Developer Michael Tippin comes not to bury the Gladstone but to revive it. The 30-something historical-building saviour hopes to rescue the down-at-the-heels hotel from inevitable decline by means of a $2-million purchasing deal and some deft development.
"This building fits the profile of the type of project that interests me -- it's got the history, the architecture, the culture, it's got a very local flavour to it," he says, his voice crackling with enthusiasm on the line from his downtown office.
"I've been successful in my projects in reviving the history that is intrinsically trapped within many of these old buildings. And that's exactly what I intend to do with the Gladstone."
National treasure As co-chair of Doors Open Toronto, a newly inaugurated annual event that opens many of the city's most historic and architecturally significant buildings to the public, Tippin has been hailed as a "national treasure" because of his passion for Toronto's heritage buildings.
The Gladstone, he says, is in poor physical and financial shape, which he fears will lead to the landmark's eventual demise, like many classic hotels before it.
"Toronto is unique in that it has very few original inner-city hotels left," he explains. "They've all been demolished. So where at one time we probably had hundreds, we're now left with the Gladstone, the Palace and the Winchester, and two of those are becoming apartments."
But where do the hotel's current residents fit into Tippin's grand plans?
The developer says he wasn't aware of the residents when he agreed to buy the building from the current owners, but "having reviewed the issue of existing occupants, my plan, which has changed just in the last week, is to buy the hotel with the existing occupants," he says. "There will be no evictions."
Although he has no idea what future rents will be, Tippin says the current residents of the Gladstone are welcome to stay if they choose to and can afford to after the takeover.
Fellow developer, philanthropist and local economy expert David Walsh, who once owned the Gooderham Flatiron building before turning the distinctive site over to Tippin, believes the project will boost Parkdale.
"There are always pros and cons for people who are familiar with a building like that, but I think that area of Queen Street could certainly benefit from the upgrade of the Gladstone Hotel."
Tippin will work with architect Margaret Zeidler, the innovator behind the revitalization of 401 Richmond West, the most sought-after address for local artists. "Whether this will be a one-star or a four-star hotel I don't know," Tippin says. "But what I do know is that I'm aiming to show some respect to the architect who originally built this hotel and to all the owners who've had it since then."
But Allan Appleby, who owns the Gladstone with his brother Herbert, voices other sentiments. "I feel I'd like to see the business continue," he says. "There are a lot of tenants who have been here for a long time. I'm not a psychologist, but some people will have problems going somewhere else."
Appleby's father bought the building in 1964, but now, he notes, his family is almost the last of the small-hotel owners. "It's a way of life that is disappearing."
As to the dispute with his brother, Appleby says he has been advised not to comment.
Herb Appleby could not be reached for comment.