Architecture

A Cinema Treasure Is Destroyed

The loss of the Century Theatre is just another chapter in a long and tragic saga: the destruction of our historical treasures and collective architectural memory.

By Adrian Duyzer
Published January 09, 2010

Take a moment to search the Internet for "hamilton century theatre". The first result you'll see is on a site called Cinema Treasures, a site dedicated to uniting "movie theater owners and enthusiasts in a common cause - to save the last remaining movie palaces across the country".

It's too late for the Century Theatre, unfortunately. This cinema treasure is going to come crashing down as early as Monday, according to The Spectator:

Barring a last-minute miracle, the entire Century Theatre will come down as early as Monday, the city's chief building official says.

[...]

The city ordered owner Zoran Cocov, of Lyric Century Apartments, to have an engineer with heritage background inspect the site immediately, following an independent engineering report that led the city to deem the property unsafe on Thursday.

[Director of building services John Spolnik] said he won't officially order the building be torn down until the new engineer's report is on his desk Monday.

But he said from what he's been told, he can't foresee any reason to change his mind.

Zoran Cocov, the building's owner, purchased the Century almost ten years ago. He says that when it was purchased the roof was already partially collapsed. Apparently he didn't do anything to fix it, because since then it has only deteriorated further. Now all the floors have collapsed, turning the building into an unstable shell.

Let's do the math. Cocov purchases the building a decade ago with a roof in dire need of repair. He did not repair it, even though he knew it needed to be repaired. Instead he did nothing until it became so dangerously unsafe it is now going to be demolished.

Take a look at this photo tour of the interior and ask yourself if you, personally, would tolerate leaving a building - a historic building! - in this condition for almost a decade. Most people I know wouldn't even tolerate owning a shed in this condition.

The obvious conclusion? I can only surmise that Cocov followed a deliberate strategy of demolition by neglect. I think he either intended to follow this strategy before he purchased the building, or he failed to perform a duly diligent engineering review of it before purchasing it and then decided to demolish it by neglect when its condition became apparent to him later.

Either way, this behaviour is totally unacceptable. It shows a callous disregard for the condition of Hamilton's neighbourhoods, for our collective historical wealth, and for public safety. It's really not that complicated: if you can't fix it, don't buy it. If you bought it and you can't fix, sell it to someone who will.

According to The Spec, Cocov believes that in "hindsight", he could have done things better. Now there's an understatement.

So, like so many of Hamilton's other historical treasures, this heritage-designated building (since 2001, just the facade has been designated) is about to disappear. But good news: Cocov says that some elements will be retained - like the sign.

Thanks for saving the sign, Mr. Cocov. Your diligence in protecting Hamilton's historical architecture will not go unnoticed.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

73 Comments

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By OracleOfHamilton (registered) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 10:31:00

The bigger scandal is the strategy of neglect led by the downtown renewal division that will result in demolition. For years they have publicly celebrated in all their reports the imminent development of condo units but never lifted their finger to protect the building and initiate construction, while tying up loan funds and denying other developers money to build. What has been the cost in staff time and opportunities lost for this neglect? Council should be asking this question.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 10:37:05

you know what would be great here....a parking lot!

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2010 at 11:20:22

I was also struck by the seemingly disingenuous remark by the owner about how 'in hindsight' he would have lifted a finger to save the building he bought. I think buyers should be qualified to buy a building like that. Parking lot developers should not apply.

I have often walked by this magnificent cinema wondering how it must have felt like to see it in action with crowds, performers and excitement. Another sad day for Hamilton heritage.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 11:37:30

Just to kick us in the groin one last time, the "developer" tells us about the upcoming 59 unit condominium that is forthcoming. Come to think of it, I'd like a gumdrop suite in this lollipop building. Who should I make the cheque to? Harvey the Rat or Santa Claus? You know what, I should wait to see what the pet policy is like first, because I have a rather rambunctious pet unicorn.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2010 at 12:42:46

He's going to save the sign? This sign? http://www.flickr.com/photos/moylek/2522...

That's a sorry, sorry attempt at consolation.

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By Ward 2 resident (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 15:28:12

Bratina is yesterdays man in all ways possible.Since becoming the Ward 2 Councillor we have seen nothing but talk and no action. Anyone but Bratina in 2010.

(Ed.: changed "yesterdays many" to "yesterdays man").

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-01-14 12:04:39

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By Concern (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 19:58:57

Way to go Downtown Renewal and Director Ron Marini. Since 2001 you've bragged about this project at the Century Theatre. Heck in 2003 you supported the demolition of the former Leathers Store next door to make room to save this historical building. A downtown residential loan and tax freezing program for 8 to 9 years and this is what happens. I'm sure it was the intent of the developer all along. This is worse then demolition by neglect as the developer had a long term relationship with the Downtown renewal division. Back in 2001 I'm sure the building or at least the facade could be saved. Time for a shake up at City Hall.....how much has this group cost us with all the police investigations and ongoing court costs now that one of their own (since dismissed for their second impaired driving charge) has been charged for allegedly accepting a bribe from Vranich. When is it going to end?????????? Time to kick some ass out the door at all costs.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 20:47:47

This should come as no surprise to those who follow dt Hamilton. We have seen this before with the Tivoli Theatre and we will probably see it with the Royal Cannot.

