Salad King’s famously neglected former home burns down in totally not-suspicious 4 a.m. fire

Salad King’s famously neglected former home burns down in totally not-suspicious 4 a.m. fire

The Empress Hotel last April, after the collapse of its wall (Image: Matthew Fox) 

When the front fell off of the Empress Hotel building—or what Ryerson students called Salad King—back in April 2010, a lot of questions started being asked about the owners, and whether they’d properly maintained the building or had been engaged in what preservationists call “demolition by neglect.”  Questions got sharper when the owners, the Lalani Group, applied to demolish the structure rather than rebuild it as the city demanded.  And this morning we learned that the Empress Hotel is now a burnt-down wreck after firefighters were called to a blaze early this morning. Curiouser and curiouser.

The Toronto Star reports:

The blaze started at 4:05 a.m. and was called in by someone on a cellphone. It was not immediately known how the fire started.

Thirty-two fire trucks were sent to the scene and 125 firefighters worked to get the fire under control.

Toronto Fire Chief Bill Stewart said it was still considered a “working fire” at 8 a.m.

Two firefighters were injured after falling into the fire from the roof of the neighbouring HMV building, but two others managed to remove them from the fire safely. Stewart described it as a “very intense time,” and “very horrific” for the firefighters who had to rescue them. He said they could communicate with one of the firefighters by radio, but could not locate him for quite some time.

Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told the Star she knew that the building’s electricity and gas had been shut off for some time before this morning’s fire. None of this is evidence of foul play, but it’s hard to avoid the suspicion of what Stephen Colbert once called a “youdunnit.” Even if nobody did anything illegal, the Lalani group may be accused of demolition by neglect.  We’re not architects (or physicists), but we assume that properly maintained buildings don’t burst into six-alarm fires on their own.

In any case, traffic on Yonge Street was snarled all morning, and Ryerson has been shut down for the day while fire fighters tend to the ruins. We hope the students enjoy one more day to work off their hangovers from New Year’s.

• Fire destroys historic Yonge St. building [Toronto Star]
Empress protected but still a wreck [Open File]
• Fire guts heritage building in downtown Toronto [Globe and Mail]