A City Within a City Block

ERNEST EVANS May 15 1929

A City Within a City Block

ERNEST EVANS May 15 1929

A City Within a City Block


TO SAY that it is the largest hotel in Canada, the tallest building in the British Empire, or the most beautiful and up-to-date institution of its kind in the world is to convey nothing. The Royal York Hotel cannot be reduced even to paragraph proportions. It is a city, a beautiful city within a city block. It has its mayor, manager and councillors, its transportation systems, urban and inter-city, its own communication systems, also urban and extra-urban; it has its power plants and water-works department; its forces corresponding to police and fire departments, its community halls and recreation centres, its emergency hospital, its bank, brokers, newspaper plant, shops and stores— everything, in fact, necessary to the operation of a modern progressive city of the thousand comfortable homes which are at present encompassed by its limits. It has even its tax collectors.

What the Royal York will mean to the City of Toronto may only be foreseen by men of vision. The president of the company which has erected this great hostelry, said in announcing its projection that it was an expression of the faith of his company in Toronto and the great northland tributary to it. Already a dozen skyscrapers have raised their heads in the environs of its site. These it has inspired—and much more. It has served to confirm a people in their confidence in the future of their country. What it will mean to its patrons is likewise conjecture, but one thing is certain, and that is, that in it the Canadian Pacific Railway will set a new and still higher standard of service.

A month ago, a visit to the skeleton city was made. The great ballroom, banquet hall and convention halls were forests of scaffolding. On the mezzanine floor, where, next month, silks and fur will pass in review, terracotta was being placed in partitions, huge grinders were finishing an inlaid floor, and a dozen men were turning from the molds plaster casts which other men were busy applying to the walls, cornices and pillars, and decorating with gold leaf. Down below, the tinsmith’s hammer, the riveter’s hammer, the carpenter’s hammer and every other hammer beat a din which drowned the rattle and racket of a dozen ten-ton trucks manoeuvring in the basement with their loads of machinery and metals. There seemed no order. Every man was doing something different, stringing wires, pulling ropes, manipulating masons’ tools, pushing, holding or carrying in the spotlights. The floors were dust and boards, except in one or two white-glazed rooms which awaited the coming of the altars of the epicurean priests. It looked a chaos. It was a chaos. And upstairs, the same. Up twenty-five flights of fireproof stairs, the same. Much hammering, scraping and polishing. Men with blow torches, men with pliers, men with doors and bars and fixtures. Men laying and polishing the black marble base and borders in the corridors, and men who wanted to know if you were going to stand in the way all day and delay the opening.

NOTE the beautiful entrance to our city,” said our guide, as we emerged from the tunnel entrance from Union Station and gazed in admiration at a whirling cement mixer.

“On our left is the bank. This magnificent arcade is flanked with beautiful shops and terminates in the exhibition hall.” Tripping over a bundle of pipe we nodded our appreciation.

“On the right, the coffee shop and grill room, and behind the elevator shafts, the service rooms and kitchens.”

The tour continues to the next floor, where we turn to the guide-book. “The spacious, beautifully-decorated lobby, with its atmosphere of quiet, luxurious repose, is the incoming guest’s introduction to all the Royal York offers. It has three wide, easy entrances, two from bordering streets and a third from the subway. Opening from the Lobby are the Great Lounge, Main Dining Room, Café, and Writing Rooms. Around the lobby are arranged the hotel office, elevator hall, ticket office, news stand and other facilities.” The guide-book is a great help.

We have climbed up above the elevator heads. Two floors, or more—it doesn’t matter—through the din of construction and installation; and suddenly through an open door we enter a hall of pristine beauty and quiet, the full area of the tower, and forty or fifty feet high, in a well-pointed, warm red tile. High on each side, translucent lower-windows admitted a yellow light. Here there were no ugly beams and unfinished cornices. Just four large red-brick well-heads. Square and symmetrical. An old man was bending over a portable forge in one corner, and he might have been a priest in the temple.

Altogether this is very inspiring. So, upon seating ourselves in the sub-basement afterward, in an attempt to relieve the limbs, stiffened by the inspection of thirty stories and seventeen elevators, we announce to the engineer that in our very humble opinion the most beautiful feature of the whole place is that large red room in the skies.

“Oh! that” says he, “is the Plenum Chamber.”

“Where they have these aesthetic dances?” we suggest.

“No! where we exhaust all the bad air from the building.”

So, it appears, after we have nodded our sophisticated appreciation of much machinery and hardware, the air which is advertised as healthful and invigorating in its suburb of Toronto is not to be good enough for the dwellers in the city of Royal York. It must come from a height, through long steel casings, and be filtered through oil and washed, and, when necessary, heated before it is admitted for use and consumption. Then, for use in the lobbies and foyers it must be humidified; but for use in the ballrooms, where there is apt to be excess moisture, it is to be delivered dry, and always in sufficient volume that a complete change of air may be provided every six minutes of the day, and at such a rate and in such a way as will create no draught or inconvenience.

