Friday, November 16, 2012

285 Smith Street - St. Regis Hotel UPDATED

St. Regis Hotel, Winnipeg
Place: St. Regis Hotel
Address: 285 Smith Street (Map)
Opened: July 12, 1911
Architect: H. G. Holman

July 11, 1911, Manitoba Free Press

The St. Regis Hotel was a partnership between two of early Winnipeg's more prominent hoteliers.  

Charles “Charlie” McCarrey owned the Inter Ocean Hotel on Main Street at Notre Dame since 1906 and opened the St. Charles Hotel in 1912.  

John “Jack” Lee came to Manitoba in 1905 and was was the front-man for a consortium that specialized in rescuing failing hotels or building news ones and flipping them to new owners when construction was complete. Lee was the splashier of the two partners, owning a professional hockey team called the Maple Leafs, (named after one of his hotels). He also owned thoroughbred racehorses, eventually amassing a stable of more than 20, said to be the largest in the city.

Manitoba Free Press, November 2, 1909

The building at 285 Smith actually dates back to 1909 -1910 and was called the Rookery Block, a two-storey building with retail on the main floor and small residential suites above. Construction began in 1909, but thanks to a brutally cold winter, work fell behind and the building did not open until summer 1910.

Barely a year after opening, tenants of the Rookery received notice to vacate so that the building could be converted into the St. Regis Hotel.

St. Regis ca. 1926. Source

McCarrey and Lee hired architect H G Holman to design a $100,000 expansion to the building, which included the addition of two floors. The St. Regis' rooms would have all of mod-cons expected in a luxury hotel to this modestly-priced establishment. They featured hot and cold running water, an en suite lavatory, a telephone, electric lighting and carpeting throughout. 

The hotel also had large and small "sample rooms" for rent. These were spaces where ravelling salesmen staying at the hotel could set up their wares.

The St. Regis was barely launched when McCarrey and Lee took over the LeClaire (now Windsor) Hotel and began a major renovation. Also in 1912, McCarrey partnered in the construction of the St. Charles Hotel and Lee expanded his hotel interests into rural Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Regina Morning Leader, April 7, 1916

Prohibition, which came to Manitoba in March 1916, brought down many hoteliers. 

Initially, Lee, whose name appeared on the licence, defied the law and openly served alcohol for another couple of weeks. After incurring a number of fines and under threat of a prison sentence for his next offence, he sent off the St. Regis' bar in style. Drinks were given away and when the party atmosphere reached its peak, kegs of beer wher opened onto Smith Street ! (See the above article for more details.)

Lee stayed around Winnipeg for another few years. In 1919 he took over the lease of the defunct Olympia Hotel that had been used as a troop hostel during the war. Later that year he sold it to new owners who added six stories and rechristened it The Marlborough. Soon after, Lee retired to California where he died in 1939.

McCarrey continued to manage the St. Regis until 1919 when he got out of the local hotel business and moved to Montreal.

Above: St. Regis Hotel's original dining room

As with most hotels, it was their restaurants that set their tone. 

McCarrey and Lee appear to have opted for fine dining over entertainment. Paris-trained chef Vincent Berniot ran the 130 seat Grill Room restaurant there was also a Louis XVI cafe, both decorated in a "moorish motif". An informal coffee shop and a lounge rounded out the main floor dining options.

In 1931 all four of the spaces were leased out to John McLeod, who had been the general manager of the restaurant division of HBC. He made extensive renovations to the space and reopened them as McLeod's Restaurants. The dining room was for high end dining, while the cafe offered a coffee shop atmosphere up front with a more formal eating area in the back. more reasonably proceed fare. For whatever reason, the venture did not last long and in 1933 McLeod's was gone.

April 1918 ad, Winnipeg Tribune

Through the 1930s and 40s the St. Regis and its numerous eating establishments made it hugely popular as a place for luncheons and banquets for social service clubs, sports leagues and business associations. Groups ranging from the 78th Battalion Association to the Good Roads Association held their annual dinners there for many years. During the 1930s it was home to the Cutty Sark Club, created by Charles Gray to promote British and Canadian nautical heritage.

March 1940 ad, Winnipeg Tribune

 The St. Regis had a long-standing connection to the airline industry.

In 1937 Skylines Express, a regional airline serving the mining areas of eastern manitoba and Northwest Ontario, set up their office there for a couple of years.

During WWII room number 234 was the office of the Virden Flying Club, instructors for the No. 19 Elementary Flying Training School (EFTS)

In 1940 James Richardson's Canadian Airways Ltd. opened an air traffic office at the St. Regis. It was a more convenient place to get schedule and fare information and to drop off cargo than going all the way out to the airport.

In 1947  Central Northern Airways, (which went on to become Transair), opened a similar type of office at the hotel, though by that time Canadian Airways had moved on.

1949 ad, Winnipeg Tribune

In the late 1940s the hotel underwent another major renovation to update its rooms, which numbered 104 in 1949 and its exterior. Its eating spaces were then known as The Wedgwood Restaurant and the Oak Room, a name that exists to this day and with an interior that has not changed much since the hotel's opening.

A testament to how busy the St. Regis was, it didn't advertize very much. it was well known to travellers and to locals seeking banquet facilities. For a researcher, this is not such a great thing as regular ads are a gret way to keep up with who the managers, proprietors were. It appears that the owner or owners kept a very low profile.

Postcard circa 1970s

Between 1969 and 1972, in advance of the Convention Centre's opening, the hotel underwent another major renovation. It reclaimed much of the space on the main floor that had become retail or office space and re-established its 130-seat dining room, an 84-seat coffee shop, a 60-seat cocktail lounge, a 145-seat beverage room and a banquet hall with a capacity of 110.

During this same period, though, a number of new, hi-rise hotels were also built downtown in anticipation of the Convention Centre. The fortunes of many ageing, non-chain hotels began to suffer and the St. Regis was no different. 

From the 1980s to 2000s it was more likely to make the news for crime-related stories than for meetings or banquets.

The 5,600 square foot mural on the south wall of the hotel depicting its original facade added in 2003 by artist Charlie Johnston.

In November 2012 CentreVenture bought the troubled hotel and announced the immediate closure of its bar and VLT remained operating as a dry hotel.

In May 2015 CentreVenuture announced the sale of the hotel to a Toronto-based developer planning a residential tower on the former Winnipeg Tribune site. The St. Regis will be demolish to make way for a parkade.

St. Regis Hotel
CentreVenture Purchases St. Regis Hotel CentreVenture (Nov 2012)
CentreVenture buys downtown Winnipeg Hotel CBC (Nov 2012)
CentreVenture buys St. Regis Hotel Winnipeg Free Press (Nov 2012)
St. Regis Hotel Sold Winnipeg Free Press, May 27, 2015 (May 2015)

History case in hotel lobby ca. 2015

 Pierre Trudeau at St. Regis, 1970s

December 1911 ad, Winnipeg Tribune

Mrs. Parnell, waitress, Sept. 1941, Winnipeg Tribune

1 comment:

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