Description of Historic Place
The Grand Theatre is located at 471 Richmond Street, on the west side of Richmond Street between Dufferin Avenue and Fullarton Street, in the downtown area of the City of London. The single-storey theatre building was constructed in 1901.
The property was designated, by the City of London, in 1978, for its historic or architectural value or interest, under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law L.S.P.-2342-132).
The Grand Theatre is representative of the City of London's long relationship with theatre. Londoners have supported local theatre since the British Garrison Theatre was established in 1839. The Grand Opera House at King and Richmond was the focus of theatrical activity in the second half of the 19th century and although it was destroyed by fire in 1900, it was replaced by the Grand Theatre, at the present site, in 1901. With 1850 seats, the Grand Theatre was one of the largest theatres in Ontario, and was typical of the touring houses of the period.
The Grand Theatre is also significant for its association with Ambrose Small, a wealthy businessman who financed its construction. Small had his own box seat on stage right, for many years. Ambrose Small is also renowned for having disappeared under mysterious circumstances. On the afternoon of December 2, 1919, Small deposited a cheque for one million dollars into the bank and was never seen again. Years after his disappearance, stage hands and actors alike have claimed to have seen his ghost haunting the theatre. A plaque was erected by the London Public Library Board, in 1975, to commemorate the Grand Opera House as well as its long-standing association with Ambrose Small.
The Grand Theatre was built in 1901 and was of a typical pattern for touring houses of the period. The interior of the theatre was designed in the Edwardian style, with an ornate proscenium arch, side boxes and two balconies. The proscenium arch was painted by a Toronto artist named Frederick Sponton and it is decorated with pastoral scenes of aristocratic times. The Grand Theatre went through extensive renovations, in 1978, and although most of the building was demolished and rebuilt, the original 1901 proscenium arch and main stage have been incorporated into the 1978 reconstruction.
Sources: City of London By-law L.S.P.-2342-132; City of London Designated Heritage Building Document, date unknown; “Restorers of Grand Will Keep a Wary Eye” – London Free Press, August 14, 1976.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Grand Theatre include its:
- physical layout, particularly the stage, seating and balconies
- continued use of the theatre for theatrical productions for over 100 years
- 1975 plaque commemorating Ambrose Small, his disappearance and its connection with the theatre
- original stage and original ornate proscenium arch of the Edwardian era
- location in downtown London