The Gladstone was originally built in 1889 as a stylish hostelry across from the then existing Parkdale railroad station which serviced the Grand Trunk, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and the Canadian National Railway (CNR) companies.
Over the years since, this historic building has seen the neighbourhood through the introduction of electricity, the paving of roads, the closing of two railway stations, the birth of the automobile, and the ever-continuing expansion of the surrounding city.
The building has been given many makeovers over the years while its original architecture has been largely preserved. Read on to find out more about the architectural, social and cultural history of the Gladstone Hotel.
The location of the Gladstone Hotel, just east of Dufferin on Queen Street West, was once considered the western edge of Toronto and it provided accommodations to travellers from the Parkdale train station as well as visitors and exhibitors at the Canadian National Exhibition.
The building permit was issued in September 1889 for a value of $30,000.00
The original owner, Susanna Robinson, was a widow who operated and lived at the hotel with her 13 children. Susanna and her husband Nixon, a Toronto brewer, had previously operated the Red Lion Hotel in Kleinberg. Mr. Robinson died prior to completed construction of the Gladstone Hotel.
GLADSTONE HOTEL HAS A LONG HISTORY OF PROVIDING RESPITE FOR ARTISTS AND PERFORMERS.
Gladstone Hotel has a long history of providing respite for artists and performers. In its early days, it was the “last stop” on the edge of Toronto’s city limits before heading west (usually by train). Many artists stayed here after performances at Massey Hall before heading out of town. It was also a favourite spot for vaudeville performers during the CNE.
The hotel was famous for its cuisine and service. Visitors typically booked accommodations for a week’s time.
The Gladstone was named for the street that was named after English politician William Gladstone 1809-1898. Gladstone held several important government positions including Prime Minister. He was elected Prime Minister four times. (The first in 1868).
The Gladstone was one of the first ten hotels in Ontario to receive permission to allow patrons to drink and play shuffleboard in a licensed alcoholic area. At one time the Gladstone Hotel was the last place to obtain hard liquor before reaching The City of Hamilton.
Until 1964 all beverage rooms had to close between the hours of 6:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. The Gladstone had a lounge license so that it could open certain rooms for liquor and beer during those hours. The Hotel hired two doormen to control the crowd during these times.
At one time the Gladstone Hotel was the last place to obtain hard liquor before reaching The City of Hamilton.
As of 1890, the streetcar connected guests to downtown and the shopping emporia of the Arcade, Eatons and the Robert Simpson stores.
The hotel accepted reservations by telephone as early as 1898. An early, but not original, telephone switchboard still exists in the hotel.
The Gladstone underwent significant interior renovations around 1913 under the management of new owner Victor Gianelli, son of the Italian Consul General for Canada. In the 1950s the exterior was “updated” with metal sheathing and glass block and a second exterior facelift happened in the late 1980s under Herb and Allen Appleby who owned the hotel from 1964 on. The recent restoration brought the ground level façade back to resemble more closely the original; including reinstalling the detailed, arched wooden windows.
The Zeidler family bought the hotel in 2000. In 2003, Christina Zeidler began work to restore the hotel and enliven the business, maintaining the old staff and patrons while bringing in new communities.
In 2004 it became clear that the building, so badly slum land-lorded for 40 years, needed a more thorough renovation. Christina enlisted the help of her father, Eb Zeidler of Zeidler Partnership, to be the architect on a deep restoration of the hotel which was completed in 2005 Christina’s development philosophy was to bring back the “bones” of the architecture and then allow contemporary elements of arts and events to shine within the space.
This was the thinking behind the Artist Designed Room Project: each of the 37 hotel rooms is designed by a different local artist. The rooms are beautiful and represent the talent that Toronto has to offer the world.
The Gladstone Hotel feels a strong sense of appreciation for and responsibility to the existing Parkdale neighbourhood and artistic community. The historic restoration of the property reflects the hotel’s architectural and community history.
