The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre is actually a group of buildings, each with a fascinating history. The buildings were initially commercial plants, housing a gas company and a textile mill in Old Toronto. But these beautiful buildings are a far cry from today’s boxy, windowless factories.
In 1885, the Consumers Gas Company acquired the land west of Trinity Street and south of Front Street to the railway tracks. The building that presently houses the Imperial Oil Opera Theatre was built as the Consumers Gas Company's Purifying House No. 2 in 1887/88 by the architects Strictland and Symens, who designed it in the style of an early Christian basilica.
The special clerestory roof may have been built as a self-supporting structure and simply placed on top of the building so that any explosion would raise it without destroying the walls.
In 1954, with the introduction of natural gas, the Consumers Gas Company ceased to manufacture gas from the coal stockpiled at the Eastern Gap on Lake Ontario and sold its lands. The building at the southwest corner of Front and Berkeley streets passed through several hands until Dalton's, a manufacturer of foods and household goods, purchased it in 1967.
Standard Woollen Mills erected the building to the west in 1882. The architect was E. J. Lennox, a noted Toronto architect who designed Casa Loma and the City Hall buildings of 1899, located across Bay Street from Toronto's current City Hall. In 1893 an extension was joined to the woollen mill, and in 1897 a fourth floor was added to the building.
Dalton's was founded as a soap factory in London, Ont., in 1834 and relocated to Toronto in 1871. By 1909 the company produced "spices, coffee, extracts, mustard, jelly and lemonade powders." In 1936, Dalton's purchased 227 Front St. E. for its head office and main processing factories, and soon became famous for its maraschino cherries.
The Canadian Opera Company purchased both buildings in 1985 and embarked on an extensive program of gutting, restoration, renovation and reconfiguration of these buildings, which had been historic under the Ontario Heritage Act.
The complex of buildings was renovated at a cost of $10 million by Bregman + Hamann Architects and Arcop Associates.
The COC received major funding from federal and provincial levels of government. A private capital fundraising campaign was successful in raising the remainder of the renovation costs with a substantial lead gift from Joey and Toby Tanenbaum.
Joey and Toby Tanenbaum are generous supporters of the COC. In addition to their donation towards the restoration of the buildings, the mosaic in the box office lobby and the Max Tanenbaum Courtyard Gardens (behind the administrative offices) were also gifts of the Tanenbaums.
Phase I of the renovation of The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre was devoted to the conversion of the old gas purifying house. The project was completed in November 1985, and now houses the 450-seat Imperial Oil Opera Theatre and facilities for rehearsal, coaching, workshops and receptions.
Phase II, the old woollen mill, was renovated as the administrative offices, box office, wig and make-up department, music library, archives, props workshop and costume workshop.
The ribbon was cut to officially open the building on Dec. 2, 1987.
The Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Opera Centre. © 2009