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Monday, May 13, 2013

1980s’ celebrity haunt closing to make way for Toronto condos

Hans Gerhardt hasn’t worked at the Sutton Place Hotel since 1993, but ask him to recount his memories of the Bay Street establishment and he starts back when it opened, long before he even started working there. “The Sutton Place opened with a bang in 1967,” said the former hotel president. Michael Myer-Rush, had stolen $30-million from the Mafia and was staying at the hotel when a prostitute was given the job of planting a bomb under his bed.
The bomb went off, though the man survived.
The hotel itself won’t, not after news was released Wednesday that Lanterra Developments has acquired the property from its current Hong Kong-based owners and will retrofit the Sutton Place as a 42-floor luxury residential condominium.
Barry Fenton, president and CEO of Lanterra, said he wants to keep the vibe of the hotel, but admits there will be a lot of changes.
“It is going to have an English theme, a sort of modern feel to it,” he said. “We are going to widen the base of the building and add nine floors, but the final design isn’t finalized.”
Lanterra is hoping to begin construction by end of year, adding 20,000 square feet of retail space while maintaining the main structure.
A celebrity hotspot in the 1980s, The Sutton Place Hotel has played host to everyone from Michael Jackson to Sophia Loren.
The Toronto film industry may not have reached its heights without the 33-storey landmark that housed stars when they came to the city to film, Mr. Gerhardt said.
He became president in 1986 and said the catalyst that made it the in place for celebrities was the filming in 1987 of Three Men and a Baby.
“Ted Danson stayed for months at the biggest suite in the hotel and every Thursday he would host a dinner party,” Mr. Gerhardt recalled. “Sometimes up to 40 of the who’s who of Hollywood who were in Toronto would show up.”
In the late 1980s, Mr. Gerhardt made a bet with actor Dudley Moore: If he could get Robin Leach, host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, to come with him to a hotel conference in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Moore would have to play piano at The Sutton Place. Mr. Leach did go and Mr. Moore played six sold-out shows at the hotel.
One year, Mr. Gerhardt and well-known hotel butler Werner Jankowski created an advertisement for the hotel, with a nod to their many actor friends. The ad featured the two of them in tails and top hats, with an giant Oscar statue in between, saying: “Thinking of you from The Sutton Place.” The Los Angeles Times said the advertisement should have been nominated for an Oscar itself. Five days later, Mr. Gerhardt received a strongly worded letter from the Academy of stating that he had illegally used their trademark.
Although saddened by news of the condo project, Mr. Gerhardt believes it is a sign of the times for Toronto, where redevelopment is happening everywhere.
“All these new hotels, Ontario Place closing and redeveloping, it’s a sign that Toronto is continuing to grow and stay globally competitive,” he said. “TIFF has moved to King Street, the entertainment side is moving away from Yorkville.”
He left in 1993 when the hotel was sold to new owners. At this same time, Mr. Jankowski found himself without a job.
“Werner and I were a team, and he was very well known to all the celebrities he served,” Mr. Gerhardt said. “So when he was let go, he ended up working for the neighbour of our former hotel owners — Conrad Black.”
National Post

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