Both OracleofHamilton and Concern raise good points. I urge you to go to the city of Hamilton's website and review past economic development reports published by the city. The
city continually describes the upcoming conversion of run down dt buildings into new condos (the century being mentioned numerous times) yet nothing ever happens.

Let us also take something else into consideration. Zoran Cocov purchased this building 10 years ago with the intention of converting it to condos. Yet no redevelopment has taken place despite a real estate boom!

Many of the promises Ron Marini has made for the dt have not happened. He is all talk. His promotion of the Royal Cannot to welfare housing proves that he is either incompetent or corrupt. I would argue that council needs to review if Ron Marini is delivering anything beneficial to dt. I would argue that he is not.

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By bigguy123 (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2010 at 23:05:36

All this concern over a rundown old building. The fact of the matter is the building was run down 30 years ago. Thats one of the reasons it was closed down as a theater.

Most of the people commenting here were probably never in the building. The interior was quite unremarkable. As for the exterior there is nothing architecturally signifigant about it. It's actually fairly drab.

Just because something is old, it doesn't mean that it should be saved.

The Tivoli on the other hand was a beautiful building that should be preserved. There is also a former theater on the corner of King and Walnut that would be worthy of saving. The old Hyland theater was also quite nice and it had a balcony.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 00:48:24

The above poster couldn't possibly be more wrong about the Lyric. It was actually closed as a result of the Jackson Square cinema being built. The Tivoli received the same fate for the same reason, and it was certainly not in bad condition at the time (1989). Much of Lyric's interior beauty was raped and hidden in the 1940's renovations to a cinema house. A much smaller auditorium was installed within the older, large one and the giant backstage was completely hidden from public view. The building actually featured 2-3 floors of offices, changing rooms, rehearsal rooms, a large projector room. It could have all been restored back to it's former glory even before 2000. The only major problem at the time of it's purchase in 2000 was the roof. Everything that has happened since has been accelerated by the roof's collapse, which happened at some point after 2000, definitely before 2006. I went into the building for the first time in roughly 2006 or 2005 and the roof had already collapsed then. As the years progressed I also witnessed the subsequent floors directly under the roof also collapse due to exposure to moisture and extreme weather. The design was completely of wooden beams, so it all rotted right out in the course of 10 years until the second floor eventually ended up inside the lobby (some time in the past 2 years).

The Lyric isn't just old. It has an incredibly storied history as a vaudeville playhouse, one that might be argued as even more important than any other playhouse in the city. Some incredibly famous acts, including the Marx Bros, played within its walls. I can't disagree with your choices of other nice theatres, but I can disagree with the fact that you're writing off the Lyric as old and useless. I've been behind those fake walls. There is a LOT of beauty to be found.

[Comment edited by MattM on 2010-01-09 23:50:32]

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 01:44:33

How can it be legal for a owner just to let a property rot. What about all those people that work in property standards, what the hell do they get pay for.

The most memorable movie I saw there was The Changeling, starring George C Scott.

Very sad.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 08:41:43

great insight MattM. All that plus the fact that is is OLD makes this more of a shame. We are slowing losing our stock of buildings from that era. Once they're gone, they're gone. Stucco boxes do not replace these old buildings regardless of how ornate or how 'drab' some of the old buildings may appear. The mallification of downtown is what killed this theatre and it's a shame to lose it. Hamilton is slowly becoming a city virtually unrecognizable to it's booming past.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 09:44:08

The big problem with old buildings...they cost a LOT to properly maintain/restore back to the glory they had when they were first built. Craftsmanship like what we had before the turn of the century no longer exists.

With all of our increased knowledge and technology, it is shameful that we can no longer build like we once could. But that's a good topic for another article.

We have to ask ourselves what kind of city we want...a city full of old buildings that our businesses and residents can't afford to maintain properly, thereby atracting vulture developers who plan to demolish by neglect, or a city full of cheaper buildings that have much less character, but can support businesses that Hamiltonians of all income levels can afford to patronize or live in.

At this point, I'd be willing to give more leeway to citizens who have actual concrete plans and the money to bring residents and businesses in (and NOT parking lots), than to designate all these properties and continue to see them rot away with the status quo.

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By Dundurn (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 14:58:28

What blows my mind is seeing this cycle repeating. Whether it is the Lyric, the Tivoli or, god-forbid, the old Federal Building, when is enough going to be enough? Not only are we losing architectural treasures, but the public safety side of things seems to be buried here. Who is liable if the building collapsed and killed someone?

I am baffled that this continues after the high profile demolitions over the last 5 years. I am disgusted at the toothless, gutless approach of council to come to grips with this. While Bob Bratina has been working diligently to get a train stop in the city, the city is falling down around our ears. Priorities Bob.

