Agreeing to the destruction of any playhouse these days is a decision not to be taken lightly, and Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre is not just any playhouse – it is a stunning facility, purpose-built as recently as 1993 for blockbuster musical shows, and the first privately owned and financed live theatre built in Canada since 1907. It is hard to conceive that its run should last only two decades.
But David Mirvish, the impresario who, with his late father Ed, is responsible for giving the country the gift of the Princess of Wales Theatre in the first place, and who has done so much to preserve Toronto’s other great theatres, such as the Royal Alexandra, has produced a redevelopment plan that is impossible to say no to. In place of the Princess of Wales Theatre, and some other older but mostly nondescript low-rise structures, would be a trio of 85-storey towers designed by the legendary Frank Gehry.
Mr. Mirvish has presented architectural concepts that, if built as envisioned, would transform not only the entertainment district of Toronto, but also the city itself. Great architecture is sometimes floated by developers in early renderings, only to be altered in favour of more humdrum designs in the building process. That might be a risk with another developer. But the involvement of Mr. Mirvish is a guarantee of sorts; he is more than a businessman, he is a visionary community leader.
And while a theatre would be lost, the city would gain a new museum of abstract art, featuring works by the likes of Frank Stella, whose striking murals so define the Princess of Wales Theatre. And it would also gain an architectural centrepiece for its downtown. As Mr. Mirvish puts it, the development itself represents “three sculptures you can live in by a great artist.” It is a vote of confidence in the future of Canada’s largest city.