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Waste Coast: The Waldorf Hotel's Condo War

The Waldorf Hotel, Vancouver's wonderful creative restaurant/venue/party haven, may be getting torn down by condo development. Mish Way looked into that for us.

by Mish Way
Jan 15 2013, 7:08pm

If you live in Canada and have any interest in creative culture, you have maybe heard about Vancouver’s own Waldorf Hotel closing as the creep of condominium development swallows another cool building in its path. There have been multiple reports from The Straight to the National Post to CTV about this west coast war between creative culture and real estate developers, but here is the run down of events to start you off in case you’re totally unaware:

  • A few years ago, Waldorf Productions partners Thomas Anselmi, Ernesto Gomez, and Danny Fazio, took over the Waldorf Hotel. At the time it was a dirty, junky place inhabited by longshoremen. They gave it a major facelift and turned it into a multiplex hub of creative culture hosting bands, art exhibits, DJs, screenings, culinary events and more. 
  • The hotel upstairs also became a home for some employees of Waldorf Productions and artists in the city.
  • On March 7, the building owner Marko Puharich announced that he had sold the Waldorf Hotel to Solterra, a Delta-based condominium developer.
  • Waldorf Productions released a press release revealing the news, but also stated that this “came as a complete shock” even though there were warning signs that the arrangement they had with Puharich was deteriorating as he stopped responding to emails, etc.
  • Waldorf Productions say they will vacate the premises on January 20 (Can anyone say wrecking party? Just kidding!)
  • 60 employees will be losing their jobs.
  • The Vancouver Twitterverse erupted with protest. Some locals even got the attention of Major Gregor Robertson, who has lended his support by saying that it’s “a big loss to Vancouver’s growing creative community."
  • Solterra CEO Gerry Nichele rebuttals by saying he has no immediate plans to demolish the actual hotel and he denied meeting with Waldorf Productions.
  • Waldorf Productions put out another press release where Anselmi reminds us that “This is not only about the heritage preservation of an important Vancouver landmark but the destruction of a cultural institution in a city of vanishing arts spaces. This company is showing no respect for the community they’re supposedly marketing to.”
  • The Straight released a news piece littered with email correspondences between Gomez and Puhariach
  • Amselmi comments that the emails are “leaked, out-of-context” and stated that “confusing half-truths in the press are a distraction from the real issue”.
  • 15,000 people signed an online petition to #SaveTheWaldorf
  • Mayor Gregor Robertson ordered the city manager to bring a report (outlining how to protect the building) to the council meeting today.
  • Rally for the Waldorf went down today at City Hall

It’s getting a bit tired, as a Vancouverite, to be living in a city that is often called “No Fun City” by outsiders. The unfortunate nickname may have something to do with that 2010 documentary No Fun City that followed the owners of venues (both legal and illegal) as they fought the city’s complicated and restrictive by-laws as well as the police force. Most of the venues in the documentary are long gone. That’s just how Vancouver works.

“Liquor laws here are restrictive and a lot of aspects are left over from prohibition,” Waldorf Productions partner Thomas Anselmi said. “There is an entire industry built around back room deals, and the detangling of these ridiculous and impossible to understand details by ‘experts’ fosters a sort of legalized corruption. The fixers and specialists rake in the dollars, while people without a ton of money, who have good ideas, are priced out of participating. This contributes to the lack of venues or interesting bars.”

It feels like after every six months or so, another venue gets shut down and a cookie store or yoga studio emerges from the wreckage. Shit changes, and that’s fine, but at a certain point you have to ask yourself if this is actually the right way to go about creative development. Does the rest of Canada work like this?


Waldorf Hotel co-owner Ernesto Gomez with brand manager Danny Fazio, speaking with the CBC.

“There seems to be more respect for character in Toronto,” says Danny Fazio, the brand manager of Waldorf Productions who also co-ran the wildly popular (and now defunct) 107 Shaw gallery in Toronto. “Developers want to preserve the feel of the neighbourhood they are moving into. There is less of a frenzy to knock shit down.”

When I first started my band, we had so many places to play: The Peanut Gallery, Pub 340, Red Gate, Emergency Room, Goody, Sweatshop, and a bunch of one-off illegal spaces I can’t remember the names of. These places are gone now. Yes, that’s flux. Yes, that’s “growth.” I’m not going to sit here and cry about it. I don’t hate Vancouver. However, I’ve lost my jam space to condominiums this month. My friends lost their art studio just a block away. We’re all losing to condos. I think it’s pretty sad that when Rolling Stone hits me up for an interview, they ask more questions about the rumored “No Fun City” and space wars than the music itself.

“If everyone has to have a high paying job to afford space, then that's clearly not workable,” Anselmi said. “Art is born of leisure. The best music and art to come out of this city were a product of liberal arts funding, cheap warehouse space in what we now call Yaletown and Railtown, and the ease with which one could collect welfare.”

In a way, we expect illegal punk venues that are famous within Vancouver like the E.R., Peanut Gallery or Red Gate to get shut down at some point. These places have an expiration date and they are cherished in a different way, but they’re also tossed with little care from the community. We are sad, but we’re also realistic and know that at sometime, somewhere, there will be another warehouse we can take over.

The Waldorf Hotel, however, is not a warehouse turned art studio. It's much bigger than that, and if a place like The Waldorf with its beautiful restaurant, high-end hospitality for performing acts, multi-roomed parties, political events, and massive outdoor stages, is being threatened, then what does that say about us a a city?

At least it’s clear that people care.
 

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