By Greg Clark, December 8, 1923
“Casa Loma ” Toronto’s Wonder House of the New World, Abandoned Like a Mediaeval Ruin-Sir Henry Pellatt Has Investigated Cost of Moving Castle, Stone By Stone, to His County Estate at King, 21 Miles From Toronto, But ‘Twas Impracticable.
What is to become of Casa Loma?
What is to be done with Sir Henry Pellatt’s magnificent castle overlooking the city of Toronto, reputed to be the most splendid private residence in America?
It is no private residence now. Sir Henry dwelt in one wing of It during the war years, throwing its vast halls and hundred chambers wide open with an open-handedness that has characterized nearly fifty years of military activity to the Red Cross and Daughters of the Empire and sundry other organizations of a patriotic nature.
But with the war over, and a practical-minded city imposing stern taxes on the baronial property though the value of the place has mounted fourfold, Sir Henry abandoned Casa Loma about a year ago, found himself an apartment in the city and devoted himself to his large country estate near King, Ontario.
There stands the castle, on a hill overlooking the city visible from every attic window for miles, lonely and alone, as abandoned as any of the mediaeval ruins of the old world which inspired it, though it is only twelve years old.
A picturesque mass of stone wrought into beauty, worth how many millions of dollars today only architects can guess. In four of its seventeen great suites of rooms the furniture stands just as if it were occupied. There are covers on the huge antique four-posters. Fires are laid in the priceless seventeenth century fireplaces. Rugs on the floors from the mills of England and the tents of Persia, tiger skins, bear skins, Sir Henry’s valuable collection of oil paintings on the walls, the banquet table in the huge panelled and carven dining hall ready to be laid. Nothing is covered up or burlapped in these east wing chambers of Casa Loma. The uniforms of Sir Henry’s rank hang in glass cases in his bed chamber. A long case holds a dozen pairs of military boots, spurred and agleam, photographs on the walls record Sir Henry’s visits to the coronations, a jubilee and that memorable rendition of the Queen’s Own, his regiment, to Britain.
Casa Loma is not packed up for the auction-house by any means.
But it is for sale.
“I’ve made a mistake,” said Sir Henry. “I should never have built Casa Loma so close to the city. It was in the county when I began it. But it is in the city to-day.
I should have built it at King on my country estate on some oak crowned hill. I can see it then … And it wouldn’t then be swamped with taxes as it is to-day, making it worthless, in the hard times, to live in.
One can picture Casa Loma remote on one of those old Ontario hills, impregnable, baronial, afar, behind a most and drawbridge with respectful county bailiffs armed with tax forms standing at the outer gates of the estate, debating the propriety and the risk of venturing further…
Sir Henry has even tried to rectify his mistake to the extent of getting estimates on the cost of removing Casa Loma stone by stone, panel by panel, lock, stock and barrel, to his King estate, twenty-one miles by road from Casa Loma.
“But it was out of the question,” said Sir Henry.
So it waits, while rumors fly, a sight no visitor to Toronto misses a monument to masterful man’s ambition, a work of very real beauty from the hands of Canadians, architect to artisan, a burden, a moral lesson, a problem.
What is to become of it?
Rumor one: A priestly order desires to gain possession of it for a monastery or an episcopal palace. This is the most intriguing of all rumors, since the castle dominates, in its position, the most Orange city in America.
Rumor two: A syndicate wishes to purchase the place as a magnificent apartment house, the rates to be very exorbitant such as only the very wealthy can afford; thus a score of millionaires to support what one millionaire conceived and built.
Rumor three: An educational institution.
Rumor four: A millionaires’ club.
Rumor five: A palace for the king. There is no regal residence in Canada, only vice-regal. The king has no palace in Canada. It was suggested that the numerous loyal and patriotic organizations of Canada buy Casa Loma for that purpose.
Rumor six: A railroad station. The tubes or underground railway which Toronto must sooner or later devise will need a centrally located station of some description.
Rumor seven: That government should cooperate in getting Casa Loma as a joint war museum, art gallery, soldiers’ hostel, soldiers club, and headquarters for the disabled veterans of Canada.
This last rumor is the only one which Sir Henry Pellatt will discuss. Of all the others he has nothing whatever to say.
“If I can’t have Casa Loma myself, I would rather see the soldiers in it than anyone else,” he said. “I have a certain value set on the property in my mind. I would be willing, if the soldiers got it, to contribute a million dollars towards it – by taking a million off the value I have in mind.”
Rumor further has it that the soldiers could get it for $700,000.
Despite the fact that there are numerous properties all over Canada already owned by the government, and that as far as soldiers are concerned, even disabled soldiers, the government’s policy has been one of strict retrenchment, the soldiers’ organizations in Toronto are soliciting the support of soldiers all over the dominion in a determined effort to have the government take into practical consideration the purchase of Casa Loma as a soldiers’ hostel.
Commenced in 1911
Sergeant-Major George Creighton, military secretary to the mayor of Toronto and head of the soldiers’ information bureau at the city hall, says:
“The property is ideal as a soldier’s hostel. Five hundred permanently disabled men could be housed in it. Its basement could be turned into a recreational club for soldiers with a rifle gallery, bowling alleys, gymnasium and swimming pool – all of which are already there – and its main floor a military museum and library of the most splendid sort, as a memorial. Its kitchens are like the best hotel kitchens and could feed a thousand. Its great hall would accommodate large meetings. Its grounds would support garrison parades. It is simply ideal.”
