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PRINT EDITION
Field of dreams
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The land has since been overtaken by high-rises and shopping centres, but this North York abode offers a reminder of a time when stables and farmland were the only neighbours in sight
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By CAROLYN IRELAND
  
  

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Friday, April 12, 2019 – Page H4

TORONTO -- 52 Elliotwood Ct.

TORONTO

Asking Price: $1.868-million Taxes: $7,419.52 (2018) Lot Size: 33 by 136 feet (irregular) Agents: Patrice Gale (Sotheby's International Realty Canada)

THE BACKSTORY

In the 1960s, William Bleakley was a Toronto-based architect who made a specialty of designing dozens of public-school buildings in Scarborough and other parts of the city.

The partner at A.M. Ingleson Architects designed few residences during his career, but in 1968, Mr. Bleakley was offered the chance to purchase a piece of farmland north of Toronto.

The vast Elliot family farm was slated for development and Mr.

Bleakley decided to build a new home for his wife, Orma, and son, John. The architect had his pick of lots in the rolling landscape of fields and forests.

Mr. Bleakley chose a pieshaped parcel along the fence line that divided the Elliot farm from land belonging to tycoon E.P. Taylor.

Today, that former farmland is the affluent neighbourhood of York Mills. The Bleakley house sits north of the busy intersection of York Mills Road and Leslie Street in the enclave known as St-Andrew-Windfields.

THE HOUSE TODAY Mr. Bleakley died in 1999, but son John remembers the many evenings his father spent at his drafting table in their first family home.

"It was probably in his brain for some time," John Bleakley says of his father's design. "He'd go down after dinner and work in the unfinished basement."

He says his father chose the site for its south-facing exposure and the mature trees that sheltered the view from the neighbouring property.

"He wanted to be on the fence line because of the beautiful trees."

The lot, which is 33 feet at the street, widens to 122 feet at the rear.

Mr. Bleakley would create a one-storey family residence built around a courtyard. The interior featured contemporary materials such as redwood and brick.

"Dad had a real respect for Frank Lloyd Wright," Mr. Bleakley says of the vaunted American architect.

When his father built a scale model of their new home, John, then 5, used it as a racecourse for his miniature Hot Wheels cars.

While the house was under construction, the family would drive up to watch the progress.

At the time, the E.P. Taylor property was still an operating farm with cattle and thoroughbred racing horses.

"We'd go on the weekend and they'd let you visit the stables," recalls Mr. Bleakley, who would later play with his friends on the surrounding farmland.

"As a dare, you'd run across the field with the bulls in it."

The finished one-storey house provided privacy from the street at the front and floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear.

Guests arrived to a foyer with a tiled floor, cedar trim and a view straight through to the backyard.

"You come in and the house pulls you in," Mr. Bleakley says.

His father was conscious of protecting the environment and reducing energy use, Mr. Bleakley says, explaining the building was insulated far above the level required by regulations at the time.

The south-facing expanse of glass let in warming rays when the winter sun was at a low angle, but the interior was sheltered in warmer months.

"You get solar heating in winter, but coolness in the summer from the big trees and the overhang," he says.

There's also a brick fireplace in mid-century style.

Ceilings are more than eight feet high and the casement-style windows are all trimmed in redwood, Mr. Bleakley points out.

"They'll never rot; they'll never decompose."

A partial wall creates separation between the living room and the dining room. Mr. Bleakley says people could circulate easily, but guests sitting in the living room either before or after dinner would not have a view into the dining room.

"There's some intimacy within the rooms, but they're not closed in," he says. "It was really built for entertaining."

The "very sixties" kitchen is on trend today, with wood cabinets, flat panel doors and an island, real estate agent Patrice Gale of Sotheby's International Realty Canada points out.

The adjacent family room has a brick wall, cedar accents and a door opening to the garden.

A side entrance door leads to a mudroom on the main level and stairs to the basement.

The master bedroom has floor-to-ceiling glass with casement windows.

"In every room in the house, you can get fresh air," Mr. Bleakley says.

A wall of louvered doors allow air to flow to the interior of the his-and-hers closets.

Another element that was innovative for the time was the built-in speakers, bringing sound throughout the house.

The family bathroom has a bathtub, double sinks and an Italian marble countertop in powder blue.

A second bedroom at the front of the house has floor-toceiling windows overlooking a courtyard. A third bedroom is currently used as a study.

Mr. Bleakley recalls rapid development of the area in the late 1960s and early 70s. "We were the first house started. The street grew very quickly within the first two or three years."

Eventually, all of the area's farmland was replaced with suburban homes, shopping centres and high-rise apartment buildings.

But the Bleakleys preserved their corner of nature.

Over the years, the Bleakleys tended to the garden outside and encouraged northern cardinals, blue jays, finches and woodpeckers to visit their feeders.

"Dad and Mom were both big gardeners and bird watchers," Mr. Bleakley says.

As Elliotwood Court filled in, the elder Mr. Bleakley fought with the city to have a landscaped island in the centre of the cul-de-sac. He prevailed by doing the design himself.

"He didn't want all asphalt. He designed an island and what was going to be on it," the younger Mr. Bleakley says.

Mr. Bleakley's mother, Orma Hooper, recently left the house where she had lived for 50 years to be closer to him.

THE BEST FEATURE Mr. Bleakley designed the living room to project into the backyard, with windows on three sides.

"You feel like you're sitting in the garden," Mr. Bleakley says of the spot where his mother placed a comfortable chair for reading.

Associated Graphic

The late William Bleakley, the architect and former owner of 52 Elliotwood Ct., was conscious of protecting the environment and reducing energy use when he conceived this home in what is now the affluent neighbourhood of York Mills.

PHOTOS BY DOK PHOTO STUDIO INC.


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