The Waldorf Hotel, a family-run business and popular Eastside watering hole for more than six decades, should be added to Vancouver’s list of recognized heritage landmarks, according to a heritage expert hired by the city to evaluate the property.
James Burton of Birmingham and Wood Architects and Planners cites the Waldorf’s location on East Hastings Street near the old downtown core, its enduring commercial history and its “persistence as a hospitality venue … since the Second World War” among its key heritage values.
Also of note is the building’s 1949 and 1950s exterior and interior detailing, including the Tiki bar lounge and Polynesian-themed restaurant.
“These rooms, containing some original and surviving elements are a rare and authentic record of this interior decoration style in Vancouver,” according to a staff report summarizing Burton’s findings to be presented to council May 15.
The heritage assessment — which evaluated everything from the Waldorf’s architecture and design to the role it has played in the city’s history and, more recently, as an arts and culture venue — comes as a 120-day moratorium on alterations to the Waldorf draws to a close.
The city took the unusual step of ordering the evaluation in January after learning the hotel’s family owners had sold the property to the condo development firm Solterra.
The assessment was prompted by a public “Save the Waldorf” campaign that ignited after news of the sale became public. An online petition in support of the campaign had, as of mid-April, attracted almost 19,000 signatures.
The Waldorf is not currently included on the heritage register, though city manager Penny Ballem earlier said it has been “on the radar” as a longtime cultural hub that has spanned generations.
Burton recommends the Waldorf also be listed in the ‘C’ category of the heritage register.
Vancouver’s heritage register was compiled in the mid-1980s. It has three categories. Heritage A is the highest designation, and is used for landmarks of “primary significance,” such as the Marine Building. Heritage B is for “significant” buildings, such as a row of Edwardian houses in the 400-500 blocks of Glen Drive in Strathcona. Heritage C is the lowest ranking, and is used for buildings which the city feels have an important context or character. Many of the SRO hotels in the Downtown Eastside fall into this category, including the Empress Hotel, Washington Hotel and Balmoral Hotel on East Hastings.
Should it be approved, a heritage designation could limit development options.
At present, the city has received no rezoning or development permit application or a formal enquiry on the property.
Its owner, Marko Puharich, has a sale agreement with Solterra that is slated to conclude in September.
According to the city, both the Puharich family and development firm have been kept in the loop with regards to the assessment findings.
The Puharich family have yet to comment, while Solterra has indicated is has no objection to the Waldorf being added to the heritage register in the ‘C’ category.
In an interview with The Sun in January, Marko Puharich said he was frustrated by council’s decision to order the assessment, adding there has never been any intention by his family or Solterra to demolish the Waldorf.
He said past efforts by his family, which has owned the hotel for decades, to have items of value, including original Polynesian-themed artworks dating to the 1950s, declared of heritage value were ignored by the city.