Our Downtown Renewal Trustees are failing our heritage.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 15:55:36

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2010 at 15:57:19

What blows my mind is seeing this cycle repeating.

Live and don't learn, that's our philosophy. :(

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 16:22:50

great post Dundurn. Downtown residents all feel your pain. This is disgusting to sit back and watch all of our resources go into opening up land for 'booming' suburban areas while the real city rots all around us. You would think they've heard of Buffalo or Detroit or Hartford and learn what happens when booming, growing suburbs ring a hallowed out, neglected city centre - NOTHING. The city just dies. And to think, our council and taxmoney is enabling this death. That's what makes it all the more frustrating. We have ample resources to rebuild this city - Detroit and Buffalo would kill to be in our financial shape - and we're squandering it all blindly as if all of those emptied out US cities never happened, and someone we can make all the wrong choices yet get better results.

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By DeeDeeOskee (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 18:55:06

Marini has gotta go. What has he brought the downtown? A potty mouth and nothing else.

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By sceptical (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 19:40:20

The building is not as bad structurally as its being made out to be. I also hear the downtown folks want to make it into public housing and still give them downtown programs.They believe it will move the poor away from King st and onto Mary which is less visible.I just don't know how that will help.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 20:13:11

one of these days maybe we'll have a housing project built downtown that doesn't include the word 'public' before it. geez, let's have a meeting with TO city council and tell them that we'll take all of their homeless and poor. We've found a great niche in the new economy.

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By AlmostThere (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2010 at 23:50:14

I walk downtown everyday almost. I look up, I look around. I care.

You people care. It's obvious by the comments. And for the most part, everyone here agrees that something must be done to stop the pattern, to stop the cycle. And from what I've read and seen and heard (as someone on the street stopped my wife and I as were we walking past this soon-to-be demo site and talked with us for a couple of minutes) is that the people who are or were put in place to help protect these buildings and the history they contain aren't doing their jobs.

We've heard remove or replace those people. I agree. But what I haven't heard or seen (and this is somewhat discouraging for me) is someone stepping up and saying, "I got this" or "I'm new, I'm different and I have IDEAS, vote for me"

(as a re-read edit...there probably are people saying this, but not doing what they say)

I like the idea of replacing the ineffective areas we have in Hamilton council (with good and qualified people) Or firing people who sit on boards and committees designed to protect historical sites. I would like it to see someone step and say they can do it.

This is hypocritical of me to say because I cannot be THAT person that steps up and takes the challenge. But does anyone here know someone who CAN? Do we know or seek these people out - intentionally - as an active means to put action to the words we speak? (type)

What is the next step above and beyond our comments here? What do we do after that? How can we or anyone prevent this in the future? Does anyone know someone who can actually run for council or replace those responsible on the Downtown Preservation committee?

Just questions is all...

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By frank (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 08:55:31

ArienC, the reason there aren't crafstmen like there were back in the day today is because there's no demand for them. The same potential is available today as was back then. Today's craftsmen don't have the same attitude and work ethic back then not because they can't but because it's not demanded of them or even expected from them like it was back then. I know quite a few people who can do just as great a job today as they did back in the day.

It's a plain disgrace for people to be allowed to purchase property and let it sit doing nothing but falling apart without doing anything about it. It would be a disgrace for that to happen under normal circumstances but it's even worse when the property involved has historical significance.

What can we do? How about looking around the city at all the historical properties that need to stay, making a list and then doing our level best to ensure that those properties aren't neglected? Be the proverbial mosquito in Marini's ear. Hold him accountable. That's up to us, isn't it?

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By Concession Stand (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:05:45

Yes, I think a certain amount is up to us. I'm sorry to lose buildings like the Century but I have a limited amount of time for advocacy when the game is up. As has been pointed out, the heritage aspect of this building has been ill-served for 60-70 years. You could argue that there are generations of Hamiltonians answerable for inaction on this case.

One point of clarification: I'm all for calling Jackson Square on its sins, but in the case of the Century it'd be more accurate to note that Famous Players opted to close the Tivoli and Century in 1989 because they had just bankrolled multiplexes in Lime Ridge Mall (four-screen) and Jackson Square (six-screen). JS had been a twin since 1973 -- the four rear cinemas were added in the late-'80s reno. The late '70s and early '80s saw the rise of the multiplexes, and single- and twin-screen theatres couldn't compete. (JS was later calved, sold from Cineplex Galaxy to the Empire Chain.) The same showbiz dynamic saw LRM closed as a result of the opening of the Upper James multiplex (Famous Players-Cineplex Odeon merger), which itself closed to divert customers to the two Silver Cities. I assume the same basic rationale saw the Odeon group close the Capitol in order to open the Odeon. These trades seem wrongheaded in retrospect, but it's the owner's prerogative.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 11:26:59

I originally created this for another project I'm working on but in light of Concession Stand's post I thought I'd post it here.

