Sunday, January 11, 2015

308 Fort Street - Vendome Hotel

Vendome Hotel
Vendome Hotel
Place: Vendome Hotel
Address: 308 Fort Street (Map)
Opened: January 1899
Architect: Henry Griffith (1903 expansion)
Contractor: John Hodgins (1903 expansion) 
Cost: $14,000 (1898)

December 27, 1898, Winnipeg Tribune

The Hotel Vendome was built in 1898 at a cost of $14,000. Excavation began in June and Its liquor licence was granted in November. The hotel opened on December 17, just in time for the holidays.

The man behind the hotel was David Murray, who came with his young family and brother William from Sault Ste Marie in 1897. It is unclear whether he had a hotel background. He did hold a number of acres of property in that area and invested in property in rural Manitoba as well. His brother William was a partner in the venture and, when David's sons, William and Stewart, were old enough, they joined the management.

1922 - 23 Tribune ad

In the 1920s the Hotel Vendome, (it switched to Vendome Hotel after 1927), advertized itself as "One of the most homelike and quiet hotels" in the downtown and that was probably correct. When researching downtown hotels I come across many stories of liquor violations and crimes by owners or guests, as well as the odd fire. The Vendome has little of that. It appears to have been a quiet hotel run by a quiet family.

In its first decade or so, the hotel was associated with the 90th Winnipeg Battalion. They held a number of their annual dinners there. It was also where Joe Hall resided for a few weeks while sorting out his hockey future after the Brandon Rowing Club lost the 1904 Stanley Cup finals to the Ottawa Silver Seven.

The Vendome had a number of long term guests, sometimes Murray would host a dinner in their hoonour before moving on. One of them was scientist Reginald Buller, (also see), who founded the botany department at the University of Manitoba in 1904. He lived there for seven years, 1905 - 1913.

Winnipeg Street scene
 Vendome Hotel 1915 MB Archives Wpg-streets-fort collection Item 3 N10961
Top:: Orpheum, National, Vendome ca. 1920s (Source: Streetcar356)
Bottom: Night view ca. 1915 (Source: Archives of Manitoba)

In 1910 the Orpheum Theatre opened across the street from the Vendome. Of the vaudeville chains, the Orpheum circuit was probably the best known as it had continental reach. (Others like Pantages, for example, was mostly confined to the U.S. Pacific Northwest and Western Canada.)

The Orpheum theatre chain was part of Radio Keith Orpheum (RKO) Corporation, a theatre chain, radio network and eventually one of Hollywood's great movie studios. The best performers would graduate up from their theatre circuit to radio and film. Bob Hope, for instance, played Winnipeg's Orpheum in 1930 and moved up the RKO ladder to be a radio, then film star. In February 1923 Houdini and Jack Benny shared the theatre bill for a week.

I couldn't find stories of famous people staying at the Vendome, though I'm sure performers and crew did, which may have helped keep the hotel in business through the lean times of Prohibition and the Depression, which finished off many hotels.

From 1912 to 1926 the Victoria Theatre (later renamed the National Theatre) stood next door to the Vendome at 302 Fort Street.

May 29, 1923, Winnipeg Tribune

One of the strangest guests the hotel had came in May 1923.Charles Loeder, the night clerk, found a bear cub wandering down Portage Avenue and brought it back to the hotel. It spent the day there, had a lunch of bread, apples and a quart of milk and pint of beer before going to sleep. It was claimed that night.

December 14, 1903, Winnipeg Free Press

As for the building itself, the original architect and contractor are not mentioned in the papers, though in 1903 Murray hired architect Henry Griffith and contractor John Hodgins to build an annex to the rear, expanding its capacity by 40 rooms. A barber shop was added in 1918. In 1937 the hotel underwent extensive renovations.

The closest call the Vendome had came in December 1955 when the five-storey Huron and Erie building on Portage Avenue at Fort Street, backing onto the hotel, was destroyed by fire. It was the night clerk at the hotel who first noticed the fire and summoned the fire department. The 30 or so guests, including four boys curling teams from rural Manitoba, were evacuated. The hotel suffered water damage, but little else.

October 17, 1921, Winnipeg Tribune

David Murray died in 1920. Of his sons William and Stewart, the latter took over the running of the establishment. Stewart died in 1945.

In the early 1950s Shea's Brewery, (which was soon taken over by Labatt's), bought the hotel. Breweries got into the hotel business reluctantly in the 1930s as hotel owners that owed them money simply walked away from their establishments. Shea's, then Labatt's, eventually embraced this new revenue stream. 

In 1964 when the brewery was divesting itself of its hotel holdings, the Vendome, like some other Labatt properties, became part of the Gordon Hotel chain.

Top: December26, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press
Below: October 26, 1971

Gordon Hotels was known for its live music venues and the Vendome's bar was renovated and rechristened the "Gay 90's", (a reference to the Klondike gold rush.) They sold the hotel in 1977.


In the late 1980s the bar became one of Winnipeg's first sports bars. Hotel owner Ray Dudar, manager Ed Romanik and former Blue Bombers Joe Poplawski and Dan Huclack teamed up to create Bleachers Sports Bar.

Related:
My Vendome Hotel photo album on Flickr

No comments:

Post a Comment