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Frank Gehry and David Mirvish to transform King West

Posted by Derek Flack / September 30, 2012

Frank GehryGet ready for some massive change on King Street. Formally announced earlier this morning via a letter from David Mirvish, plans are in place to have Frank Gehry transform a significant stretch of King West between the Royal Alex Theatre and John Street. The project will consist of three residential towers perched atop podiums that will house a new campus for OCAD University and a 60,000 square foot gallery for the Mirvish family art collection. Big stuff, indeed.

In pursuing such a large-scale project — one that's as exciting as it is ambitious — Mirvish has decided to, as he says, "remove" the Princess of Wales Theatre, which was built in 1993. That's a major casualty of these plans, but when you consider what's on offer and what it means for Toronto architecturally, it's far easier to reconcile the loss of such a facility.

"If there were a way of completing this project without removing the Princess of Wales Theatre, we would have followed it," Mirvish explained in a letter distributed to media this morning. "But after careful consideration and many different plans, I decided not giving Gehry a full canvas on which to work would have meant compromises that would have lessened the power of the project."

Gehry never got free reign on the AGO transformation mostly on account of budgetary constraints, so it'll be fascinating to see what he can do this time around. If the early renderings are any indication, the project will be as bold as Toronto architecture tends to get. Even if Gehry's work isn't to everyone's taste, one imagines that this stretch of street will become an iconic bit of Toronto should all the pieces fall into place.

What do you think? Is this exciting news for Toronto? Is the loss of Princess of Wales theatre devastating or just collateral damage you can live with? Here's Mirvish's own thoughts about the project, which are composed in letter form.

Letter from David Mirvish

Dear Friends in the Media,

Tomorrow I will announce an important new project that will build on the legacy that my father began when he purchased and restored the Royal Alexandra Theatre five decades ago. As a valued member of the media, I am very proud to share these plans with you, not in the form of the traditional media release but as a letter, because this project is of a special personal interest to me and I would like to treat it differently.

In 1963, King Street West was a wasteland of derelict industrial buildings and underused railway yards. In the middle of this was the beaux-arts jewel that is the Royal Alex. The first thing my father did was to try and create a hospitable neighbourhood for the theatre. He bought many of the warehouses and converted them into restaurants, which he felt complemented the theatregoing experience.

That was the beginning of what has now become the preeminent arts and cultural neighbourhood in the country.

The Royal Alex is still thriving, still the Grande Dame of the area's bustling activity. Our other buildings, the former warehouses and foundries to the west of the theatre, are now offices and businesses. The neighbourhood has grown up, just as Toronto has; and I believe after almost 50 years of custodianship of these two blocks of urban space, now is the time to take a bold step into the future while preserving the flavour and strengths of our heritage.

Towards this end I am collaborating with the world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, who grew up in this neighbourhood and whose only other project in his hometown is the beautiful redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario (2008).

Our vision is a project that will encompass three distinct and remarkable residential towers that will be unlike anything that has been built in Toronto. They will be grounded by stepped podiums that will house a large, new public gallery called the Mirvish Collection, a new campus for the OCAD University, and planted terraces that will create a green silhouette overlooking King Street.

The design will create a new profile for the arts and entertainment district at the streetscape and in the skyline, add significantly to the John Street Cultural Corridor, and provide new and enhanced public spaces. The conceptual design, which will continue to evolve, will create a humane and habitable streetscape with wide sidewalks, on which Canada's Walk of Fame will be preserved and maintained.

The three iconic residential towers, each with a different form, fa├žade and use of materials, will be: a slender and highly articulated tower beside the Royal Alex; and on the block bordered by King, Pearl, Ed Mirvish Way and John Street, a stacked, slatted L-shaped tower and a translucent tri-winged tower. These towers are so distinct, so striking, that I think of them as sculptures by one of the greatest artists of his generation.

The new 60,000-square-foot Mirvish Collection gallery will be a destination for viewing contemporary abstract art. The Mirvish Collection, which my wife and I have built over 50 years, comprises works by leading artists, including Jack Bush, Anthony Caro, Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Larry Poons, David Smith and Frank Stella. The nonprofit Mirvish Collection will be free, open to the public and will present artist-focused exhibitions. The gallery will also be available to other institutions and to travelling art shows.

