Toronto’s last porn theatre to become rock climbing gym

Katrina Clarke | May 1, 2015 | Toronto Star

climbing-2.jpg.size.custom.crop.821x650.jpgWhere there were once sweaty naked bodies, there will soon be sweaty, not-quite-naked bodies.

The longstanding mystery surrounding the future of Toronto’s last porn theatre was solved on Wednesday when the owner of a rock climbing business announced he’s moving into the Little Korea space.

“We’re taking something that was a little bit seedy and scummy and making it available for families, kids, friends to go and hang out,” said Matt Languay, owner of the soon-to-be-built Basecamp Climbing Gym.

The Metro Theatre was built in 1938 and became a skin flick theatre in the 1970s. Its former owner, Karim Hirji, whose wealthy family bought the Bloor St. W. business back in 1979, had been trying to sell it for more than a decade.

“I’ve passed by The Metro hundreds of times and just sort of seen it as this empty, vacant space,” Languay said. “It’s kind of a spot that people walked by instead of looking at.”

Languay, an avid climber who grew up in Toronto, said he has been in talks with the building’s new owners — a numbered company that purchased the building for $2.9 million back in August 2013 — for more than a year.

He was attracted to the space because of its prime location, near Christie Pits Park and Christie subway station and its potential to house a 12-metre-high climbing wall, he said.

It was also a great opportunity to give the dilapidated building — a controversial but historic piece of Toronto — a “facelift,” he said.

“When people think about Honest Ed’s or Sam the Record Man, they have a different viewpoint than when they think of the cartoon half-naked woman on The Metro Theatre (sign), you know what I mean?” he said.

Ward 19 councillor Mike Layton said the gym will “breathe new life” into the space.

“It’s certainly a creative reuse considering the former use,” he said.

Renovation work so far has been extensive, with construction crews ripping up a sloped cement floor, tearing out the second floor theatre, demolishing a third floor projector room and reinforcing the front wall, he said.

Languay admits it’s been a long process to get the project off the ground —unexpected costs prompted him to launch a Kickstarter campaign with a target of $25,000 — but he said he’s determined to open in October.

“I couldn’t be happier at this moment,” he said.

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About Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto- and Vancouver-based freelance reporter. Her work appears in the National Post, the Toronto Star, CBC Life and J-Source. Reach her at katrina.clarke24@gmail.com or on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.
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