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Massey Hall Renovations


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So the hallowed performance space that is the 120-year-old Massey Hall is getting some much needed renovations. So many great artists have graced her stage and infused the hall with the memories and spirit of their performances, including Jason, Jonesy, and Robert. I've seen (among other shows) Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Jonesy and Robert there - a small but unforgettable list. Hopefully these much needed changes will enable her to be the shrine for another 120 years of legendary concerts.

It will happen in two stages, the first of which is underway, and it will not affect shows. The second stage, however, will see Massey Hall's doors closed for between 18 - 24 months.

The details are in the following articles. Some lowlights for me include getting rid of the exterior iron fire escape stairs (which I think add character to and maintain the iconic look), and highlights include more bathrooms (seriously, having to go all the way down to the basement??) and stained glass windows being restored and shown in full glory. Tech crews will no doubt appreciate a new proper loading dock, too.

Whatever they do, may they be cursed if they damage the acoustics of this space. That and may the ghosts still feel welcome and at home :) (you think I'm joking...)

Massey Hall launches first phase of $135 million revitalization project

By Sean Mallen Reporter Global News

TORONTO – The federal and provincial government announced Monday an investment of $8 million each for the first phase of the Massey Hall Revitalization Project.

To be completed by 2019, the renovation will include the demolition of the Albert Building just to the south and the creation of new, modernized backstage spaces, along with new technical and production facilities and the hall’s first ever loading dock.

Mayor John Tory said Toronto has not always done well in preserving its heritage structures.The seven-year $135 million private and publicly funded revitalization plan was approved by city council in 2013.

“But I hope today represents a new beginning, a new chapter in doing something very special for a special place,” he said.

“I am delighted to see this project move forward,” said Finance Minister Joe Oliver, who is also the federal minister responsible for the Greater Toronto Area.

He noted that Massey Hall has not only hosted concerts by artists such as Gordon Lightfoot and Oscar Peterson, but also boxing matches, typing contests and chess tournaments.

Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, recalled seeing his first hip hop concert at Massey Hall as a teenager 20 years ago.

“It’s about bringing Massey Hall into the 21st Century,” he said in announcing the provincial government’s contribution.

Toronto-based MOD Developments Inc. had announced in January 2012 the donation of 4,804 square feet of land immediately to the south of Massey Hall for the expansion.

Officials say Massey Hall, which first opened in 1894, will remain open to the public for concerts and events during the first phase of the project.

However, the building will be closed for a period of 18 to 24 months during the second phase as both the interior and exterior is restored, adding new and accessible space for both artists and patrons.


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Kudos to MOD Developments for giving the land and facilitating the much needed upgrades to Massey Hall. Oh, and no pressure, acoustician Robert Essert, just don't screw it up.

A preview of a reinvented Massey Hall

Marianne McKenna gives sneak peek of seven-year project during Spur Festival



The renovation of Massey Hall has to turn it into a state-of-the-art venue for the 21st century without losing the magic that has made it, since 1894, a great place to hear music.

By: Martin Knelman Entertainment, Published on Fri Apr 11 2014

“This is a room for music and nothing else,” says Marianne McKenna, the award-winning Toronto architect who has drawn the dream assignment of reinventing Massey Hall for the future.

McKenna, the M of KPMB Architects, certainly strikes me as the perfect choice for this Herculean task, given the fact that she was the architect of Koerner Hall, that jewel in the crown of the Royal Conservatory of Music, which keeps delivering bliss on Bloor St. W. week after week.

At 10 a.m. on the first Sunday of April, attired in glitter-free black working duds as part of the Spur Festival, McKenna was giving a group of 20 people, including me, a tour of Massey Hall, with an emphasis on the head-spinning enhancements she is planning.

One thing McKenna makes clear is that she intends to erase that phrase “and nothing else” in the course of making over what now stands as a beloved, historic and iconic temple of Toronto music history, which must also be described as crumbling, faded, uncomfortable and inconvenient.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says.

I wouldn’t disagree, but the trick is to make Massey Hall a state-of-the-art venue for the 21st century without losing the magic that has made it, since 1894, a great place to hear music.

Or as McKenna has been cautioned more than once: “Don’t screw it up.”

Well, both the architect and Charles Cutts, CEO for the Corporation for Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall, are committed to getting everything right and taking as much time as necessary to be sure of that.

So don’t expect the grand reopening of the new, improved Massey Hall to take place anytime soon.

