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The unseen Gladstone



111220_gladstone

The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto — purchased in 1889.

TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR

Kate Allen Staff Reporter

Roomy enough to accommodate a gentlewoman's bustle, etched with a cursive capital "G," four wooden armchairs in the Gladstone's basement are tempting tokens of a ghostly Victorian past.

If hotels were humans, the lobby would be the ego: a point of public entry, arranged just so.

PHOTOS: The unseen Gladstone

The basement is the id: detritus of the past, jammed where nobody can see.

The Gladstone's cellar is, admittedly, a sanitized archive. Administrative offices and a kitchen occupy part of it, so all the relics down here have been more or less curated.

But like a good patient of the talking cure, the Gladstone has never tried to repress the darker episodes of its past. The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto — purchased in 1889, the same year its once-suburban environs, the mansion-pocked Village of Parkdale, was annexed by the city — and like anything long-lived, it has had its trials.

Take one ancient telephone switchboard, tucked into an alcove. With a rotary dial and profusion of cords, it initially summons the same eerie charm as the Victorian armchairs. "Kitchen," reads one jack. "Desk," reads another.

Look closer. "BRONCO'S" reads a third, a trace from the Gladstone's difficult middle years. Between the hotel's early days of high fashion and its latter gentrification, it was, many will remember, a flophouse. Poor, marginalized tenants lived upstairs, while the bars below, including Bronco's, drew all manner of patrons, including wild ones.

Hank Young, the famous "Gladstone Cowboy" who in later years operated the hotel's ancient hand-cranked elevator (the gear-room for which is also down below), once attributed the scar between his eyes to breaking up a brawl in Bronco's. Another treasure stashed in the hotel basement, an old jukebox, also presumably dates from this same period, given how heavily it leans on country classics. Ten cents, back then, bought one rendition of Tammy Wynette's plaintive "D-I-V-O-R-C-E.".

Recent additions to the basement better represent the Gladstone's current personality.There's a thick braid of red wires, a leftover art installation its creator never bothered to pick up. Cans of paint unique to each guest room occupy a set of shelves. Creativity and cowboy times are in harmony down here.

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