[EDITOR'S NOTE: The unfortunate news about the Waldorf has sparked a lot of heated debate, and is sure to cause more in the days ahead. As a result, Tim Kraumanis has created a "Gregor Robertson: Deny rezoning of the Waldorf Hotel site to condo development" petition via Change.org. You can support the movement to save the Waldorf by signing the petition here.]
East Vancouver’s cultural institution the Waldorf Hotel has been sold to real estate development company forcing imminent closure.
The Waldorf Hotel re-opened its doors on October 31, 2010 with a vision: create a welcoming cultural hub in the heart of East Vancouver. Prior to this, the complex, which was built in 1947, had seen better days, and was just one of many dilapidated Eastside dive bars. But in the summer of 2010, a 15-year lease was signed by a group of partners led by Thomas Anselmi, Ernesto Gomez, Scott Cohen, and Daniel Fazio. They proceeded at great financial and sweat equity costs, with no assistance from the landlord, to restore the building to its former glory.
A restaurant, hotel rooms, a world renowned tiki bar, two nightclub spaces, a recording studio, and an art gallery were housed under the re-imagined Waldorf’s roof. It was embraced by the community and dubbed “a Cultural Oasis in the middle of nowhere” by the Globe and Mail.
The Waldorf was well on its way to growing into an economically viable and profitable business. But, given the scope of the project and its “middle of nowhere” location, it should come as no surprise that the first year was a financially difficult one. The landlord, Marko Puharich, was sympathetic and understanding and some rent was forgiven to give the project breathing room. But in August 2012, the landlord’s attitude changed overnight and it was baffling. Phone calls stopped being answered. Emails and texts were unreturned. A litigator, rather than the jovial landlord, became the point of contact. The property was on the market and the landlord was using the Waldorf’s growing pains to break the lease.
In early January 2013, Anselmi and Gomez were informed that the complex had been sold to the Solterra Group of Companies, a condominium developer. “Solterra were unwilling to sit down and discuss negotiating long-term lease possibilities. We were offered a week-to-week lease until September 2013, when the property must be delivered vacant. We obviously can’t move forward under these conditions as our business requires commitments to artists, organizations and entertainers months in advance,” Anselmi explains. He then adds: “This has cost 60 people their jobs. This has destroyed our business.
“The irony that the Waldorf was taken over by a condo developer in the very area we helped reinvigorate is obvious to anyone. The Waldorf filled a void. People responded because they needed it. We tried to stand for something authentic and real in a city with thousands of empty condominiums and a community starved for cultural spaces,” says Anselmi.
During its tenure, institutions like the Cheaper Show, the East Side Culture Crawl, the New Forms Festival, the Polaris Music Prize, the Presentation House Gallery, the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Vancouver International Film Festival all held events at the Waldorf. And the city’s top culture producers like Black Mountain, Douglas Coupland, Rodney Graham, Grimes, Japandroids, Michael Turner, and Paul Wong all headlined events here as well. “On top of international entertainment programming every weekend, the team was constantly working towards the next big event, such as Food Cart Festival and our legendary hotel-wide Halloween and New Year’s Eve Parties,” Fazio recalls. “We were always trying to out-do ourselves.”
Everyone at the Waldorf takes great pride in the fact that the complex was operated as a community-oriented cultural institution. The Waldorf had an open door policy. Countless emerging artists, non-profits, and community groups were facilitated. The Chef-in-Residence program devised by Gomez and Cesar De La Parra hosted international culinary stars, Bob Blumer, Rodolfo Sanchez, and Pedro Martin. The Waldorf hosted an international artist-in-residence program for musicians and visual artists in collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and the French Consulate.
“We would like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the people who supported the Waldorf since we reopened our doors. We’re extremely proud of all the artists and events that we’ve hosted over last two and a half years. We’re extremely proud of our incredible staff who helped to execute world class events,” says Gomez.
The Waldorf will be vacated on Sunday, January 20, 2013. The Waldorf was nothing without its creative team and they are currently looking for a new space where they can continue to develop the high quality and eclectic arts and entertainment programming that the complex has become known for and that Vancouverites want and deserve.
Support the movement to save the Waldorf by signing the petition here.