At the moment, the place is in phase one of a process that is scheduled to take seven years. That means for now work is being done on two underground levels of a newly acquired piece of land just south of the hall.

Design plans for the hall itself will be worked out circa 2016. Construction may not begin until 2018 and the hall will probably be closed for two seasons. So it’s safe to predict the reopening will not take place in this decade.

The long, winding road of Massey Hall’s so-called revitalization began in 2012, when MOD Developments — which is about to build a 60-storey condo tower over a historic bank building on Yonge St. — turned over a large piece of land behind its tower (extending east to Victoria St.) to Massey Hall. That allows the hall to expand southward, which is critical, since the otherwise landlocked hall has nowhere to go on its north, east and west sides.

“We’ve been waiting 120 years for this piece of land,” says Cutts.

The first phase, currently underway, involves demolishing an old building (the Albert building), then digging eight metres below the surface of the newly acquired lot to build a foundation and a new two-level basement to house updated mechanical and electrical goodies.

The biggest gain in this phase is a loading dock, the lack of which has been the biggest inconvenient truth of working at Massey Hall for 120 years.

Ever since its 1894 opening, according to Cutts, “every lighting instrument, every speaker and every grand piano has had to be brought in through the front door and then down the centre aisle.”

In the next phase, there will be a new six-storey building on that new land, north of the present hall. Within those walls will be lobbies, social venues, side stages, dressing rooms, washrooms, elevators, storage room and other back-of-house perks.

But the biggest challenge will come late in the game when it’s time for McKenna to transform the original Moorish Revival-style auditorium into something much more than a square room for music, while preserving its DNA.

Many decisions will be made later, but McKenna rattled off a list of some crucial goals:

  • Walkways will link the old building to the new.
  • The best acoustical-sound equipment will be secured, but the hall will work equally well for natural sound and electronically enhanced sound.
  • Robert Essert, the great London-based acoustician, will be a key member of McKenna’s team.
  • The exterior fire escape system will be scrapped.
  • The box office (where customers waited in the rain) will be eliminated
  • New seats will be installed.
  • Sightlines will be improved
  • Stained glass windows will be restored and the covering removed.
  • Stairs on Shuter St. to the building will be removed.

At the moment, no one is prepared to say what the final cost of all this will be. My prediction: north of $100 million.

McKenna is not a self-promoter, but two things she said to the group on the tour gave me high hopes.

First, she learned a lot about concert halls through her work on Koerner.

Two, her approach starts with the insight that when you go to a concert “what you hear is what you see.”

In other words, when you go to a live event, you do not listen with your eyes closed. Whether you realize it or not, the quality of the experience is heavily influenced by the environment (including visual surroundings) in which you are hearing music.

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"'Change nothing, but improve everything' is the project's motto" Plus some extra details for Rush/Pearl Jam/Neil Young fans

Massey Hall $135-million ‘revitalization’ gets underway

The seven-year overhaul of the historic venue aims to improve the facility while maintaining its vintage aesthetics.



The interior red doors are part of the vintage charm of Massey Hall that is intended to be preserved.

By: Eric Andrew-Gee Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Feb 23 2015

As Charles Cutts stood behind a lectern Monday on Massey Hall’s hallowed stage to officially launch the building’s $135-million “revitalization,” a piece of grey fluff fell from the ceiling and drifted slowly to the floor, landing somewhere between the first and second rows, stage right.

“Massey Hall is not only a national historic site that we all treasure, but a place where Canadian music history is made,” said the outgoing CEO and president of Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall. “It’s been that way for the last 120 years, and will be for the next 120.”

It wasn’t immediately clear for how many of those years the dust bunny had been gathering, but it was a fitting time for it to take flight.

For all its past glories, the hall has a shopworn feel, with those odd reclining seats and scuffed brass railings. The goal of the expensive facelift, paid for largely by corporate and government cash, is to do some sprucing up without sanding away the antique beauty of the place.

“Change nothing but improve everything” is the project’s motto.

As Cutts formally announced on Monday — and the Star reported last April — Massey Hall will undergo a seven-year renovation overseen by Toronto’s KPMB Architects.

Phase 1, now underway, will see the construction of the hall’s first ever loading dock (grand pianos and lighting equipment are still hauled in through the front doors), along with a new two-storey basement and expanded backstage space. Estimated price tag: $32 million.

The federal and provincial governments are each contributing $8 million to this portion of the renovation.

Massey Hall will close during Phase 2 of the restoration for between 18 and 24 months, but not until 2019 at the earliest, Cutts said. “Until then, it will be business as usual at Massey Hall.”

