Thursday, January 20, 2011
Abandonment Issues: Regal Constellation Hotel
In my last post, we found ourselves exploring Kodak 9. Earlier that morning however, we had our sights set on The Regal Constellation Hotel. As hordes of people filled churches across the city this past Sunday morning, my beautiful wife ninja IX and I began our own little pilgrimage to a heaven spot. The goal was to infiltrate, explore and ascend the original tower of the abandoned hotel adjacent to Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
The Regal Constellation Hotel was built in 1962 and contained 90,000 square feet of convention space, a Chinese Restaurant, a 6 storey atrium and two 15 storey towers. Renovations took place in 2001, too little too late, I guess, as the Regal Constellation Hotel was closed in 2003 due to a decline in business. The SARS outbreak and its devastating impact on Toronto's tourism industry was the final blow to the hotel. In 2004 the property changed hands and an expansion was planned. The parking garage was demolished in 2005 to make way for a third tower, but to this date that tower has not been built. The company collapsed and one of the former owners started a new company, but did not list this property as one of their active or planned projects. Since 2007, it has been unclear who is in ownership and the building has been fenced up, by Terrasan, a construction and demolition company. At this time, the future of The Regal Constellation Hotel is unknown.
The desire to explore these dilapidated, forgotten and dangerous places is innate. The exploratory gene is still in us, despite the fact that there is nothing new to map. With no new terrain to explore and conquer we are left with only one option-rediscovery. Personally, I find these moments exhilarating. I am fascinated by the process of urban transformation, which is what originally led me to becoming an active street artist, but nowhere is this process on more of a grand scale than these abandoned giants of industry. Hotels, hospitals, factories, warehouses, schools, internment camps, mills, prisons, and so on and so on, all stripped of their value. Deemed not financially viable or sometimes structures become too dilapidated, or whatever it may be, one common thread remains, they are all stripped of their value. The last ones out before a property gets abandoned is the demo crew, ripping out everything of adequate current market value. The remains of the gutted buildings, essentially deemed worthless. Things that once were highly sought after and cherished possessions are cast aside with the building itself: TV's, computers, wheelchairs, thousands of office chairs and desks, surgical lights, x-ray equipment and the list goes on endlessly. Much like the risk to pleasure factor one considers when researching and plotting infiltrations, the cost benefit factor plays a large role in the dismantling of these institutions. These rejected items, these discarded things, these abandoned objects, they remind me of myself, or at least how I saw myself when I was younger. These virtually dead places, void of the bustling energy that once pulsed within. In these solitary environments of chaos and disorder, abandonment and decay, I find peace. Wide-eyed like a kid on Christmas on these adventures. Hyper and beaming with excitement, but calm, calculated and prepared. Senses heightened, serotonin secreting. Eager but more patient than ever. Centered. This is me at my best, truly happy, which from my perspective makes these abandoned structures invaluable.
Pillars of the community
After missing the off-ramp and circling the building like vultures, we parked at the gas station across the street to the west. A marked vehicle sat between us and the tower that hovered over us with the REGAL CONSTELLATION sign atop it. And so we walked around the property, wind blistering cold, thighs already frozen. On the opposite side of the building than the marked vehicle, and on the other side of the fence, we scurried along the jagged crushed rock and bent re-bar of what used to be part of the hotel's garage. The building was destroyed and wide open on the eastern side, but all ground level P.O.E.'s were fenced off. Snow covered everything which made entry from this side difficult but still do-able with some resourcefulness. Once on the second floor, we were still outside, in the shell of what were once conference rooms. The track for the retractable room dividers was still on a surviving overhead beam, with one lonely divider still hanging. Its like a bomb went off here, or a 9/11 happened, its mangled. A small piece of wallpaper remained, clinging to a brick wall fully exposed to the elements, an intricate pattern of reds and browns. The concrete floor was covered in sheer ice in many places, hidden under snow, and made for some awkward negotiations and deathly dangerous sliding fun on the overhanging edges.
