Presenting: Christina Zeidler: Hotelier, Social Entrepreneur, Artist and Urban Visionary
Christina celebrates this neighbourhood and the Gladstone Hotel today is not only a hip accommodation option for international travelers looking for something different, it is also a hangout for some of the grittier local characters who just like to come by and enjoy an afternoon beer. The Gladstone has managed to integrate artsy types, an upscale clientele interested in the Gladstone’s vibrant cultural offerings, foreign tourists with a penchant for a unique ambience, and residents from the neighbourhood, looking for a comfortable, welcoming place to relax and connect. The concept of community figures large in Christina’s vision and this social experiment of opening your doors to everyone is evident the minute you set foot into the Gladstone.
Although the hotel has been beautifully renovated, I was struck by how relaxed and casual it was. Hoping she wouldn’t take this the wrong way, I told Christina that this easy-going atmosphere reminded me of one of my favourite hostels in Chicago, which is located in a beautiful old building in the historic Lincoln Park neighbourhood and welcomes open-minded travelers from all over the world. These are places where everyone can feel welcome, regardless of where they come from or what they look like. To me the Gladstone Hotel conveys this feeling of inclusiveness and the fact that Christina has successfully integrated regulars from the local Parkdale neighbourhood emphasizes this open-door policy.
Community involvement and activism are familiar concepts to Christina Zeidler. One of her many day jobs prior to being the Gladstone’s Development Manager was to teach film-making at an urban day camp called “Playground” where young at-risk youth could learn to create their own music, make CDs, documentaries, or take still images. The participants in the program were extremely enthusiastic since it is every urban teenage boy’s dream to make his own hip-hop album.
Christina Zeidler’s sensitivities were sharpened by her friendship with Jane Jacobs, an American-born Canadian writer, activist and urban pioneer, who passed away earlier this year. Jane Jacob’s seminal work “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (published in 1961), criticizes the urban renewal policies of the 1950s in the United States. Jane was a friend of the Zeidler family and obviously left a big impact on Christina whose eyes light up when she talks of her. Christina informs me that Jane was a key participant in saving Greenwich Village in New York City from the wrecking ball when authorities had planned to demolish vast parts of this historic neighbourhood to make way for a new expressway.
Christina also knows a thing or two about travel, having visited places in Africa and South America. She fondly recalls her time in Nairobi when she stayed in a family-owned hotel and got to know many of the locals. She struck up a friendship with a local nurse and through their interactions learned a lot about daily life in Kenya. She explored many of international places on a shoestring and is no stranger to riding on local transportation, one sure way of connecting with the locals. Christina also talked to me about the European concept of the “pension”, small privately-owned accommodation establishments that are informal and welcoming. She has definitely brought this element of coziness and welcoming openness to the Gladstone Hotel.
Christina shares another favourite travel memory with me: she remembers a movie theatre in Oregon where for you can get a movie for $1, a pizza and a beer. The term she uses is for this establishment is “public business”, a business that is connected to street life and brings the community together. In this context she also talks about Queen Street West which is rapidly revitalizing and an example of organically growing positive urban development and revitalization. The Gladstone Hotel is right in the middle, and in many ways at the forefront, of this urban revival.
Strangely enough, my conversation with Christina Zeidler was less an interview than a true meeting of the minds. Many times we kept bantering back and forth about Toronto and the fact that we both love this city. Christina’s eyes light up when she talks about topics dear to her heart. A genuine enthusiasm for her work with the Gladstone Hotel is palpable. She has a variety of unconventional tourism ideas to bring Toronto closer to her guests. For one she is working with the Toronto Transit Commission to sell public transit day passes to her hotel visitors. She is also looking into linking up with a local bicycle rental place to allow Gladstone hotel guests to explore the city on two wheels. It goes without saying that Christina herself is an avid biker. And another innovative idea is to invite local artists for hands-on crafts workshops that hotel guests can participate in.
What a wonderful idea to get tourists involved in the city’s creative culture…