Sony Centre for the Performing Arts: Wikis


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Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
1 Front St. East
Country Canada
Architect Peter Dickinson
Capacity 3000+
Opened 1960
Previous names The O'Keefe Centre, The Hummingbird Centre

The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts is a major performing arts venue in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



In 1954, philanthropist, horsebreeder, and developer E. P. Taylor, the head of the O'Keefe Brewing Company and Argus Corporation, offered to build a much-needed performing arts centre for the city. He assigned one of his key executives, Hugh Walker, to oversee the job of building what local wags described as "the house that beer built." (Walker ultimately would stay on as the centre's general manager until 1975.)

Three years later, demolition of a cluster of aging warehouses, stores, and office buildings at the corner of Front and Yonge streets began, and Earle Morgan and Page & Steele started construction on the complex which became known as the O'Keefe Centre. While Earle Morgan is the architect of record, in recent years the building has been credited to English architect Peter Dickinson. The red-carpet opening was held on October 1, 1960 with the pre-Broadway premiere of Alexander H. Cohen's production of the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet. Subsequent productions of Camelot have made stops at the Centre in 1993 and 2007.

The centre led the way in transforming the city's business center into an entertainment district, resulting in increased revenue for local restaurants, bars, and hotels.


The auditorium was designed to serve a wide range of performing arts, although its size made it ideal for large-scale musical productions with such artists as Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury, Yul Brynner, Carol Channing, and Pearl Bailey. Other performers who have graced the stage in a range of solo shows, revues, and jazz spectaculars include Petula Clark, Duke Ellington, Marlene Dietrich, Diana Ross, Shirley MacLaine, Judy Garland, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, Led Zeppelin, and Liberace. Guest artists from the opera world such as Birgit Nilsson, Placido Domingo, and Renata Scotto have sung there.

Although the more than 3000-seat centre was never intended to be a venue for drama, Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson, Glenda Jackson, Vivien Leigh, Christopher Plummer, Jessica Tandy, Hume Cronyn, Michael York, and Lynn Redgrave have starred in plays on its stage.

Frequent visits by out-of-town companies include the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens in addition to a wide array of international dance companies, including Britain's Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Kirov and the Bolshoi. It was here in 1974 that a young Mikhail Baryshnikov ran from the stage door to a waiting getaway car and freedom.

The centre does not limit itself to cultural performances, and has hosted everything from automotive shows to the Miss Canada Pageant and the Juno Awards. Since 2002, it has been the home of many rock concerts by artists who desire high quality sound. Morrissey and Tool are two such artists.

The Centre was home to both the National Ballet of Canada between 1964 and 2006, and the Canadian Opera Company, between 1961 and 2006, when they moved to the newly-built Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, under its current name

Ownership and recent developments

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

Until 1967, the building and land were owned by the O'Keefe Brewing Company, which then sold them to the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto[1], although it took a decade before ownership passed into the hands of the city, which still owns the property. The Centre now operates as a service board of the City of Toronto with an independent Board of Directors consisting of 3 City Councillors and 9 citizen members.

The O'Keefe Centre was renamed the Hummingbird Centre in 1996 after the naming rights were purchased by the Canadian software company Hummingbird Ltd.. In late 2006, Hummingbird was acquired by Open Text Corporation who opted not to rename the venue or renew the naming rights. Sony, the new owners of the naming rights, have renamed the building as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts [1]. However, signs directing traffic to the centre still refer to it as "Hummingbird Centre" until the City gets around to changing them.

With the move of the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada in 2006, the Hummingbird Centre has enlisted architect Daniel Libeskind for a redesign of the complex that would preserve the venue. The redevelopment features two key concepts, the creation of a $75 million "Arts & Heritage Awareness Centre" (the AHA! Centre) and above it the 49-storey residential L Tower.


In light of the departure of the Hummingbird Centre's (HC) major tenants- the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet- Toronto City Council, in 2002, requested a business plan from the HC board of directors. This plan was presented at a City council session July 22-24, 2003 as clause 1 of the Policy and Finance Committee's Report 8. It proposed to counterbalance the HC's projected revenue shortfall of 18 million dollars with the construction of a revenue-generating arts and cultural facility called Citycentre, and the sale of a portion of the City-owned land to a major developer for a high-density residential/hotel use. Following a "Request for Expressions of Interest" in 2004, Castlepoint Realty Partners Limited (Castlepoint). was selected for this right.

In the Hummingbird Centre's updated business plan of May 27, 2005, several redevelopment scenarios were envisioned for the site. The preferred Option A incorporated Citycentre, which would be a composition of thematically linked spaces. The project would have close ties with Toronto's local arts and cultural sector and include interactive exhibits and a multimedia restaurant. Most of the new spaces would reside in the podium structure of the proposed condominium tower designed by studio Daniel Libeskind. This option was predicated upon the Hummingbird Centre Board raising approximately 56 million dollars from government or private sources.

Option B involved leasing the strata land to Castlepoint for 99 years at a price of 3.5 million for retail/commercial development.

The proposed transaction agreement was put before council during the September 28- 30, 2005 council session, and further honed into a draft umbrella agreement in time for the July 24-26, 2006 council session.

In a July 16, 2008 staff report to Toronto city council, the potential of a fundraising shortfall for construction of Citycentre was recognized. The Board of Directors for the Sony Centre (renamed in 2006), on side with Castlepoint, suggested the idea of a public plaza in place of commercial development as per Option B. The public plaza option was formally adopted by council on October 30, 2008. Details of the proposed amendments to the umbrella agreement include castlepoint submitting minimum payment of 3 million dollars to the city for additional residential density and 1 million dollars for construction of the public plaza.

Many of the redevelopment projects noted here are works of the IBI group (, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada with offices worldwide.


External links

Coordinates: 43°38′48″N 79°22′34″W / 43.646654°N 79.376073°W / 43.646654; -79.376073



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