From Wooden Fire Hall to Entertainment Centre:
History of 19 on the Park Spans 127 Years
By Maurice Smith
It is difficult to write about the history of our great Downtown Stouffville facility, 19 on the Park, without mentioning the clock tower and patio areas. They are the welcoming fixtures which greet you whether heading to a night’s entertainment there or simply walking along Main Street.
The tower itself was the hose tower section of the area’s first fire hall built in 1889. Although residents simply noted or called the building ‘the fire hall’, that original structure also housed the town library, a jail and a room to hold town council meetings
By 1896 a building had been constructed behind the fire hall to be used mainly for town business, including council meetings which were then able to be moved out of the back area of the fire hall. There was also a market place on the main floor and an auditorium on the floor above. In 1923, the second floor auditorium was converted into a silent film cinema by a man named Sydney Schmidt. Mr. Schmidt changed the name on the building to the Stanley Theatre in honour of his son of the same name. The main floor market area was eventually transformed into a bowling alley and billiard parlour.
In 1931 the square brick tower we see today was built to replace that original wooden hose tower. A resident by the name of Elizabeth Percy then donated the clock and had it installed in memory of her parents.
In 1956 two local businessmen Ted Topping and Harold Spofford bought the theatre, completely renovated the building, including the installation of washrooms and changed the name to The Park Theatre.
In 1966 the town politicians were persuaded, by Peggy Topping, wife of one the theatre owners, to construct, as one of Canada’s 1967 centennial celebrations, a significant patio in front of the theatre. It was fortuitous that the politicians were also at the same time debating the demolition of the fire hall building.
The fire hall, except the clock tower, was demolished because the size of the then modern, new fire-fighting vehicle had out-grown the garage area and made it obsolete. It had become an issue because when there was a requirement to use the new fire truck, the first volunteer at the hall drove it onto the street to make room in the garage for the other volunteers to put on their required gear. A new, larger hall was needed and it was eventually built further east on Main Street. That building now houses an appliance and television retail store.
With the fire hall being removed and as a part of the centennial celebration the town installed the patio designed by Peggy Topping.
When home television became popular in the late 1950s, attendance at the Park Theatre was dwindling so in 1959 the owners sold the building to the Village of Stouffville. The building was then renovated once again and housed the burgeoning municipal’s offices and council chambers. In 1971 when the Town of Whitchurch-Stouffville was incorporated by the province they continued to use the building for municipal offices but renovated the section being used to hold council meetings. In 1998 with the growth of Whitchurch-Stouffville, the municipality required larger premises so moved to Sandiford Drive. Renovations to the building were the subject of town discussions over the following years but the building remained vacant until April 2008.
The construction and significant renovations to turn it into the great cultural centre it has become took about 12 months. It was officially opened as 19 on the Park – Lebovic Centre for Arts & Entertainment on May 9, 2009. The “19” being the proper address: 19 Civic Avenue and the “Park” referring to the adjoining Memorial Park.
The whole area over the past 127 years has transitioned from the wooden structured fire hall and ancient brick Town Hall into a great meeting place for the downtown section of our community.