This project will not happen immediately. It will be completed in phases. The first phase will be the warehouse building that currently stands at King Street and Ed Mirvish Way. The second and third phases will be the group of buildings on the block bordered by King, Pearl, Ed Mirvish Way and John Street. We anticipate it will be three to seven years before the entire project is completed.

In order to fulfill this vision, all the buildings to the west of the Royal Alex will be replaced with Gehry's new architecture. This will include the removal of the Princess of Wales Theatre, which I built and opened in 1993 and which was originally intended as a temporary facility to house Miss Saigon and other large-scale shows.

If there were a way of completing this project without removing the Princess of Wales Theatre, we would have followed it. But after careful consideration and many different plans, I decided not giving Gehry a full canvas on which to work would have meant compromises that would have lessened the power of the project.

This wasn't an easy decision. It has always been my philosophic position that one should never tear down a theatre, even if it isn't fully operational, because a community that is healthy and growing will eventually find its way to use the theatre. I lavished an enormous amount of energy, creativity and money to build the Princess of Wales Theatre. It is a beautiful facility of which I am very proud, but it happens to be situated in the middle of the new project's path.

The artwork by Frank Stella that was created specifically for the Princess of Wales Theatre will be documented and much of it saved. Stella will also work with Gehry to find ways to incorporate new artwork in this new project.

The Princess of Wales Theatre will not be forgotten. It will be memorialized in the new project, as will Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales, herself, who graciously allowed us to name the theatre in her honour while she was still alive.

Please be assured that the Mirvish family will continue to produce and present as many, if not more, theatrical offerings. In fact, as you may know, we have just expanded our activities by recently launching the Off-Mirvish Series, which will present the best of contemporary plays.

Although we may be losing the Princess of Wales Theatre, we have three other excellent facilities - the Royal Alex, the Ed Mirvish Theatre and the Panasonic Theatre - in which to entertain and enrich cultural life. And, as we have done in the past, we can also hire other facilities, as needed, such as the splendid Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre and the Sony Centre. Finally, if we find we need yet another facility, I will be prepared to build a new theatre. I have done that before and I will be willing to do it again. We are as dedicated to the performing arts as we have ever been, perhaps even more so now...

...Thank you for your continued support as we embark on this new project, which I am confident, will enhance our city's cultural life.


David Mirvish



Bubba / September 30, 2012 at 11:44 am
Wow! Looks like King St. will become wind tunnel row!
yobbit / September 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm
the nimbys will be posting soon
Damien / September 30, 2012 at 12:14 pm
Loved the AGO, loved 8 Spruce Street in NYC and I'm looking forward to what he is going to do here in his own city!!!
2005 Cellphone / September 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm
This looks amazing. That threatre isn't very nice anyways. If we were losing one of the older theatres, then I would be upset.
Robert replying to a comment from yobbit / September 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm
I am waiting for the 'more glass boxes' comment
QB / September 30, 2012 at 02:07 pm
I quite liked the Princess of Wales.
jones / September 30, 2012 at 02:17 pm
Are the "early renderings" publicly availabe?
seanm / September 30, 2012 at 03:17 pm
I'm more concerned about the loss of yet more historic warehouse architecture along King Street. Some of the buildings are unremarkable, but they provide texture and character that is slowly disappearing. The building immediately east of the Princess of Wale Theatre, that houses Dunn's, comes to mind.
Stephen / September 30, 2012 at 03:40 pm
My only real concern is the loss of an accessible theatre. Toronto has precious few of these. The royal Alex is a nightmare from that perspective. At least the princess of whales was open to everyone.
Andrew / September 30, 2012 at 04:03 pm
Save The Princess of Wales' Theatre! It's a landmark. If it gets demolished it will be our fault...that's what our kids and grandkids will say.
matts replying to a comment from Andrew / September 30, 2012 at 04:13 pm
You realize it's only 20 yrs old?
stephen harper / September 30, 2012 at 04:40 pm
i have long thought that what toronto really needs is more condo towers. this project fills that void and then some.
JP / September 30, 2012 at 04:40 pm
@ Andrew

