A peek inside the last days of the Waverly Hotel and Comfort Zone

The Waverly Hotel, 484 Spadina Avenue, North of College Street, 2017. photo by Peter MacCallum

A portion of this photo essay appears in the Winter 2018 edition of Spacing, available now on newsstands and at the Spacing Store (401 Richmond St W)


In 1984, when I was commissioned to do documentary photography for an exhibition entitled “Spadina Avenue: A Photohistory”, the avenue still had two hotels, both of them walkups with rooms on three floors.

The Spadina Hotel at the corner of King Street was a respectable family-run business. Its second floor lounge, The Cabana Room, had been taken over by the Queen Street arts community and was regarded as the hip place to be.

The other hotel, the Waverly just north of College Street, was a rough and dangerous place, but because the “The People’s Poet” Milton Acorn had lived there during the 1970s, it too had acquired cultural significance. Acorn had described it as “a place for all sorts of strange but true types. People who were down but not out.” The hotel is still identified with his creative spirit.

The Spadina Hotel has undergone several changes since 1984, the latest being its conversion into an “innovation hub”, while the Waverly has only deteriorated further. It closed last spring after 117 years of operation and is now boarded up, awaiting demolition. I began photographing its faded exterior in April, 2017, but I soon decided that I needed to document the interior as well. A social worker helped me gain access.

Having read Ben Spurr’s 2013 NOW Magazine article about his one night stay at the Waverly, my main concern about entering the building was that I might cause offense to its long-term residents. Fortunately most of them had already moved out by the time I began my project. Those I did meet proved friendly, or simply indifferent to my presence.

Inside, there were still bad odours to endure, and the insipid light in the hallways was depressing. Only a small number of the rooms had been left unlocked, and among those, several were too smelly to enter or had been severely trashed by their occupants. I photographed what I could using a medium format film camera, alternating between black and white and colour.

One of the Waverly’s more curious features is a wooden penthouse, visible from the street. In addition to the elevator room, it houses two small bedrooms at right angles, connected inside by a diagonal doorway. Their front entrances stand above a landing which is reached by a staircase from the third floor hallway.

This penthouse might have originally have housed members of the hotel’s staff, but the occupant I met was squatting one of the rooms. After he moved out, I was able to take photos of his room and of the landing as seen from his doorway.

After documenting the Waverly’s penthouse, I descended into its underground space. The Comfort Zone dance club occupied the combined basement area of the hotel and of the Silver Dollar Room next door. During dance events, this was a very dark club. Photographing it as architectural space involved a compromise with lighting levels.

Although the significance the Waverly Hotel and The Comfort Zone to Toronto’s social history is yet to be determined, I see them as representative spaces, and therefore worth recording. I suspect that when they are truly gone, replaced by a 15 storey student residence, people will want to remember them, and compare them to other such places they have known.

2. North Side of the Hotel from the Roof of the Silver Dollar Room, 2017.

3. The Hotel Lobby, 2017.

4. Ground Level Hallway and Stair, 2017.

5. Detail of Corbel Bracket, Ground Floor, 2017.

6. Laundry Room Above the Main Entrance, 2017.

7. Abandoned Double Room, Second Floor, 2017.

8. Main Hallway, Second Floor, 2017.

9. Branch Hallway, Second Floor, 2017.

10. Unoccupied Single Room, Third Floor, 2017.

11. Occupied Room, Third Floor, 2017.

12. Landing on Stair Leading to Penthouse and Roof, 2017.

13. Recently Vacated Room in the Penthouse, 2017.

14. Exterior View of the Penthouse, 2017.

15. Entrance Foyer of the Comfort Zone Dance Club in the Hotel Basement, 2017.

16. Coat Check Area of The Comfort Zone, 2017.

17. Bar Area of The Comfort Zone, 2017.

18. Lounge Area of The Comfort Zone, 2017.

19. Stage and DJ Booth, The Comfort Zone, 2017.

20. Pool Room and Bathroom Access, The Comfort Zone, 2017.

 Photo, top of page: The Waverly Hotel, 484 Spadina Avenue, North of College Street, 2017.

all photos by Peter MacCallum

18 comments

  1. Thank you Peter. As someone who frequented the space, this record is a crucial memory architecture, yet so precarious and specific to this moment.