Divider and conquer
A large gold plaque adorned the wall, providing directions to navigate us through the ruins and into the lobby and guest rooms. A few large conference rooms to explore still remained in the ruins before venturing into the area where the small indoor pool was frozen solid with a foliage centerpiece.
You are here
The back wall of the locker room and washrooms had been destroyed in the demolition process, creating a strange intersection of interior and exterior spaces. Snow was piled and blowing in past the urinals and stalls. I saw myself shiver in the broken mirror. A plethora of pipes, wires, light fixtures and beams were dangerously jutting out from what was once a ceiling. We turned around simultaneously and shared a laugh as we noticed a large potted tree tipped onto its side laying helplessly poolside. Again we laughed moments later, spotting a sign on the floor beside the frozen pool reading 'We are currently under renovations, Sorry for any inconvenience.'
Hanging around the women's washroom
We are currently under renovations. Sorry for any inconvenience.
Windows surround the pool for two stories, only a handful of them broken. Only a tiny amount of graffiti exists in this building, none of it worthy of note. It appears this location is not frequented as regularly as I would have assumed. Further in, the lobby revealed itself. A giant chandelier still hanging over marble ledges in the 6 storey atrium with ascending glass ceiling. I made a snowball here and threw it into the small broken hole in the glass of the elevator shaft, first shot.
Atrium for a dream
All staircases from the lobby appeared to have been sealed, but I could be wrong on that, as I was having a rather inconvenient flashlight malfunction.
As is often the case, where there's a will there's a way.
Step by step
Room 205 welcomed us as we threw around words like awesome and check this out. We made our way down the hall, examining room after room. We made our way up the stairs, examining floor after floor. In some areas, carpets were reduced to nothing more than tiny fabric and mold clusters clinging to concrete like red and green clumps of moss. Rooms were sporadically filled with multiples, an organized chaos of sorts. Entire rooms of mattresses beside rooms filled with stacks of coffee and end tables beside a room jam packed with lamps and lampshades. On some other floors, the entire foyer is packed with it all, making a wall of furniture at the entrance from the staircase.
Hollow hallway hello?
The lack of carpet matches the lack of drapes
Go to beds
Light it up
The mould was thick in the air, with an overpowering scent and taste. Random furniture appeared in the dark corners of the landings as we ascended the 15 stories, exploring each and every room on each and every floor. On the stairs between the 13th and 14th floors there was a noticeable change, the carpet was much thicker and the wallpaper was still somewhat in-tact. This is where the guest room floors ended and the next steps led to the bar, which was my favourite part of this old hotel. The woodwork, wallpaper, and winding architecture of the room was fun to photograph, and well worth the 15 storey hike.
Ace of spades
Ride the waves
Another shot, make it a double
A seat at the bar
One last flight of stairs led to the washrooms. Upon entering the men's washroom, I couldn't help but grin, as an exterior door was broken ajar, unveiling something highly coveted in the world of urban exploration: rooftop access. We stepped outside into the blistering wind. In the distance, beyond the flashing red lights atop the roof, stood the CN Tower, reminding me that I'm home. Planes circled us like vultures. With our arms around each other and ear to ear smiles on our frozen windblown faces, we soaked in the view from behind the REGAL CONSTELLATION sign overlooking Pearson International Airport.
Blink of an eye
Pearson International Airport
But just as the light had blinded us as we stepped into the washroom and beyond onto the rooftop, the darkness then swallowed us whole as we re-entered for our descent. We paused for what seemed like minutes before our vision returned enough to start twisting our way back down the stairs, retracing our steps through the pool and the ruins and the garage remnants and the fence. Then came Kodak 9.
A few days later, whilst telling this tale to Ninja's father, he shared his own stories of the Regal Constellation Hotel with us. He shared that he worked in this hotel when he was seventeen, "...up and down, up and down it..." he said. Again we were collectively reminded of the ephemeral nature of these moments that make up our lives, and our connections to the places in which these moments occur.
It took 3 months and $3.2 million, but as of Christmas of 2011, the Regal Constellation Hotel was demolished. It is now a parking lot for Pearson International Airport customers.
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES