Designed as a general-purpose hall for performance, music and dance, the O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts—now known as Meridian Hall—first opened its doors on October 1, 1960. Its design was led by the architectural practice Page & Steele, with Peter Dickinson as its chief design architect, in collaboration with architect Earle Clifford Morgan, interiors by Herbert Irvine and landscapes by Dunnington Grubb. The hall’s location at the foot of Yonge and Front was part of the early effort to revitalize the St. Lawrence neighbourhood through the introduction of contemporary cultural venues, acting as a gateway to the district. Previous tenants include the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company.
Its exterior is clad in Alabama limestone, bronze detailing, and black granite. A dramatic canopy cantilevers 15.8 metres over the entranceway, and a series of covered pedestrian walkways and gardens provide an interface between the building and the city. The alignment of these walkways responds to the surrounding city streets which includes a sharp diagonal turn on Front Street, whereas the main hall and fly tower are aligned to the city’s traditional grid. All three key functional building elements: the lobby, hall, and flytower, are clearly articulated in the exterior.
Inside, the use of materials like carrara marble, black granite, and bronze continues. Designed to be a hall for the masses, the fan-shaped performance hall holds 3,200 spectators with no obstructed sightlines and no seat further from that stage than 38m. Similarly, the hall is surrounded by generous circulation and lobby spaces, reminiscent of London’s Royal Festival Hall, and a contrast to the tight spaces of most traditional theatres in the city. Its double storey main lobby is punctuated by a 30-metre-long mural by Toronto-born artist R. York Wilson titled “The Seven Lively Arts,” celebrating artistic expression through painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, dance, and drama.
In 1996, the building underwent renovations that included the installation of an elevator. In 2010, it underwent a significant restoration and revitalization project that included refinishing the bronze doors and handrail pickets, uncovering marble that had been previously hidden, and adding new seating and amenities.
Morgan, Earle C., and Forsey Page. “The O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts.” Journal RAIC, Nov. 1960, pp. 461–487.
Martins-Manteiga, John. “Peter Dickinson”, 2010
Address 1 Front St. E., Toronto
Built 1960, 1995
Design Team (1960) Earle C. Morgan with Page & Steele; (1995) Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg
Coordinates 4.646685, -79.376183