A Portrait of the Graffiti Artist as Leonard Cohen
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A Portrait of the Graffiti Artist as Leonard Cohen

Did Leonard Cohen leave this graffiti on the seventeenth floor of the King Edward Hotel? Photo by Andrew Louis/Torontoist.

When Toronto flung its doors open this spring, the King Edward Hotel allowed the public to take a gander through its once-grand rooftop Crystal Ballroom, closed for regular use since the late 1950s due to changed fire safety regulations. Since its heyday, the King Edward’s seventeenth floor has acquired the particular aesthetic appeal of luxury gone squalid: the paint is yellowed and flaking, the huge columns are raked with fissures, and in the elevator lobby reams of graffiti overlay the faded Victorian wallpaper.
One poetic inscription couched among the Ballroom’s wall scrawl caught the eye of Sally Hunter as she perused pictures of the King Eddy on flickr following her visit to the hotel during Doors Open in May. Captured in a photograph by Torontoist’s own Andrew Louis, the black lettering on a white wall reading “You have made my heart a garden” got Hunter’s attention. “I was intrigued,” she says. “When I saw it, it struck me that it looked remarkably like Leonard Cohen’s penmanship. After comparing it to some handwriting samples, I thought there was even more of a possibility.”

An avid Cohen fan, Hunter’s interest in visiting the ballroom in the first place had stemmed in part from the fact that the King Edward served as the set of Cohen’s 1983 film I Am a Hotel.
Drawing such conclusions based on penmanship alone may sound improbable, but Cohen’s stylized calligraphic print is distinct. Leonard Cohen’s manager Robert Kory agrees. “Certainly it bears strong resemblance to his script,” Kory noted when shown the photograph of the graffiti. While Kory admits that Cohen, who turns seventy-six this year, “has no specific recollection” of taking pen to the wall of the King Edward almost thirty years ago, both he and Cohen agree that “the line and the script would certainly suggest a connection to Leonard.”
Turning to science to help solve the mystery, Torontoist came up with yet another unguaranteed affirmative. Forensic handwriting analyst Dr. A.K. Singla told us that the “strong similarities” between the King Edward graffiti and Cohen’s handwriting samples suggest that shared authorship is “highly probable.”
Allan Showalter, a hardcore Leonard Cohen fan who runs a blog devoted largely to Cohen mockery, believes that the graffiti is authentic. When we asked him how to account for the fact that Cohen’s handiwork remained untouched for more than twenty years, Showalter explained: “Leonard works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.”
Take a look at the following samples of Cohen’s handwriting and judge for yourselves. We’re no handwriting experts, but come on, check out those g’s:
This case of graffiti whodunnit is as close to closed as it’s ever going to get. Representatives from the King Edward Hotel say that the off-limits seventeenth and eighteenth floors were scoured, and no sign of the graffiti in question was found. An unofficial attempt to ensure that their search was thorough was unsuccessful.
Whether Cohen’s potential mark on the King Eddy remains or not, the Crystal Ballroom will likely not remain stagnant much longer. Ownership of the hotel changed hands in March of this year when entrepreneur Gil Blutrich’s Skyline International Development partnered with Dundee Realty Corporation to buy the building for fifty-two million dollars. The new owners have swiftly enacted plans to renovate the 30% of the hotel that currently goes unused: in addition to the Crystal Ballroom and its environs, the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the hotel, which were once used as commercial space, have been vacant for years. This June those floors were parsed out into 140 condos and sold, a project that is slated for completion by 2012.