The Flamingo Hotel went out with a literal bang.
Hundreds of people lined up Saturday for a “demolition event party” before the site of the former hotel is redeveloped into multiple residential towers.
With a “ceremonial hit” of the excavator with the help of Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, the crowd was treated to a pyrotechnics show.
“As we look to the future, Whalley is changing. We’re going to keep the historic nature of it, but we are changing in Whalley and we’ve changed over the years,” said McCallum.
Local politicians and business people shared memories of the historic area and former hotel – some even admitted to having a beer or two at the bar – but they also looked to the future of the site.
Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains said he had “mixed feelings” about the demolition of the hotel.
“You are losing your history but at the same time, this is going to be transformed into a beautiful downtown,” he said.
For Charan Sethi, it’s a dream finally coming true.
“Back when I bought the Flamingo site 13 years ago,” said land developer Sethi of Tien Sher, which will be redeveloping the site. “It was always a vision one day to revitalize the community. I still have a drawing in my office, which myself and architects sat down and we doodled or he doodled and I told him what I need. That drawing is actually coming to reality now.”
Following Saturday’s event, Sethi told the Now-Leader it has been emotional getting to this point.
“The whole thing has been very exciting; very, very exciting to get that much emotion built into one place,” he said. “The reality is, I’m a very emotional person… so when the other people were doing the speeches, it really made my heart putter a little bit and say, ‘We’re doing something right.’”
The hotel, with its loud, pink “Live Nude Girls” sign, was once home to one of the Lower Mainland’s last stripper bars. The Byrd pub, with its stage and brass poles, was set up in the 1970s but the hotel itself had a much more wholesome beginning 60 years ago.
The Flamingo opened in July 1955 as a motor hotel with 20 rooms, cost $275,000 to build, and featured a drive-through leading to ample parking out back.
Sethi said the entire Flamingo Block project destined to replace the building will one day include homes for more than 4,000 people.
“That’s like a mini city of my own. Sorry, Mr. Mayor,” he joked to the crowd.
Over the years, the hotel, pub and Tropic Lounge collected their ghosts.
In 1985 the Byrd gained international notoriety after staging a dwarf-tossing contest and last year a 31-year-old man was stabbed in the pub, on Nov. 22nd.
It was also the last place at least two people were seen before they were murdered. The body of Norma Jane Cowley, 31, was found on the front lawn of a home on 108th Avenue on April 12, 1997, a few hours after she’d left the lounge. Four years earlier, Vancouver drug dealer Roy Eldon Alle, 29, was found in a Whalley ditch with a bullet in his head and a yellow roped tied around his neck. Police found his jeep parked at the hotel.
The developer’s connection with the neighbourhood began in 2005 when he bought a large parcel of land east of the hotel on the other side of Whalley Boulevard, where his Quattro and Balance condominium developments are today. Driving in from Richmond to visit his daughter in Fraser Heights, he spotted a “for sale” sign, bought the land the Flamingo sat on, and a dream was born.
Over the next decade or so, Sethi aims to build three residential towers along with some smaller buildings and some inviting park space on 4.3 acres. The land runs north from 107A Avenue to the hotel’s north side, and from Whalley Boulevard east to King George Boulevard. On Feb. 11, city council gave the project fourth and final reading.
Besides the hotel, the property has a strip mall containing the Triple XXX video store. Behind it is a fenced-in yard where the RCMP park their vehicles, across from the District 1 police station at the south corner of 107A. Out back, there’s tjhe formerPancho and Lefty’s bar, an unkempt lot and a sea of pavement.
The two-storey property evolved over the years to feature the Byrd strip club and live music, ending with a “Last Stand” concert there in February. That month, operators of the hotel/bar said it would close forever after a concert featuring seven rock bands at Blackbird Hall, the former Pancho and Lefty’s club. The lineup included KISS tribute band Alive N Kissin’, the AC/DC-powered Bonnie Scott, Like Bears, Utility Provider, Alice Hardy, Rune and La Chinga.
In March, a final sale was held to unload chandeliers, cocktail tables, chairs, pool tables, lights and other contents of the hotel and its licensed bars, by donation to Flamingo Square Arts Society.
– Files by Tom Zytaruk and Tom Zillich