After three years and four months of being closed, one of Toronto’s oldest and most beloved concert venues reopened Thursday night featuring a special performance by Gordon Lightfoot – finally allowing music fans to see what exactly has changed inside and what still looks the same.
“The hope is that people go in and say ‘I’m really not sure what they did to the place but it looks great,’” said Jesse Kumagai, president and CEO of Massey Hall.
The massive renovation and restoration project has a total price tag of $184 million.
“We’re dealing with a building that was constructed in 1894 so, a lot of things have changed both in the way people use the building and what we put on stage so, there was a lot of TLC that went into making sure we were preserving the character of the hall and making sure that it was going to be here for another 100 years,” said Kumagai.
The new chairs are exact replicas of the wood-back, wood-bottom, cast iron standard chairs from 1894, only now they are cast aluminum.
“We added a little bit of cushioning on them. They’re also a bit wider than the previous gallery-level seats,” said Grant Troop, VP of Operations.
Probably most noticeable in terms of a welcome change, are the more than 100 stained glass windows which were carefully removed, restored and replaced.
Another obvious change on the exterior is the addition of passerelles – bridges made of concrete, steel and glass that answer the building’s main challenges over the years: accessibility, access to washrooms and bars all while improving patron safety in the event of an evacuation.
The Allan Slaight auditorium will now be able to host both seated and general admission concerts. It’s all part of the bigger project called Allied Music Centre, which will house three new concert venues, educational spaces and a professional recording studio.
Kumagai said that while many think his team picked the perfect time to close – ahead of the global pandemic which was declared in March 2020, he pointed out this meant even greater construction challenges along with a greater appreciation for live music.
“It was always understood that getting together with your friends and family to enjoy live music was an important part of society but I think we really came to understand just how critical that really was for us when it was taken away from us for so long,” said Kumagai.
Massey Hall was declared a National Historic site in 1981.
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