A moment in history: April 24, 1971

A moment in history: April 24, 1971

· The Pulse

On this day in 1971, one of Edmonton's nightlife hotspots was advertising live music.

The ad from the Mayfair Hotel promised nightly performances from Family Portrait at the hotel lounge, limply describing the band as "one of Canada's strongest vocal groups.". History seems to have forgotten what became of Family Portrait. The dramatic fate of the Mayfair Hotel is better known.

The Mayfair opened in 1955 on the corner of Jasper Avenue and 109 Street to a lot of, well, fanfare. The five-storey building had 144 rooms and cost about $1.6 million to construct. It offered amenities that people would expect for a modern hotel of the era, including hi-fi radios, a dining room, and fire-resistant construction (read on for more about that later). But the hotel's real claim to fame was being the first hotel in Canada to have underground parking for its guests. The "drive-in hotel" had space for 50 cars and boasted a heated ramp to deal with Edmonton winters — luxuries that featured heavily in the Mayfair's advertisements.

The hotel also opened with two lounges, separating men and women patrons. At the time, Alberta's liquor laws forbid men and women from drinking in the same establishment. It would be a couple more years before this law was rescinded in Edmonton, Calgary, and a few other cities. The restriction wasn't lifted until 1967 across the whole province.

Sometime after that, the Mayfair combined its two lounges into a single one, now open to both men and women. The hotel soon became a staple of the city's nightlife, hosting live music and performances.

That lounge also became a gathering place for members of Edmonton's LGBTQ+ community. It, along with other downtown hotels like the King Edward and the Royal George, were known for being safer places for gay and lesbian patrons. Not that the LGBTQ+ community was welcomed with open arms — people were expected to be discreet and often entered through the back door to specific tables. But, it was different from the open hostility and refusal that the LGBTQ+ community faced at other bars in the city. The unspoken relationship between the hotel and the community would continue until gay and lesbian bars opened, allowing gay and lesbian Edmontonians to gather more openly.

The Mayfair Hotel continued to be a big part of the city's music and entertainment scene into the '80s and '90s. In particular, Sneaky Pete's bar, which opened in the hotel's basement, would be a frequent place for blues in the city.

But by the turn of the century, the Mayfair Hotel was beginning to show its age. The structure was plagued by several problems, most notably the need to remove its asbestos.

That work would never be finished, though. In December 2007, a pipe burst in the Mayfair, which led to it being suddenly closed due to "catastrophic mechanical failure.". While the building had not served as a hotel for years by that point, the restaurants and other businesses were still open. They were shut down or relocated. The Mayfair spent the next couple of years closed off and covered with tarps, until its demolition in 2010. The process of razing the once-popular building didn't go smoothly, though. Chunks of debris fell out of the demolition site, crashing into the street and striking one of the entrances to the LRT. Luckily, the area had been blocked off and no one was injured.

The site of the hotel is now host to an apartment building that shares the Mayfair name. But the hotel itself remains an important part of Edmonton's history, particularly for the LGBTQ+ community. Although this community doesn't face the same hostility in public spaces as in the past, there is still interest in dedicated spaces. Last month, organizers of a lesbian-focused event spoke about the unexpectedly strong demand they encountered, selling their event out overnight.

This clipping was found on Vintage Edmonton, a daily look at Edmonton's history from armchair archivist @revRecluse of @VintageEdmonton.