Local buyers who aim to keep 1930s-era movie house open say their conditional offer is accepted
Ex-Hollywood producer Fred Fuchs involved
A not-for-profit group of local investors has purchased the historic Westdale Theatre, alleviating community concerns about the building’s fate.
Graham Crawford, one of four backers who intend to restore the landmark 1930s cinema, says a conditional purchase offer from the group was recently accepted.
“Our offer was accepted by the owner but we’re going through the process of inspection and evaluating the conditions that were part of the offer,” said Crawford, a wellknown community activist, arts supporter and podcaster.
According to Crawford, inspection of the 6,630-square-foot building in the heart of Westdale Village has already taken place.
“It’s due diligence, pure and simple,” he said. “We’ll have full official reports on Tuesday.”
The movie house, located at 1014 King St. W., is owned by the Toronto-based family of longtime owner Peter Sorokolit, who died in 2015. The Westdale opened in the fall of 1935.
The cinema, which has been in decline for decades, was put on the sales block on Dec. 22 for $1.79 million.
Crawford prefers not to reveal what the purchase offer was “for the time being,” but he notes the group isn’t seeking any government assistance for buying the building.
“We’re actually speaking with local philanthropists and arts supporters to help us put up all the money that’s actually required to purchase the building, then we’ll begin fundraising and applying for grants to help renovate the building.”
Besides Crawford, the group consists of Fred Fuchs, Bob Crockford and Jeremy Freiburger. Officially named the Westdale Cinema Group, Crawford says the registered not-for-profit will also be applying for charitable status. The plan is to do a “state-of-the-art restoration.” The building’s architectural features will be preserved and it will be used for screening art and independent films as well as a space for music, readings and lectures.
“It will be primarily cinema, but we definitely want to revitalize the building and space by making it multipurpose,” said Crawford.
Ward 1 Coun. Aidan Johnson, whose ward includes the cinema, is delighted by the development. “This is a good news story,” Johnson said.
A big fan of the old bijou, Johnson helped draw attention to its fading charms through a council motion to speed up an application for the building’s heritage designation.
Johnson also successfully stickhandled the possibility of using Ward 1 area-rating infrastructure funds to help upgrade the building’s heritage features. He needed to get buy-in from his participatory budget advisory committee because the deadline for submitting funding proposals had already passed.
Crawford says the project is not contingent on landing any Ward 1 money but it would certainly help and be appreciated.
According to Johnson, he’ll need to see the financial plan and other funding sources for the cinema before any plan is created for using Ward 1 tax dollars. “There’s still work to be done; it’s not at all a done deal.”
The prospect of using area-rating dollars may also encounter active resistance. Mark Coakley, chair of the Ainslie Wood Community Association, one of Johnson’s neighbourhood groups, has no interest in seeing ward funds going to the theatre.
Though the association has not staked out a position, Coakley is personally opposed for a variety of reasons. Among other things, he argues putting money into the theatre is a “frill” compared to helping the “gaping social needs” of his neighbourhood, which he says is much less affluent than Westdale.
“It’s an elitist project,” says Coakley. “Artistic expression and a sense of community are important but they’re not as important as dealing with poverty, dealing with children who have no place to play.”
Johnson rejects the idea that helping the cinema is elitist. “The Westdale cinema is a secular sacred place. It’s a place where people of all classes and neighbourhoods and educations levels … find community together.”
It sounds like it could also become a focal point for competing neighbourhood priorities.