewalk.”
Drewitt said most of Thomas’ architectural flourishes had been covered in steel cladding and some had been removed, complicating the process of recreating the original.
She said renewing some of the classic architecture of the city core is a key ingredient in breathing new economic life into the city centre.