I feel confident in guessing that three Frank Gehry designed skyscrapers, side by side, will become far more of a landmark than the Princess of Wales ever has been. We're not talking about the Elgin or Royal Alex here. It was build in 93. There's nothing wrong with it, but it's not iconic.
David Browne / September 30, 2012 at 04:46 pm
Just what we need more pricey condos for the wealthy and a shrine to the Mirvish family. Apparently greed just abounds in this city.
JP / September 30, 2012 at 04:47 pm
The anti condo tower crowd should keep in mind that we're not just talking about knocking down a theatre and building boring glass boxes here.

Gehry is probably the most renowned architect in the world today. His Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao basically transformed the entire city, and is hailed as one of the most important works in modern architecture.

We're always complaining that Toronto's architecture stinks. Here's an opportunity to build a landmark. I think it's time.
zz / September 30, 2012 at 06:05 pm
IF this goes through it should be 1/4 the proposed height or every project around it should be cancelled.

Units in festival tower across the street hav struggled to rent without lowering rent prices and the carrying costs are high so owners don't want to do that, End user investors are lucky if they buy in at these prices and break even. Stop building condos! This city is drowning in condos!
Wrenkin / September 30, 2012 at 08:20 pm
Why should we care about investors who paid too much? If the market is saturated or crashes then that will affect this project, but I don't see why I should cry for "end user investors".
Dave / September 30, 2012 at 09:00 pm
Tough to make a tower innovative..easy to line your pockets.
BillyO / September 30, 2012 at 09:35 pm
World class. I love it.

Adam Vaughan is on board with this project, unlike say, a potential casino downtown, so this should not face any hurdles that cannot be overcome.
Bigger / September 30, 2012 at 10:55 pm
David or Frank will not be living in the building. Also David will not have time for the Theatre with a big project like this. This will become the biggest slumland in Canada. 3 empty 85 story buildings. you will not need a car or a parking space. 500 square foot condo for $450.000. nobody will live here the bubble will burst long before its built.
Claire Allison / October 1, 2012 at 01:32 am
So basically David Mirvish is saying he can kill the theatre if he feels like it, since you know, he made it, and he'll just build a new one if he feels like it. Gosh, what's the problem guys?
Trent White / October 1, 2012 at 02:57 am
They have to do something to revitalize that area. The light box didn't work. Same dirty clubland space. It doesn't really matter to most of Toronto's population, just people who have invested time and money and are now bleeding. Loved it when you have all these frou frou socialites during Tiff walking around in what looks like a construction zone in high heels and tuxes going north from Light Box to the Scotiabank Theatre - right pass a Hooters. Now that's class 100%.
Grant / October 1, 2012 at 07:12 am
And we need this because? Emergency services are stretched thin now what happens when even more condos are built. Stop it already, I liked TO a lot more back in the sixties.
surprising / October 1, 2012 at 08:01 am
I can't help but be very surprised by people's reactions to this. More often than not, the blogTO crowd is overwhelmingly averse to new condos downtown. Who's going to afford to live here? What kind of neighborhood will this create? Are we to expect a giant Sobey's beside Roy Thompson Hall as well?

This project is nothing more than a condo-cash grab wrapped by a big-name architect and a token "museum" of basement art. I just feel sorry for the nearby businesses that will be crippled by 4 years of construction mess.
$$$ replying to a comment from Wrenkin / October 1, 2012 at 08:09 am
You should care because what happens if construction starts and investors pull out because the condo market tanks?

