The once glamorous, now neglected uptown institution is in serious need of a makeover—but future plans are contingent on how the Eglinton transit debate plays out.
As the debate rages on over how transit will served along Eglinton Avenue, the future of an old uptown institution on the strip hangs in the balance—and, in many ways, is dependent on how the city decides to expand its transportation network.
Built in 1963 under the moniker Inn on the Park, the former hotel complex at the corner of Eglinton and Leslie became the flagship enterprise for what was to become the Four Seasons chain. For years, it was one of the city’s most luxurious destinations, hosting everyone from Nikita Kruschev to The Rolling Stones. The 1970s witnessed both the peak of the Inn’s success and its rapid fall from grace.
An adjacent 23-storey tower built on the North York site in 1971 was meant to attract a host of high-end guests but, around the same time, the Four Seasons in Yorkville opened, becoming the city’s major hospitality draw; when the luxury Canadian hotel chain expanded worldwide, little attention was paid to the Inn. In the late 1980s, Four Seasons jumped ship and the hotel was eventually converted into a Holiday Inn, before it became the Toronto Don Valley Hotel.
The original Inn faces the wrecking ball in 2006. (Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star)
In May 2006, amid a community uproar, some of the older parts of the complex (and the original hotel) were demolished to make way for a Lexus dealership, though the more lavish features—like the ballroom, Oak Room and Harvest Room—still exist and have been recently retrofitted. And though the 23-storey tower has remained disused, a separate On the Park Centre (as it’s now called) in the complex has continued to operate as an events venue. Recently, however, the events business stagnated and eventually ceased altogether—and now there is word that major renovations could be made to this iconic site.
“Tearing [the tower] down is one of our options, but really we don’t know what we’re doing with it yet,” says Wes Neichenbauer, Chief Financial Officer of Rowntree Enterprises, the company that owns the On the Park complex.
For years, there was talk of turning the remaining tower into a seniors’ residence, but that has since fallen through. Because of an increasing number of large (and cheaper) events venues opening up north of the city, Neichenbauer says that, in terms of cost, it just doesn’t make sense to keep the current venue open—though that doesn’t mean the site is destined for a derelict fate. Indeed, there are many ideas being thrown around for the site, including putting up a hybrid complex with a condo tower, senior’s home, events and conference venue and a destination restaurant that will draw patrons from around the city, akin to Scaramouche or Auberge du Pommier.
The main problem now is that the future of Eglinton is just so uncertain. Built on what was originally farm land in North York overlooking the vast Sunnybrook Park, the site gets a great deal of passing traffic (upwards of 80,000 cars daily), but is hard to reach by public transit. Much has been said about the plan to build an LRT along Eglinton, and perhaps if (and when) that finally happens, the old Inn on the Park site can be rebuilt to its former glory. Until then, for the next few months at least, developers will be thinking hard about how to transform the space, with the On the Park events venue selling off everything from dishes and glasses, to tables and kitchen equipment—all while the old tower sits vacant, a constant reminder of the complex’s golden age.