CHARLOTTETOWN – A brand new boutique hotel, the Holman Grand, is opening later this month in the city. As the final touches are being added to the rooms, atrium and lobby and exterior, it’s causing quite a stir amongst Islanders. It was supposed to look like a heritage restoration of a department store from the 1850s with visually appealing upper floors. Instead, its façade has been muted and the upper floors look like they were built for a government agency in the late 1970s.
Overseen by Homburg Development, the project has morphed from conception to delivery. How then, did this come to be? Let the following photos be your guide and decide for yourself.
First, a wee bit of background
The hotel is named after the original Holman Department Store that provided many shopping and socializing opportunities for Islanders over the years. Homburg successfully challenged building height restrictions and standing at 7 storeys, it is now one of the tallest structures in Charlottetown, which means the hotel is visible from many vantage points in the downtown area.
From the outset, Homburg seemed committed to preserving the original façade of the building which had been covered since the 1960s. Stones and bricks were removed, numbered and catalogued so that they could be reincorporated into the building. Here is the original facade of the department store, in all its glory, prior to deconstruction. Two distinct building fronts can be seen, on the left is a 2 storey mostly sandstone structure and to the right is the mostly red brick 3 storey one.
Passers-by walked by many a day, watching workers taking part in this pain-staking process and after all of of the hours they devoted to this historical preservation, very few stones and bricks were kept. An advertisement released in the Guardian newspaper this month explained that: “The decades [...] had not been the kindest to these original materials”. Everything but the original sandstone arches were ditched and new building materials were ordered. The old windows were discarded, but not before they were reproduced faithfully.
Here is the image of the hotel that was released before construction began. The 2 facades are still distinct, there is two toned aluminum-like upper floors with pleasant-looking signage.
Overtime somehow, this original vision was swept under the rug and a new version began to form. Sandstone was abandoned in favor of lots of red brick and two-toned aluminum was traded in for monochromatic beige, as depicted below. The street level facade has much less architectural flair and the upper floors bring to mind a government institution built in the ‘70s, when style reflected function.
It is really unfortunate that the lack of color, depth and absence of nuanced building details on the upper floors creates such a drab envelope of a building. Homburg has also opted for a change in signage design, going for a more modern platform-like sign which juts out of the building at a right angle and is supported by cables. The awnings are also no more.
No ugly ducklings in other cities
Other builders have recently managed to create buildings of similar size with much more visual appeal. The two examples below hail from Toronto and show how a mix of building materials, colors, textures and varied roof lines help to draw the eye from feature to feature (the Vinegar lofts and the Bohemian Embassy). Unfortunately, the eye can take in the Holman Grand, in its entirety, in one fell swoop.