As you can see from the map, aside from Jackson Square every other multiplex in the city is on the mountain, specifically the areas next to the Linc.

Concession accurately points out that the cheap land on the escarpment was the driving force behind the closures. Theatre companies could build larger new facilities on the mountain cheaply and then close the existing theatres in the lower city to drive patrons up the hill. (See Centre Mall, Fiesta Mall, the Century theatre, etc) I doubt we'll ever see a large chain build a new multiplex downtown unless Jackson Square closes the theatre.

What I could (and hope to) see happening is a smaller theatre like the Movie Palace or the Bloor Street Cinema opening downtown. Maybe even a specialty theatre like the ones in the US that only allow adults over 21 and contain full bars and restaurants inside. Lord knows I'd pay extra to be ensured that I don't have to sit next to someone who texts or talks to friends through the whole movie!

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By DeeDeeOskee (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 11:46:10

Is Potty mouth still running the show...well there's your problem!

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted January 11, 2010 at 11:51:35

At this point, having a building designated as a heritage building is a liability to the owner rather than an asset. Until we as a society are prepared to put our money where our mouth is and pay people to take care of building and places we designate as special, this is going to continue to happen.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:12:16

Or, people who aren't able to protect their properties, special or otherwise, should just not buy them in the first place. It's not like the owner didn't know exactly what he was getting into.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:13:46

urbanrenaissance, the upper james theatre is closed down.

the downtown area is actually well served with JS and Westdale and the Movie Palace nearby. The lower east end has nothing.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:17:38

It's not like the owner didn't know exactly what he was getting into.

Exactly, no one buys a property that old and for that much money without knowing exactly what condition the property is in. He had to have known its condition and by extension how much it would cost to bring it up to code.

If he wasn't able to finance the renovations then he shouldn't have been allowed to buy it and he certainly shouldn't have been able to let it rot to the point of being a public safety hazard.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:27:48

the upper james theatre is closed down.

Fixed! Thanks jason, I haven't been up there in ages so I didn't realize it was closed.

As for the JS theatres I very rarely go there anymore after my fiance went to use the washroom and had a sex for drugs exchange occur in the stall next to her. (Seriously.) I realize that its just one event and not necessarily indicative of a trend, but since she is my main movie companion I'm usually getting my movie fix at the Movie Palace or the Silver City in Ancaster.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 15:14:14

I've never been, but I hear there is an old theatre at Burlington Mall (I think) that is dirt cheap. I can't stand SilverCity. It's an instant headache when you walk in the front door. LOL

By the way, back to the Century, this guy who bought the property has sat on it all this time EVEN with promises of money from the city's downtown renewal department. Im a huge supporter of their loan program, but after this and the Connaught, I think they need to work some safeguards into their program with respect to property standards. Developers love to receive their loans, so it puts the downtown renewal folks in an easy position to uphold property standards. Nobody should even dream of getting city money if their going to demo by neglect the very building they are applying for. Furthermore, downtown renewal should get a good inspection/fine program going with the heritage and property standards folks to put some serious pressure on slumlords who rule downtown. Maybe tens of thousands of dollars in fines every year will force some of them to sell and go ruin some other city. Dave Kuruc is bang on in todays Spec - the speculators are killing downtown. Speculation isn't allowed in European downtowns because they recognize the value of those buildings to their neighbourhoods. We need a serious overhaul at city hall and we need to start kicking some slumlord butt right out of town! Enough is enough.

[Comment edited by jason on 2010-01-11 14:14:42]

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 18:07:24

Here is a real experience in Hamilton, between the tenant, trying to run a business, the property standards enforcement people and the procedure that follows when the building is owed by a slumlord.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw4lU8Bwd...

Normal procedure: take some pictures, slap a notice on the window or door and then leave. I seriously wonder if there is any followup or if there was how long that process would take.

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By Zero Cockup (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 20:27:18

It's not as if downtown speculators are anything new, though. They were probably out in force when the Century closed -- the Snidermans seem to own a few choice properties around that time. It's not speculation that's the problem -- David Blanchard could be called a speculator of a sort, and can't-lose real estate investment is part of Hamilton's sales pitch to the rest of the country -- as much as it is the cynical MO of these bush-league developers whose lack of creativity is apparently only superseded by their lack of liquidity. Anyone who recalls the Spec's "Lament For A Downtown" also knows that many of these chronic rot issues were identified almost 9 years ago. Unfortunately, it's a lot easier to issue loan cheques than it is to inspect buildings or summon up the political will to wage battle after battle for an area of the city that many people wrote off long ago. Revamping the property development loan process is obviously overdue. But legislative change is also needed. Cases like Toronto's 7 Austin Terrace go to show that developers cannot be relied upon to find the high ground without persuasive input from a firm whip hand.

