Originally published on Torontoist on September 11, 2007.
Source: Toronto ’59: One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Anniversary.
As Torontoist reported yesterday, the Hummingbird Centre is changing its name to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, marking the second change in corporate naming rights during the venue’s half-century existence. Support of the site has ranged from a philanthropic brewer (O’Keefe Brewing head E.P. Taylor) to a multinational media company.
As today’s ad promised, Yonge and Front has seen a wide range of performances since the O’Keefe Centre officially rolled out the red carpet on October 1, 1960. Broadway musicals were a natural to top the list, as the grand opening featured the out-of-town tryout for Camelot, starring Julie Andrews, Richard Burton and former CBC television performer Robert Goulet. Opening night proved a lengthy affair, with the final curtain falling close to 1 a.m. Show writer Alan Jay Lerner noted in his biography that “only Tristan and Isolde equaled it as a bladder endurance contest.” The show was significantly trimmed by the time it hit the Great White Way two months later.
In its 1974 Toronto Guidebook, Toronto Life summed up the O’Keefe’s history. Note the usage of capital letters on certain words.
It was built for $12 million in 1960 as a public relations gesture by a brewery – and has been patronized ever since chiefly by the kind of people who drink Scotch…The O’Keefe Centre, when it was built, was the largest concert hall in North America—3,155 seats in a cavernous auditorium, approached through a lobby which, with its carpeting, chandeliers and mural by R. York Wilson, is a monument to Culture in its own right.
The road towards the venue’s first name change began when Carling O’Keefe was purchased by rival brewer Molson in 1989. The naming rights were sold by the city (who received the property from O’Keefe in the late 1960s) to software producer Hummingbird in 1996.
In this age of rapidly-revolving corporate names on buildings, is anyone willing to place bets on how long the Sony name survives?
Opening night at the O’Keefe Centre, October 1, 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 796.
As of 2017, the venue still bears Sony’s name. A large nearby parking lot still refers to it by its original name.
For a fuller look at the O’Keefe Centre’s origins, check out Kevin Plummer’s Historicist column.