Heritage Winnipeg makes bid to save lavish room in hotel before demolition
Developer plans to demolish St. Regis Hotel to make room for commercial space, parkade
With just weeks before the building is set to be demolished, Heritage Winnipeg is hoping to preserve the grandeur of the St. Regis Hotel's Oak Room.
Just as its name says, the century-old banquet area is extensively panelled in oak, where it has a storied history on the first floor of the old hotel on Smith Street.
Fortress Real Developments plans to build a commercial space and parkade after the demolition of the building begins in August.
"What we'd like to see is some help or some support with the city and maybe someone in the private sector to help us dismantle the room, preserve it ... ultimately to be showcased in another heritage building," said Cindy Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.
Dates to 1911
"The Oak Room is a significant restaurant that Winnipeggers went to. And what makes it significant is how well it was preserved over the years," she said.
The St. Regis Hotel first opened on July 12, 1911, in a spot that used to be a livery stable for horses.
"This [Oak] Room is essentially original from that era," said Rob Sankar, general manager of the building.
"I remember coming here with my dad when I was six years old, and it was high end dining. I believe the restaurant was called the Front Page dining room," Sankar said.
"It was a meeting place for a lot of the reporters and that continued for a number of years. Hence the phrase the front page restaurant."
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The Oak Room is panelled with its namesake.
The intricately carved wood forms a lattice overhead and the three floor-to-ceiling archways divide the room in two. The windows are stained glass and grand candelabras light the space.
Sankar would like to see the room dismantled and preserved for future generations.
"The St. Regis Hotel was a huge part of the fabric of downtown of Winnipeg," said Sankar.
He and his staff are in the midsts of clearing out 101 rooms of beds and furniture. They're selling much of it.
The current hotel owners had a contract with Health Canada that just recently expired, so people coming from Manitoba's remote communities for medical appointments will now go elsewhere in Winnipeg.
The building will likely lose its tongue-in-cheek moniker, the St. Regis Hospital, too.
No heritage designation from city
"Age has taken its toll on the building, construction back in those days weren't the same, so it was getting more difficult keeping this particular building up. So it's seen its life and outlived its usefulness at this point without having to break it down and build another hotel over top of it," he said.
The site's new owners plan to work with Heritage Winnipeg to help preserve elements from the Oak Room.
"We are looking forward to working with them to preserve the items from the Oak Room for their collection. The St. Regis has a long history in the city and we want to ensure that Heritage Winnipeg is able to preserve some of that history," said Natasha Alibhai, with Fortress, in a statement to the CBC.
The company plans to build a parkade and with approximately 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail along Smith Street.
Tugwell said now, she's hoping for funding and help from the City of Winnipeg and private donors to make it happen; primarily for the storage of materials.
Rob Plouffe, the bellhop at the St. Regis Hotel for the last 27 years, hopes they succeed with saving a piece of history.
"The longer I worked here, the longer I started to love the place, and got involved in history," he said.
He said the hotel was only one of four hotels in downtown Winnipeg during the early '40s, '50s and '60s, and he's disappointed that it will be torn down.
"I know I will come by here once and awhile just to walk by and see the hotel which is gone ... and might be a little emotional," he said.
He's grateful for the efforts to save the Oak Room.
"It's a heritage room."