Yesterday our city council voted 11-4 to allow developers to turn one of the city’s most recognizable and glorious downtown landmarks into affordable housing. I am beyond sad. I am all for affordable housing, of course – that isn’t the issue. The issue is that when a city is trying to revitalize it’s core, when it is trying to restore past glories and draw out-of-town visitors for conferences, conventions, concerts and film shoots, turning a large, historic property into affordable housing for the city’s marginalized individuals, is probably not the way to do it.
The hotel has remarkable history. I remember what a thrill is was just to walk in to the lobby and marvel at the opulence – marble staircase, gilt chandeliers, luxurious carpet. My friends and I would wander in and pretend (briefly, before we got caught) that we were guests. Sit in one of the lobby’s comfortable chairs, pick up a newspaper, just pretend. We would talk about staying there one day, having our formals there, perhaps a wedding or two. It’s the hotel, incidentally, where The Genealogist and I spent our wedding night. Grand and historic as it was, within the past few years it has fallen into both disrepair and disrepute. The downtown core itself has been failing, and with other, newer hotels springing up, no one wanted to invest in the restoration of this lovely old building, and that is a very sad thing.
Hamilton needs affordable housing, absolutely we do. Do we need it downtown? Perhaps. But we also need landmarks and lovely old buildings and tourist destinations, and beautiful spaces. I think denying the Connaught another crack at glory is unfair and shortsighted. Hamilton has so much beauty, but too often those in charge see only short-term solutions; they sacrifice beauty for asphalt and concrete, I have seen it happen way too often.
It saddens me to think historic images like these will soon be all that is left of what was once a source of pride and a testament to the beauty that can be my city.
[images from the excellent website http://www.postcardsofhamilton.com/]