Sir Henry made possible an inspection of the property and agreed to an artist making sketches within its walls for the first time.
Casa Loma was commenced in building in 1911, after a dozen years of preparations. It is not wholly completed yet. The central hall of the castle, a vast chamber ninety feet square and vaulted to the roof, still is filled with the builder’s scaffolding. Many of the hundred rooms are unfurnished. But in 1914, Sir Henry moved into the east wing living quarters, the main rooms of the ground floor, the library, dining room, kitchens, four suites of living quarters and servants’ quarters being furnished to the last degree of completeness.
Not the faintest idea of the richness and magnificence of Casa Loma can be gathered from a single visit. The artist who made the sketches made three visits, and each one found him more helpless to decide which feature of the inexhaustible interests of the castle to select.
For example, the main corridors of all floors of the castle are two hundred feet long, as wide as a city street and high. The walls of corridors and chambers are paneled in great ten-foot squares of the best grained walnut. The borders are deep carving the full richness of which is likely to escape the eye in the lavishness with which wood carving is spread through out the main floor. The ceilings are moulded in splendid patterns after seventeenth century ceilings. The floors are oak planks, a foot wide spaced with teak, studded like ship’s decks, except where a formal chamber demands a fine floor in smaller pattern.
The mantels are genuine seventeenth century marble and inlay pieces, worth about $1.500 apiece. The furniture throughout the down stairs are museum pieces rare, massive antiques, delicate Chippendales and Adams.
There is nothing inside the castle the least bit out of proportion with the outside. The George Second clock which stands just inside the main entrance is the biggest clock imaginable, done in lacquer and rosewood. The beds in the private suites are huge four-posters.
Looking down the main corridor towards the conservatory gives a sense of being back in the days of the Louis. Past dark panelled walls and carven corners, through bronze doors of the most delicate tracery design (modeled after Italian seventeenth century doors) you look into the bright marble conservatory which alone is as big the average house and lot.
Casa Loma is no period. It is a bold combination of the massive Scottish castle and the fine-lined chateau. It grew out of the vision of Sir Henry who visited many splendid mansions in Europe when, as an officer of the Canadian militia, he went to England to Victoria’s jubilee, to the coronations of Edward and of George, and finally when he took his regiment, the Queen’s Own, to England. He admits he saw a bit here, a bit there, a wall, a door, a great room ceiling, and carried the memory of them with him, until as Casa Loma took form in his mind, he began to select deliberately the parts that have been assembled with such genius by E. J. Lennox, the architect who also built the City Hall in Toronto, into this castle which now stands empty.
Romantic Secret Chambers
There was romance in the heart of the man who built it, for even in these plain days, there are secret chambers and passages in the castle like those described in Scott’s novels. Just within the main entrance is a sort of reception room which Sir Henry used as his own den. In the carving of one of its panels is a hidden button. Press it and the panel swings out, disclosing a staircase that leads directly to Sir Henry’s own bedroom, where another secret door is concealed as a panel. In his bedroom is a hidden locker operated by pressure on certain spot in the panel.
From the basement of the castle, a wide tunnel, down which a regiment in fours could march, leads over to the stables, back of the castle.
Out of Sir Henry’s bedroom suite (the seventeen suite of Casa Loma each consist of four large chambers and a bathroom) there extends a passage out to a sort of opera box or balcony, which overlooks the great ninety-foot central hall. From here, the host can look down upon his guests, or can sit to listen to the organ in its loft opposite.
It has the grand touch all the way through.
And it could not be duplicated for four times its cost. Carpenters who built Casa Loma got thirty-three cents a hour – and they were master carpenters too, to handle such massive wood. During the building, the masons struck for forty-seven cents an hour – and if you look closely at the walls and battlements and gigantic buttresses of Casa Loma, you will see that a mason had to be a mason to master such monster stones as those.
Here it stands, the baronial castle, and the baron will not dwell in it. How different from the day, architecturally so to be mourned, when the baron appointed the assessors and the tax collectors himself.
Sir Henry has successfully fought the assessors, and has had the value of his property reduced from time to time by them. His plea is that the castle as a private dwelling, does not increase but actually depreciates the value of his land, since the fabric he has built upon it is not easily saleable.
The present situation confirms Sir Henry’s contention. The building itself is now assessed at about $100,000.
If no institution takes the castle, what will happen? It will take a very wealthy man indeed to support a burden of millions like Casa Loma, without revenue in itself and constantly nibbled by taxes. Each beautiful stone, each splendid beam, each object d’art which has been put into it for the materialization of a man’s dream is one more weight in a colossal burden to penalize him who would dare transmute any dream (save the most small and modest of dreams) out of mist and star dust and thin air into the tangible facts of stone and wood.
Editor’s Notes: Casa Loma had a troubled history, as this article indicates. It still remains a popular tourist attraction, but it’s upkeep remained a problem for Toronto over time. This article is from the time that Sir Henry Pellatt was still alive, but had to abandon the property because of increased taxes.
When the article indicates that Toronto is an “Orange” city, it is in reference to the Orange Order. Basically it meant that the city was very Protestant.