Since 2001, the Drake Hotel has led the transformation of the West Queen West neighbourhood from a former industrial manufacturing hub and low-income neighbourhood into a world-class strip of undeniable coolness (and property values to match). Stretching from Bathurst Street westward to Gladstone Avenue, this strip of Queen Street was voted 2nd coolest neighbourhood in the world by Vogue magazine in 2014. What a difference a decade makes!
But how did it happen?
Initially a 19th-century Pacific Railway Hub, West Queen West housed industrial manufacturing operations in the mid-20th century, but these businesses slowly moved out, vacating loft-style factory buildings. As is often the case in large urban centres, artists and arts organizations began to move to the area in the 1980s and 1990s in search of cheaper rents. One of the first such organizations to make an official home in West Queen West was Artscape, who opened Canada’s first legally-zoned artist live/work space in 1995 in a former warehouse and used car lot west of Trinity Bellwoods Park. Gallerists like Katherine Mulherin and Jamie Angell also stepped in to set up shop, setting off a chain reaction of budding cafes and specialty shops in the area.
At the same time, real estate maverick Harry Stinson was converting the Candy Factory building, a massive block-long structure built in 1907, into one of Toronto’s first loft-style residential buildings. In the following two decades, resale values of individual Candy Factory units climbed as high as 430%, with a penthouse loft purchased in 1998 for $349,000 eventually selling for $1,505,000.
The West Queen West buzz was gaining momentum as the millennium came to a close, but the neighbourhood was still priced reasonably for those with the insight and risk tolerance to enter into this up-and-coming market. Enter Jeff Stober, widely known as an intensely-focused, creative, and ambitious visionary. Yes, it’s true that Stober bought the Drake Hotel for $860,000 in 2001, but he also proceeded to sink $6 million in renovations over the next three years into this “derelict dive in a hostile neighbourhood.” When the rejuvenated Drake opened in 2004, the time was ripe for the neighbourhood to come into its own.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE LAST DECADE ON WEST QUEEN WEST:
What emerges from these facts and figures is a portrait of a neighbourhood whose profile and value changed drastically in a short amount of time. In the early 2000s, observers balked at the audacity of developers and visionaries like Jeff Stober and Harry Stinson, but now West Queen West is touted as “one of the most dynamic contemporary art, design and nightlife scenes in the world,” and it’s due in no small part to the Drake Hotel, a century-old stalwart with an imaginative facelift and an infectiously charming spirit. If it can happen on West Queen West, it can happen anywhere.