Saturday, March 15, 2014

# 44 ~ Old Banks of Toronto, Then and Now, Part One





 
There are certain types of institutions that have traditionally been built to impress. Churches, schools and university buildings, government buildings, train stations and hotels are often built with a sense of grandeur. They convey a sense of modernity, or tradition, or stability, power and strength. Banks could certainly be added to this list. Traditionally, they were built to express affluence, and influence, and to reassure us that our money was stored up in a safe place. Later, from the mid-twentieth century, the race was on in Toronto as well as in many other cities to build higher and higher. The skyscraper boom of the second half of the twentieth century saw banking towers soaring ever taller. These building became more and more contemporary, and they literally gave rise to the era of glass and steel that overtook the more classical look of bank buildings in the nineteenth century.
 
The various styles of bank buildings throughout Toronto over the last century and a half has always been a subject of interest on my walking tours. So, with no particular anniversary or special event in mind, I thought that I would post a synopsis of some of my favourite bank buildings in our municipal history. Some of them represent the lost splendour of our city, while others still survive today.
 
Perusing the list, the reader will note that many of these banks have unfamiliar names. A lot of these banks began in local townships and spread, only to be swallowed up by larger banks throughout the twentieth century. The five major banks in Canada today – TD Canada Trust, the Bank of Montreal, the Bank of Nova Scotia, the Royal Bank, and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce – have absorbed the assets of these smaller banks over the past century.
 
Also of note is the fact that these smaller banks all produced their own currency. Banknotes in various denominations were all printed by these separate banks, and they often held the portraits and signatures of the various bank presidents and vice-presidents. After the Bank of Canada was established in 1934, it began issuing currency on behalf of the Canadian government. Over the next decade, these smaller chartered banks were forced to give up the issuing of their own currency. So, the history of a Canadian currency centrally issued by the Bank of Canada only dates back about eighty years.

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THE BANK OF UPPER CANADA
Northeast corner of Adelaide and George streets
Opened in 1827
Still standing
 
When the first branch of the Bank of Upper Canada opened in 1827, it had the distinction of being the first purpose built, operational bank in the province. After the Bank of Montreal had opened in Lower Canada, the moneyed classes in Upper Canada wanted a bank here, too. There was debate as to whether the first branch should be built in Kingston, or in the provincial capital at York. We won out, and the bank's first purpose built branch was opened at George and Adelaide streets.
 
THEN : The Bank of Upper Canada, at the northeast corner of George and Adelaide streets, is shown here in 1872.
 
 
The Bank of Upper Canada had actually been chartered in 1821, and the first president of the bank was William Allan, one of the most prosperous merchants and prolific holder of public offices in the history of the Town of York. Allan ran his mercantile business out of a building at King and Frederick streets, and lived above it. When the bank was chartered in 1821, he simply ran the bank out of this building, too, until the actual bank building was constructed six years later. During Allan's tenure as postmaster, the post office was run out of this same building, too. Allan's home must certainly have seen a lot of traffic.
 
 
THEN : William Allan (circa 1770 to 1853) was a pioneer in York and was one of the most wealthy and influential people Toronto's early history.  He served as the first president of the Bank of Upper Canada.

 
 
The Bank of Upper Canada held a monopoly in the province for several years, but eventually, other banking institutions came along. Through the 1840s and 1850s, the Bank of Upper Canada increasingly relied on the accounts that it held on behalf of the government. After an economic collapse in 1857, and the government's withdrawal of its account in 1864, the Bank of Upper Canada faltered, and its closed its doors forever in 1866. Fortunately, the building has survived, and is now rented out as office space.
 
 
THEN : The Bank of Upper Canada building in 1977.  This photograph looks east from George Street.  The bank is in the foreground, the old De La Salle addition is in the middle, and the 1833 Post Office is at the far end.  In 1978, the year after this photograph was taken, a fire blazed through the then deserted complex.  Fortunately, the entire block of buildings was salvaged by private means, and thrives today. 
 
