I look out for buildings that are eloquent and truthful, making promises from the exterior and follow through in their interior. They have an uncompromising character, palpable as you experience their presence on the street and when you inhabit their rooms. Like people of strong character, I am immediately drawn to some, and others leave me cold. But either way, I know where I stand, and I am comfortable with that.
“The Backwards House” is located near Union and Mary Streets on a site that originally straddled over Kitchener and Waterloo. “Bewildered” is a more fitting adjective though. Sadly, one can say that this building never knew itself, and true to itself, now sits dazed and incongruous both on Mary Street and on King Street. Curiously I know I am standing before (or behind?) a very confused building.
Time and progress haven’t been kind to this house, but even when the ground was staked out to dig a hole for its foundations, it was already architecturally doomed to a muddled existence. The front is lovely, playfully informal with its asymmetry, its turret, its windows of different shapes and sizes, balconies and fanciful wood trim that speak of well-to-do domestic happiness and comfort. The back of this sunny home is that of a dour and imposing church!
As you walk along Mary Street, lined with trees and charming century homes, you can’t miss the surly church apse, two stories of brick wall, with scarce openings for bleak windows and doors. Not knowing how you would enter this “church”, what you find beyond is a ramshackle of left over spaces between the backs of buildings.
This house originally addressed King Street. It was well set back, over one hundred feet from the street, and one can only imagine the kind of garden it would have had. The promise is that of well-appointed landscaping to set off the best features of the house, somewhat ceremonial, distinguished, and somewhat playful. Instead there are buildings of squat shapes that line King Street and plenty of parking. The front of this house is visible only through the shadows of a narrow driveway.
Ironically, I enjoy the uncompromising and unapologetic confused attitude of this building that never fails to leave me bewildered. Don’t look for this building. It is more fun if you stumble upon it accidentally.
Guest Blogger Margaret Santos