The City Motor Hotel never ran out of stories, but it has run out of time. The wreckers arrive next week.
This was the place where a guest smuggled in a hundred pigeons. Where two guys carried a stolen safe into their room. Where a would-be Ticat who got cut paid his bill at check-out time with a credit card stolen from the general manager of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Hookers, cons and cops were frequent visitors to this east-end institution, where Main meets Queenston at the traffic circle.
But the shady side is only half the story. This hotel was built well, in the early 1960s. An early brochure shows beautiful rooms — 100 of them, with air conditioning and television. It shows a cocktail and dining lounge and a cozy coffee shop famous for tall milkshakes.
And the lovely kidney-shaped pool. The panels that lined the courtyard balconies were yellow, red and turquoise. This was a piece of Florida, in a northern factory town.
All by itself
The hotel never linked up with a national chain. It stood out there on the east-end plains all by itself. Times changed, new highways got built, old rooms got musty.
And now the city has bought the hotel property, about an acre, for nearly $2 million. It wants this eyesore gone.
But must we wipe all traces of the City Motor from the landscape?
As it turns out, that’s not the plan. For now, the hotel’s vintage neon-and-sheet-metal sign is going to stay right where it is.
I stopped by the City Motor the other day. The cops had been there just before me. Several times, it seems. They’ve been on manoeuvres, doing pretend takedowns that involve blasting through concrete walls. I want a job like that.
He fell in love here
Security has been on site all summer long. They say lots of people are interested in the City Motor and want to share their memories. For some, it was an important banquet or a swim in the pool.
For others, it’s pleasures of another kind. "You have no idea how many times I fell in love here," one guy told security. "We’d pick the girls up at the Derby and bring them here." (The Derby Tavern, just down the street, made way for a jumbo Rexall five years ago.)
But what passersby really want from security is a picture taken in front of the big City Motor sign. The lights stopped working long ago. The paint is faded. Still, people want to pose in the presence of some genuine Hamilton history.
Rom D’Angelo, Hamilton’s facilities manager, says the city did try to see whether the sign was worth anything. "It was up on eBay or Kijiji for a time," he says. "There was no real interest at all… but we have no intention of scrapping that sign."
The plan now, he says, is to leave it in place and see what happens.
Matt Jelly has ideas
Matt Jelly, city activist of the first order, put up his hand long ago. He thinks it could make a great park-entrance sign, or a Welcome to Hamilton sign.
"I’d also be open to it being repurposed and erected on the same site," he says. "Whatever the end use, I’d just like to see it fixed and reused rather than trashed."
Coun. Sam Merulla is on board for that. He especially likes the idea of the sign staying close to where it was planted half a century ago. "It would be a gateway to the east end," he says, "not dissimilar to the Welcome to Las Vegas sign."
Merulla made the City Motor Hotel purchase happen. And now he wants to see a complex rise on the site that combines residential and commercial with a transportation hub.
If you like that sign from the '60s, it’s still to be on view. But if you’re looking to gaze at the storied hotel itself, don’t delay. By Labour Day, it will have vanished.