Around the Inner Harbour, Victoria’s hotels have been undergoing multimillion-dollar makeovers and modern reinventions over the last several years.
But amid the rebuilds, a staple of Belleville Street has decided to double down on its past.
The Gatsby Mansion, part of the Huntingdon Manor property, has taken a new name, refurbished its rooms and been given some new life by celebrating its history. The mansion, with its nine rooms, reception areas and tea rooms, is now known as the Pendray Inn and Teahouse and intends to serve up a slice of old Victoria.
“This property has a very different market,” said Mary Bea Moyle, manager of product development at Huntingdon Manor. “This is dedicated to couples and honeymooners who want very specific things. They want to get away for the weekend, and locals want something very different to do.
“They want a special experience. Victoria is changing a lot and we now have a lot of modern things, but a lot of people want to cling to the history. We like to say we are turning to the past because a lot of people still want that.”
So while neighbouring properties such as the Coast Harbourside, Hotel Grand Pacific and Fairmont Empress Hotel have modernized and reinvented themselves, and the city has taken to marketing itself as a home to outdoor experience, the Pendray Inn and Teahouse has opted to focus on afternoon tea amid period-styled furnishings.
Named for William Pendray, who around 1890 bought the 1.9-acre property bordered by Belleville, Oswego, Quebec and Pendray streets across from the Belleville Street Terminal, the mansion had been the Pendray family home and then a boarding house for young women.
Since 1980, the mansion has been part of a hotel complex including the 113-suite Huntingdon Manor Hotel.
According to Don Manning, principal of bankruptcy trustee D. Manning & Associates, the hotel was tipped into receivership in 2013 and it eventually was transferred to secured lender Weimiao Yang in 2014. Other buyers had considered taking over the property in 2012, but they estimated it would take more than $3 million in upgrades to bring the buildings back to respectability.
The Yang family still owns the buildings — the land is owned by the Plasterer family, which leases it to the hotel — and the Yangs have been upgrading and refurbishing the property, while maintaining its historic charm.
Moyle said the hotel’s 113 rooms have also been renovated (it will keep the Huntingdon Manor name) and the work has since focused on the mansion.
So far, the chairs and tables have been replaced and five of the mansion’s nine suites have been refurbished, each with a colour and theme that evokes the Victorian era and the mansion’s Queen Anne-revival architecture.
Moyle said the remaining four rooms will be tackled this winter.
They have also invested in maintaining the surrounding gardens and its signature topiary.
Moyle said the company has also made a commitment to be a bigger part of the community in hopes of increasing the hotel’s profile and improving its image after years of being the forgotten stop on Belleville Street.
“We want to be known as a community hotel,” she said, noting with the imminent loss of the Harbour Towers and eventually the Admirals Inn in James Bay it’s more important they become a fixture in the community.
Moyle said that’s why they have taken on the cause of Women’s Transition House and put together a Canada Day pancake breakfast this summer.
Hospitality industry consultant Frank Bourree, principal of Chemistry Consulting, said the property plays a big role on the Inner Harbour as the city has been bleeding hotel rooms for a decade. Bourree said 17 hotels, representing a loss of 1,100 rooms, have closed since 2007.
“That’s more than 10 per cent of the inventory,” he said, noting the losses are being felt right when tourism is on the upswing.
Bourree expects the city will see new hotels being built over the next few years. “Victoria is on the map and the occupancy numbers are through the roof.”