Herakles in Toronto

Just a quick post this week as I’m currently busy with another sort of architecture– Minoan peak sanctuaries on Crete– for a presentation later this week.

Head of Herakles
Head of Herakles, former Bank of North America, 49 Yonge St. Toronto

Herakles watched over the comings and goings of the Bank of North America’s patrons from his perch over the main entrance.  The building (now the Irish Embassy pub) is situated at 49 Yonge St, Toronto, at the northeast corner of Yonge and Wellington. The bank was built by Henry Langley in 1873-4 and designed in the Second Empire style by architect Thomas Lamb. Originally the main entrance to the bank was on the Wellington street facade,  but by 1903 Yonge Street had become the major thoroughfare and the segmented (arched) pediment doorway was moved to the Yonge street side.

As mentioned, the building is the Second Empire style, a French-derived style originally brought to Toronto in the 1866 Government House.

This head can easily be identified as Herakles by the Nemean lion skin he wears.  It’s hard to get a really good view of it from the ground, since Herakles is looking up and out rather than down, but you can see the lion’s jaws above Herakles’ forehead. No one has really determined why Herakles occurs here, although I would venture to suggest that he is playing an apotropaic (warding off danger) role. It is common on Classical buildings to see a god, goddess, or, especially, a gorgon, staring out from a temple’s pediment. Their purpose was to ward off evil. I would suggest that this is Herakles’ role here, although the question remains as to why Lamb chose the hero Herakles.

There is another, and quite different, Herakles above the Elgin and Winter Garden Theaters.

(Sources: McHugh 6-7,  Murray 75-77.)

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Standing Guard

Eagle on engaged column, 25 King St. W. I should begin this new blog with some philosophical treatise on the nature of Classical architecture. But I’m not going to. Instead, I am going to share a delicious architectural detail I discovered on a cold, windy day in downtown Toronto.  This grouchy-looking bird tops an engaged column framing a window on the south side of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) building at 25 King St. W, Toronto.

Note the amazing details that have gone into this. The bird’s wings are spread back at a 90 degree angle to support the bricks above. The feathers have been carefully differentiated. His expressive eyes have been deeply carved and his head positioned so that he looks down on the viewer. I should note that this window is very tall so his perch does appear to be quite lofty.  I find the basket-weave capital atop the spiral-fluted column evocative of a bird’s nest.  He is matched with a similar column and bird on the left side of the window.  The birds’ menacing looks threaten anyone who dares to mess with your money.

Banks are great places to look for details like this. Don’t forget to look up!