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Journal: King Edward Hotel

The King Edward lobby. Dress accordingly.
King Edward Hotel (early May 2003): It was the 100th birthday of the King Edward Hotel (which I refuse to call the "Le Royal Meridien King Edward"), and Harpocrates and I decided to stop in to wish it our best. The palatial hotel opened to the public on 11 May 1903 as part of George Gooderham's evil scheme to keep the centre of Toronto from drifting west, away from his considerable holdings in the east. While this plan failed, at least it produced one hell of a sexy hotel.
        The part of the hotel we were most interested in was actually the slightly younger 1921 addition to the hotel, the portion featuring the abandoned Crystal Ballroom. Once the social centre of Toronto's elite, the ballroom has stood abandoned since the late 1950s. Today, the elegant room once restricted to the rich and famous stands empty except when it is used for indoor fly-fishing lessons.
        The plan was to blend in as businessmen as we effortlessly navigated our way to the top of the hotel, but this plan encountered its first hitch before we even started. Exhibiting his usual knack for dressing for the occasion, Harpocrates showed up unshaven, dressed in a sweatshirt and carrying a large tripod. I sighed and tried to feel grateful that he was at least wearing shoes. As we strolled from the subway to the hotel, we dismantled his tripod and stashed it in our bags, covered up his sweatshirt with a jacket and pulled his employee ID badge out from under his shirt to over his jacket to more fully convey his drone status. This quick makeover would have to do.
       We arrived at the hotel's front doors too deep in conversation to acknowledge the doorman as we strolled into the busy lobby. Neither of us was familiar with the layout of the hotel, but we attempted move through it and find the elevators with the deliberateness of people who considered the building a second home. Turning a corner and finding ourselves confronted with washrooms rather than elevators, Harpocrates went in to use the washrooms while I picked up a nearby payphone and had a brief conversation with a friendly dialtone.
       When Harpocrates returned, we got down to business and purposefully strode across the lobby to an elevator. Stepping inside, we saw that the elevator only went down. We had no interest in going down, but we didn't want to be seen backtracking. We decided to go down and try to find another route back up.
       As we emerged into a basement conference room, an employee greeted us almost immediately with the dreaded words "Can I... help you?"
       I lamely explained that we'd actually been trying to go up, but had accidentally taken the wrong elevator. Harpocrates asked if there was another bank of elevators down here that would take us up. The employee, who must have thought we were awfully stupid to have pressed the "B" button in the hopes of going up, told us we'd have to take the same elevator back up to the lobby and then transfer to the main elevators from there. We thanked him and left. As we rode back up, we chastised ourselves for our sloppiness. Being CIHY'd within our first five minutes was pretty embarrassing.

Crystal Ballroom
The neglected Crystal Ballroom is now beautiful in a
different way than it was in the 1920s.
       Finally stumbling upon the correct elevators and getting in with a few other hotel guests, Harpocrates pressed the button for a floor near (but not suspiciously near) the top of the hotel. "That presentation today went better than I thought it would," he led.
       "I was worried about that one, too," I mumbled.
       "It turned out not to be that big a deal. Steve actually did a pretty good job. It basically covered the same material as that project I e-mailed you already — did you get that?"
       "I'm not sure... which one was that?"
       "Oh it was a Visio file about the Equinox Project."
Storage room
The four-storey collection of empty rooms at the top of the hotel is mostly illuminated by sunlight.
       Astoundingly, we managed to keep straight faces as we bantered for the rest of the ride. Getting off the elevator, we switched to the service staircase and climbed up a few flights of stairs. Pulling back a door, we found ourselves in an all-but-empty room, and the photo harvest began in earnest.
       There were few spaces at the top of the King Eddy that were less than spectacular. The vast, empty Crystal Ballroom, with its multitude of gigantic picture windows peering out on the city and the lake, is but the most breathtaking of many dozens of gorgeous rooms, attics, ramps, hallways and stairwells. The overlook onto the Crystal Ballroom, where a luxuriously carpetted staircase juts up into the middle of a rocky, rubble-strewn floor, throws the contrast between opulence and decay into high relief. Nearby storage rooms are filled with a wide assortment of craziness, including tires, old Christmas decorations and bathtubs standing on end.
For some reason, the floor of the Crystal Ballroom's balcony has been torn up and removed.
       There's much more to the top of the hotel than just the Crystal Ballroom and environs; there are actually four and a half storeys of fun up there, though both the roof and the uppermost mechanical room are kept locked behind doors labelled "grandmaster only". Sadly, neither Harpocrates nor I have yet attained this rank. But many doors that seem like they should be locked are not. By passing through a half-height red door, it's possible to enter and climb around in the very large attic over the Crystal Ballroom, though you might choke to death on the dust. The unlocked, still-functional elevator and mechanical rooms are filled with monstrous, primitive equipment that has somehow been coaxed into continuing to function smoothly for more than 80 years.
       After about an hour of climbing around the upper storeys of the hotel, we decided to head back to civilization. After taking the stairs back down to the inhabited part of the hotel, Harpocrates and I paused in the stairwell to pack up and make ourselves look a little less suspicious, making a fair bit of noise in the process. When I opened the stairwell door, I was very surprised to see a middle-aged woman standing on the other side of the door, also with her hand on the doorknob. She stared at us with surprise as we greeted her and walked past her, and rather than going through the door she began to follow us down the hallway. The three of us then filed into the elevator together, joining a girl who was already in the elevator and heading to the lobby.
Sunlit room
A large skylight illuminates a storage room on the level above the Crystal Ballroom.
       "So, did Steve manage to make it to the meeting?" I asked Harpocrates.
       "He did, but he hasn't made a decision yet. He said you should call him when you get there."
       "That's great. You know, I feel really good about what we've accomplished here today."
       As the elevator doors slid open, we made our way through the lobby and out the front door of the hotel, where we stood beside the doorman surveying the rain outside. "Do you want to take a cab there?" Harpocrates asked.
       "No, after being cramped up inside all afternoon I think I could use a walk," I replied.
       As we did up our jackets, we heard the girl who'd ridden down with us speaking into her cellphone behind us. "That's good... It sounds like it... Do you think we should go to the gallery now or later?... Well, I'm going to get a cab..."
       Gesturing back at her as we walked away, I mumbled, "She's good."

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