The infamous Merchant's Hotel has been closed for three years now and construction will begin soon to convert it into Merchant's Corner, a mixed-use development with education as its cornerstone.You can find out more about the project at its website.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour the building, constructed in 1913-14, to document its interior. For the most part, old hotels are some of the most difficult buildings to get a sense of history from. Generations of fire codes and liquor control board regulations meant exterior windows disappeared, dropped ceilings were installed and open hallways and staircases enclosed.
Lucky for me, at this stage of its redevelopment a number of engineers and architects have had a go at peeling apart sections of the interior to see what lays beneath.
A testament to architect Max Blankstein's excellent work, the bones are still in very good shape. The foundation is sound and the timbers of the roof look almost new. They're even confident that they can open up some of the upper storey windows that have been bricked in and remove the awful 1950s tile cladding from the original brick exterior of the main floor.
The building wasn't as depressing as I thought was going to feel, at least not the living areas. Rooms were tiny, typical of an SRO hotel, but each had at least three huge windows that let in lots of light. Each floor had common bathrooms and laundry facilities, though the "primo" rooms facing Selkirk Avenue were larger and had their own private bathroom.
A couple of interesting things I saw included a sign on what was once the exterior of the west wall. it was covered up when the 1950s diner extension was added. The huge flagpole on the roof is made of a single piece of wood, and the ramp from the sidewalk beer entrance into the basement is still in place!
Thanks to the North End Renewal Corporation for the top to bottom tour of the building. I'm sure the original owners, Robert and Sarah Steiman, would be pleased to know that the Merchants will be around to serve the community for another century!
For more present-day photos of the building, check out my Flickr album.
To read about the history of the Steiman Block / Merchants Hotel, see my Winnipeg Downtown Places blog enry.