Mysterious Demolished House Gets New Lease on Life

This week started out like any other COVID week, slightly hazy about which day of the week it was, trying to motivate myself to get some projects finished, and a bit starved for some human face-to-face interaction via my clients. Things took a nice change after receiving an email regarding some reclaimed wood off a job site, from Demo for you Reno. They informed me that they had been tasked to demo an old house in the Trinity Bellwoods area in Toronto, and had leftover interior lumber they didn’t want going to waste. If you know anything about me, you know this gal loves a good find and turning salvaged items into new thangs. The team at DFYR, lead by Patrick McCormack and Punam Pathak, handle the demolition process of interior residential and commercial spaces around the GTA, and have a real appreciation for treasure hunters like me, so it was a match made in heaven!

When they showed up early in the morning, pickup truck stacked with large timbers, I was surprised at the heft of beams that came out of what they originally were told was a 1940’s two story house. After finding loads of hand forged square nails in a majority of the wood, I can safely say the origins of this house are much earlier than the 40s.

The plot thickens though! While keeping our social distance, the DFYR team proceeded to tell me an interesting story behind the house to which the beams came out of. 105 Robinson St. had some not so distant history that made some headlines.

The story goes, a man by the name of Joseph Wagenbach was the original owner of the house. Wagenbach was a German immigrant, who bought the house in 67′ and lived there in recluse until retiring to a care facility in the early 2000’s. What he left behind, was what caused all the hubbub. The house was filled with sculptures, artifacts and works from his life. Some speculated that these items may be worth something. Queuing an investigation from the “Municipal Archives” who set up shop, cataloguing and itemizing the immense collection of work. Local residents, who could barely remember the elderly German artist, were permitted to take a glimpse into the life of Mr. Wagenbach, and tour his humble abode. The house was in total disarray with odd and interesting sculptures filling every room. The story spread across the city about his legacy. People were enamoured by the mystery.

However, it was all a hoax… Well, at least that’s how some felt. Iris Häeussler, the head of the so called “Municipal Archives,” was in fact an artist who fabricated the entire tale. Häeussler, a local sculpturist herself, created the narrative as an art experiment while leasing the house. Going so far as to sculpt using her left hand and even taking classes to try and change the way she viewed subjects. Completely immersing herself into the false life of Wagenbach, she spent months under the neighbours’ noses. Moving items into the home using the cover of her Archivist title and her white lab coat. She created his sleeping quarters, used found furniture to populate the rooms, and even explained away the un-usable kitchen by saying that he preferred take-out in his later years. Public opinion was split. Some were outraged and felt swindled after falling in love with this fictitious person, but others were impressed with the lengths Häeussler took to create such a believable narrative.

Iris Häeussler – Legend of Joseph Wagenbach

Personally, I am sad I missed the whole fiasco back in 2006. I was actually studying Fine Arts at York University at the time. My major was photography, with the bulk of my artistic portfolio being creative narratives shot in digital and film stills. I would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Häeussler’s work in person and getting to explore her process.

Lampshade Lady – by AJ Geensen – Published in PhotoEd Magazine

Skip ahead to 2020… no flying cars, but a deadly virus is plaguing the world, so somewhat what I had expected. The house on Robinson St. was unfortunately demoed, but it will be a source of art still. Artist and film director Peter Lynch, documented Häeussler’s art project and process from 2006 and continued the story by getting footage of the tear down over this past month. You can see some of his earlier work on the Joseph Wagenbach project in the “Archivest Handbook”:

105 Robinson Demolished (*📷Peter Lynch)

Although the house was demolished, I inherited a good portion of the interior studs, beams, and joists. It’s safe to say the story doesn’t end there. The wood will be used in countless projects as functional art pieces and furniture that will now be enjoyed in homes across the city. Who know’s, your next custom build could have a piece of 105 Robinson in it!