Toronto Reference Library at 40: The Work of Bruno De Lorenzi
In her December 2017 report, City Librarian Vickery Bowles noted, “Toronto Reference Library celebrated its 40th anniversary with a series of programs and blog posts featuring collections and highlighting the history and architecture of the building. The activities and accompanying social media generated lively discussions about what TRL has meant to some of our customers.”
Carlo De Lorenzi e-mailed us, reporting that Toronto Reference Library “holds particular personal significance" for him partly because of the work of his father, Bruno De Lorenzi, who was responsible for constructing one of the building’s most visible features -- the waterfall and pool in the front foyer.
Carlo first told us about his father's contribution when he visited the Marilyn & Charles Baillie Special Collections Centre at the Toronto Reference Library in early December, inquiring if the library had any pictures of this water feature. Staff located a few images in the Toronto Public Library Archives, but couldn’t resist asking Carlo why he was interested in this. “My father built it” was his quick response, followed by a generous offer to send along the back story.
The building’s "varied water features (waterfall, ponds and fountains)," Bill V. detailed in his amazing 40th anniversary blog, Raymond Moriyama and the Original Architecture, were “intended to mask street noises and also act as a natural security barrier. … With its lower ceiling and waterfall/pond ... the foyer was intended to act as a calming element in the transition for library users coming in from the busy street to acclimatize them to the library proper.”
Carlo recorded his father’s involvement in the project. “My father, Bruno De Lorenzi, was a marble setter with Connolly Marble, Tile and Terrazzo through the 60s and 70s and was the site supervisor for the company during the construction of the library.”
“My parents emigrated from northern region of Friuli, Italy in 1949. Upon arriving in Toronto my father worked for De Spirt Marble and Tile through the 50s until he moved to Connolly Marble Tile and Terrazzo in the early 60s,” wrote his son.
The De Spirt enterprise, usually known as the Italian Mosaic and Marble Company of Canada, was established in Toronto around 1914 by an American family originally from Fruili. Early Toronto managers included Joseph P. Connolly and Attilio Charles De Spirt. One of the company’s first commissions here was to create mosaic panels over the windows and main entrance at Weston Branch, a unique feature among Ontario’s Carnegie libraries.
Carlo continued: “In 1974 my parents bought a lot on Tait’s Island near Parry Sound on the edge of the Canadian Shield. In 18 months of weekend work, my father, with the help of family and friends, built a cedar cottage on the site. It was in this same year, 1976, that my father was working at the TRL.
“Though the cottage was a haven away from the chaos of the city, for my father this did not translate to a haven from physical work. My father’s favourite list of leisure cottage activities included digging, hammering, sawing, drilling, repeat. It was commonplace to see him engaged in any of these activities in and around the cottage at any given time. But my mother’s curiosity was piqued the day she saw him loading large rocks into the car. When she asked him where he was planning to take them, he merely said he “needed them for work”.
“My parents were both very creative. Whether cake decorating, rug hooking or crocheting, my mother preferred working within the basic rules and elements of design. My father, on the other hand, was more improvisational, preferring to do it his own way. He was a “one of a kind” specialist. My father worked from a vision in his mind which was revealed only when the project was complete.
“By the time my father loaded the rocks in his car, his vision of their new home was well formed. The only remaining hurdle was having to sell his vision to the architect of the TRL.”
Clearly, Moriyama was convinced of Bruno's idea. “The fountain inside the main entrance of the TPL has three rocks protruding from the vertical face just below the waterfall,” Carlo commented. “When I walked into the TPL, I was delighted to find the water still flowing over my father’s vision.”
Thanks to Carlo Di Lorenzo for sharing his family’s story and enriching our understanding of the efforts that skilled artisans, largely unacknowledged, contributed to make the Toronto Reference Library the architectural masterpiece that it is.