The Brunny B! / by Oliver Dang

After 139 storied years in business, the beloved Annex watering hole The Brunswick House is closing down its' doors for 'greener' pastures - namely a Rexall drugstore. Founded in 1876, The Brunny served as a hotel, drinking establishment and music venue for the working class and immigrants, and with Albert Hall above it, it hosted amazing talents like Etta James, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and KD Lang. But, for the last years of its' life, it hosted cheap beers, fist fights, and outraged neighbours over its' vomit covered sidewalks. Needless to say, there are mixed opinions on the departure of The Brunswick House. 

However, what replaces it should strive to have the same impact and longevity that The Brunswick House had in the Annex. Although Rexall will be bringing in 'experts' to help preserve the heritage of the building - much like what Shoppers Drug Mart has done with the old Runnymede Theatre, see link - the proposal is just another big chain store with random businesses above it. It's the safe bet (ie boring), without providing anything interesting or impactful for the neighbourhood, nor Toronto. 

So, here is the Six Four Five A proposal: bring it back to its' roots as a gathering spot and hub for the working class & immigrants, by creating a mixed-use/mixed-income building in the heart of the Annex.

The Brunny, reimagined with a mixed-income strategy.. oh, and a green wall.

The Brunny, reimagined with a mixed-income strategy.. oh, and a green wall.

This proposal will most likely be met with a lot of skepticism, NIMBY-ism and rejection, but the Annex is the perfect place for such a building to exist. It has the wealth, diversity, and services that would be a benefit to all. The prime location of The Brunswick would draw people in to buy/rent the market place units, which would help subsidize the rent controlled/affordable units. And, having affordable housing in a great neighbourhood like the Annex would: (a) ease the integration of new immigrants; (b) allow those that live in affordable housing access to a great neighbourhood and essential services (like transportation, social services, etc); and, (c) hopefully reduce NIMBY-ism and negative perceptions about mixed-income developments.

Skeptics of mixed-income developments should refer to the work of David Baker Architects (link), where they create beautifully designed mixed-income buildings in one of the most expensive cities in the US: San Francisco. And these projects work. Full stop.

At a time when housing prices in Toronto are through the roof, and the cost of rent is ever escalating (look at the Toronto Rent Map produced by SkyViewSuites here), a project like this needs to happen as a prototype, and a catalyst, to provide better affordable housing that is integrated throughout an expanding city.