New ownership takes over the iconic venue
The show will go on for the Westdale Theatre. The houselights may have come up briefly, but Hamilton has once again proven itself capable of keeping the hand of progress from demolishing all of its crown jewels.
The Sorokolit family of Toronto owned the theatre for thirty-six years. When the patriarch of the family passed away, many wondered whether the Westdale would be sold and, if so, to whom? The question was answered this past winter when the Sorokolits listed the theatre for $1.8 million.
Film producer and Dundas resident Fred Fuchs loves art house cinema. When he moved to Dundas two years ago he was disappointed that there were no genuine art house theatres in Hamilton. The closest place to go was the Bell Lightbox in Toronto. When he heard about the sale of the Westdale, he saw an opportunity to bring new life, and art, into an old building.
He organized a meeting with several members of the Hamilton arts community who were also concerned about the possible demise of the iconic single-screen 450-seat
The speed at which everything came together is worthy of a silver screen adaptation itself.
Within 72 hours, Mr. Fuchs, along with retired entrepreneur Bob Crockford, Graham Crawford of the Incite Foundation, and Jeremy Freiburger of CoBALT Connects, registered Westdale Cinema Group as a non-profit organization, submitted an offer for the theatre, and settled on a purchase price. They officially take possession of the building at the end of April. But they are already in the process of conducting a building inspection, determining restoration and conservation costs, and connecting with the rest of the Hamilton community, who are keen to be a part of the Westdale Cinema Group’s plans.
“It feels like one of those projects that has to happen,” responded Mr. Fuchs when asked about timelines. Although they are not sure how long it will take to restore the theatre, the group is keen to do it “as soon as possible.” And the Westdale Cinema Group is aware of the potential for the theatre to be a community hub.
“My vision has always been an inclusive project and to get the whole [Hamilton] community involved,” Mr. Fuchs explained. “And it’s not just a cinema. There’s going to be a stage, so you can have orchestras, musicians, comedians, public speakers, lecturers, town hall and community meetings, [and] live-streaming events, like the opera.”
“When we’re finished, this will be a state-of-the-art, best cinema experience, perhaps not just in Hamilton, but all of southern Ontario.”
Mr. Fuchs is quick to point out that the Westdale Theatre has a soul. Built in 1935 in Canada’s first planned community, the Art Deco theatre has a long history in Hamilton’s collective memory. Many people can recall their first dates, or the first time they saw a particular movie, in the seats of the Westdale. It’s a blessing to see a group of people in our community care enough to make sure that it continues to serve as a space for many more future memories.