Lawrence Park is one of Toronto's most exclusive residential neighbourhoods, along with Rosedale, the Bridle Path, and Forest Hill. It's also one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Canada. The secret? Close proximity to the high-end amenities - like social clubs, green space, high end boutiques, fine dining and great schools - that are coveted by the wealthy who wish to raise their children in a peaceful and tranquil setting that includes gently rolling hills, winding roads and a lush topography.
Bordered by Yonge Street to the west and Bayview Avenue to the east, and from Blythwood Ravine on the south to Lawrence Avenue on the north, Lawrence Park was one of Toronto's first planned garden suburbs. For census purposes, the City of Toronto officially splits the neighbourhood into two halves, Lawrence Park North and Lawrence Park South.
Centred on Mount Pleasant Road, the community grew slowly with medium-sized houses set well back on deep lots. There are few commercial businesses within a five minute walk. The closest grocery stores are close to Yonge and Lawrence, which keeps traffic on the residential streets to a minimum and makes owning a vehicle a must in this neighbourhood.
The assembly of Lawrence Park began in 1907 by the Dovercourt Land Building and Saving Company. They acquired the north parcel of the park from John Lawrence, after whom this neighbourhood is named, and commenced to develop it as a suburb for the "well to do".
The first advertisement for Lawrence Park trumpeted it as an "aristocratic neighbourhood", "four hundred feet above Lake Ontario, and Far from the Lake Winds in Winter". However, Lawrence Park's development was interrupted by two world wars, a recession and a depression. Though most of the larger homes were built in the 20's and the 30's, it wasn't until the 1950's that this district was fully completed.
Lawrence Park South retains some of its original character from the 1880s, when it was first developed by the Metropolitan Street Railway as the northern end of its Bloor rail line. Its street names (Cheltenham, St. Ives, Buckingham) suggest the English character that the developers had in mind.
Lawrence Park's whimsical houses are comprised of a variety of architectural styles including English Cottage, Tudor Revival, Georgian and Colonial style designs. Most of these grand homes were built between 1910 and the late 1940's.
For the last few years, certain pockets of Lawrence Park have been redeveloped with new builds - what some would call new, magnificent homes and others bemoan as monster homes that are marring the brick-and-stone-cladding look of the neighbourhood.
Whether newly constructed or renovated classic, leaded glass windows, high ceilings and substantial wood mouldings along with rich hardwood floors, front lawn landscaping and addresses spelled out on porticos are common in Lawrence Park. Renovations to existing homes have been sensitive to preserve their old world charm.
A recent listing billed as a traditional Lawrence Park home on an ample 50 foot lot had an attractive centre-hall design with spacious formal living and dining rooms for easy entertaining, a renovated kitchen opening to a sun-filled sitting room, and a high-demand Muskoka-style sunken family room opening to the south deck. The private garden was landscaped with a concrete pool. The house was offered for sale at $1,595,000 - low-ish for a neighbourhood where a recent newly built home on Sunnydene, boasting 8,600 square feet of living space on 3 levels with a permit for a pool and waterfalls, an existing nanny suite, 3 family rooms, a media room, 5 fireplaces, radiant heated floors, a spa/exercise room, wine cellar, library, and 7 walk-outs to the exterior, was listed at $4, 495,000.
A new Tridel Toronto real estate development has descended on Lawrence Park, winning Project of the Year for 2008 from the Ontario Home Builder's Association - luxury condos at 1900 Bayview. The Huntington Toronto condominiums are to be inspired by their natural surroundings, with exquisite greenery, formal gardens, and views overlooking Sherwood Park Ravine. Touted as an 'exceptional community', the elegant units will boast a classic architectural style and design, a French Beaux Arts-style façade, and common areas reminiscent of the amenities found in opulent English hotels. This won't be a typical modernist living space within walking distance of nightclubs and restaurants; rather, an enclave for the not-so-young at heart who prefer bucolic views to happening city life and are willing to drive to work.
The Huntington Toronto condos do promise a beautiful living space with the finest finishes in wood, glass and stone: large classic rooms, quartz, marble or granite counters and marble undermount sinks, exquisite wall tiling, and a choice of top notch flooring (polished or honed sealed marble, granite or limestone in the baths, quarter sawn oak plank hardwood in the living and dining rooms, hallways, libraries and bedrooms). Perhaps the 24 hour concierge and personally encoded security alarms are really necessary - possibly to protect the Hans Grohe bathroom fixtures that are worth more than the carpeting in more modest condos.
