For several years Chinatown has been struggling. The arrival of big-box asian-food supermarkets in the suburbs, and the shift of Asian families to suburban living, has resulted in a number of vacancies along Somerset Street. The construction of the Chinatown Royal Arch is the first step in rejuvenating the area. The second step is the construction, in 2011, of new streetscaping from Preston up the hill to Booth. This will include new, wider brick sidewalks, lots more trees and plantings, new ped-scale lighting, benches and other street furniture. This has made a major improvement to Preston; similar but unique streetscaping should boost Chinatown’s somewhat dowdy image. The merchants also need to respond by retooling themselves to suit the new market reality.
There is currently a vacant lot at the corner of Somerset and Booth. The vacancy was created by the usual Dalhousie-ward urban renewal agent: fire. Below are pictures of the previous buildings on the site. One was originally a movie theatre, the Rex or Rexy theatre. The horizontal trim line around the first floor sheltered a row of light bulbs in that old style show-time vernacular. The Rexy showed Italian movies at least some of the time. It was shut down at the beginning of the Second World War; according to my source this was due to it being an outlet for fascist propaganda.
The theatre and grocery are gone; today it is a vacant lot:
The picture that opened this post is a rendition of the building from the Somerset side. As the building is still evolving, it probably won’t look exactly as shown. Here is the Booth Street frontage and the back of the building:
The lot has 100′ of Somerset frontage, 70 feet on Booth. It will have up to 3 commercial spaces on the Somerset side (2100 sq ft total); and 39 residential units above. The units are studios, one bedroom, one bedroom plus den (probably usable as a second bedroom), and two bedroom units. The views to the north, south, and west are remarkable as this lot is very elevated. The proponent plans for 12 underground parking spaces and 11 surface spaces. They are working on designing a first-class bicycle storage room.
The proposed six storey height is one floor above the current zoning and the project will have to go for rezoning or “minor variances”. Other issues facing the proposal are access off Booth Street and the width of the ramp into the garage off Somerset Street.
The building is in a modern style. The window shapes and bay window elements are designed to evoke the traditional neighborhood vernacular. The architects are considering red trim around the bay windows and balcony side walls as an acknowledgement to the Chinatown location. There are no obvious Asian elements, such as roof tiles or decorative panels. These Asian references are common in other cities, and were successfully incorporated in the exterior of the Chu Sing building at the corner of Cambridge and Somerset.
While no one is asking for a gallimaufry of oriental elements, some may be appropriate. Please use the comments section to say whether you think Chinatown references have a place on a modern building. And what would those references be?