Inside Charles Pachter’s legacy museum in a Chinatown laneway
Charles Pachter—the 79-year-old painter, whose subjects include moose, Margaret Atwood and the monarch—has lived in Chinatown for 44 years. “I bought my first house here in 1978,” says Pachter, “and I’ve renovated a dozen properties in the neighbourhood since then.” He has become a local fixture, often spotted at Dim Sum King, near Dundas and Huron, where he’s a regular.
In 1996, Pachter purchased a small warehouse, previously a Jewish funeral home, at 22 Grange Avenue, for $150,000. He transformed that into the Moose Factory—a nod to Andy Warhol—and used it to host book launches and fundraisers for 20 years. Then in 2005, architect Stephen Teeple built Pachter’s current residence on the parking lot in front of the Moose Factory, linking the two buildings with an enclosed glass bridge. The house—zinc clad and boxy with sheets of street-facing glass—has held up, but the conjoined factory fell into shambles, and was demolished in 2019.
Around then, Pachter began working on its $10-million replacement—a thriller over three levels that he christened the Charles Pachter Museum. He hired Lia Maston, principal architect at Firma, to get the job done. “I’m a half-Chinese native of Chinatown who grew up on Beverley Street,” she says. “So when Charles told me I got the job, I thought his decision was very loyal to the neighbourhood.” Maston took her design cues from Pachter’s paintings and wanted to create a space that would both contrast and complement the hard rectangular lines of the Teeple house.
She designed the three-storey building with a double terrace and room for a gallery and residence. The museum’s construction was finished in April and opened for by-appointment visits soon after. The new entrance is in a rear alleyway. There’s an expansive central gallery area for exhibiting art and hosting events and an elevator leads to the second floor two-bedroom apartment. On the third floor, is a small wet bar and terrace. And, of course, dozens of Pachter’s pieces are crammed into every available nook and cranny.
“The building has the vibe of a great ocean liner,” says Pachter. “For me, the joy is that I built this museum 100 metres from the city’s art institutions. It’s the AGO and OCAD-U’s little brother.”
The 7,000-square-foot museum’s façade features a concrete parge finish at the base, and it’s wrapped in teal corrugated siding all the way to the roof. The building takes up the full city block between Grange Avenue and the lane behind Dundas Street:
The rooftop view overlooks Pachter’s beloved Chinatown, and Grange Park’s Henry Moore sculpture. The railings on the two terraces are meant to evoke the deck of a cruise ship. “It looks like a pristine museum floating in this alley of garbage bins and graffiti and broken-down garages,” says Maston:
Here’s the main gallery space on the first level, packed with paintings and sculptures. Skylights and large windows keep the space bright indoors. “Many artists around the world have private museums, like the Musée Rodin in Paris, but it’s rare in Toronto,” says Pachter. “I’m proud I was able to do this at this time in my life”:
Pachter recently hosted a book launch in the main gallery for Forever On Pointe, a memoir by publicist Agota Gabor. In attendance were former mayor David Crombie and journalist Lloyd Robertson. “The space just lends itself to wonderful gatherings,” says Pachter:
A diptych of witty text-based paintings, in English and Yiddish, hang by a tubular glass elevator that’s right out of Star Trek:
Together with the Teeple house, the place is 10,000 square feet. “I do 4,000 to 5,000 steps a day just inside,” says Pachter. “It’s terrific aerobic exercise:”
The stairs and elevator lead up to the second floor apartment, where Pachter’s collection continues. He and his partner, Keith Lem, live in the Teeple house but plan is move into this apartment soon:
The apartment includes a catering kitchen, lounge area and large terrace with a fantastic view of the city. “During the pandemic, I spent nearly two years painting flowers,” says Pachter. “If Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol and Vincent van Gogh can do it, so could I”:
Here’s the TV room, with a comfy L-shaped couch that’s great for naps:
And the two bedrooms:
Here’s the third level wet bar:
There’s a patio area between the residence and museum:
And here’s the enclosed glass bridge linking the two buildings:
There’s a living room in the Teeple house with floor-to-ceiling windows and ample spots to perch:
Here are some construction photos displayed inside, with Pachter’s muses photoshopped in:
The artist has been working on canvas for nearly a half-century. “I was 34 when I started,” he says.”You feel a great sense of gratitude when you’re in your last quarter. I have more energy than men half my age, but I’m constantly losing friends. That’s the sin of knowing too many people.” Here are some more close-ups of his work: