The Waverly Hotel and The Comfort Zone, 2017
The life span of a Toronto hotel is often brief. The Waverly on Spadina Avenue was the oldest hotel in the city at the time of its closing, having remained in continuous operation for 117 years. During its final twenty years, it had housed The Comfort Zone, the city’s longest running underground dance club in its basement.
Soon after its opening in 1900, the Waverly became known as one of the most respectable small hotels in the city, and it remained in good grace for decades. My photos show the end point of a decline that began in the 1960s, during which it also served as a rooming house with many long term tenants.
Milton Acorn, “The People’s Poet” who lived at the Waverly during the 1970s, described it as “a place for all sorts of strange but true types. People who were down but not out.” The hotel is still identified with his creative spirit.
I began photographing its faded exterior in April, 2017, but I soon decided that I needed to document the interior as well. A social worker helped me gain access. Fortunately the few remaining tenants proved friendly, or at worst, indifferent to my presence.
Inside, there were foul odours and insipid lighting to deal with. Among the rooms that had been left unlocked, most had been severely trashed by their occupants. One curious feature I was able to photograph was a wooden penthouse, visible from the street, containing two small bedrooms which might originally have been occupied by members of the hotel staff.
After photographing the penthouse, I descended into the basement to document The Comfort Zone, the dance club whose activities had contributed to the hotel’s unsavory reputation during its final years. Its seating arrangements seemed anything but comfortable.