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Toronto Real Estate Broadview Hotel restoration celebrates landmark building’s past

real estate

The Broadview Hotel celebrates its own history

The 126-year-old Romanesque revival building reopens July 27 as a boutique hotel.

And that includes its tawdry strip-joint past as landmark building on Queen East sets to reopen after remarkable transformation

On her morning commute to work, Cheryl Clare dreaded passing the 126-year-old, towering, red-brick, Romanesque revival building on the corner of Queen Street East and Broadview Avenue, home to the – now closed – infamous Jilly's strip club.

"When you are going by a rather beautiful building with images of semi-naked women in the windows, it wasn't a comfortable thing," she said of The Broadview Hotel, which served as a rundown rooming house and strip club on the east-end since the 1970s. "It's just not an area you … wanted to be around on your own in the evenings or any point of time."

The posters of glamour models plastered on the windows and Jilly's burned-out neon sign came down in 2014 when renovation and restoration work began. On July 27, Streetcar Developments will reopen the new Broadview Hotel.

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The building was on the verge of collapse when it was purchased by Streetcar. Club operators had torn down important structural walls to allow Jilly's visitors to have a better view of the stage and many of the windows had been knocked out. Les Mallins, founder of Streetcar, decided to restore the building to its former glory, turning it into a 58-room boutique hotel.

The hotel after its brick façade was scrubbed clean of its former incarnation as Jilly’s strip club.

"From an architecture perspective, it's always been an anchor," Mr. Mallins said. "Neighbourhoods develop strong attachments to buildings because people walk past them every day and when you pass something daily it speaks to you after a while."

The hotel's ground floor will be home to an 80-seat restaurant, the Civic, as well as a café and bar, offering breakfast, lunch and coffee in the day and transforming into a bar at night. (The Civic's opening will be delayed until later in the summer.)

The hotel will offer more than 3,000 square feet of venue space, as well as a glass box Rooftop restaurant from which guests have a clear view of the surrounding city. The building also features outdoor terraces adorned with string lighting for casual dining.

Despite her experience with Jilly's, Ms. Clare, who has worked in the area for more than a decade, said she couldn't imagine anything better for the building. "There have been a lot of old buildings that have been lost. It's not good to erase the past."

With an investment of more than $25-million, the building has been meticulously restored. The structure dates from 1891 when it was built as office space by soap manufacturer Archibald Dingman. After Mr. Dingman sold the building and moved onto new business ventures in the early 1900s, the space was transformed into the Broadview Hotel and operated as such until the 1970s.

The black cornices were replicated based on historical photos of the building.

Restoration specialists ERA Architects examined historical photos of the building to replicate the black cornices that had been removed over the years as well as the wooden sills, which had rotted, and the traditional windows, many of which were broken or missing.

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The most significant change to the exterior is the modern glass box addition on the sixth floor – a strong contrast to the rest of the restored structure.

"It's been a mix of new work and repair of the old and the intention in the design is that it would be very harmonious – except for the major addition on top, which is strikingly modern but also humble," said Andrew Pruss, the lead for both the architectural design and the repairs on the building. "[The box] can't be viewed from every side, giving priority first to the historical aspects of the building."

In late 2016, protective hoardings came down and the exterior of the building was revealed after the red brick was cleaned with mild detergent and water and the restored lights went up highlighting the superb terracotta sculptures on the façades. An artist in the late 19th century sculpted each of the 21 panels with a unique image.

Restored lights highlight the façades’ terracotta sculptures.

When The Broadview Hotel's doors reopen, it will mark a major turning point for the Riverside community.

Many area residents welcome the renewal, but not all. Many of the small independent businesses along Queen Street East are fearful of the changes coming to the strip. As the neighbourhood rapidly gentrifies, some landlords are selling their buildings to developers. Others are unable or unwilling to make long-term commitments to their current leaseholders, said Marie Crawford, one-time owner of Pulp Kitchen on Queen Street East.

It's a problem, she said, that has forced many small businesses to simply give up and leave.

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"What I understand is that landlords are selling their properties, like Dangerous Dan's building was sold, Coyote Willie's building was sold, An Sibin Pub was sold," Ms. Crawford said. "I don't see any rent increases in this neighbourhood; what I am seeing is that landlords are giving nobody any commitment to rent any length of time – they're cashing out."

Ms. Crawford has lived near the Broadview for more than 25 years. She remembers Jilly's well, she said – and is more than happy to see it go.

In 1998, she recalls that a young girl, clearly intoxicated, walked into her store and slipped down a flight of stairs while trying to get to the bathroom, breaking her jaw. When the police came, they identified her as a Jilly's employee, she said.

"Ever since we opened our first business, the Jilly's strip club has always been a tremendous eyesore," she said. "People were desperate to see that place gone. It's a beautiful building – it has tons of character and history – but the strip club was a pretty sad place. It had nothing to it, no redeeming qualities."

The hotel, restored to its former glory, has 58-rooms.

But the building will soon be bustling with locals and visitors from out of town, Mr. Mallins said. "It's a beautiful building, it's historically significant and there's a real neighbourhood attachment to the building, which is ironic considering what it's most famous use was."

The Broadview Hotel's notorious history will not be completely erased. A museum-like space with Jilly's memorabilia, including posters, poles and entertainers' lockers will share some of the mysteries of the building's past. A timeline of the building's history will run through the stairs. Beginning in 1891, the timeline starts in the basement where the exposed foundations are still present.

Sunny Singh, owner of Broadview Bakery and Deli, had waited for the hotel to open since construction began more than two years ago, he said. Mr. Singh has been at his Queen Street East location for 25 years and recently struggled to get more customers as restaurants in the area closed and were no longer purchasing his bread and buns.

"They're taking too long," he said with a laugh, "The opening would mean all kinds of customers for me, so I'm excited."

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