 
When the bank was still in operation, especially through the late 1820s and 1830s, the province's liberal leaning reformers took a harsh view on its operations. They criticized it for being a monopoly and a tool of the government. I have often wondered if the participants of the “Occupy Toronto” movement realized that they were just one block away from the capitalist tyranny that they were protesting, when they began their camp out in St. James Park in the Autumn of 2011.
 
 
NOW : A relatively recent photograph of the Bank of Upper Canada.
 
 
Like other chartered banks, the Bank of Upper Canada issued its own currency. The bank minted coins and printed banknotes. Although the bank was headquartered in Toronto, some banknotes were stamped with the locations of the branches at which they were printed. These include Belleville, Brockville, Goderich, Hamilton, Kingston, London, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Sarnia, St. Catharines, Stratford and Windsor.
 
 
THEN : A one dollar banknote issued by the Bank of Upper Canada.
 

THEN : Coinage from the Bank of Upper Canada.
 
For more history (and photographs) related to the Bank of Upper Canada, please see my post from December of 2010.

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THE BANK OF BRITISH NORTH AMERICA
Northeast corner of Wellington and Yonge streets
Opened in 1845
Demolished in 1871
Rebuilt and reopened in 1875


The Bank of North America was chartered in London, England in 1835. Branches eventually spread to Halifax, St. John's, Montreal, Quebec City and Toronto. The branch at Wellington and Yonge streets was the first to open in Toronto. From its opening in 1845 until its demolition in 1871, it was a greatly admired architectural landmark in Toronto.  


THEN : The Bank of British North America building, on the northeast corner of Wellington and Yonge streets, in 1856.

There were two features of the building that would have reminded passersby of the Bank of England in London. The first was the Royal Arms over the main entrance, carved by a sculptor named John Cochrane. The second was a scallop shell mounted on top of the parapet over the main entrance. This element, which suggested the “gold digger's profession”, was designed by noted English architect Sir John Soane.

THEN : The Bank of British North America in 1867.

This first Bank of British North America building was demolished in 1871, and the current building on the location was opened in 1875. It was designed by noted Toronto architect Henry Langley. Although the Bank of British North America was bought up by the Bank of Montreal in 1918, the 1875 building also housed a branch of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce at some point in its history. Today, the main floor of the building is occupied by the Irish Embassy Pub, an authentic and very popular Irish public house and restaurant.
 
THEN : Looking north up Yonge Street to Wellington Street and beyond in 1890.  The Bank of British North America is prominently featured on the right side of the photograph.
 
THEN : This photograph appeared in the Toronto World newspaper on December 29, 1912.  Entitled "Toronto Bank Managers", the caption read, "Millions of dollars in other people's money.  In the daily routine of the bank messengers is the conveyance of cheques, drafts, and other business instruments from the various banking offices to the Toronto Clearing House, which is located in the Bank of British North America Building at the corner of Yonge and Wellington Streets.  The daily clearings of the city run in the neighbourhood of seven million dollars."
That seems like a pretty nice neighbourhood ...

 
THEN : The Bank of British North America building in 1912.


 
 
NOW : The Bank of British North America building today.

The Bank of North America issued its own banknotes from 1852 until 1911. Although the last notes were issued in 1911, they were in circulation for several years after that date. Of course, many of these banknotes from smaller chartered banks have become collectors items for numismatists. Shown here are a number of banknotes issued by the Bank of British North America.

A series of banknotes was issued by the Bank of British North America on May 1, 1884. This bank's currency was issued either from Montreal or Victoria, with the name of either of the two locations engraved on the banknote. The ones issued from Victoria are less common, and therefore more valuable.
 
THEN : Bank of British North America $5 banknote from 1884.
 
 
 
The 1886 issue of five dollar banknotes from the Bank of British North America featured portraits of both Queen Victoria and her eldest son, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). In this case, notes issued from Montreal had blue serial numbers and those issued from Victoria had red serial numbers.
 
THEN : Bank of British North America $5 banknote from 1886.
 


A ten dollar bill issued by the Bank of British North America in July of 1889. By this point the bank's notes were being issued by the British American Bank Note Company in either Ottawa or Montreal.
 
 
THEN : The Bank of British North America $10 banknote from 1889.


