One of Toronto's most unique cinemas has now made it official that they are sticking around on Bloor Street for the foreseeable future. Following a generous $4-million gift from the Rogers Foundation, Hot Docs has announced that it is purchasing the property it currently occupies from its partner, Toronto-based Blue Ice Group, with which it has held a rental agreement since the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema opened in 2012. The donation also comes with an additional $1-million to establish the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Fund, which will provide financial support to Canadian documentary filmmakers. In honour of the late benefactor, the theatre will be renamed the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
The announcement comes at a time when the cinema's Bloor-Bathurst location is facing increasing development pressure in recent years. With the completed B Streets Condos down the street, and the much larger Mirvish Village redevelopment proposal currently in the planning process, density is making its way further west along Bloor into the Annex. The purchase of the theatre property ensures that the cinema will remain on Bloor for the foreseeable future, and establishes a permanent location for the popular documentary film festival.
The historic property has had a tumultuous history, beginning back in 1913 with the opening of the Madison Theatre, one of the first 'picture palaces' in Toronto. The building was purchased in 1940 by 20th Century Theatres, who demolished the original structure and constructed a new theatre, opening the Midtown in 1941. Since then, the cinema has changed hands several times and has undergone several name changes over the years, including stints as an adult-only cinema and a family-friendly theatre. Facing heavy development pressure, the struggling Bloor Theatre was purchased in 2010 by the Bordonaro family to ensure it remained a cinema, who subsequently found like-minded buyers Blue Ice Group in 2011, led by Neil Tabatznik in partnership with the Hot Docs Festival.
The building has since undergone extensive renovations carried out by Hariri Pontarini Architects, reopening in 2012 as the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. The architects aimed to respect and preserve the history of the theatre, refurbishing and preserving many of the building's original features in what the architect referred to as a kind of "archaeology", having to dig through the layers of modern accretions to find the original finishes. The interiors were brought up to contemporary standards with new plush seating installed, larger washroom facilities, a larger screen, and new projection and audio equipment.
A notable feature of the building is the large glass wall added in at the back of the auditorium, allowing views into the cinema from the street through the expanded lobby. As well, the iconic marquee on the front facade was added as part of the refurbishment to evoke the property's 100-year history as a community theatre.
The Hot Docs Festival is the largest documentary festival in North America, having just held its 23rd annual edition this past spring. Further to the festival, the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema is one of the only documentary-specific theatres in the world, and has since expanded its program with specialized features such as the Doc Soup series, the Curious Minds morning speaker series, and collaborations with the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Globe and Mail, and the AGO, among others. Amid rapidly rising attendance, the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema will continue this tradition as one of Toronto's hottest cultural institutions.
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