Back in the halcyon days of yore when I was young and the world was younger, I had a friend named Dave with whom I had many adventures. I’ve written about Dave before. (A refresher: we were both obsessed with 'Star Trek: the Next Generation', he possessed an uncanny ability to answer US border guards’ questions out of order and not get imprisoned, and one time we de-pinked the Barbie aisle of a Toys’R’Us and got summarily tossed by security.) Given that memory jog it should come as no surprise that this story about Dave also involves undercurrents of vaguely illegal activity and pop culture obsession.
Do you remember 'Gargoyles'? It was a Disney animated series that ran from 1994 to 1997. It was about a group of gargoyles brought to life in modern-day Manhattan. It was more complicated than that, you know, as it involved transporting the medieval Scottish castle where they’d been cursed to eternal stony sleep (instead of just daylight stony sleep as per their norm) to the top of a New York skyscraper and then reviving them with magic and science, yada yada, ANYWAY it’s not important. Dave and I were very into 'Gargoyles' and the reason should come as no surprise. The main voice cast heavily featured alumni of the then-recently-ended 'Star Trek: the Next Generation' including Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes, and Michael Dorn. As the series went on, it became a clearing-house for Trek actors of all varieties. Brent Spiner, Kate Mulgrew, Nichelle Nichols, Colm Meany, and LeVar Burton would all guest star on 'Gargoyles' before it ended which made it the most important animated series in our lives at the time. Imagine a series about crime-fighting gargoyles named after notable Manhattan streets and featuring Trek actor voices. And then understand that series happened and it was called 'Gargoyles'. It was awesome.
We really wanted actual gargoyles in our lives, Dave and I, but how to even begin to apply magic or science to gargoyles if we didn’t even have access to gargoyles at all? Granted, we didn’t have the billions of dollars or private jets (or possibly sexual relationship with a female gargoyle) that Xanatos had but we had savvy, dammit, and imagination. Determined, we did a little research and discovered, to our immense delight, that the Hotel Vancouver boasted actual gargoyles on its exterior. We had to examine them. We had to see them up close. But the Hotel Vancouver is a luxury hotel, a Fairmont hotel, a majestic stone landmark in the heart of the city comprised of expense and chic boutiques and proper doormen. Not really a place two gargoyle-crazed teens would receive a warm welcome, or so we figured. Which is why we decided to dress in head-to-toe black and break in through a service entrance in the late hours of a Sunday evening.
Part of the allure of hanging out with Dave, to be honest, was how simple things never were and how the mundane became a wild adventure. It wasn’t just a trip to Toys’R’Us, it was a gangbusters attempt to rid the world of pink glare one G.I. Joe at a time. So this wasn’t just a visit to a hotel to look at gargoyles. This was a covert mission. I can’t recall, now, the specifics of how we gained access. But we did and we made our way to the uppermost floors where we slipped stealthily along the corridors trying door handles. It was in an empty and darkened meeting room where we were finally caught. It looked bad. I mean we were dressed like clichéd robbers and were peering out the windows with flashlights in hand. Actually in retrospect it probably looked highly amusing but the security guard who caught us looked anything but tickled. I wondered, in that moment, if having a record for gargoyle hunting would be a hitch to future plans. True to form, however, Dave managed to skirt trouble by being his usual self. Charming. And deliberately oblivious. That’s how it worked with him. He just would refuse to acknowledge that there was any trouble to be in, much less that he was in it. He explained, cheerfully, openly, that we were looking for gargoyles and that we’d come to the hotel because our research had led us to believe no other building in the city could lay claim to having any. Miraculously the security guard not only bought the story, he was sympathetic. He called one of the concierges who came up and told us the history of the Hotel Vancouver gargoyles and then led us to a room on another floor with a better vantage point where he let us photograph them. After it was done, he shook Dave's hand and offered his business card. He told us to call him any time we wanted to see the gargoyles then he showed us out the front doors.
The Hotel Vancouver we’d broken into - and the one everyone knows to this day as the grand Fairmont hotel - is actually the third Hotel Vancouver and took over the title from the second Hotel Vancouver which was a Canadian National hotel and situated on a different site. This third and current Hotel Vancouver was opened in 1939 just in time for the royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. It boasts several mythological creatures in its decor including griffins and flying horses besides the gargoyles. The gargoyles themselves are reported to be stone carvings done by European craftsmen looking for work in the Depression. They are said to be replicas of gargoyles on medieval French cathedrals.
It’s amazing what you can learn by employing a little crafty subterfuge and some imaginative determination.
I have never seen the gargoyles of the Hotel Vancouver come to life nightly to defend the city from ne’er-do-wells and billionaire rogues, not even when I stayed there on Boxing Day this past Christmas season. I had a clear view of one out my window and it didn’t move. But I hold out hope. If there’s one thing I learned from where the circles of 'Gargoyles', 'Star Trek: the Next Generation', and adventures with Dave intersected, it’s that hope springs eternal for those with imagination.
- Corinne Simpson