Toronto has grand and historical hotels (the Royal York and The King Edward are particular stand-out beauties). We also have many funky art-centred spots – ranging from the sublime gallery-filled Gladstone (still feels weird to say that about a place I remember so well as a welfare hotel), to the enduringly (charmingly) seedy and underground-sound staging Cameron House.

But while I would never advance it’s merits-aesthetical, I think our most central and action-packed downtown hotel is without question the Sheraton Centre.

It sits right across the street from City Hall, facing the open square before it. On the next corner, our fairly new opera house (looks factory-ugly but sounds great – which is a much better result than Roy Thompson Hall – where they went the other way with the deal).

It is also connected to the underground PATH system – which, for pedestrians in a winter city, is an awesome way to get around while staying dry and safe. One warning – you do NOT want to be walking the path south, at eight-fifteen in the morning with any sort of a hangover from the night before. Trust me, it’s absolute Kafka-stuff – traumatizing and surreal – mindless waves of oncoming humanity, threatening either to trample you without even noticing, or worse yet – make you join in their cold-blooded fish-school progress!

This building also hosts a Christian Science reading room – where I used to buy the monitor regularly (fantastic standard of compassionate internationalist journalism, back when that was hard stuff to find). I read the workers vanguard back then, too – and the wall-street journal – (balance, always).

Interestingly – the transmitter for CIRR, the world’s very first true-commercial LGBT radio station (eleven years old now) is also located atop the main tower – studios nearby. Like I said – right in the middle.

Sweet geometry

This shot reminds me of a very technical doodle that you might make with the help of your little tin box of geometry instruments and your new pencils, in the workbook where you were supposed to be plotting algebraic solution-curves.

In the foreground, the aforementioned plain-box (with excellent acoustics) opera-house – behind it, the main tower of the Sheraton Centre.

Opened in 1972, the main tower has Forty-three floors containing fourteen hundred and fifty hotel rooms – but I’ve never actually stayed there, nor have I ever gone there to meet anyone who was.

Somehow, everyone seems to stage an event of some sort there at some time – whether it’s a private do, or corporate – a special shared-interest group or a more open bacchanal, we all seem to end up sneaking out of a party at the Sheraton eventually (when they start giving away gag-prizes, I’m outta there!), and this is when the place is at it’s most fun. Like a muted and soft-carpeted jungle-gym for strolling inebriates and the bored-silly, who can’t yet leave.  (A pox on passive-aggressive faux pas, anyhow!)

There are many levels and interesting open spaces to wander, within. Several fine restaurants, A Shopsy’s! (local deli), and a few quiet and eccentrically populated bars that were once very popular with intellectual alcoholics of my acquaintance.

The service I’ve observed has always been great – but nicest of all, it’s always had that curious quality of non-paranoid-vigilance – a certain stood-back class.

I’m not much of a drinker myself, but more than once I’ve feared a tipsy friend was about to be hassled by staff, only to see them kindly helped instead. Same too for the infirm, or elderly – very patient and low-key. Nice stuff.

Urban Sanctuary

But despite years of using the main entrance (top photo) to dive underground and get to work – many memories of great movies, socially horrendous corporate parties (so vivid in their putrescence, as to still yield creative fuel to this day), and truly epic tirades of brilliance in the bar, I still haven’t mentioned my favourite thing about the place.

This multiple-level garden-space right in the middle of the hotel – designed by J. Austin Floyd – illuminates the whole central building, and all year round, it is full of birds – one almost gets the feeling that one sees the avian cognoscenti congregating – having passed-down the location of the secret oasis to generations of migrating relatives – and perhaps even to those who have since adapted to be too lazy to bother anymore. True urbanites (have they any less right to this confluence of decadence than we?) ;o)

This spot is particularly juicy, considering the seventies brutalist exterior (though I must say, to be clear, It is quite nicely marbled inside – no beige concrete in sight!).

I like it as an early and still true reminder that we need more gardens of every type – everywhere – there’s just no question about it anymore. Inside buildings, on top of them, on our porches, in the windows of our rooms. (Pretty-much everyplace where we don’t put a solar-panel).

It is looking increasingly likely that we are going to be micro-gardening a fair proportion of our own food at some point. Probably worth working on these skills, while we have the leisure to laugh when we make huge mistakes.

Would mean more sweet oxygen at very least – and more daily contact with the natural world – very good stuff for us city-folk, hunkered down in all this brutalist concrete!

Still waiting for our “Raffles” – sigh. Perhaps Gehry will finally be induced to give his birth-city a fantastical central masterpiece, to knock the Sheraton off it’s perch. Pretty-please?

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