Last Call At The Gladstone Derreck Roemer & Neil Graham

Last Call At The Gladstone Derreck Roemer & Neil Graham
For decades, the Gladstone Hotel in downtown Toronto was a crumbling, old flophouse resting on skid row. That started to change in 2000 when rich developers the Tippin Corporation partnered with respected arts patrons Margie and Christina Zeidler and bought the building to turn it into an arts hotspot. The Tippins have a reputation for taking old buildings and turning them into profit centres. However, the new owners thought the hotel was empty until they encountered long-time residents like Maryanne, a sweet ex-bag lady, and Marilyn, the chambermaid and unofficial den mother.

The owners try to accommodate the residents with a plan to gradually restore the bar downstairs while leaving them alone. That idea fails when they uncover a litany of problems: ceilings leak, walls crumble and city inspectors demand complete rewiring. Eventually, the Tippins give up the game and the Zeidlers inherit a mess. They vow to keep the residents in the building but they succumb to evicting them — they relocate them — after the boiler blows up and chills the entire hotel.

The filmmakers spent five years roaming the halls of the Gladstone and they tell their story directly and simply. The focus falls on the hunchbacked Maryanne, who looks bemused by the increasingly young, artsy crowd that flocks to the new Gladstone, and appears downright tragic as she is evicted one rainy day. It’s shocking to see her room covered in garbage and old coffee cups, and heartbreaking to see her tossed onto the street. (She winds up in a nearby rooming house.)

Maryanne symbolises the old Queen Street West where the Gladstone sits. The rebirth of the hotel mirrors the rapid gentrification of this area, which is arguably the hottest arts strip in Canada. A few viewers have complained that the Tippins (who speak in a non-stop press release) are unfairly portrayed in the film, while the Zeidlers are given an easy ride. Maybe so, but they represent the forces of commerce and art in conflict in Toronto and other Canadian cities where a new middle class is overtaking the old working class. Caught in the middle are people like Maryanne.

Last Call captures this sudden evolution with poignancy.