Inside Lawrence Park
Demographically, Lawrence Park still retains a large Anglo-Protestant population with the vast majority of families owning their own home and possessing a household income in the six figures. Directly adjacent and continuing westward towards Bathurst Street is another affluent Toronto neighbourhood pocket known as Lytton Park, which is now officially Lawrence Park South. Lytton Park fills a partly hidden valley around Strathallan Boulevard; its lawn bowling club and tennis courts provide the neighbourhood's focus. The streets near the park are dominated by detached Georgian houses, mostly pre-1930, on generous-sized lots with wide-reaching trees that produce a wonderful overhang in summer and turn the streets into a wonderland in winter. In 2007, the median average price for such a home was $1,901,500, though there are still 'bargains' to be had in the former neighbourhood of Allenby, around Avenue Road and Eglinton.
Big selling points for many parents are the Allenby Primary School (the first in Toronto to offer French immersion), and other fine public, private and separate schools, including Blythwood Junior School, The Toronto French School, Loretto Abbey, Bedford Park Public school, Havergal College for girls, and Lawrence Park Collegiate. York University's Glendon Campus is nearby on Bayview and the School of Liberal Arts is also popular.
The high profile shops and restaurants in the Yonge and Lawrence, Bayview and Mount Pleasant area are well patronized by Lawrence Park residents. This shopping district includes fashion stores, children's stores like Li'l Niblets, a baby clothing boutique offering fashionable and practical accessories on Avenue Road, sporting goods stores, gift shops, bakeries, gourmet dining at restaurants like Cravings (carefully prepared Pan-Asian food, fine décor, $$) and Blue Zen (Japanese fusion, $$$), North 44, and Centro (Italian, $$$), casual restaurants like Classico Louie's, and coffee shops. Boutique style establishments include everything from antique and art galleries to European bistros, while the 3080 Yonge Street shopping plaza at the corner of Lawrence and Yonge is much more casual, with dining running along the lines of the Golden Griddle Pancake House.
Away from Yonge Street, it becomes apparent that this is not a highly walk-able neighbourhood. Hot destinations on Avenue Road, such as Pusateri's Fine Foods and Royal Lighting, have large parking lots to accommodate the cars pulling in and out - there are large stretches where few pedestrians are to be found (at dinner hour, they are just south of the 401 having dinner at upscale restaurants with their families - a real event in Lawrence Park. Yonge Street, with The Friendly Butcher, Alex on Yonge with over 400 cheeses, and high end boutiques like Melmira Bra & Swimsuits and Felichia custom dresses, is a much better bet for strolling. There are even spas such as the Ivashi Bedrock Spa and Civello for hair, and eco-friendly stores like Dandelion Mud Pie on Fairlawn and Ten Thousand Villages, that are suggestive of mid-town rather than of North Toronto.
Some compensation for the relatively staid, suburban feel include the nearby Granite Club, an upper-crust sports and recreation centre on Bayview Avenue north of Lawrence Avenue. The Granite Club has excellent dining and an abundance of social and athletic activities for every member of the family, ranging from five-pin bowling to computer classes, and from ballet and dance classes to art and wine societies. Family recreation is also to be found at Lawrence Park and the trails of the Blythwood Ravine, which boasts a wide variety of native trees that shade the picnic areas and footpaths, plus there are 3 clay tennis courts. The award winning Alexander Muir Memorial Garden is just next door, its interior hidden from view of the street. Adding to the sense of Lawrence Park's old fashioned family values are its many churches, including the Lawrence Park Community Church at 2180 Bayview Avenue which offers a variety of spiritual programs.
It's possible to walk to bus routes that run along Mount Pleasant Road, Bayview Avenue, Avenue Road and Lawrence Avenue - but a pleasant walk in summer could turn into quite a trek in winter, with these main arteries being fairly well spaced out. It's a bit of a shock for someone accustomed to the downtown core, to realize that while Avenue Road is just a 5 minute walk from Yonge at Bloor, at Lawrence this turns into 15 minutes, with little to break up the monotony save for slightly run-down homes and the Lawrence Park Collegiate playing field. The Lawrence subway station, located at the intersection of Yonge and Lawrence, has entrances on Ranleigh Avenue and Bedford Park Road and thankfully frequent bus service running both east and west. Motorists - and Lawrence Park residents seem to mostly fall into this category - appreciate both Bayview and Yonge Street connecting to Highway 401 within a five to ten minute drive from Lawrence Park.
Demonstrating the commitment of locals to their community, the Lawrence Park Ratepayers Association has been active for several decades. Its mandate is to promote all matters regarding the welfare of Lawrence Park and its preservation as a residential park. The LPRA sends out an annual newsletter and runs a website provide information about activities and issues in this exclusive neighbourhood.