Notorious Calgary flophouse and crime magnet Cecil Hotel could soon meet the wrecking ball

I think almost every town in Canada has a place like Calgary's Cecil Hotel,  the shuttered, century-old flophouse whose future is up in the air as the city redevelops the east end of its glittering downtown.

In booming Western Canada, they often don't fit well into the shiny glass and steel cityscapes intended to display the region's prosperity.

Some, like Vancouver's own Cecil, decay until a developer comes along to knock them down. Others survive to become hip music venues, like the Yale, a Vancouver landmark at the foot of Granville Street bridge, or Edmonton's Commercial Hotel, which celebrated its centennial last summer, on trendy Whyte Ave.

I remember the Commercial from its humbler days as a neighbourhood watering hole, an old-fashioned beer parlour where an eight-ounce glass of draft was 20 cents. Friends of mine and I once arrived just before last call and ordered 50 glasses, which they brought to our tiny table and told us we had to finish before closing an hour later. It was that kind of place.

Edmonton's Transit Hotel, built in 1908, underwent extensive renovations in the 1980s but is still a hangout for dedicated drinkers who show up before the bar opens at 10 a.m., according to an Edmonton Journal story on its centennial year.

It's on Edmonton's registry of historic buildings but two reviews on Yelp are hardly endorsements.

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Some places like the Cecil in Calgary go to a darker place. I grew up in Cowtown and even all those years ago, you didn't go near the Cecil.

Calgary is trying to decide what to do with the derelict Cecil, which despite years of neglect and a fire that gutted the top floor of the three-storey building, is considered salvageable by the city's heritage authority, the National Post reports.

The city bought the building for $10.9 million in 2009 and it now sits vacant and shuttered as development proceeds around it. The Calgary Herald, in an editorial this week, said it's time for the wrecking ball.

"We're not suggesting the city rush to bring the Cecil down — simply that it starts planning for its removal as quickly as reasonably possible; perhaps this spring," the Herald argued.

The Post said the Cecil is one of only six pre-First World War hotels still standing in the city, with much of its original exterior intact under a thick layer of ugly green paint.

City spokesman Sean Somers told the Post the building is being used as a staging area for nearby construction work. When that's done next year, the city's attention will turn to the hotel's future, he said.

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Calgarians might be happy to demolish the Cecil and erase the memory of its latter years, as a black hole of drug-dealing, prostitution and violence.

In 1979, the Post reported, two hotel employees were shot in the back of the head for $100 in the till. In 2008, a patron was stabbed to death.

Police were showing up at the Cecil several times a day — 1,700 times in its final year of operation. After its liquor licence was revoked, police calls to the area dropped 91 per cent, the Post said.

Other old Calgary hotels, such former Alberta premier Ralph Klein's favourite hangout, the St. Louis, are being integrated into downtown development.

But there seems little public interest in saving the Cecil. Perhaps most Calgarians remember it like I do, a decrepit eyesore that emitted the pungent stench of stale beer and smoke.

"I've never heard of anybody wanting to save the place, to keep the place or maintain it," George Webber, a photographer who's documented the lives and haunts of Calgary's down and out, told the Post.

"It just seems to be so brimming with darkness, death and violence."