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By anon123 (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 20:40:23

Am I the only one here who thinks that most of these buildings are of no real hisorical significance? I'm sorry but just some small period of history or tiny relation to some minor historical celebrity and you have to keep the building at a loss?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 21:23:24

zero cockup, you're right - speculation has been going on for decades and has been identified for decades as a major problem (big surprise that we haven't done anything about it - just like one-way streets). Blanchard is an investor. He buys properties and fixes them up. Guys who have owned buildings for 40 years with no intention of fixing them up and nobody at the city forcing them to keep them safe and sturdy are the ones we need to get rid of. Money talks. Start fining them till the cows come home and hopefully they'll get out of town.

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By Low on the Totem Pole (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2010 at 21:45:00

AlmostThere spoke about the difficulty of one person acting alone and asked what can be done. Specifically regarding downtown buildings that is why an agency was formed in 2006 by the City called the Hamilton Realty Capital Corporation to buy and sell property, to redevelop property in the downtown and to propose and make applications under the Municipal Act or the Planning Act to seek approval of plans to redevelop property for others. Unfortunately, coming up to the 2010 municipal election, this corporation has done absolutely nothing.
Citizens need to hold Council's feet to the fire and find out why nothing has been done and make it an election issue.There is rot and low ranked staff are paying the price for ineptitude.


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By M.W.Plan (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 09:31:56

The destruction of a Historical building is one that should have been strongly reconsidered for things like adaptive reuse. That being said, as much as I oppose it's demolition, the proposed 59 unit condominium is not a horrible idea. With aging populations across the globe, many are returning to cities cores. A condominium such as the one mentioned would give such seniors and empty nesters a safe location as well as bring more wealth to Hamilton's Downtown. Many will scream, "Gentrification!" until their throats can scream no more, but that simply is not the case with a building in such condition.
The destruction of the theatre sets a dangerous precedent for outright demolition of historic downtown buildings in Hamilton, but in some situations such as this one- it is the only economical option.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 09:59:21

M.W. Plan, are you new to Hamilton?

The only reason I ask is because of your view that this destruction of the Century sets a dangerous precedent for outright demolition of historical buildings downtown.

If you're new to the city, you should pick up some of the Vanished Hamilton series of books. Or the Gary Evans series "King St" "Hamilton Back Then" etc...

The dangerous precedent was set decades ago when we demolished incredible buildings such as the Birks, old City Hall, all of York Blvd, all of Market Square. Heck, this city was about to demolish the Pigott Building, but ultimately changed their minds.

Poor political leadership and lack of vision for our city has been entrenched since the 50's. We're long beyond the stage of setting precedents.

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 16:00:58

You are all cordially invited to participate in the first Hamilton By-Law Crawl! We will observe and report infractions downtown and fill up by-laws "complaint based" system faster than you can say "can I have a loan?".

http://www.facebook.com/pages/BYLAW-CRAW...

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 18:07:21

frig. that'll take all night if we are actually stopping to document infractions.

EDIT - just read the facebook page. Is this a real event?? If so, this is AWESOME.

[Comment edited by jason on 2010-01-12 17:11:42]

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By AlmostThere (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2010 at 19:16:42

What has always confused me, is that by actually FINING people and ENFORCING the bylaws, the city MAKES MONEY.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe given the cost to hire more employees and the hassle of people who would try to fight the system and so on would cost money...

...but it seems like people who would have to pay a fine (or have it added to their property tax...not sure if that is the case...but I think it might be done like that) would make the city a considerable amount of money. (and create about a zillion jobs for people lining up to be bylaw officers)

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By brodiec (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 09:42:00

Yes By-Law Crawl is a real event. And yes we intend on doing it. Documenting won't be that hard, we aren't real by-law officers. Photos, written observations and maybe a few expert opinions in the crowd is what we're offering. We're citizens utilizing the existing complaint infrastructure to make our voices heard. That way the next time a neglected building with an absentee landlord comes crumbling down we can say "we told you so" and really pin our elected officials to the wall. No more excuses!

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:00:33

brodiec, this is a great idea. Might I also suggest keeping track of the buildings using GoogleMaps (or something along those lines). Maybe, use the map pointers to link to photos or observations of the buildings.

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By bigbri (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 14:55:31

I can't get too exercised about this one. Even in the final years of its heyday, the '60s and '70s, it was an oddball theatre, a bit out of the way. By the late '80s, it was downright spooky going there: If there was a crime drama playing on the screen, you felt like you were still in the movie when you walked out of the place. It's demise also illustrates another quirk about downtown life: Tear it down and they will come.

[Comment edited by bigbri on 2010-01-13 13:57:25]

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 15:48:49

tear it down and what will come?? More empty parking lots?? Yay. Sounds exciting.

Paul Wilson nailed it in todays Spec (how he still has a job there is beyond me).

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 16:16:28

Tear it down and they will come? Examples please.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 16:37:48

I think he's referring to the gathering of citizens to watch a demolition take place, rather than demographic effects to follow. (I also WTF'd there for a second until it clicked).

