I was walking down Bank St. recently, and I was struck (once again) by the state of Somerset House – the former home of the Duke of Somerset and the Lockmaster Tavern. Back in the day, it was a good place to grab a beer, sing some karaoke or maybe catch some Pay-Per-View sports on TV. Today, it’s a shell. The facade remains, somewhat, but it’s hardly a building; it’s not even a construction site. It’s an eyesore and a potential danger. It cuts into the sidewalk with its ugly wooden barricade. At such a prominent intersection, Bank and Somerset, it’s quite the embarrassment. But still it stands.
You see, it is a Heritage Building.
I don’t really know why – though I’m sure I could look it up – but it’s a part of our heritage, just like burnt toast and illiterate school councilmen. This heritage status has prevented anyone from razing the damned thing, so it just sits there, in all its decrepit glory.
There have been disputes between the city and owners. There have been illegal renovations. There has been a collapse that trapped a worker and closed down this major street. Nonetheless, it’s a heritage building, so there it sits.
There was talk of development. That was in December, and no timeline was ever given. So we can believe it when it happens. In the meantime, there it sits.
There is value in preserving many of our heritage buildings. With the current rate of development, many of these buildings could be lost to condos or commercial centres before we could realize what they meant to us. But urban decay should be offered no such protection.
The city should do something with Somerset House, even if it means tearing it down.