The Glebe Lofts

Combining religious use and urban housing

Formerly: Riverdale Presbyterian Church
Address: 662 Pape Avenue, Toronto
Built: 1912, with a major addition in 1920
Adapted: 1999

Development pressure in urban areas is fuelling the transformation of underutilized and vacant churches into multi-unit residential buildings. This type of conversion, ranging from affordable housing to upscale condos, preserves local landmarks, enhances the streetscape and increases urban density. Builder-developer Robert Mitchell converted the former Riverdale Presbyterian Church in Toronto into the Glebe Lofts. Condominiums occupy the south nave, while the north end remains an active church.

The Gothic revival building featured high ceilings and exposed steel trusses. Mitchell explains that his design was effectively dictated by the building’s original proportions: “The first thing I look at is the distance between the footings. From this I can estimate whether or not excavation for underground parking is feasible.” In the third-storey loft unit, the steel trusses remain exposed, providing visual interest and reminding us of the building’s original function. While that use has changed, the units benefit from the church’s spatial qualities.

The Glebe Lofts took about two and a half years to complete. Conversions in urban areas are often challenging due to the complexity of the planning approvals required. Consequently, Mitchell chooses his projects carefully. He also understands the importance of careful pre-design structural analysis. The success of 662 Pape shows that a community’s architectural heritage has market appeal, and that religious use can co-exist with residential redevelopment.