[Comment edited by jonathan dalton on 2010-01-13 15:41:07]

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By Nostalgic (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 18:55:17

Paul Wilson is yesterday's man living in the past, writing about events which disappeared from human consciousness generations ago. How he still has a job at the Spec is TRULY beyond all of us!

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 13, 2010 at 22:35:02

his ideas disappeared from corporate consciousness (is there such a thing??) generations ago. His ideas are very much alive in human consciousness as evidenced by the passion of regular citizens here and organizing bylaw crawls to do the job that our elected officials won't. Some people actually still care. Shocking isn't it?

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By sepiatone (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 07:32:35

Wilson's great but not perfect. When there was a ot of change bubbling along a few years ago, he described the downtown's golden prospects: "A bold new presence downtown from Mac, the return of the Connaught, plus we keep the Taj Mahal. That's a triple. Get the Lister done and call it a home run." By the time the Connaught public housing deal broke, he was happy to cast the consortium's public housing end run in the rosiest possible light, comparing the project favourably to the tower at Main and Hess (ground-floor tenants: pharmacy, convenience store, hair salon, threadbare tavern and government office), hardly the sort of inspiring fixture you'd want as a spur for core revival.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 10:04:11

I'm prepared to give him a pass on that. Alot of well-intentioned (but mis-guided IMO), people supported the Connaught proposal. Now that Terry Cooke is gone, he's the closest thing we've got to Christopher Hume. An enormous oversight in the only daily paper of a city of half a million.

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By bigbri (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 12:27:18

Tear it down and they will come ... Where was everybody in 1989 when nobody bothered to go to the Century? Granted, some of you might not have been born yet, but where were your parents? Where was everybody? My own brothers and sisters? It seems the only time people come out of the woodwork is when a "heritage" building is about to be torn down? Did you expect the owner to keep the theatre open just for the hell of it? By the way, I was there: Lived around the corner on King Street in the old St. Denys building in the late eighties; actually saw a movie at the Century in 1988 or 89 (wish I could remember the title); actually bought shoes at Dacks in the Connaught building before lack of sales drove the guy out of business; actually bought clothes at Marvin Caplans and other places downtown; actually sat on a bench in Gore Park on a Sunday afternoon ... Tear it down and they will come ... they being all the Johnny Come Latelys.

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By bigbri-fan (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 13:42:00

I agree with Bigbri...I am often downtown to do business, pay bills, do banking and regularly frequent the downtown restaurants for lunch or dinner: Mahal's, Il Centro right across from Gore; the London Pub on John and Main, Sirloin Cellar, the Capri, some of the Thai places and even the sushi places on James or York, not to mention the great restaurants down James. Some are doing well; others are struggling. I don't know how Il Centro can stay open, no one is ever there...Mahal's is doing just ok....where are the activists who bemoan the state of everything...they certainly aren't dining and supporting downtown businesses...talk IS cheap I guess.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 15:16:01

I agree with Bigbri too. I do virtually all of my living/spending/chilling/dining downtown. It's the best part of the city by a country mile, yet perplexing why someone would choose to wait in line at a Montana's and not patronize one of the incredible restaurants downtown serving real food.

I understand your comment now about 'tear it down and they will come'.

Hamiltonians buy up Vanished Hamilton books and The Prints of Time like they are golden treasure, yet we don't support the very businesses occupying the current slate of buildings destined to be featured in Vanished Hamilton 43.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 15:29:36

Hamiltonians buy up Vanished Hamilton books and The Prints of Time like they are golden treasure, yet we don't support the very businesses occupying the current slate of buildings destined to be featured in Vanished Hamilton 43.

Except that's not what bigbri and his/her fan said. They weren't referring to all Hamiltonians, but rather specifically to the people who have been vocal about the Century/Lyric's demise. The accusation that the people who are upset about the Century's destruction never come downtown or patronize its businesses, is as ridiculous as it is untrue.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 17:47:43

^absolutely.

I'm referring to the entire citizenry. It's stupid to try and pinpoint one small segment of the population and figure out where they eat lunch.

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By bigbri (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 18:16:55

Please, I’m not questioning your passion and dedication to preserving the character and health of downtown. It’s just that the Century sat there neglected for 20 years and hardly anyone noticed – so why the hue and cry now? And, with all due respect, the Century was always your third or fourth choice for downtown movie-going, and there was some serious walking to do if the movie ended late. Perhaps the bylaw crawl will be a proactive gesture to help keep on top of things (and I hope it morphs into a pub crawl later). When St. Joseph’s knocked down that non-descript building at James and Hannah … errr, Charlton streets, I was appalled. It had that street sign from a different era painted on a small board embedded in the pargeting. I made a point of looking at that sign whenever I passed, liked the metaphor, the connection it represented. When they knocked the building down, they took away a little slice of history. But I can understand why they knocked it down – if there had been no sign I might have shrugged. It’s a complex matter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 22:34:14

^ at least st joes replaced that building with a beautiful building of their own.

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By AlmostThere (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 23:57:15

^ Is that the one that looks like a high school portable? You must be joking right? Please?

