Toronto

Uncertainty swirls for Toronto artists after iconic cube house sold to developer

Musicians renting Toronto's unique cube house say they're unsure how long they'll be able to keep their creative gathering space alive after a new developer purchased the site.

Property at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue sold for more than $19M in November

Uncertainty swirls for Toronto artists after iconic cube house sold to developer

3 months ago
Duration 2:42
Musicians renting Toronto's unique cube house say they're unsure how long they'll be able to keep their creative gathering space alive after a new developer purchased the site. CBC’s Ryan Jones speaks to Toronto artists on the significance of the space.

Musicians renting Toronto's unique cube house say they're unsure how long they'll be able to keep their creative gathering space alive after a new developer purchased the site.

Block Developments bought the 8,700-square-foot parcel of land at Sumach Street and Eastern Avenue, along with several nearby row houses, last year with plans to redevelop.

But Luis Vasquez, a music producer who's rented one of the three cube units for the past year and a half, said he's not sure what the plans are, the timeline — or what it will mean for the community of music lovers currently using the space.

"There's this uncertainty," he said. "We're kind of in the dark."

The ownership change is the latest in the saga of the unusual structure, which has been used as a billboard for a local coffee shop, a private residence and, most recently, as a space for recording artists and musical performances. 

Two men sit in chairs in front of a computer with open music software on a computer.
Ronan White and Luis Vasquez make music and host community events inside Toronto's famous cube house. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The cube house was built in 1996 by two Canadian architects inspired by cube homes in the Dutch city of Rotterdam. The three elevated green cubes include a residential unit and two commercial units.

While it isn't a designated heritage property, the cube house land is listed on the city's heritage register, meaning it's believed to be of cultural heritage value or interest.

Vasquez, owner of The Audio Station, transformed his unit into a music studio where artists pay for recording, mixing and mastering services. He hosts live music and other community events on weeknights and weekends. 

The cube house has become an important gathering place for musicians and music lovers, said Ronan White, a musician who puts on community events. He said he would be sad to lose it to development.

"The more and more these things happen, the less spots we actually have to congregate and be ourselves," he said.

The potential loss of the cube house shows that art, culture and music aren't being prioritized as the cost of living increases, Vasquez said.

"I think the community is really hurting for it."

Redevelopment plans already underway

Plans to redevelop the cube house land have been in the works for years. 

Previous owners submitted a development application in August 2021 for a mixed-use community called Sumach Artsplace. It would have resulted in a 35-storey, triangular-shaped tower being built on the site with 443 new homes, including 324 market-rate condo units, 119 affordable rental units, and a public plaza. 

However, former co-owner Taso Boussoulas told CBC Toronto that the application fell apart shortly after it was submitted because it incorporated nine homes across the street that his company did not own.

A rendering of a residential building.
This rendering shows the previous owners' vision for the redevelopment of the cube house site at 1 Sumach St. Current owner Block Developments says it's 'revised application' will incorporate feedback from city staff comments on the previous proposal. (gh3)

Boussoulas said he had an "arrangement" with the homeowners but some pulled out. As the project sat idle, Block Developments swooped in.

"We negotiated a deal, something that we felt was fair for us and fair for them, and we sold," Boussoulas said.

New developer working on 'revised application'

Property records show Block Developments purchased 1 Sumach St. for $19.125 million on Nov. 30, 2023. That same day, records show the company purchased six of the nine homes across the street from the cube house.

In an email statement, Block Developments said it is working on a "revised application," incorporating feedback from city staff on the previous proposal as well as "community priorities that have been flagged for us."

"We are taking our time and do not want to rush this process until we feel we are ready for a robust resubmission that represents Block's best vision for the site," the statement said.  

The first quarter of 2025 is the earliest tenants would need to vacate the cube house, according to Block Developments. It did not respond to a question about whether the company plans to demolish or move the cube house. 

In the meantime, the developer said its staff are inspecting the buildings to identify any issues and to make essential repairs to make sure the units are "safe and suitable" for the existing tenants.

The company didn't respond to a question about whether it plans to demolish or move the cube house.

A man with glasses and a red hat stands inside his recording community.
Alex Walker, owner of recording studio 3CubeMusic, said he hopes he can continue running his business out of the cube house while the developer plans the site's next steps. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

The city of Toronto confirmed via email that it's been talking informally with the new developer about potential changes to the previous development application, but that no new plans have been formally submitted.

Alex Walker, a beatmaker and music producer, recently opened the 3CubeMusic recording studio inside one of the cubes. He hopes he can keep operating out of the cube for at least a year.

"The future is uncertain and it's a little scary for me as a tenant here trying to run a business," Walker said.

"I'd be happy just to be able to say that we were part of the cube's legacy, you know? We go down with the building."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ryan is a reporter with CBC Toronto. He has also worked for CBC in Vancouver, Yellowknife and Ottawa, filing for web, radio and TV. You can reach him by email at ryan.jones@cbc.ca.

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