Banknotes in denominations of five dollars, ten dollars, twenty dollars, fifty dollars and one hundred dollars were issued by the Bank of British North America in July of 1911. The five dollar banknote featured King George V, and the ten dollar banknote featured his consort, Queen Mary.
 
THEN : The Bank of British North American $5 banknote from 1911.
 
THEN : The Bank of British North America $10 banknote from 1911.
 
 
 
 
Today, only the current Sovereign appears on Canadian currency, with Queen Elizabeth II appearing on the obverse of all our coinage and on our twenty dollar bills. However, in times past, other members of the Royal Family, both living and dead, could make appearances on banknotes. With this series of currency, King Edward VII, who died in 1910, appeared on the twenty dollar bill. His consort, and later, widow, Queen Alexandra, who lived until 1925, appeared on the fifty dollar bill. Queen Victoria appeared on the one-hundred dollar bill.
 
 


 

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THE BANK OF MONTREAL
Northwest corner of Front and Yonge streets
Opened in 1845
Demolished in 1885
Rebuilt and reopened in 1886


 
The Bank of Montreal was chartered as a legal entity on June 23, 1817. The first location of the bank opened in a rented house in Montreal on November 3, 1817. Thus the Bank of Montreal became the first, and today the oldest, operating bank in Canada. Bank institution numbers are given out for the purpose of arranging bank transfers and automated payments, and the institution number for the Bank of Montreal is 001, reflecting its role as Canada's first bank. Also, the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal in Toronto, at the northwest corner of King and Bay streets, is known as First Canadian Place – another reference to it being the first chartered bank in our country. It seems appropriate that this is the tallest banking building (and second tallest building, overall) in Toronto.
 


NOW : First Canadian Place, the headquarters of the Bank of Montreal, still towers over all the rest, at the northwest corner of King and Bay streets.


 

Historic buildings associated with the Bank of Montreal can be found throughout Toronto and across Canada. Perhaps the most “famous” historical bank building in Toronto is the Bank of Montreal building located on the northwest corner of Yonge and Front streets. The current incarnation of this building was erected built between 1885 and 1886 by architects Darling and Curry, and was designed in the Beaux Arts style. It was this building that served as the Bank of Montreal's head office in Toronto until 1949, it remained an active branch of the bank until 1982.
 

THEN : The Bank of Montreal building at Yonge and Front Streets in 1890, just four years after it was built.


One of the most prominent reasons that this bank building has become an icon in Toronto is that it became the new home for the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993. With more than 300,000 visitors attracted to the Hockey Hall of Fame each year, the 1885 Bank of Montreal building hosts vast numbers who may or may not be aware of its financial heritage. When visitors enter the Hall of Fame's Great Hall, they may be unaware that in its heyday, it was one of the largest banking halls in Canada. The stained glass dome soars at a height of 45 feet, or nearly fourteen metres, and sets the record for the largest in Canada. Scattered throughout the building are classical references and allegories that are subtle attempts to make those who did business here feel that their money was stored safely. The stained glass of the dome is no exception. In the central panels one can see images of a number of dragons guarding their hordes of gold – surely, this is indicative of how well the Bank of Montreal would guard an investor's savings. The eight circles near the centre of the dome represent Canada and what where then the seven provinces within it.
 
NOW : There have been changes to the 1886 Bank of Montreal building, but fortunately, the stained glass dome in the Great Hall is one of the many features that has survived.

Throughout the rest of the building can be found a number of elements of the former bank. The old boardroom still exists, as does the bank manager's private apartment, from a time when a bank's manager was often given accommodation at the local branch. Other carvings and symbols allude to transportation, communication, music and art, agriculture, and industry.
 

THEN : This photograph from 1955 shows an allegorical god-like figure looking out from the Bank of Montreal over Front Street.  Many traditional bank buildings featured classical Greek and Roman allegories like this one.  They represented industry, or commerce, technology, transportation, communication or agriculture.  Also, they exuded an idea that the banks they covered had existed for a very long time, and therefore made safe investments. 


