White elephant

f1231_it0712.jpgThe Danforth Music Hall was the neighbourhood cinema in Riverdale in the heyday of these things, and I’m sure was a busy place through 1945 or so.

After the rise of television, the nabes fell into a terminal decline – the Koreatown one shows porn, one of the Annex ones is a very dingy discount CD warehouse (last I saw), the Runnymede one is a Chapters, and a varying, though declining, number are rep cinemas held together with duct tape and love.

They were all built assuming that more or less the whole neighbourhood would show up on a Saturday, nickels at the ready, to see Clark Gable and a newsreel – the building seats 1,150 people. Or Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and the local pianist, I guess – it was opened in 1919, as the Danforth retail strip was being built, and the year the Viaduct was opened.

There is a real problem with architectural preservation with this kind of structure: what do you do with a building which shouldn’t be torn down, or gutted, for heritage reasons, but can’t work as a viable business unless it is? Apart from the seating structure, they’re at least two traditional retail spaces wide, which seems to shut out most of the potential other uses.

Movie theatres seem to be the anti-How Buildings Learn structures, being nearly impossible to turn into anything else. Just as the old Don Jail will be, with its 4×8 cells each with three structural walls.

I don’t have the answer, and it seems the Music Hall’s owners don’t, either – they have a rather sad little list of eight mostly very obscure acts booked between now and late May. Check out their overdesigned Web site if you dare – it keeps stalling Firefox.

iarasi_flori.jpgThey had a poster for weeks in December promoting their Christmas event, which involved a Romanian folk singer whose picture showed him plunged in gloom (left).

The only gig that seems at all promising, at least in a commercial sense (two performances, both sold out) is the kind of act that would be about right for a birthday party of eight-year-old girls, if they were Very! Extroverted! Which possibly means that that’s the niche the owners should be catering to.

The Royal, a theatre on College Street built twenty years later with half the capacity (and hence less of a white elephant than the Danforth), seems to have a new and so far successful formula: making a rep cinema financially viable by finding efficient uses for the space during the day:

The landmark Toronto theatre, first opened in 1939, has escaped obsolescence — and potentially the wrecking ball — with a new lease on life that also offers a new home to Canadian film.

Theatre D Digital, which purchased the cinema earlier this year, will do post-production film work in four editing suites during the day and has installed a new high-definition movie projector and state-of-the-art sound system for evening screenings and performances.

The theatre will also offer live events, such as theatre, music and readings, and plans to solicit ideas for other uses from community members, Donen said.

story here