Barn gets historical stamp

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NEWS / Sale of property still in limbo James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Thursday, April 13, 2006

This month Toronto And East York Community Council designated Church St's Barn And Stables a historic building, though the move does little to clear up the murk of the property's future.

Closed for more than a year because of a fire, with each passing month the building at 414-418 Church St looks less likely to reopen as a gay bar. Squabbling between the executors, who have been managing the property since the 2004 slaying of longtime owner Janko Naglic, has left the building in limbo.

The historical designation, initiated by City Councillor Kyle Rae, requires developers to work with city staff to renovate the site; it also makes it more difficult to demolish the building. If past experience tells us anything, it usually means merely preserving the façade. When Rae arranged in 2003 for the historical designation of the former Athenaeum Club (and the former It Nightclub) on 167 Church St, it paved the way for developers to buy the property and transform it into rental apartments while preserving the façade of the original 1891 building.

"Yes, that kind of development could happen here," says Rae. "It would preserve the unique combination of Victorian residences and businesses in the neighbourhood."

Historical board manager Denise Gendron says the board would like to see the preservation of at least the façade as shops or a restaurant, and any new structure or addition erected in the adjoining parking lot. (The parking lot was not owned by Naglic and is not under the estate's control.)

Originally two Victorian houses built by Toronto businessman and landowner Stephen Murphy in 1891 (one as a home and one as a store), Naglic purchased the site in the mid-1980s, turning it into a gay hotspot.

"The Barn is an excellent example of late 19th-century architecture and a reminder of our past," states Rae in a press release. Hard to believe, considering the advertising-laden yellow-and-grey paint job it has now. "The properties display features of the Second Empire style and are a cultural resource worth preserving."

Coexecutor Tom Ricketts, who wants to put the property up for sale on behalf of the inheriting family members as soon as possible, says he was not aware of the historical designation and did not challenge it in hearings this spring. He has 30 days after the full Toronto city council approval to appeal the designation and has the right to take the issue to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Says Gendron: "Any sale of the property is in the air as the relationship between the two executors seems very problematic at this time."

Ricketts confirms there are issues between he and coexecutor Stephen Brailsford; Brailsford did not return Xtra's call.

Meanwhile, Naglic's former lover, Ivan Mendez-Romero, remains in custody, charged with first-degree murder. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for later this month. Mendez-Romero was arrested in August 2005.

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