The engineer of that modern marvel should have his hand slapped. - respectfully -

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By AlmostThere (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2010 at 23:58:53

*edit* Should read - his/her hand slapped

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2010 at 08:12:23

AlmostThere, if you register an RTH user account, you gain the ability to edit your comments, as well as to format them using Markdown syntax, to vote on other comments, and to post events to the RTH Events Calendar.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 15, 2010 at 08:24:16

Almost There, yes, Im joking. It seems that in Hamilton most buildings that are demolished are replaced with ugly, empty lots. The rare occurance where someone actually builds a replacement building it turns out like that pile of junk.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2010 at 11:46:53

it is a portable. They essentially backed a trailer up and added some ramps to the outside. Disgraceful.

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By Jarod (registered) | Posted January 15, 2010 at 15:47:32

I've been posting as AlmostThere...

^ramps are nice, but if they add curtains it could really spruce up the place.

-ugh

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By The Carpenter (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2010 at 13:00:40

That 'portable' is only temporary.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2010 at 22:00:41

Bigbri hit it right on the nose. Hamiltonians have noone to blame but themselves for downtown's decay. This isn't to blame anyone in particular, since most here spend far more time than most downtown (especially heratige folks).

It's easy to lament the loss of small businesses and historic buildings while you shop at Limeridge or Meadowlands, but unless we actually participate in the downtown community, it won't change. And that can mean anything from attending musical events or protests to having a dinner out or sitting on a park bench. I'm really tired of people spouting off about how there's too many dirty/scary/ethnic people downtown. At least they're down there. I can't think of a more counterproductive response to downtown's ills than "packing up and heading for the 'burbs".

Downtown has a 5-story library, movie theatre, public offices, banks and even schools all within the same building complex. It has more quality food in a couple blocks than entire regions of Hamilton can boast. Nightlife, specialty shops, walkable neighborhoods, unparalleled access to public transit and unbelievably cheap housing. Is it sketchy at times? Of course. Why does everyone in Hamilton have this impression that downtowns ANYWHERE are any different? Drugs, graffiti and crime are a part of urban life. Our downtown is a LOT safer than most parts of London, Paris or Rome.

The real question is why we give such favorable tax status to those who let buildings rot. Or why we think speculative investors are wise custodians of these properties in the first place. Anywhere in Europe squatters would have invaded this place long ago, and kept it up and active with only a fraction of the resources available to these developers.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 16, 2010 at 22:45:47

awesome post Undustrial. You hit the nail on all sorts of heads. I couldn't agree more.

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted January 18, 2010 at 10:03:17

Great post Undustrial. I too sometimes wonder why the squatters haven't moved in. It would seem like an ideal opportunity. Squatters can be like artists and show us value where we don't see it ourselves.

A lot depends on the financial aspects of civic policies that reward certain business behaviours and discourage others. It all depends on what the owner's spreadsheets tell him. In this case they told him to do nothing. With major tweaking of policy they could have told him a different story.

However dead or dying downtown might seem to be, the fact is that lots goes on there right now. I find it very enjoyable to wander around downtown. It can be a bit gritty and run-down but it can also be very well-tended. There are certainly enough good places to eat. I always feel safe there. Many cities have far worse pockets of decay.

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By Sensibility (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 03:56:07

I still remember the vibrant Hamilton days gone by, the Century Theatre and on King Street(between John and Mary) the Palace and the Capital Theatres; the Golden Rail and Duffy's Tavern; the Chicken Roost and the Pagoda and elswher within walking the King George Hotel, Fischers Burgundy Room the Grange and the Flamingo, all the night spots and the entertainment that Hamilton Place has never been able to replace; before the "noneed for Jackson Square" which destroyed the community, the fighters Zack,Greenwood, Beckett and Davidson, where are they now? The City fell into the hands of morons and morons perpetuate in present Council. The stores we lost, the Right House, Mills, Eames and Finch's and Robinson's too. Hamilton is now a town without a heart.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 08:50:49

I'm a long-time reader of RTH. I comment sporadically. Sometimes...mosttimes...I cede the floor to those who at least appear to have a better understanding of an issue. I believe in 'Rendering unto Caesar'. That is, while I will never surrender my right to voice an opinion, I will defer in terms of the degree of qualification of the opinions of others.

This issue, The Century and all of its concomitant facts, resonates for me, because cinemas are one of the primary passions in life. For some time now, I've been very active on my own researching and raising my own awareness of Hamilton's cinema history. Part of this goes back to having been a patron of all of them throughout my life. (I grew up in a neighbourhood that had both a nabe and a drive-in within walking distance. The drive-in was Canada's first.) Part of it has to do with being nerdishly impassioned about what I refer to as 'cathedrals of film', to the extent that I have made pilgrimages to NYC, to Jersey CIty, to London...and all throughout the US northeast and New England states. And part of it has to do with being a writer; I've injected old cinemas into a handful of projects, and wrote a screenplay around a drive-in.

