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Category Archives: Westbury Hotel (history)

Westbury Hotel Toronto (history of)

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The Westbury Hotel in 2015, the view looking south on Yonge Street toward Carlton from Alexander Street. 

The Westbury Hotel is soon to be demolished, replaced by two high-rise towers, 65 and 45 storeys tall. The Westbury is located at 475 Yonge Street, on the east side of the street, one block north of Carlton Street. Being a resident of Toronto, I never stayed in the Westbury Hotel, but I retain fond memories of visiting its restaurant in the 1970s. I had read an article in the TV Guide, inserted into the Toronto Star each Saturday. The publication encouraged readers to request favourite recipes from restaurants throughout the city. One reader asked for the recipe of a dish served at Creighton’s, on the ground floor of the Westbury. This was the reason I first visited the hotel.

The dish being requested at Creighton’s was likely a response in the 1970s to Torontonians’ becoming increasingly aware of French cooking This was partly due to Julia Child’s TV show (“The French Chef”), which had commenced broadcasting in 1963. She promoted many dishes that were heavy with butter and cream. One of her favourite quotes was: “The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.” The Westbury Hotel already had a gastronomic reputation. Susur Lee, who later was to become a star in the gourmet world, for a time was a chef at the hotel. However, Chef Tony Roldan’s “Les Scampis Amoureux” (“Scampi in Love”), rich with cream, butter, white wine and a dash of Pernod, was the dish that the reader had requested from the Star newspaper. I ordered it when I visited the restaurant and enjoyed it immensely. 

The history of the Westbury spans almost seven decades. The first 16-storey tower of the hotel opened in 1957. Named after the Knott Westbury hotels in New York and London, it was originally to be called The Torontonian. However, this was changed after it was leased by the Knott Hotels Company of Canada. Located on the northeast corner of Yonge and Wood Streets, it was considered an excellent location for a luxury hotel. Its architect was Peter Dickinson when he was employed by Page and Steele. His design was a variation of the postwar International Style, its facades containing many large glass windows. Dickinson was also the architect of the O’Keefe Centre, which opened in 1960.

The hotel’s interior was designed and outfitted by the Robert Simpson Company, the lobby containing marble and walnut panelling. The Sky Lounge on the top (sixteenth) floor possessed an amazing view to the south, overlooking the city’s financial district and Lake Ontario. The Polo Room cocktail lounge, named after its namesake in London, became a favourite on the Yonge Street strip for those who enjoyed a late-night drink.

In the early 1960s, a matching nine-storey tower designed by Webb Zerafa Menkes was built on the north side of the original tower, the two towers connected by a large hallway. A few years later, Menkes was to design Hazelton Lanes. The north facade of the Westbury’s north tower was on Alexander Street, so the hotel then occupied the entire city block on Yonge Street between Alexander and Wood Streets. 

However, by the second decade of the 21st century, the pace of intensification of the city had increased astronomically. The Westbury Hotel occupied land on Yonge Street that contained towers of merely 16 and 9 storeys. A rezoning application to replace the Westbury was submitted to the city in 2015, proposing to construct of a pair of towers of 65 and 45 storeys. Thus, a familiar portion of the Yonge Street strip was to disappear forever. I will miss the Westbury, though I admit that other than when I photograph it, I had not been inside it for several decades. However, I still have the recipe for Chef Tony Roldan’s “Scampi in Love.”

Sources: I am grateful for the information provided by robertmoffatt115.wordpress.com 

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The digging of the foundations for construction of the Westbury Hotel in 1955. The clock tower of the St. Charles Tavern is visible on the west side of Yonge Street, as well as the Buddies in Bad Times Theatre on Alexander Street (top right-hand corner). Toronto Reference library. r-5660.

Street view of Westbury Hotel and fire trucks – May 13, 1975 

The west facade of the Westbury on Yonge Street on May 13, 1975. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl1010, item 0045.

View of fire at Westbury Hotel and some store fronts on Yonge Street – May 13, 1975

Looking south on Yonge Street on May 13, 1975. Both towers of the Westbury are visible. Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, Fl 10100, item 0044.

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View gazing south on Yonge Street in 2015, the nine-storey north tower on the left and the sixteen-storey original tower on the right.

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               Hotel’s main entrance that is accessed from Wood Street.

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               The coffee shop on the ground floor of the south tower.

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                               The lobby in the south tower.

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                               A conference room in the Westbury.

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Hallway connecting the north and south towers, the view looking toward the north tower. Colourful art work is on the east wall, beside the woman who is seated.

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                                Close up view of the art work.

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View in April 2016, looking northwest from Wood Street at the east sides of the towers.

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                            Sign on the hotel in December 2015.

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    Artist’s view of the towers that will be on the site of the Westbury Hotel.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

Books by the Blog’s Author

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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   To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

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Another book on theatres, published by Dundurn Press, is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It explores 81 theatres and contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. 

Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

 

 

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