Story by Sandra Williams-Herve
TORONTO, ONTARIO — Whether you’re a native Torontonian or a visitor, you’ve probably stepped into or walked by a Zeidler-designed building. Eb Zeidler is the influential architect behind the Toronto Eaton Centre, the revitalization of Union Station, and — along with members of his clan — several landmarks across North America. His granddaughter, Christina Zeidler, is making her mark in the city, too, as a hotelier.
Rejuvenation of a Toronto Landmark
The Gladstone Hotel was purchased by Christina’s sister and father, but they believed she had the skills and sensitivity to lead the development and revitalization of the hotel.
The catch? Christina isn’t a trained architect. She’s a visual artist and filmmaker. It was a big risk but the sense of trust she felt from her family gave her the confidence to proceed.
Her father came on board as the actual licensed architect for the renovation. He was respectful of the historic legacy of the hotel and collaborated with his daughter as the “designer” of the business and interior spaces.
The hotel, which is in a Victorian-era building from the mid-1800s, holds a special place in the heart of Toronto, especially the neighbourhood of Parkdale. However, since the 1970s, the hotel’s infrastructure had been slowly rotting away before the Zeidlers took over.
Revitalization, for Christina, meant maintaining the recent history of the hotel and ushering past and present hotel patrons into a new era. “When I started to work on the hotel people would say, ‘Christina, don’t change a thing.’ I don’t think they meant keep the rotted floors, water-soaked walls, or burnt-out sockets, but rather don’t lose the soul of the hotel,” she says. “I feel like my job has been the custodian of the soul of the hotel. It is something that you can feel immediately when you come to the Gladstone.”
Gladstone Hotel’s Human Touch
Christina envisioned the Gladstone Hotel as a beacon of cultural Toronto. It opened in 2008 and has built that identity for itself. “It’s a place where you might not know a lot about the arts, but all you need to do is come by and we will provide access for you.”
When you enter, you feel an authentic atmosphere of artists and community members. The Gladstone is always hopping with events, providing an opportunity for guests to engage with the city’s arts scene and its citizens. A guest of the hotel or a local visitor can come on any day and find art or music. The Gladstone self-produces seven signature exhibitions a year, including Grow-Op, a landscape and urbanism show, and Hard Twist, a textiles show.
“My first instinct in developing the Gladstone was to include the local community in the activities of the hotel; to change it from a closed place to an open place,” explains Christina. “That strategy means we are introducing people from all different walks of life into the hotel on a daily basis. That energy is very Toronto – it’s a wonderful mix.”
When it came to renovating the hotel rooms, she turned to artists and designers. She invited 37 artists to create rooms. “Instead of just one firm of architects, we could present a taste of the breadth of Toronto’s talent to our guests.”
“I prefer boutique hotels that have a character of the city I am in,” Christina says. “In terms of hotels, though, I have had great experiences at the Jupiter in Portland and the Ace in NYC, exactly because I felt they did a good job of including the community in the activities of the hotel. You feel like a part of the cities when you stay there.”
MORE ABOUT THE GLADSTONE HOTEL
Address: 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON (see map below)
Reservations: Telephone: 1-416-531-4635; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Room Rates: A recent search on the hotel’s website returned a starting nightly rate of $189. Rates vary by season and date.