Stars align for Crystal Ballroom

TORONTO — Closed in the late '70s because it didn’t meet fire codes, the Crystal Ballroom, atop the Omni King Edward Hotel, languished. Over the years, some of the windows cracked and broke, and pigeons flew into the unheated, empty space.

Christophe Le Chatton

Christophe Le Chatton

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

TORONTO — Closed in the late '70s because it didn’t meet fire
codes, the Crystal Ballroom, perched atop the King Edward Hotel, languished.
The carpet was removed, though they left the woodwork, mouldings and large
windows. But over the years, some of the windows cracked and broke, and
pigeons flew into the unheated, empty space.

“Over the past 40 years, every single brand that came here
made plans to revive the ballroom,” said Christophe Le Chatton, general
manager. But there was always a reason why the renovation couldn’t take
place.  There was SARS, there was the
recession, and there were so many new four and five-star hotels coming into the
Toronto market — the Ritz-Carlton, Trump, Thompson, Shangri-La, Four Seasons —
great news for Toronto but not for the King Edward Hotel.

The renovated Crystal Ballroom.

The renovated Crystal Ballroom.

Finally, when Omni purchased the hotel in 2013, the stars
began to align, Le Chatton told CLN. “The city has done well over the past few
years; there’s been a renaissance in sports; theatre is coming back; with
what’s happening in the world, Canada is seen as a safe destination; the new
supply has created more interest in Toronto as a destination; more foreigners
are coming due to the low Canadian dollar; there’s more interest from Mexico,
India, South America and the U.S.  When
you put it all together and make soup out of it, it works,” he said.

Perhaps most importantly, Omni understood the importance of reopening
the space. “There was never any discussion,” Le Chatton said. “They wanted to
do it. In order to really make it happen, you had to see the value in it — to spend $6.5 million in capital when the yearly reserve was usually 4 per cent.”

Restored to its former splendor, The Omni King Edward Hotel's elegant Crystal Ballroom was revealed last month at its grand re-launch event. After a $6.5 million renovation, the space is set to revive the glitz and glamour of Toronto's thriving social scene. Home to the city's most prestigious functions from the 1920s through the 1970s, the Crystal Ballroom unveiled its new look, almost 100 years after its initial debut in 1922. 

“This project centered around restoring a significant space in Toronto's history; a space which played an integral part in bolstering its colourful social life,” said Le Chatton. “Beth Hanna of the Ontario Historical Trust and historian Bruce Bell had input into the design, stressing the importance of history in the renovation.”

Le Chatton and one of the chandeliers.

Le Chatton and one of the chandeliers.

Similar to the newly renovated hotel property that underwent a $40 million transformation in 2015, the Crystal Ballroom's restoration has been heavily influenced by its original interior featuring old-world charm, enhanced by modern style and luxury. The venue's ornate and spectacular mouldings, 8-metre high coffered ceilings and magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows, which offer panoramic views of the lake and the city, remain central features in the Crystal Ballroom.

Additional highlights include a pre-function space, finished in mosaic tile, and a new permanent bar reflecting the timeless details of the original era. The updated carpet is reminiscent of designs from the early 1920s and surrounding chandeliers and wall sconces are embellished with ornate crystal elements. The 5,000 square foot Crystal Ballroom can accommodate up to 300 people.

When The King Edward initially opened in 1903, it set the standard for luxury hotels in Canada and was Toronto's first hotel of its kind. Designed by Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb and Toronto architect E.J. Lennox for developer George Gooderham's Toronto Hotel Company at a cost of $6 million, it quickly became the first choice for the city's elite, as well as convention-goers, political figures and business travelers. ERA Architects, Moncur Design Associates Inc. and Omni Hotels & Resorts are responsible for the new look and design of The Omni King Edward Hotel's Crystal Ballroom.

One of the big changes from the original design was the
addition of a compact kitchen on the same floor as the ballroom. Before, the
kitchen was up above, meaning servers had to navigate a long ramp down to
the ballroom.

“As a European, I am honoured to work here and to preserve this history,” said Le Chatton. “The best hotel in North America is the Waldorf
Astoria. George Gooderham [developer of the King Edward] wanted to rival the Waldorf
Astoria.  It is my responsibility and
privilege to continue the legacy.”