Since taking over the hotel in 2003 there have been deep concerns about the well-being of the existing (some long-term) residents of the hotel and The Gladstone Hotel and Christina Zeidler took a personal interest in supporting them and helping them find new homes in the community prior to beginning the restoration project. The Gladstone Hotel provided financial support and the managers and employees at the hotel worked hard to find places to live for the most elderly and at risk. Some of these former residents had come to the Gladstone off the street and had no identification, health card or social insurance number.
The Gladstone with the invaluable help of The Parkdale Community Health Centre worked hard to ensure that these people made contact with professionals who properly assessed their needs and found appropriate housing with access to medical attention.
The Gladstone made sure that in the transition, none of the existing residents was abandoned. The hotel supported them as necessary and helped to find them places to live.
The Gladstone kept its bar and event venue spaces open and operating throughout the restoration process in order to maintain vital community and neighbourhood connections.
Last Call at the Gladstone produced by local documentary filmmakers Neil Graham and Derreck Roemer chronicles the human stories connected with the recent restoration. The documentary recently debuted at Hot Docs 2007 and has aired on TVO’s multi-Gemini Award-winning Canadian series of point-of-view documentaries – The View From Here.
Staff who have worked at the Hotel for many years – one as long as 40 years – retained their jobs until their retirement and along with long time “regulars” have worked hard to help the transformation of the place they love.
The original canopy hung much lower than the one recently removed and was crowned by a series of ornate arched openings.
The original entrance was framed with stone pilasters which you can see evidence of on the brickwork. There is also evidence of a central pillar which would have separated the two front doors.
On either side of the entrance exterior were decorative terra cotta panels detailing ornate birds and flowers and even possibly the profiles of Victoria and Albert.
The original configuration of the lobby area is unclear.
The meticulously restored Victorian elevator is one of the last hand-operated elevators in Toronto. The elevator was likely installed just after the electrification of the city in 1904. The wrought iron cage would have floated in the stairwell with no structural enclosure.
It is likely that the lobby flooring was originally wooden with carpets over top. No evidence exists to suggest that there were ever marble or stone floors.
Ballroom and Melody Bar
The main floor would have originally featured several “great rooms”. It is no longer clearly evident what the original configuration of rooms and their functions would have been.
The hotel kitchen was very likely originally located where the auxiliary bar is now located in the ballroom. The building’s exterior reveals where the original windows and fireplace would have been located.
The Gladstone’s dining room was once famous for its Sunday roast beef dinners. There are a few remaining original armchairs with a large “G” carved on the back. These, along with some other original antiques, are being incorporated into the refurbished guest accommodations.
The two restored pillars in the hotel’s Melody Bar are unique in the city of Toronto in that their faux marble finish was rendered in true European Fresco technique. No other architectural pillars such as these exist in the city! The current ballroom space also shows evidence of ornate capitals.
The Gladstone is a fine example of a Victorian Hotel with intact plaster moldings in the grand hallways.
The second floor was originally the first-class floor of the hotel boasting larger rooms, 14’ ceilings, graceful arches with beautiful details and larger public space. These rooms no longer function as hotel rooms. The floor is now rented for receptions, exhibitions, conferences, meetings and artist studios.
The second floor originally featured a luxurious lounge or drawing room, possibly the gentleman’s smoking room in the southwest corner room. This room originally had a fireplace which was removed sometime in the 1920s.
First class guests also had access to the ornate balcony which has been carefully restored by Douglas Roberts.
Third and Fourth Floors
The third floor still boasts stunning tin ceilings as well as a small detail of some original wallpaper that was revealed during the renovation.
Take note of the changes in ceiling height as you go up. Heights range from 14’ on the first class floor to 12’ on the third floor, to 10’ on the fourth floor.
The wonderful wooden banisters on the north and east stairwells would have also originally been found on the main centre stairwell, but were removed at the time the elevator was enclosed with plaster.
Whereas the original design offered the more European experience of shared bathrooms, the current guest rooms have been modernized with washrooms for each suite (thank goodness). Each room has been designed by a different local artist. The Artist Designed Room project has become a very popular reason to stay at the Hotel, again and again!