The Gothic Inspirations of Casa Loma
Built between 1911 and 1914, Casa Loma was home to financier and military officer Sir Henry Pellatt and his wife Mary. Through wise investments in electrical development, real estate and the Canadian Pacific Railroad, Pellatt was one of the few men who were said to “own” Canada at the dawn of the 20th Century. In 1905, he was knighted for his involvement in bringing electricity to the City of Toronto from Niagara Falls.
Pellatt engaged one of the foremost architects of the day, E.J. Lennox, to design Casa Loma and its associated buildings. Construction began on Pellatt Lodge (situated on the northwest corner of Walmer Road and Austin Terrace) and the Stables (to the North) in 1905. Upon completion, the Pellatts moved from their prestigious house on Sherbourne Street, to the Lodge. From there, they were able to watch as construction on Casa Loma began.
The desire to build an ostentatious house was not uncommon in North America – wealthy American industrialists, such as the Hearsts and Vanderbilts, commissioned huge houses in the latter half of the 19th Century. In Canada however, Casa Loma was unlike anything ever seen before – it was the largest house ever built, comprising 180,000 square feet and costing Pellatt the princely sum of $3.5 million. In 1999 dollars, Casa Loma would have cost Pellatt $44 million.
Stylistically, the architectural character of Casa Loma reflects the passion Pellatt held for the Gothic. The unusual combination of its architectural elements (which includes a 3-storey bay window, a Norman and a Scottish tower, crenellations, heraldic beasts, Elizabethan-inspired plasterwork and a 65’ high hammer-beamed Great Hall), draws from the Gothic and Romanesque styles and gives Casa Loma a Gothic character which links it to the first great Gothic Revival houses of 18th Century England – Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill and William Beckford’s Fonthill Abbey. As at Casa Loma, these houses demonstrate an imaginative interpretation of the Gothic. The fact that Pellatt had, in his painting collection, A View of Fonthill Abbey by J.M. Turner as well as A Portrait of Sir Horace Walpole by Sir Joshua Reynolds, further establishes the intellectual link between Casa Loma and the 18th Century.
In addition to this sense of the historic, Casa Loma was fitted with the most modern conveniences of the early 20th Century. Lennox shared Pellatt’s interest in new and innovative technologies such as electric lighting, heating and cooling systems, elevators, telephone systems and central vacuuming systems and had them all incorporated into the Castle. Casa Loma was also embellished with exquisite plasterwork, beautiful wood flooring and European marbles. No expense was spared on the materials used or the quality of workmanship.
The Pellatts moved into their largely unfinished house in 1913, but the onset of the First World War halted construction. The depression that followed the war further stalled the project and, with the collapse of the Home Bank of Canada in 1923, Pellatt’s finances failed. Lady Pellatt died shortly thereafter. In 1924, unable to pay the municipal taxes on Casa Loma (which had risen from $600 per annum to over $1000 a month in 1920), Pellatt was forced to suffer the heartbreak of selling off his personal belongings and collections at a five day auction. He moved out in that year and by the early 1930’s the City of Toronto had taken possession of the property. The interior of Casa Loma was never completed to Sir Henry Pellatt’s original designs.
Lou Seiler, Director of Marketing
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Updated May 2000