Opened in 1894, the building’s bright red doors and wrought-iron fire escapes have become instantly recognizable.

The 2,752-seat hall has hosted a who’s-who of musicians, from jazz artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie (whose 1953 recording at Massey is considered one of the genre’s greatest) to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.

The politicians and celebrities who spoke at Monday’s event attested to the hall’s rich and varied contributions to the history of Toronto music.

Michael Coteau, Ontario’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, saw LL Cool J perform there as a teenager.

Rush frontman Geddy Lee remembered seeing the legendary rock supergroup Cream play the hall, before performing there himself in the mid-’70s.

Music historian Alan Cross noted that Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder sought out the part of the venue where Neil Young once relieved himself, so that Vedder could refresh the same spot with his own stream.

Mayor John Tory had his own vivid memories: getting his “first taste of classical music” with his grandmother at a performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra; a show by the vaudevillian and radio star Jack Benny; and a James Taylor concert.

“Today, we begin the task of ensuring that more recent Canadians, younger Canadians and Canadians yet to come,” said Tory, “including those with some accessibility requirements, will have the joy and the intimacy and the sense of history and magic that come from attending any kind of performance or any kind of an event here at Massey Hall.”


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A look back, part I:

Venerable Massey Hall prepares for a makeover


The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Feb. 22 2015, 10:34 AM EST

Last updated Sunday, Feb. 22 2015, 1:15 PM EST


(John Wood/The Globe and Mail)

(Gordon Lightfoot in concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, March 28, 1969)

Many details pertaining to the renovation of Massey Hall have been made public previously, but on Monday the first phase of the $30-million revitalization project will officially be launched at the theatre, where government, corporate and private donors are to be recognized and details of the grand building’s refurbishment will be revealed formally.

But if it is Massey’s future that now receives attention, the gloried past of the 120-year-old building should also be celebrated. Here’s a look back at the history of Canada’s oldest and most venerated performing arts theatre.


(Toronto Public Library)

Massey Music Hall, as it was originally known, was industrialist Hart Massey’s gift to the city of Toronto (in memory of his son Charles Albert Massey) and an auditorium to foster “an interest in music, education, temperance, industry, good citizenship, patriotism, philanthropy, and religion.” On June 14, 1894, the venue was christened by a concert featuring a 500-member chorus singing Handel’s Messiah. Hallelujah, indeed.


(John Boyd/The Globe and Mail)

Although Massey Hall is famous as a music venue (and built as such), audiences there have witnessed such things as speeches (including Winston Churchill 1900 and 1901), weddings (Canadian Aboriginal athlete Tom Longboat in 1908), boxing and wrestling bouts (including an exhibition by Jack Dempsey in 1919) and all manner of rallies, contests and public meetings.


(Library and Archives Canada)

In 1933, the hall underwent renovations that reduced the seating capacity from 3,500 to 2,675, created a lounge behind the first gallery and generally gave the room an updated look.


(The Globe and Mail)

Campaign rallies and political conventions were routinely held in the building. On June 9, 1959, C.C.F. supporters held signs, wore hats and did much hip-hip-hooraying.


(Dustin Rabin)

Though the most legendary concert in the hall’s history was jazz (May 15, 1953, with immortals Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach), no musician has owned the room as Gordon Lightfoot has. The Sundown singer has given more than 150 shows at Massey.


(Edward Regan/The Globe and Mail)

On June 4, 1982, crowds pushed past the red doors on Shuter Street to witness the Toronto Symphony Orchestra end its 60-year residency at Massey. On April 23, 1923, the 58-member ensemble then known as the New Symphony Orchestra had debuted under the baton of Luigi von Kunitz, with a concert that cost between 25 and 75 cents to attend.


(Jim Ross for The Globe and Mail)

“Now I'm going back to Canada, on a journey through the past.” On Nov. 26, 2007, the enigmatic and iconic singer-songwriter Neil Young gave a solo homecoming concert that served to commemorate a similar performance 36 years earlier. That landmark show is captured on the album Live at Massey Hall 1971.

Follow Brad Wheeler on Twitter: @BWheelerglobe


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A look back, part II:

Massey Hall, 2008-2010 By Peter MacCallum, Architectural Photographer

This series of 60 photographs was part of a personal project, funded by a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, to document the commercial architecture along Yonge Street in downtown Toronto.


I first conceived of a project to document Massey Hall when I visited a performance there during the 2009 Scotia Bank Nuit Blanche. Gordon Monahan’s “Space Becomes the Instrument” inverted traditional staging by using the audience seating area as the performance space, while the audience was confined to the stage.

