Written By: Carolyn Ireland
22 St. Thomas St., No. 10B, Toronto
Asking price: $5,795,000
Taxes: $15,722.49 (2022)
Monthly maintenance fee: $4,158.20
Agent: Elli Davis, Sotheby’s International Realty Canada
In 1927, architect Kirk Hyslop designed a four-storey brick building that would open its doors to guests as the Windsor Arms Hotel. Toronto’s courtly new establishment was set just below Bloor Street, which was beginning to emerge as a major thoroughfare.
Over the decades, the five-star hotel welcomed visiting movie stars and pop idols. In the 1970s, its legendary restaurants – Three Small Rooms and the Courtyard Café – became the go-to spots for business lunches and society fetes.
In the late 1980s, the hotel changed owners a few times and ended up in the hands of a Japanese development company, which shuttered the property in 1991.
Toronto-based developer George Friedmann came along in 1995 to purchase the heritage building and restore it to its former grandeur. He commissioned Page + Steele Architects to rebuild the interior and design a tower of condominium units on top.
As well-heeled buyers began purchasing units in the 1990s, Mr. Friedmann purchased number 10B for his own pied-à-terre.
Once work commenced, the builders discovered that the derelict structure was too far gone to preserve. It was demolished and a replica of the brick façade was created.
Looking back, Mr. Friedmann recalls the many skeptics who didn’t think the staid citizens of Toronto would be ready to live on top of a hotel.
“At that time, people thought I was nuts,” he says.
The project was completed in 1999 and the storied Windsor Arms once again began accommodating guests, hosting TIFF parties and serving British high tea.
The house today
Mr. Friedmann, who remains the Windsor Arms’ president, told The Globe and Mail in the 1990s he would not have purchased the hotel if it had been built 100 yards in either direction.
That sentiment is even more true today, as more buildings have sprung up in the area, he says, adding that the Windsor Arms still feels tucked away on its quiet side street.
“The affluent buyer wants the serenity and quietness and intimacy, but to still be in the middle of it all,” he says. “I want to be close to Bloor, but not on Bloor.”
Today the building has 24 residences.
“One of the unique things about this building is that no two units are alike,” he says. “They vary by size and exposure and city view or parkland.”
The 2,800-square-foot unit 10B has two-plus-one bedrooms, three bathrooms and views of the cityscape. There are no supporting walls within the suites to block the flow, he adds.
Residents and guests arrive to a foyer with views through to the living room and its floor-to-ceiling windows.
The living room with a gas fireplace leads to a more casual family room with views facing south and east.
There’s a large dining room with doors opening to a 110-square-foot loggia.
“It gives you the city views but it also does provide space and air,” Mr. Friedmann says of the covered terrace.
The kitchen has a large island, limestone flooring and a separate breakfast area.
The large primary suite has a walk-in closet and a luxurious bathroom with a jacuzzi tub. The second bedroom also has an ensuite bathroom.
For the first several years of his ownership, Mr. Friedmann continued to live in his house while renting out the unit to visiting celebrities and actors who were shooting films in Toronto.
Richard Gere, Michael Douglas and Harrison Ford have all used the suite during stints in the city, he says.
Mr. Friedmann also moved into the unit for a time, and more recently, one of his sons has been living there while working in the family business.
The building sees little turnover but, over the years, many of the buyers have been people downsizing from a large house, Mr. Friedmann says. The tall ceilings and spacious layouts allow people to adjust comfortably to what can be a significant transition.
“They want the aura of space because that is what they are used to.”
The concept of combining a hotel and residences is well-accepted today, he points out, as other luxury hotels have followed suit in the Toronto market.
And while the naysayers once thought Torontonians would not be ready to live above a hotel, today many live in towers above dry cleaner’s outlets, dentists’ offices and Tim Hortons coffee shops, he adds.
As for the hotel, reservations are strong again after the pandemic lockdowns, but business travel has not bounced back to its previous level. Instead, many Toronto-area guests are checking in for a staycation, Mr. Friedmann says.
The tradition of afternoon tea has continued, except when the hotel and its restaurants were forced to close down in the early days of the pandemic, says Mr. Friedmann. During lockdown, the hotel offered a take-out tea with sandwiches, scones and pastries.
“One Mother’s Day during COVID we had 900 takeout orders,” he says with a chuckle. “It is served every day and people still love it.”
The best feature
Mr. Friedmann remembers the full-page newspaper advertisement he ran when the project first launched.
The simple, blank page had an image of a telephone with the tagline, “the only kitchen appliance you’ll ever need”.
Mr. Friedmann says the hotel kitchen provides room service to any resident who picks up the phone.
“You can get whatever is legally available in Toronto 24 hours a day.”
Similarly, residents can decide whether or not they prefer to park their own car.
“If you want to park your own car, you can. If you don’t want to step inside the garage, somebody will park it for you,” he says. “There are people in this building who have never set foot in the garage in 20 years.”
Residents also have use of the pool, gym, steam rooms and spa.
Mr. Friedmann points out that even buyers with large portfolios don’t want to lose money. In a city full of towers, he believes the hotel provides a valuable point of differentiation.
“There could always be another building with a pool,” he says. “It’s not quite that easy to create that building with a luxury boutique hotel underneath it.”