Sunday, March 10, 2013

48 Albert Street - Royal Albert Hotel


Place: Royal Albert Hotel (website)
Location: 48 Albert Street (map)
Opened: November 5, 1913
Cost: $85,000
Architect: Edgar D. McGuire 
Contractor: Scott and Company

Despite its proximity to the office towers and banking halls around Portage and Main, the intersection of Notre Dame and Albert Street lagged behind in its development. Until 1911 it was still home to small houses and single-storey wood buildings dating back to the city's early years.

Things changed in 1912 - 1913 with the construction of the St. Charles Hotel, Royal Albert Hotel, Electric Railway Chambers and Lindsay Building all within an 18 month span.

January  17, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

In January 1913 the Royal Albert Hotel Company took out an $85,000 building permit for 48 Albert Street. On March 11, 1913 sod was broken on a four storey hotel.

The architect was Edgar D. McGuire. If he was a locally-based architect, I cannot find him credited with the design of any other buildings in the city. There was a very prominent Edgar D. McGuire living in Winnipeg at the time. Born in Picton, Ontario on April 16, 1857, he came to Winnipeg in 1889. He was a champion curler, a founding member of both the Caterer’s Association and Thistle Curling Club and a one-time policeman. None of the articles about him, including his obituary, mention a link to architecture or the building trade.

November 1, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

The construction by Scott and Company appears to have gone smoothly and the Royal Albert Hotel with its 54 rooms, restaurant, coffee shop and cigar stand opened its doors on November 5, 1913. It was a small development in comparison to the grand hotels and banking halls springing up around it and as a result nothing was written in the Free Press or Tribune about its construction or opening.

Angelo Ferrari and Patrick Grogan were the first proprietors, though they were likely members of a larger consortium of owners. Ferrari was manager of the Rex Theatre prior to this. Paddy Grogan was a long-time hotelier in the region, at times the manager or owner of the Queen’s Hotel in Russell (1906), Riverview Hotel in Rainy River (1909) and the Wellington (now Garrick) Hotel (1910 - 12).

Pompeian Dining Room, ca 1914 (Source: Peel's)

The Royal Albert boasted that it was the only "absolutely fireproof" hotel in the downtown as it was built of concrete and steel. As insurance they had a dedicated "hotel fireman" named Frederick Kennedy amongst their first roster of staff.

The rest of the original staff, as found in the Henderson Directory of 1914, were: Frank Crossley, clerk; Robert Gerber, cook;, John Goss, porter; Nick Hreadree, trayman; Frederick  Jones, bartender;  Fred Kennedy, fireman; Walter Moore, bartender; Walter Morton, clerk; Michael O’Meara Jr., clerk, Rudolph Petzek, cook; Mrs. Track, employee and Harry Watkins, bartender.

Francis E. Crossley, the night clerk, was one of the only staff to also live at the hotel. He had been a member of the NWMP and served in South African War, (these are likely his NWMP papers and these his war attestation papers, though his age is wrong on the latter.). Despite being just 34 years old, he developed a heart condition and had been in and out of hospital throughout 1915. He died in his room on April 18, 1915 and is buried in Elmwood cemetery.

October 27, 1916, The Voice

Soon after opening, Winnipeg's economy fell into a recession that was made worse by the outbreak of World War I. A number of hotels faltered, most famously the brand-new Olympia (now Marlborough) Hotel, that went bust.

It's unclear how the Royal Albert fared, though there are signs that it may have had trouble. In 1915 Paddy Gorgan returned to the Wellington (now Garrick) Hotel as manager and in 1916 Ferrari, the remaining original manager, was replaced by Victor Josselyn. Soon after the hotel began advertising cut-rate prices on rooms aimed at longer-term, residential guests.

Labour Cafe at recent Manitoba Museum exhibit (source)

In early May 1919 Women's Labour League set up a Labour Cafe at the Stratchona Hotel. It was a place where striking women could go for a free meal and camaraderie. 

After just a few days they were told to pack it up and relocated to the Royal Albert Hotel where they appear to have stayed for the rest of the Winnipeg General Strike.

March 15, 1920, Manitoba Free Press

In 1920 hotel manager Victor Josselyn and and former bartender John Elgar, (the two names are spelled incorrectly in the above story), decided to add some new services to the hotel's regular offerings. 

On March 14, 1920 it was the scene of a raid by the morals squad of the Winnipeg Police Department and the two men were charged with keeping a bawdy house. To be fair, I cannot find information as to whether they were found guilty, though the following month the Royal Albert's hotel license was pulled by the city - a good indication that they were.

 April 17, 1920, Winnipeg Tribune
October 1922, Manitoba Free Press

The next proprietor was Daniel Whalen, a hotel man with 20 years experience in Ontario and Manitoba. Given the stain on the hotel's reputation, he had his work cut out for him.

He started by renovating the dining area and reopened it as the Grand Cafe in August 1920. Then came the reopening of the hotel itself in September. In 1921 prohibition ended and in April he brought in former Clarendon Hotel manager Jim Thorpe to run the bar and dance hall.

