Up in the Old Hotel

Working with artists, a Toronto developer gives a historic building new life.

“Jane Jacobs has this great line, ‘Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings; new ideas must use old buildings,’” says Christina Zeidler, a developer who is renovating the 115-year-old Gladstone Hotel, Toronto’s oldest in continuous operation. The Victorian building wasn’t just old—it was decrepit, with crumbling interiors and rooms rented by the hour. This month the Gladstone will be reborn as a local landmark.

The hotel is located in the city’s burgeoning creative enclave, Parkdale, not far from where Zeidler’s sister Margaret has already converted an old tin-manufacturing warehouse into popular artist studios. As with the warehouse, the hotel taps the local scene. “We do development through community and creativity, basing it around tenants who would normally be considered undesirable—like artists—which we know is actually untrue,” Zeidler says of her family, which has befriended and been influenced by Toronto resident and legendary community activist Jacobs.

The structure was restored to its original condition by Zeidler Partnership Architects, owned by her father, Eberhard. Zeidler then brought in local artists, designers, and architects to create 15 of the 37 rooms on the third and fourth floors. Their solutions range from a nostalgically humorous Fun Fur mural featuring zaftig figures reminiscent of 1970s Playboy cartoons to a structurally innovative room within a room. Two of the participating artists—Allyson Mitchell and Bruno Billio—have leased studios on the hotel’s second floor, where ten multipurpose rooms are available. Those flexible spaces debuted publicly in February during the weekend of the Interior Design show, when ten artists did special installations. “We felt there was a need for independent design space in the city,” Zeidler says, “to accommodate architects, designers, and artists who fall between the cracks of contemporary art and the marketplace.”

“I do a lot of work with textiles and abandoned crafts,” Mitchell explains. “I scour thrift stores and yard sales for ’70s pieces.” Her installation Granny Square Wreck Room—created with Magazin Flair’s Paul Campbell—blanketed every surface with “the glorious art of crochet.” She’s designing the Fun Fur room for the renovation, a space called Faux Natural. “The mural will be the centerpiece,” Mitchell says. “The whole room will have faux wood. It will be an environment that is kitschy and cozy and sexy and creepy all at the same time.”

And how will the hotel serve those outside of the community? “When traveling I’m most interested in places that have a unique voice or personality and speak about the city you are in,” Zeidler says. “This old Toronto building has a new life as part of the city’s amazing cultural scene. You’ll come here and feel like part of that. It won’t feel contrived or too themed out.”

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