By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express
Once the jewel of Oshawa’s downtown core, it’s needless to say the Genosha Hotel has seen its ups and downs.
However, that’s all about to change as renovations on the hotel are nearing their end, and residents are now moving in after 20 years of vacancy.
Originally developed in the 1920s, the Genosha was opened when it became apparent luxury hotel accommodations were needed as Oshawa’s economy grew.
The location chosen was at the corner of Mary Street and King Street, an oft-travelled corridor throughout Oshawa’s history.
At the time, it was adjacent to the heart of the city’s downtown, and General Motors of Canada’s offices and production facilities.
Its name highlights the role of GM in Oshawa’s history, combining the words “General” and “Oshawa.”
With construction completed in 1928, the final cost of the hotel was $500,000, which equals $7,390,109.89 in 2019.
The doors to the hotel opened almost exactly 90 years ago, with the Genosha Hotel open for business on Dec. 5, 1929.
There were 105 rooms which had telephones, private bathrooms, and an elevator trimmed with walnut and bronze.
After some financial difficulties, the Genosha changed hands multiple times, beginning with J.W. Butler & Co. faulting on the $350,000 mortgage, and the building went into receivership in 1932.
It then passed through the hands of multiple owners, continuing to serve as a hotel. Military officials even gathered there during World War II as Camp-X, a spy training and covert communications facility, was in operation nearby.
The hotel itself received many patrons of note, including the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming.
Eventually in 1952, seven years after World War II saw its final battle, Harry Finer took over ownership of the Genosha Hotel when he revamped the banquet hall, entertainment space, and food service amenities.
While under the ownership of Finer, the Genosha became a hub for entertainment in Oshawa, with many performers hitting the facility’s stage.
Some performers include Canadian rock legends Rush and Burton Cummings.
Finer then sold the property in 1977 to Edwards Inn Ltd., but by 1981, after the property exchanged hands once more, it was placed in receivership.
Today, after almost two decades standing vacant, Rick Summers of Summers & Co. Developments Inc., alongside Michael Poon of CPPI Group, have come together to redevelop the Genosha.
Their vision sees 86 luxury apartments, with the main floor and lower level occupied by commercial clients.
Summers recently lead a tour of the redevelopment, 90 years to the day the building opened.
Dignitaries were in attendance including Mayor Dan Carter, multiple city and regional councillors, leaders of charitable organizations, media, and other members of the local community.
“It’s been boarded up for like 20 years, and it’s been making it hard for all of the mayors and councillors to look good when you have a building like this boarded up for so long,” said Summers.
His hope is to bring the building back to its former glory, but without the rocky history.
This isn’t his first attempt to revitalize the Genosha Hotel, as Summers tried once before in 2009 with partner Richard Senechal, as they came to city council with a proposal to convert it to student housing for the downtown campus of Ontario Tech University, then known as the University of Ontario Institute of Technology.
They were awarded $1 million in tax breaks and grants for the project, on the condition the work would be completed the next year.
When they didn’t meet the given timeline, they were given an extension to 2011, but building permits had expired and work had come to a standstill.
Another attempt to renovate was made in 2015 by Senechal and Bowood Properties, but issues over the ownership of the building eventually curtailed the attempt.
However, Summers and his team are now close to completing their project, as 45 per cent of the building is now occupied, and the final touches should be put on the building soon.
For many, this is a positive step in the resurgence of Oshawa’s downtown core, and to a few city councillors who have watched the Genosha go through multiple owners over the years, it’s a long time coming.
“I think it’s great to see the building restored,” says Ward 3 city and regional councillor Bob Chapman. “It’s been an icon in the city for a long time, and of course over the last number of years, especially the years that I’ve been on council, people have always been saying, ‘When’s the Genosh going to get fixed?’ and because of where it’s located, it’s going to make a big difference.”
Chapman points out there are a number of different developments just to the north of the Genosha, as well as others on Athol Street.
“This is a bit of a centre focal point in the city, although it’s not right down at the four corners,” he says. “If you look at what’s around here, you’ve got the Tribute Communities Centre just down the street, and lots of restaurants.”
The councillor is very excited to see what the commercial space will look like as well, as he wonders how it will accent the downtown streetscape.
“I am really happy that it’s off the ground, and impressed that almost half of it’s rented already,” says Chapman.
Former Oshawa mayor and current Ward 5 city councillor John Gray has witnessed the Genosha go through tough times over the years.
“It’s finally come to fruition. There was a lot of fits and starts,” he says.
He points out downtown revitalization is not something which happens overnight, but is instead, “a lot of slugging.”
“But it’s great to see finally, it’s here, it’s happening, and now we get to look forward to whatever streetscape and commercial [properties] that goes here on the main floor to help bring more energy and life to this building,” says Gray.
Oshawa’s current mayor, Dan Carter, was quick to express how much the revitalization of the Genosha means to the city.
“This project means so much to our city,” he says. “Our city is going through, at this period of time, a transformation. This demonstrates that we can embrace our history, but we can also invest into our future, and I think what it will do is it will show people that we can absolutely accomplish anything, at anytime.”
The new look Genosha Hotel is still located at 70 King St. E., and while its doors may not yet be completely open to the public, it is embracing its history, as Summers pointed out the marble staircase is being preserved, and a spiral staircase near the entrance has been maintained as well.