Thursday, November 21, 2013

Queen West

Executive summary by darmansjah

Artfully reimagined for the next generation

There’s only so much green a city dweller can take before she must get back to street level. No neighborhood better embodies Toronto’s urban cool than Queen West, and that’s an entirely biased opinion, as it’s been my home for nine years. Queen Street runs east-west from one end of the city to the other, but Queen West is generally considered the chunk west of Bathurst, ending near the Gladstone Hotel, around Dufferin Street (somewhere on that westward walk, perhaps near the bucolic Tirnity Bellwoods Park, street signs tell us we’re supposed to call it West Queen West, but it seems that nobody really bothers).

The Gladstone Hotel, built in 1889, stands as a proud landmark dividing Queen West from neighboring Parkdale. It’s regal Richardsonian Romanesque building with arched windows and red brick, but only a decade ago the best way to describe it was decrepit-a leaky eyesore known for its hand-operated elevator and karaoke night filled with hipsters and long-term hotel guests. The Zeidler family took control of the hotel in 2002, and daughter Christina Zeidler oversaw the Gladstone’s delicate overhaul, making careful efforts not to displace staff and residents while simultaneously saving the dying building, inch by inch.

“It’s transformed, but that’s not the purpose of it,” says Zeidler, sitting in the Melody Bar by a curling mahogany bar from the 1940s. “The purpose was respond to a neighborhood. I like the idea of revitalization, trying to bring the building back to life, back to the community, make it hub. I don’t feel as if it belongs to me. I feel it belongs to the community.”

Perhaps more than any other neighborhood, Queen West cahnnels Toronto's creative spirit. The Darke Hotel keeps the beohemian vibe alive in the gallery district.

Two blocks east on Queen, the Drake Hotel has been similarly restored, to a slightly more upscale end. Both hotels present exhibits and events. The art scene in Toronto has usually been a movable feast, but for several years, Queens West has held fast as a gallery row. The Gladstone now offers an arts walking tour of the area. “The wish and hope is that the art scene will remain here as a vital, living part of the city,” says Zeidler.

An artist herself, Zeidler sensed the lack of venues for Toronto’s creative population, so she hired hungry local artists to give each of the 37 rooms at the Gladstone its own feel: pretty in pink in the Teen Queen, or streamlined sparse in the El-e-men-tal room.

Near Queen West, a band makes joyful noise at the Communist's Daughter

The success of theDrake and the Gladstone has coincided with-or caused?- a boom in the surrounding neighborhood. Zeidler peering in the windows of her favorite galleries, starting with Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, a showcase for up-and-coming artists. Stephen Bulger waves at Zeidler from the window of his gallery, which specializes in photography. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCCA) is tucked away behind a parking lot, Outside the gallery for the Ontario Crafts Council, Zeidler looks through the glass: “Oh, I love that,” she says, pointing at a small ceramic forest of white sticks.

A woman unlocking her bicyle nearby overhears and says, “It’s called ‘Dancing Chromosomes.’ I made it. “ She turns out to be a ceramist named Chari Cohen. Still wearing her bike helmet, she and Zeidler, who have never met, discuss what might be a better word for crafts. “I’m thinking ‘material arts,’ “ says Zeidler, whose dream of a living arts community feels very real.

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