Up for heritage designation, the historic Paradise Theatre may be stepping out of limbo.
Today’s meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council is going to launch a process that will determine whether the Paradise Theatre building, located near the intersection of Bloor Street West and Dovercourt, will be granted heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act [PDF]. That process follows a now-rescinded application by the theatre’s new, conditional owners to have the building demolished. Both heritage preservation advocates and those involved directly with the property are awaiting the decision with bated breath.
The Paradise has gone through a number of owners since its 1937 opening, but for the past fifty years it’s been owned and run by the Giacomini family. The theatre’s potential as a sustainable family business has waned over time, however; it last screened a film in 2006, a consequence of the owners’ increasing age and the mounting challenges all cinemas of its ilk face. As Carl Laudan, a filmmaker who also happens to be one of the Bosley Real Estate agents assigned to the Paradise Theatre property, explains: “There’s no business model anymore for a single-screen movie theatre that only does single-screen movie theatre things.”
Laudan says that comparable theatre setups, like the Regent and the Royal, are able to screen movies at night while operating post-production facilities during the day—alternate streams of income that he estimates are the source of 80 to 85 percent of the revenue generated by those theatres. But, because of its position over the constantly rumbling Bloor subway line, setting up sound editing suites isn’t a possibility for the Paradise.
The property is currently in the middle of a “conditional sale,” a state of real-estate limbo that depends largely on the outcomes of investigations by the buyers—and more specifically, the costs of getting a usable commercial space up to code, which would likely increase should the building receive a heritage designation.
Scott Barrett, senior preservation coordinator of Heritage Preservation Services at the City of Toronto, says the Paradise has been identified for heritage designation both architecturally and contextually. “It’s a good representative example of a World War II-era movie house with Art Deco styling,” Barrett explains, citing the building’s abstract geometrical elements and prominent marquee as examples. “And, also, it supports the historic character of that part of Bloor Street West. So certainly it’s a building that’s prominent in the street and well-recognized in the community.”
The building, Barrett points out, is also unique in that its designer, Benjamin Brown, was one of the earliest practising Jewish architects working in the city. “He did a lot of the big warehouse-style buildings in the King and Spadina area,” Barrett says. “He also designed the Standard Theatre on Spadina Avenue, which was one of the earliest Yiddish theatres in North America. So there’s really neat history on this building.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Carl Laudan says demolishing the building was never really anyone’s goal. Rather, the demolition application, issued in January and rescinded late last week, was filed by the property’s potential buyers to “provoke the machine of the City vis a vis heritage and council to decide, with certainty, what’s going to be possible as far as developing the site goes.” It seems that a heritage designation is likely—the Paradise was already listed on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties in 2007—so they wanted to kick-start the process in order to be able to reach some understanding of what would be possible at the site. There’s certainly some trepidation on the part of the prospective buyers around this, but ultimately they’re just looking forward to knowing for certain what their options are.
“I think, now that everyone’s sitting down and talking constructively, that it’s going to work out well,” says Laudan. “Not just for the owners, but for the City and its heritage, and for the community too.”
Today’s vote by the Toronto and East York Community Council will determine whether to accept Heritage Preservation Services’ recommendation that the Paradise receive heritage designation; if the answer is yes, the matter will go to the next meeting of full city council, on March 5, for a final decision.