THEN : Looking east down Front Street in 1930.  Here we see the 1886 Bank of Montreal building set between two lost Toronto treasures.  On the left (west) was the warehouse of one A. R. McMaster, which was originally constructed in 1871.  The original warehouse was lost to the Great Fire that swept through Toronto in 1904.  It was rebuilt after the fire to proportions that were twice the size of the original - the result was the building that we see in this photograph.  It speaks to our old grandeur that even warehouses were constructed with such elegance.  In the centre of this photograph is the Bank of Montreal building that still stands today.  On the right in the photograph is the Toronto Board of Trade building, a striking, seven foot structure that once towered over the base of Yonge Street.  In addition to housing the Board of Trade, the building was also home to the Toronto Transit Commission.  It was opened in 1892 and demolished in 1958.  Today, both buildings that bracketed the Bank of Montreal in this photograph no longer exist.

 
 

THEN : The 1886 Bank of Montreal building in 1982.  This was the last year that it served as a functional bank branch.  It was then closed to the public and more or less abandoned until the Hockey Hall of Fame opened on the premises in 1993.



NOW : The Bank of Montreal building in its current incarnation as the Hockey Hall of Fame.


 
As iconic as the 1885 Bank of Montreal building, which now houses the Hockey Hall of Fame, may be, it is not the original Bank of Montreal building to stand on this site. An earlier bank building had opened in 1845. This 1845 Bank of Montreal building was reminiscent of a villa in London and had large living quarters for the bank manager on the second and third storeys of the building.
 

THEN : The 1845 Bank of Montreal building is shown here in 1867.  When the bank was built, the blocks north and west of Front and Yonge streets were still residential, and were home to some of the more financially established families in Toronto.

 
The 1845 bank was designed by Kivas Tully, a prominent Canadian architect of Irish birth. Tully was responsible for the construction of the “old” Trinity College building that once stood in Trinity Bellwoods park. In addition, he built the Customs House, a headquarters for customs officials and tax collectors. This Customs House was built in 1845, the same year as Tully's Bank of Montreal building, and in fact the two buildings were neighbours.

THEN : The Bank of Montreal can be seen in the foreground of this photograph from 1880.  The building in the background is the Customs House, which had been built in 1873.  This 1873 Customs House replaced an earlier one, designed by Kivas Tully, who had also designed the bank building,  Additionally, both the early bank and early Customs House were both opened in 1845.

 
  
A series of banknotes were printed for the Bank of Montreal in 1862. Many of these banknotes had a branch location stamped on them. Variations on these stamps included branches in Brantford, Goderich, Kingston, London, Montreal, Picton, Quebec and Whitby. Banknotes in this series were printed in denominations of one dollar, two dollars, five dollars and ten dollars. 
THEN : A $1 banknote from the Bank of Montreal, dated August of 1862, and stamped from the bank's branch in Goderich. 

THEN : A $5 banknote from the Bank of Montreal, printed in 1862 and marked with the stamp for the bank's branch in London.

The Bank of Montreal printed some very unique banknotes in 1903. They were twice the size of banknotes that were issued by other banks in Canada during the same period.
 
THEN : $50 and $100 banknotes from the Bank of Montreal, printed in 1903.
 
The Bank of Montreal was one of those banks that continued to circulate their own currency even after the Bank of Canada was established in 1934. Seen here are examples of Bank of Montreal banknotes from 1935, 1938 and 1942. In 1942, the Bank of Montreal only produced five dollar notes, and it was the last year that the bank produced its own currency.
 

THEN : $5 and $20 banknotes from the Bank of Montreal, 1935.

 
 

THEN : $5 and $10 banknotes from the Bank of Montreal, 1938.

 

THEN : $5 banknote from the Bank of Montreal, 1942.


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THE CANADIAN BANK OF COMMERCE
Southwest corner of King and Jordan streets
Opened in 1890
Demolished in 1928
 
The Canadian Bank of Commerce began in Toronto on May 15, 1867. Founded by the Honourable William McMaster, it was chartered at least in part to offer competition for the Bank of Montreal.
An early branch of the Bank of Commerce had been located on the southeast corner of Yonge and Colborne streets. The building in which it was located had been used by a number of tenants. It had originally been built for a retail firm called Ross, Mitchell and Company. Later, the building was used by the Bank of Upper Canada, at the time of that bank's collapse in 1866. The next year, 1867, saw the building being used as the first headquarters for the newly created Bank of Commerce. To prepare for their move in, the Bank of Commerce had the building altered.
 