Condo developments need investors, how do they get built otherwise? Building condos in an already saturated neighborhood makes no sense
Connor / October 1, 2012 at 08:25 am
It's actually really sad to see BlogTO readers opposing this. It gives me less hope for the residents of Toronto. I think this will be a meaninful landmark addition to our downtown core. It is important for people to realize that we are talking about Frank Gehry here. Look into his history a little bit, this guy is one of the most groundbreaking architects of our time and has a vested interest in Toronto (take a quick look into where he is from and what he's accomplished there so far). If you are going to moan about another condo, rethink your argument, this won't just be a condo. If you're opposed to building new things in the city, move away. Huge gain here, minimal loss.
DL / October 1, 2012 at 08:28 am
There's nothing you can say or do, it'll go ahead - maybe with minor readjustments & especially with Vaughan behind it - it will! One thing the City should be concerned about is the burden that is being put on the public services (hospitals, TTC, etc). They will be stretched to the limit (& are now) with the population explosion that's going to happen in that area. The builders/developers n such should be made to pay a hefty fee (and I mean hefty) when introducing that many residents into one area! The City should do the math!
Sebastian St-Laurent / October 1, 2012 at 09:30 am
say goodbye to the theatre district, not only they will destroy a Theatre but the whole block. they will have to call this area, the "condo District" Even the new condo next door "theatre Park" will have to change name! Thats a shame. At least keep or rebuilt a theatre there , im sorry but who cares about a Mirvish museum! REALLY?!?
Stephanie / October 1, 2012 at 09:52 am
*I* care about a museum that will, with no admission price, showcase a 1,100-piece abstract art collection of international calibre. The theatre community's loss (of what Mirvish says is underused space) is the fine-art community's gain.

And the whole "emergency resources are strained" thing. Evidence, please?
Bill / October 1, 2012 at 10:10 am
Is anybody remembering for a minute that all this is being built around a 1960's infrastructure base. Sooner or later someone has to wake up and smell the coffee.
Doug replying to a comment from Bill / October 1, 2012 at 10:13 am
Since the city, province, and feds don't seem to care, developers don't either.

A project of this size should be enough ammunition to get another downtown subway line started. But it won't be. Developers will make millions, the city will get their fees, the province will clean up, and we'll all still be waiting for the King Streetcar in 2025.
Jess / October 1, 2012 at 10:17 am
I wonder how many of these outraged, die hard, "preserve the theatre district" people actually spend money going to see the performances or donate to the theatre itself. You can't keep a district afloat on half-price matinee student tickets.
skube / October 1, 2012 at 10:26 am
Isn't it said that constraint unleashes creativity?
Kirby Chan / October 1, 2012 at 10:58 am
I'm excited to see this happening. We need a landmark building that excites the citizens of Toronto.

Kirby Chan (
Serge / October 1, 2012 at 11:17 am
This is a tough project to pull off. It is going to need investments in downtown infrastructure, from sewer and water to public transit. If they can pull it off, it will be amazing. This is exactly the kind of ambitious project Toronto needs to pull it forward -- inevitable tall-poppyists notwithstanding.
MER1978 / October 1, 2012 at 11:20 am
Ok the idea is really interesting... but...

1. I don't understand why it's impossible to somehow incorporate the Princess of Wales in the design.

2. How many more of these MASSIVE condo buildings are we going to build without upgrading transit downtown?

I'm lucky enough to walk to work and I feel bad for anyone who has to take a subway or streetcar anywhere in the core during rush hour... all I ever see are insanely packed vehicles.
David / October 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm
The warehouse area IS Toronto King Street. The scale of this project adds congestion and the need for expensive disruptive infrastructure building. Does the architecture really FIT??
realityCheck / October 1, 2012 at 01:24 pm
Suprised to see so many commentators on BlogTo in favor of rampant condo develop that will further strain already overburdened infrastructure. No wonder Toronto is in the state that it's in. I'm not against intensification... but not at the expense of good planning. And good planning means more than just having a design that a certain demographic thinks looks "cool".
Yev / October 1, 2012 at 01:46 pm
Population density will completely exceed an already struggling transit system. The streetcar in rush hour is nearly useless, faster to walk. That's fine if you're going east, but what if you are going west, to say, Liberty village. Becomes quite a challenging journey wrought with many difficulties and uncertainties.

Hmm / October 1, 2012 at 01:54 pm
If they MUST make something so enormous and unnecessary in this currently lovely block... maybe they could do something like this:!new-york-by-gehry project (also by Gehry) which includes school AND hospital within its 76 stories.
Kelly Masterson / June 5, 2013 at 09:57 pm
David's no Honest Ed... :( It's all about the money... No matter how much you amass... you're still gonna' die just like everyone else David... :P
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