Toronto’s Half House

The Half House’s frontage

photography by: Omri Westmark

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Cities are never truly stagnant, as their constituent parts either slowly decay, undergo a refurbishment or make room for newer successors. Sometimes, this never-ending evolution engenders strange outcomes. For evidence, look no further than Downtown Toronto. What seems at first like a fata-morgana, happens to be a neatly-sliced edifice aptly entitled “Half House”, a mind-boggling vestige of this city’s bygone era.

Passers-by who come across the finely-hewn building in Toronto’s St. Patrick Street might assume for a moment that it is a mere illusion; however, Half House is anything but a mirage. To better understand how this architectural oddity came into being, one must go back to the late 19th century, somewhere between 1890 and 1893.

 

It was during this time that the Victorian-style house was built together with its five identical and interconnected siblings, forming an entire row of homes along what was formerly known as Dummer Street. This residential complex, like the surrounding streets, was situated in one of the city’s most impoverished areas.

 

As time progressed, things have change significantly, whether it’s street names, demographics and buildings themselves. During the mid-twentieth century, a couple of real estate developers with an insatiable appetite for properties purchased home after home across the neighborhood. Bit by bit, the 6-house block was sold and torn-down, until only a sole building remained firm in its refusal to be levelled.

 

The house, with the somewhat symbolic street number 54 ½, was owned by the Valkos family. In spite of the multiple attempts to buy their home, the Valkoses declined each and every offer. When the neighboring edifice was set to be demolished, however, a seemingly intractable predicament arose – is it feasible to flatten the adjoined building while leaving its southern counterpart intact? Well, surprisingly, the answer was yes.

 

Since the shared wall was structurally crucial to the survival of St. Patrick 54 ½, even a single miscalculation by the workers could have resulted in its demise. With the utmost precision, the adjacent house was carefully dismantled, leaving an eye-catching anomaly in its wake.

 

Following the loss of its conjoined twin, the Half House was resided in by the Valkoses until 2012, when their daughter, Emily Brown, moved out to a skilled nursing facility and subsequently sold it to a local man by the name of Albert Zikovitz. The visually confusing edifice underwent a thorough face-lift in 2018, and keeps attracting curious onlookers to date.