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Culture

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cityscape

The Elegant New Sutton Place Hotel

The downtown landmark awaits reincarnation as condos. Let's take a look at its explosive beginning.

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, June 16, 1967.

From vacationing tourists to Hollywood elites, the Sutton Place Hotel at Bay and Wellesley has catered to downtown visitors since Canada’s centennial year. This week, new owner Lanterra Developments announced plans to close the 45-year-old hotel and retrofit it as a condo with nine additional storeys. After renovation, the building may still devote rooms to overnight-guest use. This harkens back to the Sutton Place’s beginning as a mix of hospitality and residential space.

Advertisement, the Globe and Mail, August 23, 1967.

The Sutton Place began operating over the course of the summer of 1967, with the official opening ceremony held on August 22. An advertorial claimed that the tower was built atop “an old creek bed where duels were once fought.” (They were referring to a tributary of Taddle Creek, lowered 20 feet for construction of the building’s foundation.) Ten floors featured rooms furnished by Eaton’s, which were reserved for hotel guests. Twenty-two floors were for apartments, whose residents had an entrance separate from the one used for the transient trade. Globe and Mail society writer Zena Cherry devoted two days of her column to profiling the apartment dwellers, including various professionals, professors, rock band managers, car dealers, CBC reporters, and provincial government bureaucrats. Some of the male residents overlooked a small detail: telling their wives about their new rentals.

The top floor housed Stop 33, which was touted as the highest bar in Toronto. Globe and Mail reviewer Blaik Kirby couldn’t resist being sarcastic:

Stop 33 features elegant, opulent décor—rich blue walls, deep black leather easy chairs, and a fabulous view of the city if and when the smog clears…Stop 33’s civilized drinkers will listen politely to unobtrusive, unamplified music by the Hagood Hardy trio, which leans only slightly toward that daring innovation, jazz.

While the Sutton Place boasted two swimming pools, a Vic Tanny health club, and several dining spots, one of its finest touches was a large Plexiglas mural depicting provincial and municipal emblems, flags, flowers, soldiers, and Mounties. Philadelphia-based artist Shirley Tattersfield claimed that “The only thing that could harm it is a cleaning lady with a tin of common cleaning agent. That might scratch the surface, but even then, a buffer would fix it.” Looking upon her work during its installation, which required 512 pieces to be shipped to Toronto, Tattersfield told the Globe and Mail that “it’ll last longer than anything else in the whole hotel.”

Front page, the Toronto Star, November 10, 1967.

It lasted longer than parts of room 615. Around 3:45 a.m. on the morning of November 10, 1967, a time bomb planted between the mattress and box spring of a bed in that room detonated, nearly killing its intended victim and blowing the number “6″ off the door. The explosion wasn’t the first attempt on stock promoter Michael Myer Rush’s life that year; in March 1967, he was hospitalized after being beaten with a baseball bat during an assault at his North York home. Rush, described by the Star as “a barrel-chested little guy who mangled syntax in the best Damon Runyon tradition,” was facing charges for his involvement in $100 million stock fraud conspiracy. He was suspected of having ties to the Mafia, so it was believed that the bomb was planted after Rush had failed to pay money he owed to underworld figures. The bomb blast, which left Rush with a shattered chest and pierced throat, sprayed glass onto Bay and Wellesley. Doctors at Toronto General Hospital initially gave Rush a 10 per cent chance of survival, but he slowly recovered from his injuries. He was sent to the Don Jail upon his release from the hospital in late December, posted bail within a week, then fled to Panama. His globetrotting soap opera moved on to England before he was extradited back to Canada and handed a 10-year jail sentence in 1969.

The most explosive thing future residents are likely to encounter at Sutton Place will be the asking prices for the planned luxury units. Perhaps Tattersfield’s mural will continue to greet them in the lobby, fulfilling the artist’s prediction that it would last longer than any of the other original elements.

Additional material from the July 15, 1967, July 20, 1967, and August 23, 1967 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 10, 1967 edition of the Toronto Star.

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