Lilley’s Corners, where commerce first began in East London, is getting a shot at rebirth.
An investor who moved to London from England has bought up most of the historic block at the southeast corner of Dundas and Adelaide streets, hoping to bring it back to life as the commercial anchor of Old East Village.
At least that’s the plan of William Older, who’s begun a project to restore five historic buildings, including Lilley’s Corners, the original general store and post office, the venerable St. Regis Tavern and London’s oldest surviving livery stable. The work will be done in phases that may take awhile, he said.
A British emigre who moved to London four years ago, Older said he believes the buildings — at the southeast corner of Dundas and Adelaide Streets, largely vacant and in rough shape — still have great potential.
“This used to be the bustling hub of the city and that’s what we are trying to get back to.” -William Older
Older has hired contractors to refurbish the ground-floor commercial spaces. “These building are fantastic. We have been so eager to see’s what’s underneath,” he said, as he scratched cracked paint from the old bricks. The exterior also will be restored, but will retain some of its “weathered” character.
“I want to move it back to the level where it lasts, but we don’t want to remove the history — I like the scars.” The only tenants are the Money Mart, several pawn shops and the St. Regis Tavern. A crucial gateway to Old East Village, a revamped Lilley’s Corners will help neighbouring businesses, said Jen Pastorius, manager of the Old East Business Improvement Area. Pastorius said the commercial vacancy rate in Old East has dropped 30 per cent in recent years, and there’s demand for more space.
“We always have a list of businesses interested in the area. The challenge is finding properties that are ready to rent.” Older bought the block of five buildings, at 609 to 629 Dundas St., from the Shapiro family, who once operated Hudson’s department store on an adjacent property at 637 Dundas,
Hudson’s, once a retail icon in the neighbourhood, closed in 1984 and was demolished to make way for a new residential-commercial block in 2011.
The only building on the block that Older doesn’t own is 623 Dundas, where the Root Cellar Organic Cafe is located. Older grew up in Brighton, England, and helped out in his father’s real estate business.
He got a master’s degrees in environmental management, then moved into “green” building, retrofitting old buildings in England. One treasures he’s uncovered is a historic plaque for Lilley’s Corners, installed by the London Public Library Board in 1980. Ian Gordon of the Fire and Iron metal work shop in Old East is restoring the plaque and then will move on to a bigger challenge: the old Hudson’s sign on the rear of the building, pointing to the former retail anchor, a half block east.
The sign has been rusting away for decades, but Gordon is confident it can be restored.
Older said he’s also personally invested in the neighbourhood. He lives just a couple of blocks away, where he and his partner are raising two daughters.
“I want them to be proud to live here . . . I want them growing up knowing diversity and creativity.”