Development

The Waverley Inn: a hotel and its history

The Waverley Inn avoided the wrecking ball when a condo developer fell in love with the hotel

The front of the Waverley Inn, decorated for the holidays.   Caitrin Pilkington

Nassim Ghosn walked into the Waverley Inn planning on tearing the place down. He’s a developer, and his specialty is condos. There is evidence of his work throughout downtown Halifax, and Barrington Street is a prime location for these kind of projects. But as soon as he stepped in the door, something changed.

“He took a walk through it, and fell in love with it, and started hearing stories from the people who worked here, and said, ‘I can’t tear this place down,’” says his daughter, Allison Ghosn.

The Waverley Inn has stood there for 140 years. It has seen notable guests including Oscar Wilde and P.T. Barnum of the famous Ringling Bros.

It was owned by a man named Abe Leventhal for over half a century. When he died earlier this year, the Waverley land became a highly sought after property, but Nassim Ghosn eventually secured the plot.

Allison Ghosn has been working closely with Calvin Blades, the general manager, to learn about how he runs the hotel. Blades’ name has come up in the media earlier this year, after hotel owner Abe Leventhal left him $600,000 for his 23 years of service.

The hotel is a special place. When you walk in, there is a pineapple design inlaid in the wood of the floor, William Morris-esque wallpaper and chandeliers hang above. The staff are all close — many of them have worked at the Waverley for more than a decade.

The Waverley Inn staircase.   Caitrin Pilkington

“My experience here was like coming home. Mr. Leventhal was not only a boss, but a family to us too,” says Rita Marshall. Marshall fled to Halifax from Albania in the early 1990s, and stayed at the Waverley while she settled in. Leventhal had come to an agreement with the provincial government to let refugees stay in the hotel.

Later, when Marshall was desperate for work, she said Leventhal “opened his heart to me again, and said, come work for me!” She has been at the Waverley ever since.

The Waverley serves as a link to Halifax history. This house stood intact through the Halifax explosion, two world wars, and seen thousands of guests pass through its stained glass doors.

“The Waverley is one of a number of old buildings and many of them are threatened with demolition now along Barrington street,” says Blair Beed, an historian. “In the 1870s it was the place to be.”

The Leventhals loved antiques. This room is filled with Japanese pieces, like this unusual bed.   Caitrin Pilkington

Allison Ghosn is trying to hark back to that time, and show modern-day Haligonians that the Waverley is worth noticing.

“We’d love to lease [our breakfast room] out to someone who would open a cafe or a wine bar,” she says. Allison Ghosn also has plans to bring art shows or plays to the space. Most of all, she’s hoping that during the quieter winter season, locals will come and do staycations. “It’s a great place to get away for a weekend,” she says.

The Waverley, which has already been through so much of Halifax’s history, is poised to begin an entirely new chapter.

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