Opened in the spring of 1961, the Four Seasons Motor Hotel at 415 Jarvis Street launched the Four Seasons empire of luxury hotels. Builder and budding hotelier Isadore Sharp approached architects Peter Dickinson Associates with the concept of a high-style, premium-service motor hotel in downtown Toronto, and Dickinson responded with a sophisticated yet relaxed urban oasis that became an immediate critical and commercial success.
Sharp’s Jarvis Street site was small and in a downscale neighbourhood, so Dickinson turned the Four Seasons inward, focusing the restaurant, bar and most guest rooms upon an interior garden courtyard. Parking and corridors lined the building perimeter, and a fieldstone wall enclosed the entrance drive and buffered traffic. Balconies and screens of black metal and oiled California redwood smartly contrasted the building’s planes of white-painted brick and fieldstone. Guests reached the entrance lobby by crossing a bridge over a shallow reflecting pool with burbling fountains, a symbolic transition sheltered by Dickinson’s trademark flaring canopy. Floor-to-ceiling glass blurred distinctions between inside and outside and provided tantalizing views into the courtyard beyond.
Designed by Dickinson and landscape architect Austin Floyd, the courtyard was the glamourous heart of the Four Seasons, drawing the fashionable to see and be seen in warm weather. The swimming pool and dining terrace were the principal elements, intimately enclosed by low fieldstone walls, lush planting beds and thick lawns with flagstone pathways. Water soothingly splashed from spouts at the head of the swimming pool, and cocktails were served by waiters in white mess jackets. Completing the Miami Beach resort atmosphere were colourful sun umbrellas and Court Noxon’s poolside chairs and lounges.
The success of the Four Seasons prompted Sharp to begin planning a second resort motor hotel, this time on a prominent hilltop property at Leslie Street and Eglinton Avenue in North Toronto. Peter Dickinson sketched for Sharp a dynamic star-shaped building, and the resulting Inn on the Park opened in 1963. Webb Zerafa Menkes (later WZMH Architects), the successor firm to Peter Dickinson Associates, went on to design numerous Four Seasons hotels around the world. The original Four Seasons was leased to another hotel chain in the mid-1970s and demolished some 15 years later, but it remains a landmark in the evolution of the luxury hotel experience.
For more about the Four Seasons, the Inn on the Park and other Peter Dickinson buildings, see the recent monograph Peter Dickinson, available through Dominion Modern.