  2. Thank you for taking and sharing these photos. I never visited the place, but always wondered what it looked like inside.

  3. I think there is a typo. Do you mean peak or peek in the headline?

  4. Erella — the headline is correct and doesn’t have a typo.

  5. Comfort zone if they open a new one again needs to do it with brand new venue clean and stylish so its not dirty and sketchy!!!!

  6. Thank you for this thoughtful photo essay. I appreciate your work, Peter.

  7. Wonderful photos, Peter. I have fond memories of the Waverly. Thank you.

  8. The place just wouldn’t have been the same if they renovated, painted etc. As someone who frequented Comfort over the last 20yrs, that was always the attraction. The place was always dependable for dark space, no dresscode and down and dirty beats everytime, all the time. It was a staple to the Toronto club music scene and will be missed. Its no wonder that the new space on King St, in the heart of the financial district, that it didnt last longer than a month! Wrong neighbourhood for that kind of club with those kind of patrons listening to that type of music. They just dont get it, and they never will. It will die along with the Waverly.
    RIP TORONTO CLUB SCENE… This was the last oldschool place that was left…

  9. I ♥️ CZ
    Was a dark place with dirty dirty beats where we danced the days and nights and days away like no was watching and if they were so be it! Lots of fond sketchy memories that will never be understood by those who would never be cought dead in that place but let me tell you how you will never get what you had to experience to understad! That dance floor had so many stories of the love that was expressed through music and dance. A mutal love shared by so many that you missed out on and you will never understand the love for CZ . a place like no other and no other will ever compare to the COMFORT ZONE! Rip Comfort Zone….you were loved by many and will be truly be missed .

  10. Ice, the dirt and sketch was what made the zone what it was. If you couldn’t see that, you may not have fully understood the zone.

  11. Dang when I say memories these combined two places held me at two very differenthigh points of my life and wow is all I can say today good bad and very ugly moments yet so touching still to c

  12. Comfort zone was known as church. Best local d.js spinning wicked get your groove beats. Dekozie Mark scaife to name a couple of awesome d.js. I loved passing dekozie a fat cannon of weed and watch him just haul on it till you couldn’t see his face. The regulars. Mike Peter pebbles. And Robocop watching the door. All you had to do was buy him a coffee and he wouldn’t search you. My trick. First time I brought 4 coffees in a tray
    1 of the coffees had my shit in it. I passed out 3 coffees to the door staff . And I walked in with my coffee. I can’t even count how many times I had to help people g-ing out. Great memories just relived some from writing this. Thanks comfort zone you broke all the rules to provide us with a great place to continue the party.

  13. Thanks Peter for preserving the Waverly Hotel and Comfort Zone in your photographs. Also, enjoyed your informative essay and photo tour very much. Very well done.

  14. The interior is not much different to that of the Gladstone before renovations. It is a pity that it was not included as part of the space to be converted for students, it would be a much more interesting place than the new proposal. I spent a lot of time in the building as a student, late night drinks to wind down after long hours in the studio at School of Architecture. They made a great margarita and it was served by waiters in white uniforms. We also used to go there for dinner, a very cheap and hearty meal offered at long tables. I am sorry to see this place go.

  15. I visit the place many time many years ago.I have a lot of good memories from the club.It’s sad to hear its gone for good, although it was worn down. The same with Silver Dollar room. The owners of the building was only thinking about creating something new. New is good , but not in a historic building. There will not be any old memories in a new building. It’s so sad. Everybody involved with the project should have made a bigger effort to find something everybody could be happy about. Besides, it was also a workplace for people, that lost their jobs and the owners of the clubs.

  16. I can proudly say that I stayed at this Sleazy Toronto Hotel. Damn shame it’s being torn down. Would have made a great location for a TV Series.. IE: Breaking Bad Linda flavour 🙂

    Cheers
    Frank ( Montreal)

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