Animal House

It had the look of a haunted house – dark and forbidding.  The room beyond the ragged curtains in the window seemed to imply it was empty and abandoned.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885_

A woman walking by, however, stopped to talk to me as I took photos and informed me it was a fraternity associated with the University.  Odd, I thought.  Unlike its manicured neighbour next door, there was no visible signage.

Delta Upsilon

I later discovered it is the Theta Xi Chapter of the Zeta PSI Fraternity … the first fraternity in Canada dating back to 1879.  The Fraternity purchased this residence in 1885.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (6)

Students from both Ryerson and UofT (Toronto) call this frat house home.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (2)

In spite of all the winter-dead vines clinging to its sides, this is a gorgeous building with a impressive doorway to match. Not only is the main door a beauty, but when I ventured into the entrance way, I discovered there were also outer doors that had been propped open.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (4)Yes, I was feeling bold and brave enough to stomp right up to that front door.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (3)Unfortunately it wasn’t until I loaded the photo of the door into this post that I realized there was a sign taped onto the door.

I was too preoccupied with the Fraternity crest emblazoned on the window, and the overall *cool* factor of being in the entrance way, to actually notice and read the sign.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (5)

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (7)

This was an unexpected treasure found while on a random wandering around downtown where bits and pieces of history butt up against the new and modern.

Today’s post was inspired by Thursday Doors, a weekly photo feature hosted by the Grand Door Master – Norm Frampton at Norm 2.0.

Zeta PSI Frat 1885 (8)
The only clue as to the identity of this building was on a non-descript back door.

Disclaimer – the title of the post was chosen for entertainment value only and not intended to be a reflection on the behaviour of this fraternity or any its individual members.

103 comments

  1. Hi. This house was purchased by the fraternity in 1971 after a long legal battle with the U of T. The frat had a few chapter houses over its long history, and after being expropriated from its chapter house on the NW corner of St. George and Harbord to make room for the Robarts Library, the fraternity was able to purchase its current location.

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      • Yes, all of the mid-19th century houses within the St. George/Harbord/Sussex/Huron block were expropriated and demolished to make way for the Brutalist Robarts Library. Those houses, as ornate, grandiose, and beautiful as they were in their own right (mainly wood frame structures, replete with slate rooves, etc.), they were not as majestic as this stone/brick house discussed herein.

        There is a lovely architectural heritage book, Old Toronto Houses, by Tom Cruickshank (photos by John Visser), published in 2003, that discusses many surviving examples of awe-inspiring domestic 19th century architecture within Toronto. The book also showcases this particular house and provides a fascinating factual history.

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        • Again, thank you!! I will definitely be looking up this book. Last year I started a project of looking up and visiting Toronto’s heritage buildings, and it’s been so interesting. This book will be help. Appreciated!

          Do you mind me asking about you? I assume you are a member of Zeta PSI? Is architecture in your background?

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          • Hi, yes. Joined the fraternity in the early ’90s and still live in the neighbourhood. Walk by the ol’ house frequently. While my mother wanted me to study architecture, I completed my undergrad as history specialist – I think history has more of a narrative than architecture.

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  2. It is funny since we have a huge, older fraternity house which holds a fundraiser for their designated philanthropic project, A Haunted House! The guys love their participation and the community finds this to be worthwhile and fun place for Halloween mischief.

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  3. Loved the post. I loved the images but I loved the picture in which we can see old and the new building side by side. Brilliant.

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    • On the contrary, we spend thousands of dollars per year to make sure this beautiful house stays standing.
      We take on a number of renovation projects every year, most recently a renovation of our coach house, backyard/garden area, as well as repainting our basement, plumbing improvements, and installation of new windows.
      There is far more history on this property than most will ever come to know, and it’s unfortunate to see false assumptions regarding how much we love and care for our house.
      We hope you view the Theta Xi Chapter of Zeta Psi Fraternity in a more positive manner after reading this message, and we wish you the best.

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      • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment!

        I was a little puzzled at first by your response and why you thought I was being disrespectful of your fraternity. I had to go back through my post and read it several times before I realized you were likely responding to the specific exchange I had with Green Global Trek.

        I apologize so much for the implied criticism of your fraternity, for that was definitely not the intention … but rather the hubris of 2 much older women with a passion for architecture who would LOVE to have the opportunity to live in and care for a magnificent old mansion like this one. In my walks through this area, none of the other buildings – whether housed by fraternities/sororities or not – have captured my attention quite the same way as yours has.

        In writing this post, I did a small amount of research on Theta Xi and Zeta Psi, and I’m aware of your very long history – both in Toronto and North America. I am glad, and even relieved, to find out that your fraternity knows they are living in a treasure, and treat it accordingly.

        Thank you again for reaching out to me. Best wishes to you and your entire Chapter!