There is no coal-bin. It is we who discover this, but our triumph is short-lived.

“We use no coal.”

“A city of a thousand homes and no coal?” Just that. The cooking will be done by electricity or gas. Royal York buys its heat, and live steam is piped under pressure from the Terminal Company’s plant 4,000 feet away. This steam drives the huge dynamos which could supply a countryside with the direct current which gives power to a hundred motors and flows through hundreds of miles of wire to the bed-lights, kitchen stoves, giant chandeliers and all else. It then exhausts through tanks which can supply 36,000 gallons of hot water per hour for ablution purposes, through the laundry and through the coils in every part of the house

But, to go back to the heating. No steam must be wasted. Therefore, our engineer has divided his city into three zones. He has also decided what a comfortable temperature is and arranged to supply just enough steam to ensure that temperature. On the roof he has installed a Taeometer, which registers in his basement room the direction and the velocity of the wind. By comparing this with his thermometer recordings he is able to regulate his heat supply—and everyone is happy.

Hydro power is supplied to the hotel in twenty-five cycle alternating current. The almost imperceptible flicker which obtains when this power is used for lighting, might bother some visitors, so it is transformed to direct current. However, should any person or party require 25 A.C. or 60 A.C., for that matter, then it can be supplied in all the public rooms. Just another thought which will be appreciated by many who have appliances to demonstrate to an otherwise happy audience.

'T'OWN planning. Take the hotel’s L private transportation system, the ten passenger, and seven service elevators. Rapid, automatic, the last word in safety, opening on to wide foyers which eliminate the trampling and crowding of the rush hour jam. Ninety persons in rapid transit at the same time. All movements governed by the traffic chief who, from his board on the main floor, may automatically designate express or local cars, or stop a car at any point he thinks necessary. No fuss about leveling floors, and no cars rushing by a stop signal. It can’t be done. Electricity.

The reason it was necessary for us to walk up and down thirty stories was because the town council was having the factor of safety demonstrated. The elevator car was taken to the top and loaded with two tons of iron. While the gentlemen held their breath, someone seized an axe and with a blow severed the cable. The car dropped—four inches. The gentlemen wiped their brows, and would not believe it. So a dozen eggs were placed on top of the iron, all safety controls removed, and the car precipitated to the bottom. It kissed the bumpers and sank to a stop. Not an egg was broken. They were not hard-boiled.

And we come to the communication system. This is an interesting head.

As no one living today is apt to confute me, I am fairly safe in saying that not much more than a hundred years ago, Indians who hunted on the site of the Royal York communicated with others by means of smoke signals. That was not very long ago. In a few years, or a shorter time, perhaps, the bridge-scalping squaw who wants to know what her chief is doing will be able to press a button and catch him at it. The Royal York may not be as popular then as it will be on the opening day, because one hears that provision is being made for television. That is, a few provisional conduits have been laid. No one seems yet to know what it is all about, but if television does come about, then the Royal York is prepared.

Radio, of course, it has adapted to its communication needs, and there is a radio outlet in every room. In other words, those who like it may have it, and a choice of the hotel programme or one outside station which the hotel will pick up. Speeches given in one auditorium may be broadcast all over the hotel, to every room if desired. In the convention hall is to be installed the finest pipe organ on the continent. A speaker, or an artist or the organ or the orchestra may be heard, not only in every room in the hotel, but by connection with outside stations, in almost every corner of the world. Likewise, anything being broadcast from almost anywhere may be heard everywhere in the hotel. A marvelous and wellplanned system, to say nothing of the saving in bell-boys.

In the great convention hall one finds a well-fitted stage and a steel shuttered room for the projection of movies and movie-tone. But there is too much to touch upon to permit of further enlargements.

Take the pneumatic tube system. From the main sorting office these tubes run all over the house. To the floor clerks, bill clerks, the front office, the dining-rooms, anywhere a guest might incur a chargeable expense, to the manager’s office and the offices of all service departments, these tubes will transmit intelligence. One will register and be assigned a room. Before the elevator has reached the top, the floor clerk will know that Mr. X is coming up to occupy room 1,430. She will receive him and turn over his key. His mail will come up the same tube. His telegrams will go down, and then be shot through a mile-long tube to the operating office at King and Yonge Streets, or be sent by tube to one of the direct wire terminals. Inter-departmental correspondence will be shot through the tubes to the sorting table, despatched again at once and acted upon within a very few seconds.

One will sign a waiter’s check, and before one can reach the cashier it will be debited. A very efficient system, but it woiks both ways. For instance, it will relieve one of most of the annoyance of having to wait for assignment to a room.

A guest will check out. When she notifies the cashier, the floor clerk will notify the housekeeper by tube. The housekeeper will assign a maid to the room. As soon as the room is ready for occupancy, the front office is again notified by tube and the arriving guest told that the room is ready. The housekeeper will be able to keep track of her staff on a board with electric lights in checkered array. Hers will be a game of chess, from all accounts. However, the telephone is not neglected and this will duplicate or augment the tube system, as all other services are duplicated in this well-planned city.

