Alex Chan had no idea what he was getting into when he decided to open a cannabis store at 1605 Queen St. W. Chan expected to find a new space for his project, but he never thought he’d uncover the remnants of a once-famous 1920s theatre after walking into a utility closet.
“I went into what I thought was a supply closet, and I looked up in the closet, and I saw some of the original ceiling and that made me take a step back and think about why the ceiling was there,” he says.
Based on a hunch, Chan decided to knock down the rest of the ceiling to see if he could uncover more of the “golden rosette” motif. He hired a crew to excavate and found that most of the massive ceiling was still intact despite thousands of holes made by drop-ceiling panels.
“I decided to take down the rest of the drop ceiling and patch-up the rest of the original parts, and that’s how Parkdale Hall got started,” he says.
Chan became intrigued by the building’s history and worked with local historian, Jeremy Hopkin, to uncover the rest of the building’s timeline. What he found was that the building was Allen’s Parkdale Theatre from 1920 to 1923 and various other theatres (including Famous Players) until 1977 when it was turned into Eaton’s Bargain Clearance Store.
Throughout the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, the building changed hands, frequently moving from retail locations to TV stations and antique shops. Still, nobody noticed or bothered to uncover the space’s original design until Chan decided it was his fate to do so.
“Someone had to bring this history to the public and show this hidden gem, and why shouldn’t that person be me?” he says.
Swayed by the building’s history, Chan plans to bring the space closer to what it originally intended and devise a live performance venue.
“This could be a place of entertainment for people,” he says, “I may also make the space available for weddings and other events on the side, but my visions for it (after things come back online post-Covid) is a concert hall.”
It’s taken Chan and his crew months to restore the Parkdale Hall ceiling, but there’s still a ways to go before the space is concert-ready. Through research, Chan discovered that the theatre’s original design included an orchestra pit created to accompany the silent films that ruled 1920s screens.
Unfortunately, the orchestra pit wasn’t part of the space when Chan took over, but he is working on setting the hall up for great sound.
“We’re just starting our processes to treat the space for sound. I’ve been talking to sound technicians, specialists, and distributors, to see how we can best treat it for live music. Right now, the hall has lots of hard surfaces, which is not great for sound,” he says.
Right now, Parkdale Hall is home to The Parkdale Antiques and Collectibles Market — another nod of respect and preservation to the area’s history.
“This end of Queen Street was known as an antique-hub. Because of COVID-19, some of the other antique markets had closed down, and vendors were looking for a space to vend, so I thought it’d be perfect to have the market here [at Parkdale Hall], and it bolsters what this side of Queen Street was in the past decade,” he says.
Parkdale Hall is currently at capacity as far as antique vendors go, but Chan plans to keep renovating the space throughout the winter and be ready for post-Covid life.
“Yes, the pandemic is terrible, and we want to make sure everyone’s safe, but this will end at some point,” Chan says.” I want to position my venue [Parkdale Hall] to be in a good spot for when things do open up.”
The Parkdale Hall news comes at a time when the city has lost some of its most treasured live music venues including the Mod Club, Orbit Room and others. Nice to have some good news for a change.