THEN : In this photograph from 1867, the early Canadian Bank of Commerce can be seen in the centre of the photograph.  It is the tallest building in the picture.  It stood at the southeast corner of Yonge and Colborne streets.  The building had previously been used for other purposes.  It was the last branch of the Bank of Upper Canada in 1866, and the next year, when this photograph was taken, it had just recently opened up as the Canadian Bank of Commerce.




NOW : The southeast corner of King and Jordan streets as it appears in 2014.  One can't feel that what we have now is rather less impressive and more anonymous than what we once had.



By the 1880s, the bank building at Yonge and Colborne streets had become overcrowded, and the Bank of Commerce sought out new headquarters.  They eventually bought up a lot at 25 King Street West, on the southwest corner of King and Jordan streets.  Construction of the bank's new headquarters began in 1889, and the building was opened for business in January of 1890.  The architect of the new building was none other than Richard Waite, from Buffalo, who was best known for his work on the Legislative Assembly at Queen's Park. 

THEN : This was the headquarters of the Canadian Bank of Commerce, that stood on the southwest corner of King and Jordan streets, from 1890 until 1928.  So, the street that runs up the right side of the photograph is King Street, and the street that runs up the left side of the photograph is Jordan street. 

 
When we picture the nearby intersection of King and Bay streets today, it's hard to imagine how these new headquarters for the Bank of Commerce dominated the neighbourhood at a total height of seven and a half storeys. The bank soared over the three and four storey buildings that surrounded it. A brand new method of building great towers was coming into use, with a great skeleton of steel and iron supporting the weight of the bricks of the building. The main tower of the building, at King and Jordan streets, held the various managerial offices related to the working of the bank. Two other towers, which were half a storey shorter, marked the main entrance and side entrance to the bank, and held the stairs and elevators to the bank's upper levels. Arched windows added to the very “vertical” look of the building. 
 
The interior of the building was certainly elaborate, executed as it was in various types of marble, polished metal, and woodwork. The banking hall gave out a sense of corporate majesty, and the rented office space on the upper floors of the building became one of the most fashionable business addresses in the city. The Bank of Montreal, which had been constructed on the northwest corner of Yonge and Front streets just a few years before, had captured the imagination of Torontonians as an architectural wonder. Waite's Bank of Commerce building was even more elaborate. It survived until 1928, when it was demolished to build an even grander – and more soaring – headquarters for the Bank of Commerce.
 
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Another branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce stood at the northwest corner of King and Jarvis streets.  In 1908, it was giving away this map of Toronto to bank customers.

THEN : A map of Toronto given out to customers at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1908.

 
This old branch still stands and is now used as a law office.  For "then and now" photographs, visit Urban Toronto at :
 
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THE CANADIAN BANK OF COMMERCE
Southwest corner of King and Bay streets
Opened in 1931
Still standing
 
Through the years that the Bank of Commerce had its headquarters at King and Jordan streets, business had blossomed. By 1895, the Canadian Bank of Commerce had nearly sixty branches. Gold was discovered in the Yukon the following year, and the Canadian Bank of Commerce opened a branch in Dawson City. The next three decades saw a boom for the bank, which opened hundreds of branches around Canada and international branches throughout the Caribbean.
Business was so good that in 1931, the Canadian Bank of Commerce opened a brand new headquarters in Toronto. This new banking tower dominated the city's skyline, surpassing even the newly built Royal York Hotel in height. The bank opened up an outdoor observation deck on the thirty-second floor of the building, and for the first time, visitors could get an aerial view of Toronto as it was laid out around them.
THEN : This photograph from 1940 shows the Canadian Bank of Commerce tower that had opened in 1931.  The outdoor observation deck was near the very top of the buildings, and in a day before the CN Tower, it gave visitors the best panoramic view of they city that they could fine.  Look closely, and you'll notice four bearded faces on each side of the building to be visible in the photograph.  Four of these faces appeared on each side of the building - so, there are sixteen in total - and they are alternately scowling and smiling.  Sadly, the outdoor observation deck is no longer open to the public.
  