Communication with the outside will be maintained through the air, as previously mentioned, through a Bell Telephone switchboard with a total staff of thirty-six girls, or by telegraph. Ordinary telegraph messages will be sent by underground tube to the despatching room at King and Yonge Streets, but in a room off the convention mezzanine floor there will be a cable end which will permit twentyone operators to file or receive copy simultaneously. This arrangement is designed primarily for the use of reporters covering conventions or events in the city, and will enable almost any reporter to control a direct wire to his newspaper.

YY TE ARE still underground, in the YY sub-basement. The air, however, is purer than can be found in almost any other city, which will be a tremendous boon to those whose labors will keep them there. All about are high black switch panels, studded with gleaming copper. Doors open here and there into great refrigerator spaces and service rooms of all kinds, and under shapeless sheeting dormant monsters lie.

“This arrangement here is the water works. It is all right for a guest to splash the water, but not for the water to splash the guest,” says our engineer.

Therefore, he informs us, Toronto city water must be delivered to the first six floors under reduced pressure. Up to the seventh bedroom floor, it is then delivered at city pressure, but beyond that it refuses to go, so it must be pumped into huge tanks above the roof garden and there left to gravitate to the floors which rise above what is really the thirteenth floor. For emergency, these tanks hold a twenty-four hour supply for the whole hotel, so that if the Toronto city pressure is cut off, the Royal York city will carry on, just as if the hydro power fails, electric power may be developed by steam, and vice versa.

In touching upon the water works one should also mention the sewage and garbage disposal. The former requires a plant to pump it to the level of the city main and the latter demonstrates what the town planner may do because, in being disposed of in the incinerator, the refuse provides additional hot water for the laundry.

Our engineer had a great pride in his laundry. “See that! That’s the starch extractor! Over there, under those hoods, will be ironers or mangles, so designed that not a particle of steam from the goods can rise to the faces of the operators.”

Much heavy hardware was being bunted over the floors and placed on to the prepared beds; so we got out; but I imagine that the white laundry will be a pleasant place and that the guests’ washing will be treated and handled in a very scientific manner. There was no sign of a washboard, but a great switchboard was in course of erection in a room of its own outside. So one marks the changing times.

This floor, the sub-basement, corresponds to the factory district. We found, among other things, a carbonating room, where sparkling waters will be charged; a very thorough-going machine shop; quarters for carpenters and cabinetmakers, and a glass and crockery shop. There are workshops for the permanent upholsterers, silversmiths, locksmiths, painters and polishers. There is an icemaking, cutting and storage plant which could supply eight thousand homes. There are sewing and linen rooms of factory proportions, besides a room for the livery-valet, recreation rooms, engine room offices, showers and rest rooms for the staff.

On the floor above is the power plant. Three great steam generators, two motor generators, three ammonia compressors and many, many pumps and motors and air compressors. In another section is the domestic shop district, including the general stores, the fish shop, the flour, candy, pastry, poultry and meat and ice cream refrigerator shops. In another section were barber shops and shoe shine parlors. There were help cafeterias and glass and dish-washing departments and machinery.

YY ^HAT good city has no press? The YY City of Royal York has a linotype machine and three presses. This will print menus, forms of all kinds and a general directory service.

There must be a hospital in every city. Therefore, in the Royal York one will find an emergency hospital complete with an operating theatre, and two wards, a nurses’ room, dispensary, consulting room with separate waiting-rooms for guests and staff, and every modern appliance.

There is, of course, a brokers’ office and a flower shop; ladies’ hairdressers and the row of shops moderne. The first and last thing a guest will see if he comes and goes by train will be the bank on the corner.

The Royal York is a city of light. Built in the shape of an H, above the convention floors every room is an outside room. Description of these rooms will be given elsewhere but, notwithstanding how wellnigh impossible it is to reduce the Royal York to magazine proportions, one must stop at the Viceregal floor, the sixteenth, and look in at the bath room. English blue-glazed tiling, three different types of bath. Brucelized hardwood floors give a texture effect. Suites are in period styles, and in some there is the pantry, refrigerator and kitchenette.

How will the great city be run? Peering through the scaffolding, one would say very efficiently and most satisfactorily, from the points of view of both the management and the public, but it will take a very large staff to operate it. Figuring it at the rate of one employee per guest room which is the usual average, one has a thousand people on the city payroll. This, however, I would consider conservative, because I know for a fact that the manager has ordered four hundred uniforms for waiters alone.

Meanwhile “The Day” is not far distant. Mayor B. A. Neale is very busy co-ordinating his forces and government, and quite an army is working in anticipation. Dover sole is being caught to please the palate of the man who has not yet made up his mind to visit the Royal York. His comfort is even now being considered in a thousand ways. Those who will serve him are being trained to do so in an efficient way. The sheets between which he will sleep are being hemmed for him—his bath is ready for him.

The seemingly effortless perfection of C. P. service is simply an infinite capacity for taking pains.