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Tag Archives: movie houses

1930s Theatre taking on new role as lofts

Dave Leblanc – Globe and Mail
Real Estate – Urban Landscapes

Ever since being given John Sebert’s The Nabes: Toronto’s Wonderful Neighbourhood Movie Houses (Mosaic Press, 2001) for Christmas a few years ago, I’ve been on the lookout for survivors or thoughtful adaptive reuses of these little gems. They hail from a time when you could walk to everything – places such as the local produce market, shoe repair shop, and theatres where you could enjoy the small luxury of a movie.

It’s a game my wife and I play: If we see a convenience store or a laundromat that looks as if it might have had, shall we say, a grander past, we go home and consult the book to check if we’re right.

Recently, I was driving along Kingston Road west of Victoria Park when I spotted what most will remember as a pool hall, but in its former life had been a rather large, 700-seat movie theatre called the Scarboro, built in 1936 as part of the B&F theatre chain.

Streamline moderne is a later, stripped-down version of 1920s and ’30s art deco that favoured simple horizontal banding over ornate decoration. Buildings done in this style are few and far between in Toronto, since modernism eclipsed the emerging style in the 1940s before it could pick up much steam. Which is to say that when one is being lovingly restored and will soon be a place folks can call home, it’s a cause for celebration.

Behind this thoughtful reuse of the Scarboro is former chartered accountant turned real estate developer Les Mallins and his company, Streetcar Developments Inc. Quite different from your average developer, Streetcar was formed in the early 2000s when the now 33-year-old Mr. Mallins spotted a century-old building for sale in his neighbourhood of Queen Street East near Woodbine Avenue.

He was, in his own words, “just begging for something to lead me in a new direction,” so he purchased the building with the intention of transforming what turned out to be a former bowling alley into a retail space. However, he soon “came to [his] senses,” he jokes, because “as little as I knew about construction and development at the time, I knew even less about retail.”

So, deciding to explore a residential conversion, he walked across the street from his house to introduce himself to neighbour Bill Hurst, an architect who also happened to have his practice located a few doors down from Mr. Mallin’s new purchase.

“He asked me to hold on a moment, he went inside and brought out some concepts that he had been working on because he was thinking the exact same thing for the building!”

That’s when Streetcar Developments was born, and each project since that first success has been similar: smaller, infill-type projects in older parts of the city that the streetcar still services.

“We’re not interested in the suburbs,” Mr. Mallins says matter-of-factly.

Interestingly, the branding for each building – the bowling alley, a former vinegar factory and a couple of new buildings – not only reflects the individual character of each but seems to be a smooth fit in their respective neighbourhoods.

“I think that when you’re doing infill projects… you need to understand what it means to be entering someone else’s neighbourhood,” he explains. “I think the mentality that works very well for large real estate development companies or high-rise builders is not going to work in this kind of environment.”

But infill development is not without its unique challenges, especially when dealing with purpose-built buildings. During excavation for a parking garage at 952 Kingston Rd., the team found the original, sloped, eight-inch-thick reinforced concrete theatre floor, but, because of the tight site, they couldn’t bring in heavy equipment.

“We had four guys going at it with jackhammers and it was just so time-consuming – never mind expensive- it was really time-consuming and unforeseen,” he laughs.

Now complete, 952 Kingston looks pretty good. Set back from the movie theatre’s two-storey facade is a new three-storey addition by architect Charles Gane of Core Architects that takes its design cues from the original.

“He took pictures of other streamline moderne buildings and we came up with the concept of the rounded facade with the clean lines that go all the way around the building,” Mr. Mallins says.

“There was quite a bit of thought put into trying to both match the old to the new but even within the new, bring streamline elements into it.”

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Contact Laurin Jeffrey for more information