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the architourist

Who doesn’t love a good underdog story? The journeyman actor – think Paul Giamatti, the late James Gandolfini, Judy Greer or Sarah Paulson – that, after decades, finally gets their name in lights.

In architecture, the same holds true. In every era, there are the “star“ buildings and the bit players. For every Gooderham flatiron building, there are dozens of warehouses, factories, office and utility buildings from the 1890s that perform the heavy lifting of city building.

The postwar period is no exception. Scan each concrete canyon at Yonge and Bloor and you’ll count journeymen all ’round. A few years ago, the 11-storey head of plain, orangey-brown brick poking up at the corner of Yonge and Charles streets wouldn’t have caught the eye. But, while business might not have been on fire, the Comfort Hotel at 15 Charles St. E. did well enough accommodating the bus-tour-from-Buffalo crowd.

Today, wearing a fresh coat of slightly rebellious black paint, Anndore House has arrived to fill the gap between the big five-star hotels and the budget chains.

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The Anndore House retains the mid-century modern charm of the original building.Silver Hotel Group photo

And owners Silver Hotel Group haven’t extinguished 15 Charles’ quirky mid-century modern charm: “There was some character, some personality, and we really wanted to evolve on that, and bring it into 2017, well it was supposed to be 2017,” laughs general manager Anthony Campaniaris, acknowledging the inevitable construction delays.

Mr. Campaniaris has been planning, worrying, and monitoring the massive renovation since Silver took over four years ago. He explains that while much of the surrounding neighbourhood – especially Yorkville – has been “basically leveled and rebuilt [with] these big glass towers,” the idea of creating an intimate, unique hotel in the existing 1954 building seemed to everyone involved to be the best choice.

Indeed, when it first opened in the autumn of 1955, the “Anndore Apartment Hotel” was unique. Advertised by owners/builders Economy Construction as offering “luxurious hotel life at apartment prices,” the Anndore’s furnished or unfurnished “120 apartments – 120 picture windows” that came “with or without maid service” were aimed at “Bay-Bloor-Yonge busy executives.” The lobby, furnished by Simpson’s contract division, boasted “24-hour personal desk service for messages and parcels.”

The building was so successful that, by 1968, original architect Wilfred Shulman was called back for additions and alterations. Chief of these was a lovely, horizontal, one-storey curtain-walled expansion of the lobby that provided a grander street presence via lounges and restaurants; unfortunately most of this has been bricked in over the intervening decades.

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A 1968 drawing of the Anndore Apartment Hotel.Silver Hotel Group photo

And while on the topic of journeymen, Mr. Shulman (1918-1997), a 1943 University of Toronto graduate, quietly went about building Modernist Toronto during the postwar boom. Around the same time as Anndore was his Sherwood Towers at 206 St. George St., a tidy 12-storey apartment building with a prominent curtain wall and, in 1957, Casa Loma Towers at 74 Spadina Rd., which still sports mosaic tile on its thick, angled columns. Opening in 1959, his medical building at 99 Avenue Rd.—where he’d locate his own office—was his best of the period: now demolished, its wide, 10-storey façade was a creamy composition of white spandrel panels, “Horizon Blue” steel window sashes and columns covered in dark blue.

Although none received the same press as buildings by the larger firms, Shulman’s many background buildings did more to help the average person accept of the “new look“ in architecture.

The Anndore House, when it opens fully on April 12, will perhaps help the average hotel guest in accepting a more “laid-back style of service,” says GM Anthony Campaniaris. Guests will be able to choose self-check-in using their smartphone, or walk inside to discover staff armed with tablets gathered around a low “kitchen island” style of front desk. And if this “barrier-free” approach reminds patrons of the Apple Store, that’s no coincidence: “You look at the Apple Store and how they’ve developed their business model, it’s made it a lot less transactional and more experience based.”

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The lobby and reception area of the hotel.Rick O'Brien

It’s about giving the new hotel a more domestic feel (much like the original Anndore Apartment Hotel) so that area condo-dwellers—and there are hundreds in new high-rises on Charles St. alone—feel comfortable walking in. “The neighbourhood was lacking in that gathering spot, that extension of your own home,” he continues.

To that end, Studio Munge’s ground floor divides the space into familiar domestic parcels: “You’ve got your foyer, your living room,” says Mr. Campaniaris as he points to the lounge, “and you’ve got your kitchen” he finishes, motioning to the big room where diners will watch chefs prepare their meals in an open area worthy of Masterchef Canada. It was in the Comfort Inn’s lounge, briefly, from 1994 to 1999 that “maître d’ to the stars” Louis Jannetta, ran his jazz club, and friends such as Tony Bennett would often stop by.

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The bedrooms, like the rest of the hotel, have a domestic feel.Silver Hotel Group photo

Even the larger-than-average rooms upstairs (by interior design superstars Ciccone-Simone) have a hip, urban home quality, sporting exposed brick, conduit, and ductwork along with retro portable turntables and Bertoia chairs. Bathrooms are large and outfitted with black-and-white hex tile and bold brass hardware.

“It’s different from what the city has, that’s for sure.”

Different, too, because the building’s original fenestration has been retained (far better in our northern climate), as have iron railings and terrazzo staircases. New retro touches, such as neon, are coming soon. Because of this, the project reads like a hip Manhattan hotel that’s always been there. And, in a way, that’s true.

“We’re happy to be a part of the changing landscape in the neighbourhood,” offers Mr. Campaniaris, “without actually changing very much.”

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