Habitat for hilarity: one west-end neighborhood contains four of the city’s oddest houses


Toronto. Home to some of the country’s most notable architectural wonders: the CN Tower, Casa Loma and . . . the Wood Cake House?

Within a one-square-kilometre area, bordered by Dupont to the north and Harbord to the south, and Manning to the east and Ossington to the west, stand four of the city’s oddest-looking homes. Whether decorated in action figures, Greek statues or just lots and lots of cork, they continue to draw gawking locals and tourists alike, more than two decades after first appearing.

At 1016 Shaw St., an ornate white building, featuring ocean blue accents and glossy orange terracotta tiles, sticks out among its nondescript neighbours. With its mix of Doric and Corinthian columns, Grecian planters, and animal and human statuary, what started as an homage to homeowner Andy Parashos’ country of origin has become the Greek House, or House of Parashos, an unofficial city landmark that was even featured on the 1998 Life Network show “Weird Homes.”

The Greek House on Shaw Street, with its mix of Doric and Corinthian columns, Grecian planters, and animal and human statuary, was featured on the Life Network show "Weird Homes."

Around the corner at 77 Yarmouth Rd., another detached home features a life-size statue of a white elephant under a tree in the front yard. It was built in 1999 by artist and industrial designer Matt Donovan as an OCAD thesis project. “After school finished, I had a bit of a storage problem and had decided to throw it out,” he says. As a lark, he agreed to put it on homeowner James Lawson’s lawn with no idea of ​​what would happen to it.

“I did not expect it to last outdoors,” Donovan says of the sculpture, made from Styrofoam and fiberglass on a wooden frame, “or to have the kind of appeal it has come to have.” Donovan, whose art is in the permanent collections of the Bank of Montreal and National Art Gallery of Canada, as well as on the exterior of the Fleur Condos at Church and Shuter, says, “I’m honored to have my elephant included in the pantheon of oddball houses.”

The house at 77 Yarmouth Rd., features a life-size statue of a white elephant built in 1999 by Matt Donovan as an OCAD thesis project.

A semi-detached home several blocks east, at 473 Clinton St., caught the attention of the American Folk Art Museum, which included it as a stop on a Folk Art Explorers tour in 2000. Known alternately as the Dowling House, Wood Cake House, and Cork House, it is bejeweled with sliced ​​pool cues, corks, shells, colored glass beads, plastic toys and coins. owner Albino Carreira, who was also featured on “Weird Homes,” began the decorations nearly 30 years ago, following a serious workplace injury, and the eccentric adornment also extends to the garage and his van.

Giuseppe Rauti’s house is a 10-minute walk south, at 550 Manning Ave., the entire front yard something of an ongoing sculpture project. He started it with wood and rocks – eventually adding unexpected objects like a Superman figurine, “Beauty and the Beast” snow globe and Santa statuettes – as a retirement project more than 20 years ago. “Before, I had more time,” says Rauti, who is also something of a local celebrity, having portrayed Jesus in Little Italy’s Good Friday procession for a half-century.

But even at 83, he continues to add to his yard: “Not too much. Depends on how I feel. Depends on what I see.” His assemblage of him has seen damage over the years – both by the elements and by raccoons, who foiled his attempts to illuminate it at night by chewing through strings of lights “like candy.” Because Rauti largely works with found objects, some of them can’t be replaced. Even so, he enjoys the conversations his frontage invites and the delight it brings neighborhood children. “When they come out from school,” he says, “so many kids stop, and come inside too, to look.”

local art dealer Duncan Farnan believes these homeowners are “all artists – self-taught, as it were,” adding, “I sometimes refer to this type of work as bricolage, as part of the make-do and vernacular tradition in art and architecture, sadly neglected in Toronto and often dismissed as of no historical or artistic value.” Farnan’s interest in these unique homes inspired him to curate the exhibition “Neighbourhood of One” at Harbourfront Center in 2006. “They’re really beautiful landmarks in our urban neighbourhoods, crafted with a sense of belonging and owning the local streetscape they sit upon. ”

Other unusual properties that can be found around the city include Shirley Sumaiser’s house, at 37 Bertmount Ave. in Leslieville, which is covered in hundreds of dolls, plush animal toys and Frisbees, as well the new build at 13 Lyndhurst Ct. that appears to be wrapped entirely in copper.

The house features animal and human statues as well as Greek columns.

While some of these unique homes have become community beacons, realtor Trevor Bond says living immediately besides them may not be desirable. “Not because it is causing a disturbance or has ill-tempered occupants,” he says, “it’s more that the neighboring properties become side notes, addendums that attract only the audience’s sympathies.”

Whether they’re viewed as folk art or fun anecdotes, these quirky homes have managed to outlast nearby restaurants and locals who’ve grown up and moved away. “Personally, I crave diversity and character,” Bond says. “That’s why I live in the city. I say, live and let live. Let the kids laugh and the neighbors gossip. I think that’s the stuff of a balanced, healthy, dynamic city.”

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