Meridian Hall, once the O’Keefe Centre, is a performing art and entertainment venue located at 1 Front St E (at Yonge St) in the St Lawrence neighbourhood of Toronto.
Architecture of the O’Keefe Centre
Completed in 1960 and originally named after the O’Keefe Brewery, the venue’s sponsor, the performing art centre is built on land donated by the City of Toronto. Designed by architects Peter Dickenson when he worked for the architectural firm Page + Steele and also Earle C Morgan, the O’Keefe Centre was built in Mid-Century Modern style.
The interior, with its opulent ambience, was designed by Herbert Irvine. The north entrance and double-height lobby are clad with white Carrara marble. Along the curved upper north wall of the lobby is a magnificent 30 m or 100 ft mural by Toronto artist York Wilson titled The Seven Lively Arts. On the south wall are a pair of bronze and granite cantilevered staircases. With unobstructed views of the stage, the contemporary fan-shaped auditorium features a large balcony along with cherry wood acoustic panels and a suspended acoustic ceiling. It’s the largest soft-seat venue in Canada, and when built, the hall had a seating capacity of 3250.
The exterior is limestone and black granite with bronze doors and window frames. It’s made up of three distinct parts:
- The entrance block with its iconic sloped canopy filled with rows of mirrored globe lights.
- The auditorium with its slanted roof stands behind the entrance block.
- The fly tower with its flat roof follows the auditorium.
A Variety of Entertainers
The opening night gala was on October 1, 1960, and featured a musical production of Camelot with Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and Robert Goulet.
This major performing arts venue has hosted legendary musicians, dance performances, comedy acts, international performers, award shows, and special events through the years. Performers include Louis Armstrong, David Bowie, Anne Murray, Harry Belafonte, Radiohead, Miriah Carey, Led Zeppelin, Don Rickles, Ina Garten, Martin Short, Steven Martin, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, the New York Philharmonic orchestra and many more.
The Hummingbird & Sony Centre
In 1996, it was renamed the Hummingbird Centre. In 2007, the venue closed to undergo major renovations. Exactly 50 years from the day it first opened, the arts and entertainment hub relaunched as the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
In 2019, TO Live began a partnership with Meridian Credit Union, and it was renamed Meridian Hall. Today, the venue has 3,191 seats. TO Live is a City of Toronto agency that also operates Meridian Arts Centre and St Lawrence Centre for the Arts.
Did You Know?
- Before the O’Keefe Centre started the transformation of the neighbourhood, the area was home to 19th century warehouse buildings. Specifically where Meridian Hall is today, the Dominion Tires occupied the northern portion while the Great Western Railway Station (later the Toronto Wholesale Fruit Market) occupied the southern portion of the site.
- Along with designing the interior of the O’Keefe Centre, Herbert Irvine, was the Head Decorator for Eaton’s and also designed five Canadian embassies and assisted in the restoration of the Royal Alexandra Theatre.
- In June 1974, the Russian/Bolshoi Ballet were performing at the O’Keefe Centre. It was on this stage that Mikhail Baryshnikov famously defected from the USSR.
- The building received heritage status in 1990.
- In 2016, Studio Libeskind completed the 58-storey L Tower. The residential condo tower is next to and south of Meridian Hall. It features a dramatic curve so not to cast a shadow onto Berczy Park which is northeast of the structure.
Meridian Hall Photos
- City of Toronto Heritage Register: 1 Front St E
- Ontario Heritage Trust: 1 Front St E
- Meridian Hall: About Us
- Maclean’s Herbert Irvine Benevolent despot of decor
- The Canadian Encyclopedia: Toronto Feature: O’Keefe Centre
- CTV News – Toronto: City wins legal battle to take control of vacant market on Queen Street
- Studio Libeskind: L Tower & Sony Centre
- Toronto Architecture: A City Guide by Patricia McHugh
- Vintage Photos: City of Toronto Archives & TO Live