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Massey Hall has all the attributes of a great concert venue: acoustics, ambience, history. Unfortunately, it is also a bit of a dump.

One hundred and twenty years will do that to a place. The old brick façade, with the stairs of its iron fire escape zigzagging to a peak above the front doors, is distinctly shabby. The 58 stained glass windows, some of them 16 feet tall, were covered up years ago to keep out the light and the street noise. The cramped rows of seating in the upper galleries have not been replaced since the building opened in 1894. The roomier ground-floor seats, which tilt back charmingly when you sit, are a comparatively youthful 66 years old.

An ambitious renovation that kicked off with a ceremony on Monday seeks to restore the hall to its old glory. The goal, says Massey chief executive Charles Cutts, is to "change nothing, improve everything." He seeks to update the hall with all the latest amenities without destroying the intimacy of the place, which makes visitors feel as if they are listening to a private concert in a plush Victorian parlour.

Just about everyone can remember the first concert they attended in the lovely old cavern on Shuter Street, which has played host to everyone from Luciano Pavarotti to Bob Dylan and from Charlie Parker to Justin Bieber.

Mayor John Tory, sheepish about dating himself, said he saw Jack Benny play the hall. Rush lead Geddy Lee said he went there to see the 1960s supergroup Cream.

Like many visitors, I can still point to the place I sat for a favourite Massey moment: listening to Bruce Springsteen, alone on the stage with his guitar and harmonica, in 1996.

"Artists have told us the magic is in this room," says Mr. Cutts, who watched Mr. Dylan play under the hall's arched Moorish roof in 1965.

Restoring Massey will mean replacing the seats, unveiling the hidden stained glass and bringing back the luxurious, boarded-up theatre boxes flanking the stage. It will also mean equipping the hall with practical things such as better washrooms, access for the handicapped and lobby space where patrons can gather at intermissions.

Massey, Mr. Cutts announced proudly, will even get its first loading dock. As it stands, roadies have to bring all their performers' equipment through the front doors and trundle it up ramps straight onto the stage.

The renovation will take place in two phases. The first, celebrated on Monday, will create new back-of-house and administrative space by digging down 38 feet at the rear of the building. It will take advantage of land donated by developers as part of a deal with the city to build a condominium tower just to the south. Mr. Cutts, who paid tribute to the donors, calls that land "the most valuable in Canadian show business."

After the tower is finished, a second phase, beginning in 2019, will fix up the inside and outside of the hall itself. That will mean that Massey will go dark for 18 to 24 months to make way for the work.

The whole thing will take a lot of time (seven years) and an awful lot of money (perhaps $135-million), but it seems worth it. Massey is Toronto's equivalent of New York's Carnegie Hall. It is a civic embarrassment that it has been allowed to remain for so long in such a state.

Both provincial and federal governments are pitching in to pay for the project. So are two bank groups, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto-Dominion Bank.

The restored building will be a jewel of the city's cultural life and a reminder of its heritage. In a video shown at Monday's event, the late CBC broadcaster and producer Vincent Massey Tovell said that when his forbear Hart Massey built the hall, "it represented everything that was the best about Toronto." With a little overdue care and attention, it will again.

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