What Is Casa Loma?
A gothic revival castle in midtown Toronto, Casa Loma (Spanish for 'Hill House') was built as the home of Sir Henry Pellatt, an industrial magnate and ex-soldier. Pellatt hired E J Lennox, the architect behind Toronto's Old City Hall, to design the building and then , between 1911-14, an army of 299 workers to erect it.
The house cost $3.5m to build, covers a total of 64,700 square feet and includes such luxuries as an elevator, an oven big enough to cook an ox in, pipe organs, a central vacuum, secret underground passages, bowling lanes and a swimming pool. Not all of this is finished however. Work on the house was interrupted by WW1 and, amongst other things, the bowling lanes, pool and most of the third floor were never completed as originally intended.
Post-War Blues At Casa Loma
Despite the house being unfinished, Pellatt and his family moved in and started their lives there. Little did they know, more misfortune was waiting for them around the corner.
The son of a stockbroker, Pellatt had spent the majority of his working life as a rifleman in the Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. How he had made his fortune however was through investments in Canada's railway and hydro-electric power industries.
These investments turned sour on him however when Canadian legislator Adam Beck began campaigning against private energy magnates, advocating for a public energy system. Hydro-power 'should be as free as air', he declared. He quite literally took the power out of Pellatt's hands, confiscating his companies for public use.
This was a big blow for Pellatt but things didn't stop there. The war having left the country in a state of depression, Beck's next move was to pursue heavier taxation on the rich. Under his guidance, Casa Loma's property taxes rose from $600/year to £1,000/ year.
Casa Loma Is Left Behind
Pellatt auctioned off $1.5m in art and $250,000 in furnishings to try to stay afloat but even this wasn't enough. He left Casa Loma in 1923 and, almost bankrupt, downgraded to a much smaller property that he shared with his chauffeur until his death in 1939.
Casa Loma After Pellatt
In the years following 1923 Casa Loma went through several changes. For a short while it served as a luxury hotel, a particularly popular spot for wealthy Americans looking to avoid prohibition laws. This all ended when it was seized by the city on account of unpaid taxes.
It then spent a number of years vacant until, in the 1930s, a local journalist revitalised interest in the building, spending a night there for a piece she was doing on ghosts and supernatural phenomena. She later broadcasted an appeal for someone to save it from demolition.
This was seen by the president of a local Kiwanis club- a not-for-profit that focused on helping children. The Kiwanis Club leased the building and operated it as a tourist destination for the next 74 years.
During WW2, Casa Loma's stables were secretly used as a facility for the production of sonar. An 'under repairs' sign was hung on its doors to keep people out whilst at the same time justifying the comings and goings of workers.
In 2011, the city took over management of the building from the Kiwanis Club, citing their failure to contribute towards a $33m restoration project that it had been undergoing since 1997. They then welcomed bids from the private sector and, in 2014, entered into an agreement with Liberty Entertainment Group, who still manage it today.
Casa Loma Today
The building and grounds are currently avaliable to visit daily between 9.30am and 5.00pm. They feature a restaurant and various exhibits, including an antique car collection, a museum dedicated to Pellatt's old regiment and a documentary film about his life on loop. It is also available to rent as a venue and has been used as a set in films ranging from X-men to Scott Pilgrim Vs The World to Chicago to Crimson Peak.
Admission costs a hefty $40 for adults, $35 for 14-17 year olds, and $20 for children over 4. TThis does not include admission to special events.
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