As Jane Jacobs once said “new ideas need old buildings”, and the Berkeley Street Complex, 26 Berkeley Street, personifies that comment. Built as a Consumer’s Gas pumping station in 1887, the venerable structure contains two theatres, a large rehearsal space, props and wardrobe facilities and administrative offices.
Demolition wreckers were on their way in 1971, but thanks to the efforts of TOM HENDRY, co-founder of TORONTO Free Theatre, the building was saved. It’s partly owned by the City of TORONTO, supported by the Toronto Arts Council Strategic Funding, and is an East Side base for the Canadian Stage Company.
In 1959, artistic director GEORGE LUSCOMBE (1926-1999) established The Workshop Theatre, one of Canada’s first professional theatre companies. The counterculture company moved into a warehouse at 12 Alexander Street in 1967. <PHOTO ABOVE – City of Toronto Archives>
Toronto Workshop Productions developed an innovative style, transforming documentary material into productions that ignited the political conscience of a generation. The tradition continues to this day – as Buddies in Bad Times – with an emphasis on LGBTQ theatre, cabaret, new plays and The Rhubarb Festival.
In 1981 Mr. Luscombe was invested as a Member for the Order of Canada for “his contributions to the development of theatre in Canada.” In 1989, after three years of retirement, he successfully advocated for the building’s perpetual use as a community theatre space, and it was purchased by the City of Toronto.
Buddies in Bad Times is about to have two high-rise neighbours on its west side. But the theatre continues thanks to the foresight of George Luscombe.
The Soulpepper Theatre Company and George Brown College have collaborated since 2005 to make the Young Centre an ultra-active arts complex. Something’s nearly always happening in its four theatres and four studio spaces inside two rebuilt Gooderham and Worts tank houses.
Soulpepper was founded in 1998 by twelve TORONTO artists. Their dream was to produce lesser known theatrical classics. The Company has become an important part of our city’s theatre season, presenting year-round Canadian interpretations of works by playwrights Pinter, Wilder, Beckett, Stoppard and Chekhov among many others.
The Young Centre for the Performing Arts is located at 55 Tank House Lane in the Distillery District. For information and tickets go to http://www.soulpepper.ca
The UPTOWN, one of TORONTO’s finest vaudeville houses opened in 1920 and was demolished for a condominium development in 2003 <PHOTO ABOVE>. It met an unpleasant end, collapsing inward while being demolished, killing one young man and wounding fourteen others.
A cinema with 3,000 seats in one auditorium, the Uptown was eventually converted into one of North America’s first multiplexes in 1969. The Uptown 1, 2 and 3 played major Hollywood releases, and the Backstage 1 and 2 regularly screened art films.
In 2001, new regulations required wheelchair access to all theatres. The Uptown’s owners refused to lay out the required $700,000, and sold the building to developers who knocked it down.
During demolition, a large section of the theatre collapsed after a vital steel support beam on a roof truss was cut. The Uptown fell in on itself, taking an adjacent language school with it.
The BILTMORE, 319 Yonge Street, was one of three downtown cinemas known for showing double and triple bills for a modest admission price. The others were the Downtown and the Rio – all within a few metres of each other. The BILTMORE was constructed by the wealthy OKUN brothers, who’d made their fortune selling ladies hats under the Biltmore label.
This flagship theatre had 916 seats, 300 in the balcony – interior photo http://www.localfilmcultures.ca – and sat on land now occupied by a large shopping centre and a multiplex of 26 movie screens.
<EXTERIOR PHOTOS – City of Toronto Archives>