The demolition swings of a giant crane Thursday morning marked the end of an era along the former Lakeshore Motel Strip.
The Beach Motel crumbled to the ground, the last of the motels to make way for the revitalization along Lake Shore Boulevard West.
In its place are plans to build one of Canada’s tallest waterfront condominium communities, two towers at 66 and 44 storeys respectively.
With names like the Cruise Motel, the Rainbow and the Sunnyside, the former motels between the Humber River and Park Lawn Road drew vacationers on road trips in the 1950s and ’60s when Ford Thunderbirds were big and Elvis Presley played on the radio.
In those days, Lake Shore Boulevard known then as Hwy. 2, was the main thoroughfare in and out of the city.
The Gardiner Expressway didn’t redirect traffic off Hwy. 2 until 1966, city records indicate. From the ’70s onward, chain hotels grew in popularity and drew business away from the motels, some of which began to fall into disrepair. Others remained family-oriented and became film sets for Hollywood films and television shows.
Area Councillor Mark Grimes smashed some bricks clawed by the crane to hold onto a piece of Lakeshore history for posterity.
“It’s an exciting day, but a sad day in the same breath,” Grimes said in an interview. “It’s a very important part of our history. You see the interest generated today with the community and the media (present for the demolition).
“This is the last piece (of development) on the motel strip that will bookend Palace Pier and Palace Place (the two most easterly condos).”
The Young family owned the iconic Beach Motel since 1934. Sally Young ran the motel for decades.
Attempts to contact Sally’s daughter Kathy Young for comment on the historic moment was unsuccessful prior to Guardian deadline Thursday.
Developer Empire Communities’ future condo project, titled Eau du Soleil, is the last of seven condo applications that form part of the city’s Motel Strip precinct plan, Grimes said.
“We hear loud and clear concerns about density,” Grimes said in response to the question whether the area’s condo density was overwhelming local infrastructure such as roads and transportation. “In the late ’80s, the motel strip was very seedy. The landowners wanted to move forward. The province showed special interest in the property. A plan was decided for all the property owners.
“There is 20 acres of public access to the lake (parkland along the Martin Goodman Trail). I think it’s the greatest view of the city. I used to call it the million-dollar view. Now I call it the billion-dollar view.”
The landmark Beach Motel, a two-storey, 40-room building with white brick facade next door to the Esso gas station closed in 2011. Last year, Young held a giant garage sale to sell its contents, including its famous, retro yellow Solair chairs that sat in front of the motel.
Empire has a proposal before the city to build two condo towers in its place: one 66 storeys, the other 44 storeys, both atop a six-storey podium. One building is planned to have 750 units, the other 535 units. Ground floor commercial units will be located along Marine Parade Drive with commercial and public parking along Lake Shore.
Empire also plans to redevelop the vacant park immediately adjacent to the southwest behind the Esso as part of the project.
Empire vice-president Paul Golini said if city approvals move forward, Eau du Soleil condominiums will break ground before the end of next year.
Its condo sales office is already open.
In 2007, Empire built the three Beyond the Sea condos just down the street on the northwest corner of Park Lawn and Lake Shore. Its tallest building is 44 storeys. That is the same height of the shorter of the two condos Empire plans to build on the Beach Motel site.
“We love the area. It’s one of those oases in the city,” Golini said in an interview, as the orange crane continued to chew at what had been the Beach Motel office. “Unless you live in Etobicoke, you don’t know this area exists. The Humber trail has people walking, running, rollerblading. It’s a great area to live in, not just to bike through. Plus, it’s 10 minutes to downtown when there isn’t traffic.”
Empire’s Eau du Soleil plans are currently being circulated within the city’s planning department, Golini said.
Humber Bay Shores Condominium Association vice-president Don Henderson was on-site for the historic demolition.
Henderson said the association’s members were “intrinsically involved” in the planning of the area.
Between 6,000 and 7,000 residents live in the Humber Bay Shores condominiums: Palace Place, Bal Harbour, Marina del Rey, Nevis, Explorer, Grand Harbour, Grenadier Landing, Hearthstone, Newport Beach, Palace Pier, Players Club, Voyager I and II and Waterford.
Once full condo build-out is complete with Empire’s Eau du Soleil project, Henderson estimated approximately 24,000 residents will live in condos in the area.
“That’s a lot of people for only one north-south road, which is Park Lawn, unless you double back to Royal York Road or head (east) into Parkdale,” Henderson said in an interview. “Traffic, transportation, density and height are all issues we’re concerned about. We don’t want all the condos to be a barrier to the lake.”