Once Closed... the Many Lives of Hearn, and Dreams of what it Could be in the Future
"The Hearn" was converted to a gas powered plant in 1971, although four units continued to burn coal. But that didn't last long. Between 1978 and 1979, the plant was closed down, and in 1983, it was decommissioned.
At first, just the asbestos insulation and giant turbo machinery that generated the power were moved from the building. The site then sat abandoned, but most of its inside features still in place.
During this time, the building became a favourite spot for "urban explorers", an illegal activity where adventuresome individuals, often with cameras, break into older, often closed buildings in order to explore and boast about their adventure. One such photographer, however, was severely injured while exploring the coal chute, and later died in hospital.
What to do with "The Hearn"?
When threatened with demolition, many came forward with ideas about how the site could be used. In 2010, for example, the architecture firm Behnisch Architekten presented a proposal for converting the Hearn site into a three-pad arena, but this plan did not proceed. Others have suggested indoor soccer fields, tennis courts, and event space.
Others speculated about making it a residential area, but the lands around the site where the coal piles stood are considered contaminated. Plus in 2008, the natural-gas powered Portlands Energy Centre was opened next to the site, thus ending any idea of the area being residential.
BIG Party Space
In 2014, the Hearn, like a retired Hollywood star, put on her "gala" wear once again when it was used for the Toronto Luminato Festival Big Bang Bash. The event was so successful, that it was used the next year for UNSOUND, hosted by Luminato, and then in 2016, as its festival hub.
This would be its greatest triumph yet. Luminato spent about $2.5 million to spruce up the place for the festival, complete with a theatre, music hall, restaurant, labyrinth and beer garden. They even installed a temporary elevator to move guests from one level to another.
In the Movies
An obvious choice for the film industry, given its size and proximity to Pinewood Studios. Before its most recent clean out, the site also was out of a Hollywood set-designer's dreams with its rusty corridors, abandoned control rooms and almost post apocalyptic environment. The interior speaks of industrial ages, past, present and future. There are steel wires, rows of girders, dark spooky spaces, and interesting lighting.
In 2002, the site was leased to Studios of America. A few film and TV shoots have occurred inside the building, before and during the time of the lease.
- Resident Evil Franchise
- Frequency (2000, shot several years before Studios of America moved in)
- The Path to 9/11, a 2006 ABC television production which made use of the demolition carnage to serve as the bombed out parkade of the World Trade Centre in 1993
- Goosebumps (Dark Falls Chemical Plant
- Red (2010)
What's next for the Hearn?
The plan to build a gigantic film production studio has (at least for now) been abandoned simply because the building is too big and required too much set up inside to make it suitable. But there are other ideas, inspired by similar buildings around the world. For example, when the Bankside Power Station along the Thames in London England was decommissioned in 1981, it was transformed into the Tate Modern, one of the world's leading art galleries.
What's next for the Hearn? Hopefully, creative minds with a love for both the old and the new will give another life to this wonderful site.