Shahn Torontow has always loved Jonie Mitchell’s song “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” So when a parking lot became available on Steel Street in Victoria, he decided to put up his vision of paradise.
“I thought how absolutely perfect to unpave a parking lot to save paradise,” says Torontow, 48.
Torontow, a trained welder and former locksmith, would be the first to admit that his version of paradise isn’t everybody’s, but the steel house he designed and built in 1996 is certainly a jaw dropper.
When Torontow moved to Victoria from Ottawa in 1991 he bought his first property on Steel Street—a 1924 house owned by a former drug dealer. While he was renovating that the crack house next door came on the market, and he bought and renovated that as well. His current house at #3112 was a car dealership.
“I was trying to raise the profile of mixed use housing in industrial areas in cities,” he says. “I wanted to build a commercial building with a residential suite on top of it, but the City of Victoria said the lot was too small, so I built the house.”
At 35 feet long and with three levels, the house comes in at just over 1,000 square feet. And, at just nine feet wide it’s one of the skinniest houses in Canada (the Sam Kee building in Vancouver’s Chinatown holds the record at just under five feet).
Torontow’s house, a vision of industrial art, has three bedrooms and is filled with steel fixtures and fittings. The fenced lot is hidden from the street by a long corrugated steel-lined driveway and the front yard is also the entryway to a 350 square foot underground workshop. An 8 x 26 square foot concrete
bunker originally housed a small lap pool and is accessible through a section of the patio. There’s also a landscaped garden with a fig tree, bamboo, a butterfly bush, jasmine and water features.
Torontow has had his house up for sale for the last couple of years, but is under no illusion that it will sell quickly—or if ever.
“Why will it not sell? Because people don’t see what I see. Nobody sees what I see.”
© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.