Keith Gloster refers to Brantford’s Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts as “the queen of our downtown core.” So when the community volunteers for Our Town: Brantford gathered to brainstorm ideas for the program, it was no surprise that Keith choose to focus on the magnificent theatre that has been entertaining the community for 90 years.
“Our city is surrounding the Sanderson and the theatre has an elegance that, I feel, is untouched,” Keith proclaims. “I couldn’t see that Brantford could tell its story without a full exposition on the Sanderson Theatre.”
The origins of the Sanderson Centre dates back 90 years. On December 22, 1919 the Temple Theatre opened featuring five vaudeville acts and the silent movie “Heart of the Hills” starring Canadian Mary Pickford. “It was probably the only theatre in the city of Brantford, but I can’t attest to that, I really wasn’t there,” notes Keith.
It was designed by Scottish architect Thomas Lamb and built by P.H. Secord and Sons at a cost of $350,000. Called Brantford’s “Supreme Playhouse”, the ceiling was suspended from the roof by a steel girder system so that there weren’t any pillars to obstruct the view.
“I had the treat of going above the actual ceiling itself in a tour,” Keith recalls. “A place, I’m told, where a ghost resides and one of the technicians claims that he definitely saw a young girl walking across the space up in there. To see the ropes that control the flies onstage, manually manipulated and counterbalanced, it’s quite a sensation. Now, it’s not something every patron’s going to get an opportunity to see, but I tried to capture some of it in the video for the benefit of the viewers.”
Many famous vaudeville performers like Gloria Swanson, Jack Benny and Louise Loring graced the stage. Guy Lombardo and his band “The Royal Canadians” were among those who made their musical debut on the Temple stage.
“In 1929 Famous Players, seeing the decline in vaudeville, decided they would buy the house and start to show movies on a regular basis. It was renamed the Capital Theatre and for six decades, that’s exactly what they did“, notes Keith. “Generations of Brantfordians have attended performances in that hall. As television increased in importance, as other entertainments came along, it was decided to shut the theatre down as a movie theatre and turn it back into a live performance hall. With the support of many, many people and the City of Brantford, the hall was transformed out of this fairly standard, theatrical robe, into this magnificent theatre.”
“And thanks to the sponsorship of many patrons, we have a theatre that is second to none.
In fact, the U.S. Renovations Committee chose this and the San Francisco Opera House for a choice of the best renovation of the year in 1999, I believe, which sets it apart on the world stage. It’s a really wonderful performer’s theatre and we’re very proud and lucky to have in this city.”
“There are absolutely fabulous features in this theatre.--a domed ceiling with a beautiful chandelier, wonderful medallions and decorative stenciling that all hark back to the original theatre. Many of the original features have been enhanced and reproduced. The flooring is exactly as it was when the Temple Theatre opened. The rugs were specially rewoven to match the original. You’ll see some of the original artwork that was there. A three muses mural has been recreated, one large picture that, that demonstrates the arts in its finest-- music, sound, and writing. It’s absolutely fabulous. It has been carefully and painstakingly redone and brought back to a magnificent presence. It’s as if you step back towards the 1920s when you enter that theatre. It is quiet, reflective, it will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you have a great time and make you want to come back again. I hope people will get the sense of what it’s like to come to the theatre--the class, the elegance, the experience”
Keith Gloster’s look at the Sanderson Centre is just one of the stories in Our Town: Brantford . . .