298 Jarvis Street, Toronto | Metropolitan Essex Condominium (1991)
Updated: Sep 11
In November 1987 Hong Kong real estate company Polygrand Developments purchased the Essex Park Hotel at 300 Jarvis Street along with its large parking lot that had once been the site of five Victorian houses. At first they considered erecting an office complex on the lot but in July of the following year they began advance sales for a condominium to be called the Metropolitan Essex. In a novel approach for the time, the building would include amenities that would be shared by condo residents and hotel guests, allowing Polygrand to overcome the limitations of adapting a 1931 apartment building to compete with modern purpose-built hotels.
Also included in the eighteen-storey structure was a commercial condominium which makes for a complex division of ownership. In the two-storey podium, the second floor and part of the first contains a pool, health club and hotel meeting rooms owned by the hotel. The remainder of the first floor consists of the commercial condominium units and the residential condo's lobby. Below ground there are three levels of parking divided between the hotel and residential condo while above ground a second-floor enclosed pedestrian bridge provides hotel guests with access to the facilities. Sitting atop the podium is a sixteen-story tower housing the residential condominium's 124 apartments.
At the condo sales office set up in the hotel, prospective buyers in 1988 were enticed by apartment floorplans such as the 1,170 square foot "Hyatt" model featuring two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a dining area, an enclosed kitchen and a sunroom (the latter being typical for all standard units). Penthouse suites boasted wood-burning fireplaces - a trend amongst condo developers in the late 1980s and early ‘90s - as well as terraces which were also a feature of the third-floor apartments. As an added selling feature, all residents could indulge themselves with room service and on-request maid service from the hotel.
LEFT: First ad for the condominium in July 1988 (Toronto Star). CENTRE: Architect's model of the proposed building (Archives of Ontario). RIGHT: Original sales sheet for the Hyatt model showing a typical floorplan with eight units (Metropolitan Essex).
Construction began in June 1989 and was completed in the summer of 1991 by which point the country was in the midst of a major recession. That may explain why a third of the units remained unsold in April 1992 when Polygrand dropped the starting price from the original $175,000 tag to $138,000. As an added incentive, they provided two months of free maid service, one month of weekend breakfasts and a year’s worth of two-for-one meals at the hotel. By June they had managed to sell most of the remaining units before being mandated to liquidate the last nine apartments starting at just $119,000.
TOP LEFT: After the building's completion the sales office moved to suite 706, the original kitchen of which is seen here at the time the unit was purchased by the author in 2001 (Peter Marshall). TOP CENTRE: April 1992 profile of the new building (Toronto Star). TOP RIGHT: Discounted prices in April 1992 ( Toronto Star). BOTTOM LEFT: Liquidation sale in June 1992 (Globe and Mail). BOTTOM CENTRE AND RIGHT: mixed-use facilities on the first and second floors (Metropolitan Essex).
A concierge employed since the time of construction reports that the majority of suites were initially purchased by Hong Kong landlords and rented out to tenants. This trend would align with that period’s surge in offshore investing by citizens anxious to protect their wealth before the colony’s impending return to Chinese control. The fact that Polygrand was based in Hong Kong no doubt facilitated the transactions.
The same source reports that the room service feature lasted only a couple of years although many locals believed for decades afterwards that it was still a unique perk for condo residents. The hotel assumed new ownership in 1997 but the contractual arrangement has remained the same with the hotel managing the shared facilities and the residential condo sharing the associated costs. Today the Metropolitan Essex is notable primarily for being a classic example of 1990s condominium design with its modest height, expansive suites and sunrooms substituting for balconies.
Hotel Facilities & Shared Amenities
The shared amenities consist of a pool, sauna, exercise room, change room and squash court. The hotel's meeting rooms are the Essex Ballroom, Courtyard Room and Essex Lounge on the second floor and the Metro Room on the first.
TOP LEFT: The pool & hot tub in 2002 (Ramada). TOP CENTRE: The squash court in 2015 (TripAdvisor). TOP RIGHT: Exercise room in 2002 (Ramada). BOTTOM LEFT: Pedestrian bridge leading to condominium, 2015 (TripAdvisor). BOTTOM CENTRE AND RIGHT: The Essex Ballroom and ballroom foyer overlooking Jarvis Street, 2015 (TripAdvisor).
The Jarvis face of the complex is the eight-unit commercial condominium with a dedicated address of 296 Jarvis. The hotel owners have retained ownership of its twelve units since the building’s construction, either renting them out to businesses or using them for their own purposes.