What caused the fire? That’s the question investigators with the Ontario Fire Marshall’s office will try to answer following a massive six-alarm blaze that destroyed a stately heritage building at 335 Yonge Street early this morning.
Built around 1888, and originally home to the Empress Hotel, the three-storey brown brick William Reynolds Block at the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets recently housed several retail stores and eateries. Its busiest and best-known tenant was Salad King, a Thai restaurant that was enormously popular with students from the Ryerson University campus right next door.
All of the businesses were forced to close last April after a section of the building’s façade collapsed without warning onto Gould Street (there’s more information about that incident in a Toronto Star article here). Since then, the two eastern lanes of Yonge Street and the stretch of Gould adjacent to the building have been fenced off as a safety precaution while the City and the property’s owners discussed whether the structure could be restored. That now appears highly unlikely, since fire investigators say they must demolish what remains of the structure so they can safely inspect the rubble to determine the cause of the blaze.
While they’re busy grappling with that mystery, I’ll be keen to hear answers to some “burning” questions that have been on my mind since April: What’s going to happen with this piece of prime downtown real estate? Will the old Empress Hotel building be reconstructed in some shape or form? Will a new retail or office building or a condo tower take its place? Or will Ryerson University acquire the property to expand its downtown campus?
Just before Christmas, I snapped some photos of the cordoned-off building; they appear below, along with pics I took this afternoon. For more news, and to view additional photos of the fire and its aftermath, see this Toronto Star article and this follow-up story in The Globe and Mail.