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Cdn Architect on Mies' TD Centre Cinema

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wyliepoon

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Mies' Movie House


Text Andrea Picard

In June of 2006, three of Toronto's historic and beloved repertory cinemas, the Royal Cinema on College Street, the Revue on Roncesvalles Street and the Kingsway on Queen Street East, all belonging to the well-intentioned but chugging Festival chain, will close their doors permanently unless they are suddenly saved by a moneyed movie-lover. Chances are, if the theatres are purchased, the cinemas will undergo reincarnations as nightclubs, VIP lounges, concert halls or some such, as was the case with both the Eglinton Theatre and the York Theatre further uptown. The first to go was the University, with its proscenium ruins left for years to mark its unfortunate passing, now replaced by a host of upscale retail shops on the tony strip of Bloor Street West. A fervent film-going city, with over 100 annual film festivals and an internationally renowned cinemathèque, Toronto has, over the years, seen its old cinemas sold, converted, demolished (the tragic end to the Uptown theatre was a particularly sour note that cemented the notion--true or otherwise--that developers are unscrupulous): in short, disappear despite the staggering rise of screening programs and film-related activities and celebrations.

Rewind 40 years ago when mini-skirted women with lacquered bobs were out on the town with dates in tow watching Audrey Hepburn seduce and Elizabeth Taylor smoulder onscreen in the newly opened Toronto Dominion Centre cinema designed by Modernist master Mies van der Rohe. Wait Until Dark and Reflections in a Golden Eye were the first films shown in the 690-seat theatre, which opened in October of 1967 and which was created as part of the concourse level of the sleek banking towers at the corner of Bay and Wellington Streets. The cinema had a subtle grade and impressive width, its clean lines characteristic of the architect's elegant and precise vocabulary. Simple but sharp, the theatre was "without noodles," Mies might have said. The lobby area with its original Barcelona chairs and stated minimalism recalled the zen-like foyer of Mies' Lake Shore Drive apartment buildings (1948-51) in Chicago. Instead of a lake view, however, the TD Centre film screen provided an endless expanse for contemplation. (Here, an evocation of Hiroshi Sugimoto must be indulged, the image of Mies' theatre functioning as a composite of the Japanese photographer's sublime seascape and cinema series). The cinema was used for gala events such as the Canadian Film Awards, now the Genies. The Festival of Festivals, as the Toronto International Film Festival was then known, used it as a premier venue for some of its retrospectives and directors' spotlights. But mostly, it was a first-run house.

In 1982, a mere 15 years after its momentous inauguration, the cinema closed, its space repatriated to more bank-like functions for storage and offices. Today it is all but forgotten, while the Toronto Dominion Centre remains one of Toronto's major architectural achievements. The only other cinema designed by Mies van der Rohe is one that was not built during his lifetime. The theatre, located within the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, was completed in 1974 based on designs by Mies and stands proudly as a heritage site. It was restored and renovated in 2000 and is the current home of the cinemathèque-like screening program run out of the Museum. An example of what could have been...

On the eve of yet another round of cinema closures in Toronto, it seems only fitting to resurrect one whose iconic status should have been saved from the fate of decay, rampant expansion and a nearsighted lack of vision. As the numerous festivals scramble, each and every year, to find an appropriate venue to present their film events, the irony of the Festival chain closure makes clear Toronto's lack of a preservation agenda and its insatiable lust for building anew. There is no doubt that Mies' cinema could and would have been used today, had it been saved. Toronto audiences, we know, have not given up on cinema-going, despite the venerable Criterion Collection of films available on DVD.

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Signage Marks the Entry From the TD Centre Concourse Into the Elegant Cinema Foyer.

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Interior of the Theatre Space Itself Boasts the Regularized Rhythmic Rigour That Is All Mies.
 
P

pw20

Guest
I was under the impressino that the theatre was partially demolished to make way for a path tunnel?
 
T

tudararms

Guest
Gorgeous pictures.

The quick closing of Camera was also a shame. I guess people just aren't using these sites.
 
B

building babel

Guest
The TD Gallery of Inuit Art ( in the Aetna tower ) has survived for longer than the cinema did - almost 20 years - and is worth a look. I rarely see anyone there. Until a few years ago there used to be labels to identify the artists, and their works, but goodness knows where they went to.
 
B

Bogtrotter

Guest
Yes there's a terrific collection of inuit sculpture. I've been several times and have always had the place to myself.
 
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interchange42

Guest
I agree that it is a small gem - and somewhat of a secret as there is little to no publicity to advertize its existence. Couldn't a few lampposts lining Wellington outside the tower's doors announce its location with some banners at least? Or maybe a Jamie Kennedy hot dog cart would reel in hungry art lovers.

MapArt includes the gallery's location in our various Toronto atlases on the PATH map page, but that's it as unfortunately do not have room to put it on the regular Downtown enlargement.

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B

building babel

Guest
A seal flipper pie stand out front? Inuit throat-singer concerts in Oscar Peterson Square?
 
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interchange42

Guest
Stangeley enough, very strangely in fact, the TD Centre's website has only 1 mention of Oscar Peterson Square (which it calls Place) that I can find, and no mentions at all of the Inuit Art Gallery.

!!!

Also coming in at zero mentions: the Design Exchange, and the art deco features of the old Stock Exchange building it is located in. They do briefly mention Mies van der Rohe on the tdcentre website - would it kill them to celebrate some of the other cultural features of the complex?

Someone at the Toronto Convention and Visitors Association should be trying to coordinate city websites to plug the treasures we hide so well. We are real amateurs at promoting this city.

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B

building babel

Guest
Standards slip. We've seen that with the way they've changed the look of the underground shopping area, or when they tried to introduce those silly Greek urn planters outside the buildings. Perhaps a sense of the whole, of the identity of the Centre beyond a banking and office complex, a sense of its place in the history of the city, seems to have gone AWOL with them.

Mies is powerless to act from beyond the grave to insist that his design standards are adhered to!

The TD is free to ignore the original vision. It's difficult enough to get our own City Hall, which ought to be amenable to public opinion, to stop introducing poorly designed blue garbage/recycling boxes and the like - while at the same time preaching to us about how much they value good design.
 

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