Walking by a recently boarded up Palais Royale made my heart sink. The building had gone through several exterior changes, mostly to paint colour and the lakeside deck, since I had started partying there 15 years ago. Lifeguard parties were always amazing. Pack 700 beautiful and bronzed athletes into a roaring dance hall and sparks fly. Great memories. It still continued up until a few years ago, when RNB and milk threw some New Years parties at the Palais. I remember one December 31st eve, standing on the back deck with friends as a warm chinook-like wind softly passed through, while glorious house rhythms rounded out the atmosphere.
I'm not the only one who's been entertained there. The Palais has had a long and fabulous history. My boyfriend's grandmother, June, recalls the days her and her honey used to dance the night away to the sounds of the big bands. It was a classic ballroom then. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and others used to jam the house for an admission price of 10 cents. The Rolling Stones, too, had rocked the Palais one night, after announcing a special concert to treat the people of Toronto to their album debut.
By this point though the Palais Royale has long since said good-bye to her glory days, though she had once been an integral part of the beachfront amusement on Lake Ontario, then known as the Poor Man's Riviera. Constructed in 1922 by the same architects that designed the Sunnyside Pavilion, the Palais Royale has now fallen into disrepair. With the trend in Toronto toward destruction as opposed to restoration it's wonderful she survived at all. Only the Palais and Sunnyside remain from this era. Many of the other buildings on the strip were damaged by suspicious fires in the early fifties, making it easier for the city to plow the Gardiner Expressway through Parkdale in 1956, cutting off the western beaches from the city and setting Parkdale on a downward economic spiral. In 1963, an arsonist burned down the Palace Pier, a mile long pier complete with ballroom that sat out on the lake. Another piece of Toronto's history devastated and long forgotten.
There is, however, a happy ending. I hope. The historic Palais Royale is set for a 2 million dollar renovation. The Pegasus Group, which owns and operates the recently restored Jolly Miller Tavern, the Brunnie and the Wheat Sheaf (Toronto's first hotel), will likely restore it all to its former beauty. The plan includes restoring all windows and doors, as well as several of the interior elements including the fireplace, the barrel vault and wooden paneling. A new exterior deck, similar to the original, and overlooking Lake Ontario, will be installed, as will new stairs and a wheelchair ramp. The famous spring-board floor will need to be replaced as well. Fingers crossed. The $2 million project must still be approved by Toronto City Council.