Crystal Ballroom King Eddy hotel’s crowning glory

The King Edward Hotel topped by the Crystal Ballroom, circa 1923.

The King Edward Hotel topped by the Crystal Ballroom, circa 1923.

In 1900 George Gooderham—the richest man in Toronto, founder of the Bank of Toronto, CEO of the Gooderham and Worts Distillery as well as builder of the famed Flatiron building at Church and Wellington—had a new idea.

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He would build the finest hotel money could buy to rival anything the European continent had to offer. And it would out shine any other hotel in North America.

His new hotel was dubbed “the King Edward” and opened May 11, 1903. The city had never seen anything like it. An advertisement of the day read, “It affords the man of moderate means without a mansion in which to entertain, a charming resort for a dinner, a ball, or whatever function he may desire while to the women it is an absolute boon.”

In the official opening day booklet a whole chapter was dedicated to the art treasures alone. The objets d’ art made the hotel such a popular a site-seeing stop  that one critic of the day said “The King Edward Hotel is to Toronto what the Alhambra Palace is to the city of Grenada, Spain.”

However with the death King Edward himself in 1910 the opulent age he gave his name to came to a devastating end. The world was soon at war, resulting in a new world order, one where the ruling class no longer held absolute dominion over everyone else. The King Edward hotel—once the centre of Toronto’s elite class—was going to have change its ways if it was to survive.

In the years following the war the hotel began to open its doors to the business and tourist traveler alike. Bit by bit the hotel was stripped bare of its opulent trappings. Its priceless art treasures were systematically sold off. The Romantic Age of ladies with big hats and bustles sipping tea in the Queen Alexandra room and was now officially dead. The Jazz Age had arrived.

By the 1920’s almost anything that was remotely considered old fashioned at the King Eddy was replaced with a more modern appearance. The most drastic and obvious change was the construction of an 18-storey addition even larger than the original hotel.

In 1920, the architectural firm of Esenwein & Johnson of Buffalo, NY, were hired to build the new addition to be topped off with the Crystal Ballroom, a magnificent space that was to become the new “in” spot in Toronto.

The Crystal Ballroom was in its day the most sought after ballroom in Toronto to hold weddings, banquets, state dinners, bar Mitzvahs, graduations dances and just any ol’ excuse to have a party.

It was unparalleled in scope, size, grandeur and perched high above the city—on what was then one of the tallest buildings in the city—and  became the place to see and be seen during the roaring 1920’s.

The ballroom heard the sounds of the greatest orchestras of the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s including Count Bassie, Duke Ellington, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and the King Eddy’s own in house big band orchestra Romanelli and his Syncopated Swingers.

The Prince of Wales (later the un-crowned King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor) and British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin were entertained with a lavish state dinner August 8, 1927, in the Crystal Ballroom at the King Edward Hotel during a visit to Toronto.

Another important event that happened in the Crystal Ballroom was the announcement of Jonas Salk’s great discovery.

The Salk polio vaccine had proven safe and 80 to 90 per cent effective in tests on children across the United States and Canada. On April 12, 1955, nearly 700 doctors, technicians and nurses crowded into the Crystal Ballroom at the King Edward Hotel to watch the News report this historic event on two dozen TV sets installed specifically for the occasion. With the news, mass immunizations for millions of Canadian and American schoolchildren and their parents immediately got under way.

But the ballrooms days were numbered and in 1979 it closed. Peoples’ tastes were changing and it was thought the cost of renovations and bringing the ballroom up to code was too cost prohibitive. The fact that it sat vacant and forgotten probably saved the ballroom from being destroyed as it lay empty for nearly 40 years.

Now, after years unused and gathering dust, a massive renovation is taking place with a grand opening planned for March 2017.

Check out The Bulletin for exclusive photos of the opening!

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About Bruce Bell

Although born and raised in Sudbury Ont, Bruce Bell has carved out quite a niche for himself in Toronto, historically speaking. Bruce has been writing a popular monthly column on the history of Toronto for the Bulletin, Canada’s largest community newspaper since 1999. In 2002 he was named by the city of Toronto the Official Historian of St. Lawrence Hall and St Lawrence Market. In November of 2003 Bruce was asked by the Ontario Heritage Foundation to host the 200 anniversary celebrations of St. Lawrence Market. In May 2004 Bruce was appointed official historian of Toronto’s King Edward Hotel as part of the famed hotel’s centennial celebrations. In October 2004 Bruce was appointed Honourary Historian of the Hockey Hall of Fame Heritage Building. In June 2006 Bruce was appointed Curator in Residence for the spectacular Dominion Bank Building (built in 1914). In October 2006 Bruce was bestowed the title ‘Honourary Historian of the 51 Division Heritage Building’ by Toronto Police Services for his work as a historian in 51 Division. In April 2007 as part of the Fairmont Hotel & Resorts 100 year birthday celebrations, Bruce was named Honourary Historian of the famed Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Bruce is the author of two books Amazing Tales of St. Lawrence Neighbourhood and the just published TORONTO: A Pictorial Celebration. Bruce is also the official tour guide of Toronto’s famed St Lawrence Market where visitors from around the globe are constantly being impressed with his expert knowledge. In addition to his tours at St Lawrence Market, Bruce conducts tours through Old Town Toronto, University of Toronto, Kensington Market, Yorkville and the Historic Distillery District as well as walking tour weekends in New York City. In 2003 Bruce began his History Project a historical plaque program which to date includes marking the site with large bronze markers of Toronto’s First Jail, The Great Fire of 1849, the hanging of the Rebellion of 1837 leaders Lount and Matthews and the birthplace of Canadian Statesman Robert Baldwin. Bruce’s mission is to tell Toronto’s history through his tours, writings and lectures including his sold out shows at Toronto’s famed Winter Garden Theatre, in an informative and entertaining way. Email him at bruce.bell@thebulletin.ca.

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