The lights are going out on the Lakeshore motel strip west of High Park, a vestige of postwar car culture and art deco chic that in its heyday in the 50s was a must-stop for road-trippers looking for clean, sandy beaches and a room with TV to rent for the night.
Today, as the shadow of unstoppable development looms, the colourful neon signs that one by one have stopped coming to life at dusk stand as if in an outdoor museum of our suburban past.
“[Motels are] like shopping malls – doomed to be replaced by new competitors.
“The irony is that the very car culture that gave birth to this strip is fuelling the condo boom that’s forcing out these mom-and-pop motels. The city is expanding. Cheaper solutions are offered outside the downtown.
“Absolutely, their passing should be documented. They’re part of the 50s landscape, connected to the history of the highways, a kind of landscape that’s disappearing.
“They all still have their original signs. Some of them, like the North American Motel, had quite nice interiors. They’re part of our commercial heritage. This notion of the romantic road trip is attached to them.
“Should we preserve them? Well, that’s almost impossible. This is prime real estate.”
Marie-Josée Therrien, assistant professor of modern design and architecture at Ontario College of Art and Design.
The city has approved 3,500 new units, of which 1,800 have been built.
Developers’ wish list:
• Greywood Develoments, which owns the old Silver Moon Motel land, wants to build a 100-room Marriott Ritz-Carlton with its neighbour, Monarch Development.
• The Hillcrest and North American Motel lands are slated for commercial use on Lakeshore and mixed residential on the rest.
• Monarch continues its planning of a 37-storey tower.
• A 40-storey condo and 10,000 square feet of retail space are planned for the former Shore Breeze Motel site.
1 Its sign still stands, although there are no vacancies. These 50s-era signs were designed to entice the weary traveller with luxurious amenities like A/C. Later, hourly rentals would usher in decades of seediness. Later still, big names like Nicole Kidman, Wesley Snipes and Dolph Lundgren would grace the Hillcrest. This, of course, was because they were in some of the over 100 films shot here.
2 The North American Motel suffered the same fate as the Hillcrest even though it had waterbeds and satellite TV. It stands derelict, awaiting a shared “mixed use” fate. Some graffiti across the building says, “Adore” – good advice unheeded.
3 Casa Mendoza is still open and recently underwent a Restaurant Makeover that erased some of its kitsch value. The sports bar is called Last Call, if you need a place for a birthday party. It’s questionable if Mendoza will last another year – a retirement condo booth has been set up right behind the place.
4 The Beach Motel is still operational, probably because it’s farthest west from the encroaching condos. Don’t think that means this place will stick around. Considering the wide chunk of Lakeshore it inhabits, it’s just a matter of time.
5 Look into the clusterfuck that is your future, South Etobicoke. Prepare for a mishmash of developments fighting for these sunny vistas. Residents can look forward to early-morning jogs on a trail to a future that had no problem devouring its past.