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  4. But the dead vines add to the ambience! (Looks like I might have a thing for that haha) If not for that second last photo, where you can see the modern building beside it, I could’ve believed this was from a distant time and place!
    And with doors like that, I’m glad you had the courage to walk right up to the entrance to get photos to share with us 🙂

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    • That photo with the high rise in the background is one of my favourites. It’s one of the things I find really interesting about this city … the old intermingled with the new.
      Once upon a time, my eyes would have glazed over the old, but now it’s these fossils that have survived which capture my attention.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s a beautiful fraternity house, unlike some unsightly ones I’ve seen on local campuses. Love the brick and corner turret, but now I’m also curious about the sign.

    I wonder if there was anyone inside the house wearing a toga. Or singing the lyrics to “Shout.” Or trying to tap a keg. Or maybe they were all nice boys, studying hard and staying out of trouble..

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    • I wonder if that kind of stuff is really as popular as we think it is. From what I remember of university, it wasn’t very glamorous … but then again, I was poor, had no car, and was generally an outsider
      At this time of year, I think everyone’s focus is just on surviving finals.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I they would ask me to fix up this house, I would! It has beautiful “bones.” I especially love the tower like design on the corner. I wonder, if you see it it in the summer, it will probably be covered with ivy, and give a different impression:)

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    • The tower is what attracted me in the first place … followed by the balcony over the door.
      If this lovely old residence was mine, I would want an office on the second floor of that tower with my desk overlooking the street. I’m sure that daily inspiration would be enough to make me a world renowned writer – or maybe a painter. I dream big. Why not? 😉

      Once all the ivy is filled in again, a lot of that wonderful detail will disappear … like those small leaded-glass windows on the sides of the entrance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That tower would be the perfect place for an office! You can never dream too big!! I dreamed to become a doctor, and own a house, and both came to pass. But I never dreamed to have a studio as big as a barn of 30x 40 feet. If you like to be a writer, many plots could happen in a house like this – you could be the next Agatha Christie! Be sure to leave me something to inherit:):)

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  7. You see, another beautiful building probably wasted on students… and I insist you go back and read that notice (probably says trespassers will be prosecuted 😉 )

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  8. What did the paper sign say that was posted on the door? All trespassers are videotaped? HaHa!! Could not enlarge enough to read clearly. Such a nice, old building and doors.

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    • I’ve tried to enlarge it too. You would think I would learn from my mistakes – this is not the first time!

      I picture a bunch of guys huddled around a computer screen wondering what on earth a geriatric old lady was doing on their door step taking photos.
      bwahahahaha! Let them wonder!
      … maybe I should start leaving a calling card … 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tell them you’re a blogger…they’ll feel important!!! Maybe even invite you in for more door photos. Well, that could get sketchy, maybe stick to outdoors. haha

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        • I have occasionally been invited in when someone has seen me lurking about taking photos of their building. It’s always been an older woman though and I guess my vintage makes me non-threatening 🙂 They’re always intrigued when I say what I’m doing and now I’ve started carrying cards with my blog address on it.

          Not sure what I would do if it was a man though. I think the answer would be – it depends!!!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Just gorgeous. It reminds me of a few I’ve seen in the “McGill Ghetto” but this one is MUCH bigger. It does look like a it could pass for a haunted house though.
    When I read that it was a frat house, my first thought was of the Toronto real-estate market and how no fraternity could ever afford a building like that there today. I wonder how they even keep up with the taxes on it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your thinking was along the same line as mine. This property has to be worth a fortune!
      I’m thinking that (1) this fraternity has a lot of money, (2) this fraternity is full of members who come from a lot of money.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Wonderful find! It really is a beauty, and very, very cool! Lots of ooh and ahh from me today, Joanne! I’d walk up to a frat house, too. I mean, what’re the odds they’ll find a door photographer inappropriate?!?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve done this tour myself a few times, but have not posted photos. I find it a bit sad when ‘some’ of these beautiful buildings are virtually destroyed by the fraternities and sororities that occupy them. I say ‘some’, because there are many which are beautiful and very well maintained. I wonder, given the insane housing market in Toronto, how many millions these properties are now worth?

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    • I went to a very small university and I don’t believe there were any fraternities there. The concept is still rather foreign to me.
      Yeah, I drank my fair share of beer in university too. I think it’s a rite of passage 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Good morning, Joanne. What a nice house! It reminds me of a couple of houses I saw in Minneapolis. We used to drive around looking at those houses. In fact, we still do. It brings me to many years ago, and I like feeling that way once in a while. 😉
    Have a great day.

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    • Just based on the curtains hanging in the windows, I’m thinking the interior is hurting.
      I look at a place like this and can easily fantasize about moving in and making it shine 🙂

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    • The balcony over the door caught my eye too. I imagine that, like me, you can envision moving into a place like this 🙂

      I read that the residence was purchased in 1885, but I don’t know when exactly it was constructed. I can’t find it on my list of heritage buildings, but I’m hoping it will show up.

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