The Illustrated City

Black and White Graffiti Photography

The Gallery of Shadows

Location, location, location!

I’m not just drawn to street art and hardcore graffiti that I think is executed well (it’s far too easy to find substandard work) I’m looking to find them in places of real character and ambiance. Places that seem to help the street art to have impact either when you see them in person or through photography. Of course, I continue to wonder if the location of street art especially that, which is unsolicited, are always strategic moves to the people putting them there or just of convenience.

Sometimes in Hamilton I find pieces that I think are quite strong aesthetically, socially or politically because of their placement but not many. I still search.

I have come across places in cities; even the one I live in, where I actually wish someone would put up a sophisticated mural or an elaborate tag just as I have come across places that I think should have been left alone (some have aptly liken the latter circumstance to dogs marking territory).

This is an image of ethical (permitted by the property owners) graffiti from The Tivoli Theatre Off The Wall Street Art Project of 2012. The Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble (CBYE) that owns the building, the Hamilton Police Service (HPS) and the Beasley Neighbourhood Association (BNA) teamed up to provide a legal outlet for street artists and graph-writers in the city. I wanted to capture the work before it faded or rival unethical taggers cross-tagged over it.

The history of the edifice is rather important too. The Tivoli Theatre is an old Beasley neighbourhood building that became a popular movie cinema. Originally built in the 1870′s with stores on the ground floor and a carriage factory on top, it was turned into the Wonderland Theatre in 1908, and then renamed the Colonial in 1909. In 1913, it became known as the Princess, and opened as a theatre or vaudeville playhouse in 1924 under the name of the Tivoli. From then, movies began to be shown in it. The Tivoli was the first, or third, cinema in Canada to show films with sound. The first time I ever saw Star Wars was there.

Famous Players Theatres sold the Tivoli in 1988, and the new owner ended film screenings there in 1989. The space had been leased to a number of theatrical groups in subsequent years. Hollywood actor/film directors Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez filmed part of their most unpopular docudrama “Rated-X” in the Tivoli back in 1999.

At least one of the theatrical groups that leased the building, the Tivoli Rennaisance Project, sunk a lot of money into renovating the structure that they didn’t even own. That’s really something because the story around the town is that the extremely wealthy music retail enterprise owner; Sam the Record Man Sniderman, wouldn’t spend a dime to fix it up; even though he told the city he would when he bought the theatre from Famous Players. The story goes that he even tried a number of ways of getting the city to pay for it all. There are some who frankly dismiss this story as false rumor.

What is true is that the theatre was purchased by the non-profit Canadian Ballet Youth Ensemble in 2004, and then on June 29 of that year, while Sam Sniderman still technically owned it, a section of the Tivoli’s south side wall had collapsed. Fortunately no one was in the building at the time. The city found the remaining roof and supporting structure to be deteriorating and unsafe to the public. City Hall was faced with the decision to arbitrarily condemn and rip out the remaining weakened portions of the structure. Appropriately, so the story goes; again refuted by some, City Hall stuck the owner with the cleanup bill. Depending on who you talk to, that price tag ranges from $300,000 to $560, 000. Indignant, the owner tried to sue the city, and was able to get most of what was left of the Tivoli demolished before the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) succeeded in having the old landmark remnants declared as a Canadian heritage site.

It’s roughly half to 3/4 of the original building that was left, and the ruins became one of many lingering blights on the face of the downtown core for years. The ballet company began working to come up with the upwards of $12 million (eventually $15 million, and yet more as costs continued to inflate) needed to build a new theatre that would be, at most, in honor of the old Tivoli. The city reportedly granted the new owners $20, 000 in 2008 to help the ballet company pay for a heritage feasibility study. The aim was to figure out possible uses for the old theatre, and see if the public truly was as interested in seeing the property restored as local activists and the art community had made out it was for many years prior.

In 2008, the Heritage and Urban Design group prepared and published three optional architectural renderings for exploring the potential of site re-development of the demolished James Street North portion of the theatre. Each design featured old and modern aesthetics that complimented each other, and maximized space. Public interest seemed to be semi-strong, and it was presumed by some that the new owners would have to bring in other arts groups in order to rebuild the theatre, and keep it going.

By December 2009, city council approved a $50,000 interest-free loan to the CBYE in order to retrofit the theatre’s roof. That sum is said to have been paid back to the city in an efficient and responsible manner.

As the CBYE continued to own the property and pursue redevelopment for their use, they hosted The Tivoli Theatre Off The Wall Street Art Project in the summer of 2012, and permitted street art and ethical graffiti to go up there. Then, in February of 2013, the owner of the CBYE sold the property to her husband for $900, 000. Certainly a steal when you consier that the property is staying within the family, and that family had actually purchased the ruins from Sam Sneiderman for a reported $1. Yes, a buck! With taxes, the sale was more like $2!

It was in September of 2013 that the new owner, Dominic Diamante, announced his aims to convert the structure into 106 highrise but trendy condominiums for the city’s art district.


8 thoughts on “The Illustrated City

  1. I like graffiti and hate scribble. Always wondered what it is that moves in the person who go and Scribble it all down. Now, Stockholm has had no official graffiti walls, but I have not visited any of them yet. This sticky snow make me antisocial and goes out only when I need to.

    Interesting history of the theater. Nice when they can live on even if the road is tortuous ..but in the end, the big bad wolf is coming. Not så good. 😦

    • I’m with you on the graffiti. I know what I like, and what I don’t.

      It’s my understanding that, currently, the owner of the Tivoli has yet to decide if he’s going to go ahead with the plans to build the condo tower, although it’s practically looks to be a go. City council seems to be optimistic about it but one trick that needs to be overcome is that it is said that the location in the Beasley neighbourhood is zoned to allow buildings of only certain height. This tower project is said to be approximately three times the permitted height.

      There is a little chatter that the project could be one of many others that are needed to transform the city skyline for the better. Hamilton has landmarks but none that are tremendously memorable to either citizens or visitors. The architectural rendering of the prospective building is nice but I’m not sure if a high rise condominium built in this day and age will ever be recognized as a landmark. NYC has many of them, of course, that have been around for decades so they’re memorable but times and people’s considerations have changed with regards to this sort of thing.

      I do agree with those; however, who believe that as the city transforms – as it needs too, over the next few decades the aesthetic impact of this building could be contributive to the changing look without being a memorable landmark.

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