Viewing the hall from the stage that night gave me a new appreciation of one of Massey Hall’s most attractive characteristics, namely, the intimacy it creates between performer and audience. Its architecture makes one happily aware of its original function as a venue for community gatherings and choral concerts. I set out to try to represent this intimacy in a series of photographs.
For more commentary click here grey_expand.gif

Peter MacCallum is a self taught Toronto documentary photographer. Over the last 30 years, he has specialized in recording architectural subjects, with a special regard for the social importance of the built environment.
For more about Peter MacCallum click here grey_expand.gif

If you follow this link, on the right, click 'view all' to see some fine, rare black and white photos of the exterior and interior of Massey Hall (most were taken in 2010). #9 shows a beautiful hearth near an entrance, #20 has a great view of the auditorium from the stage, and from #21 - #26 there are photos of what can only generously be described as Spartan backstage quarters. Check out the catwalk (#47, 49) and fly loft (#48, 50) - yikes!, the poor building operator's office (#55) - double yikes!

I love this beautiful old building and what its space provides and nurtures. For all its quirks and crooked ways and squeaks and tiny seats, it has such a warm vibe within it, so many special memories...


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Rush recorded "All the worlds a stage" at that venue.

The difference between what you have posted and what history we have here ( except London) is that Manchester's Free Trade Hall hosted some historic shows in the UK. The first show that Bob Dylan went electric, much to the chagrin of one punter who screamed "Judas" at him. The Sex Pistols kicked Punk off at the "Lesser" hall and I saw some on my most memorable gigs in the 70's. Now what happened to this most hallowed venue? It's now a Radisson hotel !!






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Rush recorded "All the worlds a stage" at that venue.

The difference between what you have posted and what history we have here ( except London) is that Manchester's Free Trade Hall hosted some historic shows in the UK. The first show that Bob Dylan went electric, much to the chagrin of one punter who screamed "Judas" at him. The Sex Pistols kicked Punk off at the "Lesser" hall and I saw some on my most memorable gigs in the 70's. Now what happened to this most hallowed venue? It's now a Radisson hotel !!

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Radisson??! What a travesty... There's so much that goes into restoring older venues, not only with the extent of the job itself, but with the politics involved and the conflicting interests that can stall a project, that it's a surprise, frankly, when something actually gets done. A few years ago I was on a steering committee that oversaw the building of a multi-purpose theatre. The design had to incorporate an adjacent 'heritage' building. Several delays, a ballooning budget, strikes from a couple of workers unions, town meetings, and some back-door dealings later, it very finally got it done, but the end result is one that shows too many interests having been appeased.

The Masonic Temple on Yonge was to become a condo development until thankfully the Ontario Heritage Act stepped in. That Massey Hall isn't being turned into a condo is not surprising; it is a revered space in a place where there aren't as many as in your country. Maybe that was part of the decision to demolish the Free Trade Hall - 'well we've got all these others' - or maybe the politics and budget just got in the way. Whatever the reasons, it's too bad that the decision went the way of boring money maker Radisson.

One of the most egregious demolitions was Shakespeare's actual house (New Place). Ok it wasn't a social space, but God, it's not like it wasn't culturally relevant.

In all ages, these types of irreversible choices get made based on the context, usually involving a short-term need or greed trumping long-term importance. Then you end up with replicas like the Globe Theatre in London, 'genuine' because it was made the same way using the same materials more or less as the original. It's fine, but it's a bit too much like Las Vegas and its copied spectacles.

Each space has its own integral context and meaningful purpose. You can't recreate such genuineness; you can only hope any given generation has the sensitivity and good sense to preserve it. I'm very happy that maintaining the essence of what makes Massey Hall special is central to the restoration.

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Radisson??! What a travesty... Maybe that was part of the decision to demolish the Free Trade Hall - 'well we've got all these others' - or maybe the politics and budget just got in the way. Whatever the reasons, it's too bad that the decision went the way of boring money maker Radisson.

Yes a travesty indeed. I didn't say they had demolished the FTH. It is still there but it was redeveloped into a hotel.

Actually the concert hall was the home of the world famous Halle orchestra until a new purpose built home was built - The Bridgewater Hall a few years ago. I saw my very first gig at the Free Trade Hall - Budgie in 1976. If you look to the right of the hall picture, in the side circle, I was front row near the stage. A great venue and it was sorely missed

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