THEN : This photograph was taken circa 1931 and shows how the new Canadian Bank of Commerce building really dominated the city's skyline.

THEN : This photograph was taken in 1931 and looks northeast from the top of the Canadian Bank of Commerce tower.  The two churches on the right side of the picture are Metropolitan United Church and St. Michael's Roman Catholic Cathedral.  The turreted building on the lower left of the photograph is the Confederation Life Building.  The building behind it (with the advertisement for Heintzman and Company Pianos to the left) is Loew's Yonge Street theatre, better known today as the Elgin and Winter Garden theatre centre.
 
THEN : Looking south towards the harbour from the Canadian Bank of Commerce building, about the time that the building was constructed.
 

NOW : The Canadian Bank of Commerce tower today.
The Imperial Bank of Canada had started up in Toronto in 1875, and was actually established by Henry Stark Howland, a former vice-president of the Bank of Commerce. As of June 1, 1861, the Canadian Bank of Commerce and the Imperial Bank of Canada were joined together to form the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada. This merger served as an impetus to expand the old headquarters for the Bank of Commerce. This expansion became the Commerce Court complex, which stretches south of King Street West between Bay Street and Jordan Street.
The Canadian Bank of Commerce issued what was, in my modest opinion, some of the most elaborate and attractive currency ever issued by a chartered bank. To me, the banknotes issued by the Bank of Canada over the last several decades have become less ornate and increasingly bland, and I feel myself longing for the day when currency looked more like some of the examples I have posted here.



THEN : This Canadian Bank of Commerce banknote series was printed between 1867 and 1871.  Banks were not obliged to stick with the standard denominations that we know today, although most of them did.  In this case we see that they issued a $4 banknote.


THEN : Canadian Bank of Commerce $10 banknote from 1907.


THEN : Canadian Bank of Commerce $100 banknote from 1917.
 
 
 
 

THEN : Banknotes issued by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1917, including $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations.




THEN : $5, $10 and $20 banknotes issued by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1935.



THEN : The Canadian Bank of Commerce also issued banknotes for circulation from their branches in the Caribbean.  These two banknotes were circulated from their branch in Bridgetown, Barbados.  The $5 banknote was issued in 1940 and the $100 banknote was issued in 1922.



THEN : These banknotes were issued by the Canadian Bank of Commerce from their branch in Kingston, Jamaica.  The topmost £1 banknote was issued in 1921.  The £1 and £5 banknotes were issued in 1938.



THEN : $5, $20, and $100 banknotes issued from the Canadian Bank of Commerce from their branch in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1921.



THEN : $5 and $20 banknotes issued by the Canadian Bank of Commerce from their branch in Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1939.

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My review of some of Toronto's “lost banks” will continue in my next post.
Most of the written historical material in this article has been drawn from two valuable sources. One is “Lost Toronto”, by William Dendy, which is now sadly out of print. The other is “No Mean City”, by Eric Arthur. Both books are well known staples in the library of any enthusiast of Toronto's history. As always, most of the vintage photographs here are from either the City of Toronto archives or the archives of the Toronto Public Library. The information and photographs of old banknotes has come from a singular source – a website which can be found at http://canadacurrency.com. I have more or less shamelessly lifted the material from their website, but they are an agency that buys and sells old Canadian currency, and their website makes for a lot of fascinating browsing.

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You can learn more about Toronto's financial district by joining Muddy York Walking Tours on the 20th Century History Tour.

Muddy York Walking Tours 20th Century History Tour
Also, we are already planning some special events for Spring and Summer 2014.  Some will be paid events while others are free community events sponsored by the City of Toronto.  If you want insider information on some of upcoming events, please join our facebook page.

Muddy York Walking Tour Group on facebook

See you this summer!!
 


1 comment:

  1. It's too bad that some of these buildings aren't still around today.

    ReplyDelete