Princess of Wales Theatre To Be Razed in Toronto; New Residential and Cultural Buildings Planned
By Kenneth Jones
The Princess of Wales Theatre, which opened in Toronto in 1993 to house Canadian sitdowns of major musicals like Miss Saigon, the inaugural show there, will be demolished to make way for new residential and arts structures, producer David Mirvish announced in a letter to the media on Sept. 30.
"I am collaborating with the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, who grew up in this neighborhood and whose only other project in his hometown is the beautiful redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario," Mirvish said in his missive about the King Steet West area of the city. "Our vision is a project that will encompass three distinct and remarkable residential towers that will be unlike anything that has been built in Toronto. They will be grounded by stepped podiums that will house a large, new public gallery called the Mirvish Collection, a new campus for the OCAD University, and planted terraces that will create a green silhouette overlooking King Street."
The Royal Alexandra Theatre, from 1907, was bought 50 years ago by Mirvish's father, "Honest" Edwin Mirvish, the popular and successful retailer, and became a cornerstone for the area's renovation. The Royal Alex will be spared in the plan.
"To fulfill this vision," David Mirvish reported, "all the buildings to the west of the Royal Alex will be replaced with Gehry's new architecture. This will include the removal of the Princess of Wales Theatre, which I built and opened in 1993 and which was originally intended as a temporary facility to house Miss Saigon and other large-scale shows."
He continued, "If there were a way of completing this project without removing the Princess of Wales Theatre, we would have followed it. But after careful consideration and many different plans, I decided not giving Gehry a full canvas on which to work would have meant compromises that would have lessened the power of the project."
"This wasn't an easy decision. It has always been my philosophic position that one should never tear down a theatre, even if it isn't fully operational, because a community that is healthy and growing will eventually find its way to use the theatre. I lavished an enormous amount of energy, creativity and money to build the Princess of Wales Theatre. It is a beautiful facility of which I am very proud, but it happens to be situated in the middle of the new project's path."
The artwork by Frank Stella that was created specifically for the Princess of Wales Theatre "will be documented and much of it saved." Stella will also work with Gehry "to find ways to incorporate new artwork in this new project."
Whether Torontonians will be sentimental about the venue remains to be seen. The theatre, named for Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, before her death, was a gathering spot for mourners at the time of her passing. Flowers and candles were laid there by the public in the days after her tragic death.
"The Princess of Wales Theatre will not be forgotten," Mirvish said. "It will be memorialized in the new project, as will Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, herself, who graciously allowed us to name the theatre in her honor while she was still alive."
The development project includes a new 60,000-square-foot Mirvish Collection gallery, "a destination for viewing contemporary abstract art."
"The Mirvish Collection, which my wife and I have built over 50 years, comprises works by leading artists, including Jack Bush, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, David Smith and Frank Stella," Mirvish wrote. "The nonprofit Mirvish Collection will be free, open to the public and will present artist-focused exhibitions. The gallery will also be available to other institutions and to traveling art shows."
The project will be completed in phases, with a completion expected within seven years.
The Mirvish family will continue to produce and present as many, if not more, theatrical offerings. Mirvish Productions recently announced a series of riskier Off-Broadway-style contemporary plays and events. The Royal Alex, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the Panasonic Theatre are operated by the Mirivishes. "As we have done in the past, we can also hire other facilities, as needed, such as the splendid Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre and the Sony Centre," Mirvish wrote, adding "if we find we need yet another facility, I will be prepared to build a new theatre. I have done that before and I will be willing to do it again. We are as dedicated to the performing arts as we have ever been, perhaps even more so now."
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