Ninety years ago, John J. Allen opened a theatre on a dirt road just east of the Bloor Street viaduct.
Almost a century later, newly refurbished and boasting a hit off-Broadway musical on its stage, The Music Hall on Danforth Avenue is once again a major Toronto cultural destination.
“I used to come here to see movies back when you checked out the seats because it was falling apart, and you made sure the ceiling didn’t have something that was going to fall down on you,” Gerald Whyte, president of the Riverdale Historical Society said. “It’s going to be a whole new life for the Music Hall.”
Allen took a risk in 1919 by building the Music Hall on a largely unpopulated strip of land just recently connected to the rest of the city via the Bloor Viaduct. The rest of Danforth east of Broadview Avenue – what is known today as “Greektown” – was subsequently built around it.
Now, with the hit musical The Toxic Avenger playing to rave reviews, the Music Hall is poised to ignite a resurgence of public interest in the neighbourhood.
“We’ve seen vacancies go down for commercial spaces. We’ve seen a huge growth in the calibre of restaurants, the calibre of retailers coming in. They’re still family owned, but they’re taking it to the next level,” Glyn Laverik, CEO of the Music Hall and head of the Danforth BIA, told the Toronto Observer.
John Maxwell, who owns both Dora Keough and Allen’s pubs, says he bought the spaces next to the Music Hall 23 years ago on the understanding that the venue would be showcasing fresh new content on its stage. He says his establishments have already seen a noticeable increase in business since The Toxic Avenger opened earlier this month.
“The reason I located in this address, immediately adjacent to the Music Hall theatre, was to take advantage of productions at the theatre,” Maxwell said. “I certainly think it’s a powerful lure and (will) benefit the local business community.”
“We have noticed a marked increase in traffic during the dinner hour due to the theatre,” said a woman identified as Brenda who works as a cook at The Old Nick, a nearby pub.
Jim Allen, grandson of the Music Hall’s builder, says that the support he sees for the venue bodes well for the neighbourhood as a whole.
“The people who are running the theatre are ambitious. And what they’re doing is supporting art and culture,” Allen said. “I think it’s time we realised that the value of this city is resting on the shoulders of the creative community.”
Whether or not the Music Hall transforms the surrounding neighbourhood into a cultural hub is yet to be seen. But Laverik believes the only way to make it happen is for local businesses to work together in building a new Danforth.
“That’s what this neighbourhood needs – people taking it seriously – and that revitalisation coming through,” Laverik said. “Definitely the Music Hall is going to be a part of that.”