By the time Whelan retired around 1931 it appears that his work had been successful. Over the decade that he was in charge, the hotel only appears in the news for the odd farewell dinner, wedding banquet and their own classified ads.

May 16, 1935, Winnipeg Free Press

The Depression was not kind to the city's small hotels as their bread and butter, traveling salesmen and middle class travelers, vanished. Manitoba breweries, whether they wanted to or not, ended up owning dozens - if not hundreds, of them across the province as they defaulted on their brewery bills.

In the case of the Royal Albert, it was taken over by Riedle Brewery, (which eventually merged into Carling O'Keefe) around 1935. Three years later they invested $1,200 remodeling the beer parlour and other interior spaces.

September 27, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

The post-war era saw a flight to the suburbs and a slow decline in the fortunes of the downtown areas of most North American cities. The Royal Albert was no different as incidents of crime involving guests began to appear in the newspaper. 

Most were petty crimes that happened off-site but in 1949 a ten person brawl in the hotel's bathroom in ended with three men being stabbed. In 1953 there was a drug bust involving three people. 

The highest profile incident was a daylight robbery on September 27, 1954. At 10 a.m. Donald Gordon Ross, 21, of Ross Avenue walked into the office of manager Cliff G. Hutchison who was counting the weekend's takings. Ross produced a Luger revolver and demanded the cash and whatever the manager had in his wallet. The total take was $1,224, about $10,000 in 2013 dollars.. 

Ross was apprehended the following month, found guilty and was sentenced to 5 years in prison. 

There was an attempted armed holdup in December 1954 and in September 1960 a clerk was beaten and robbed.

February 11, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1960 the Royal Albert was purchased by Gordon Hotels and became the third in their growing chain that already included the Curtis Gordon Motor Hotel on Henderson Highway and Assiniboine Gordon Motor Inn on Portage Avenue. It received a top to bottom renovation and even a new name: the Royal Albert Arms.

It reopened on February 4, 1961 under manager Lorne Studney boasting The Coffee Shop and Tournament Hall decorated in a "Tudor motif" that included wood panelling, colourful leathers and brass accents. The first floor of guest rooms were redeveloped to include wall-to-wall carpeting and in-room televisions and were rented out at a premium rate versus the top floors which appear to have housed long-term residents.

Clockwise: 1961, 1969 and 1963 ads

The Gordon Hotels were known for live entertainment. Tournament Hall featured bands on most weekends and kept a "Country and Western" theme.

In 1968 the affiliated with Gordon Hotels ended and in 1969 Tournament Hall was  renamed the Western Palace.

Between the 1960s and 1980s the Royal Albert Arms and neighbouring St. Charles Hotel were known for their unique collection of residents and clientele. Hippies, the homeless, musicians, actors and prostitutes made them a mainstay of the city's subculture. The hotel appears to have had a string of short term owners throughout this time.

In the mid 1970s the "Old Market Square" area, (now Exchange District), was looking to shake off decades of neglect. Other Canadian cities, including Vancouver and Montreal, had rediscovered their heritage districts and created places like Gastown. The Heritage Canada Trust wanted to spur the same thing in Winnipeg and chose Albert Street as its focus. In 1976 it announced a $500,000 grant that could be used for streetscaping, to fix up buildings and to create a formal Albert Street Park. (For more on the development of Old Market Square.)

Royal Albert Hotel

Despite the constantly changing owners, its reputation as a mainstay musical venue stayed strong. It the 1990s it hosted bands such as Nickelback (March 1997) and Green Day. In the 00s  it became home to Winnipeg's punk rock scene.

In 2007 it was purchased by Daren Jorgenson who announced that the Royal Albert Arms, (he kept the 1960s Gordon Hotels name), would undergo an extensive renovation into a boutique hotel that would include the removal of the glass atrium added to the front elevation in the 1990s. The renovation did not take place.

The hotel closed on the Victoria Day weekend 2011 when a water main broke and flooded the basement. The owner brought in Ray Rybachuk as a business partner to help renovate and it reopened on March 8, 2013.

It closed three months later after a bizarre series of events (also) that included the firing of staff and infighting between the co-owners. After Rybachuk's death, the hotel portion was emptied and it reopened as an SRO. The main floor has never reopened.

In October 2015 Jorgenson told a reporter that the building would soon be put up for sale.

48 Albert Street Historic Buildings Committee

Royal Albert Building going up for sale CTV News (Oct 2015)

Co-owner of Royal Albert Hotel Dies CTV News (Nov 2013)

Beloved piece of Winnipeg's music history deserves better Winnipeg Free Press (Apr 2013)
Royal Albert Arms rocks again CBC (March 2013)
Royal Plans for the Albert Winnipeg Free Press (Dec 2007)
Royal Albert Arms up for grabs again Canadian Press (Sept 1981)

December 15, 1915, Manitoba Free Press

1942 Riedle Ad (source: Heimskringla)

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