As well, I have a pretty good understanding of the economics of the movie biz, and am very aware of what's changed since the 'heyday' of movie-going. More importantly, I understand full well -better than most- why the landscape has shifted from then...to now.

I have long said...here, on this site, as recently as late last year, and then was lambasted for the notion...that you cannot do anything effective about your present state and surely to God cannot plan with any effectiveness for your future without understanding your past. (I would, quite frankly arm-wrestle with anyone here over this point.) Most commenters here, while having lots of animas, lots of vitriol, lots of good intentions, don't seem to understand how The Century came to this end. Not from an historic, economics, film-industry point-of-view. (While I'm tempted to lay all of this out here, I won't. Unless requested to.)

However, there are other contributing factors regarding The Century that appear quite clear to all. Or should.

1) The notion of 'what's important to a city's heritage' is not a universally-agreed on one. I'm a fervent believer in the idea of 'saving' a city's cinematic heritage. Such as with The Tivoli and The Century. But I recognize that what's important to me, might be of lesser importance to others...and of no importance at all to the majority. So at the very least, there has to be some kind of recognition, acknowledgement, declaration on the part of the People of Hamilton in their representatives, their government...the charter of the City. This has to be a mandate within which actual designations of historical sites are reached. Asking the question: 'What do you want?' The sad thing is that Hamilton has lost just about everything in regards to its cinematic history, its moviegoing heritage already.

2) The current owner of The Century quite clearly...and come on; there's no mystery here...had no intention of doing anything with the building as a heritage location. Who purchases anything only to leave it to rot? Seriously. So here's someone who used the system to his advantage. To eventually have it demolished to start from scratch with no impediments whatever.

3) By-law enforcement in Hamilton, apparently, sucks. The state of The Century's roof was publicly known for more than half a decade. Online. In online photographs. Which leads to...

4) How downtown Hamilton is viewed by its politicians and developers. Here's how I addressed this subject elsewhere:

"As someone born and bred in Hamilton, I have a certain perspective about all this. But for now, I'll just offer up this question: 'Do you believe that, on another timeline, in an alternate version of 'here', if Hamilton's development had not been focused on the peripheral aspects of the municipality but equally on the downtown (and, for the sake of argument, the area's core industry -steel- had not decayed as it did), do you believe that a building such as The Century would have been left in the state of disrepair it was?'

I don't. (Nor do I believe The Tivoli would have ended up as it has.)

To me this isn't so much about specific decisions that have been made as the general state of affairs, the focus of development itself. I doubt very much, there had been even a steady rate of development in the downtown area that Hamilton's wealth of open, asphalted spaces (and unused buildings) would have remained. You rarely find empty, decaying heritage buildings in the downtown of any thriving city. (Yes, I'm clearly talking about a particular set of circumstances and yes, there are always exceptions, always instances of 'extenuating circumstances'. But certainly where I've lived, in several cities in several countries on two continents, this simply isn't the case, by-and-large.) The Century was able to be left to its slow, painful, inexorable demise not just because its owners didn't give a damn (or perhaps had a particular selfish mandate in mind, with a particularly perverse goal at its core, but because the environment allowed for it to happen. Without the non-activity that unfolded over two decades, (the results of which are easily witnessed now, The Century would undoubtedly have been developed to one degree or another in the 90s."

There is no real 'mystery' where The Century is concerned. And it's easy to get angry at the result. (Does it help at all to hear me say that my attachment to this loss is akin to someone losing a friend? That these buildings aren't just mortar and brick to me, and they're not just history. They're part of a process that I revere, a set of practices, indeed, beliefs.) But from my perspective, even as attached as I am to the events, it's more important to understand the bigger picture. How cities evolve as economies change, as people's needs shift, how 'business forces' impact when vacuums are created, all of these factors...and more.

I salute the efforts of RTH as well as all of its regular readers. Always have, always will. This is where change begins. This is one of the spaces from where so-called 'grassroots' energies can be corralled, where real discussion can be encouraged, real change effected. And the first step of course, is to understand the issues, to fully understand them. Because before we can agree to disagree, we have to at least be equipped with the facts.

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By get organized (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2010 at 11:53:45

I beleive that given the current status of the theatre and it's demolition that concerned folks should turn their attention to buildings like the Connaught and the Federal Building and create movement to saving them before they get to the point that theier owners seek to demolish them due to extreme decay and neglect.

Write letters to the papers not just the Spec, contact City Council, Provincial and Fedreal politicians (especially Federal since they are should be in their ridings since they aren't at work in Ottawa), contact other groups in oher cities especially those that have successfully saved buildings in the past, make it an election issue to save the Hamilton's Heritage. Ask your local councillor to call a Ward meeting to discuss such sites in your ward. Involve your local community orgainzations and even BIAs as decaying buildings serve noone. I recall seeing a program where a developer trying to update and flip a propert in the U.S. faced additional challenges which he took on because his project was part of a heritage area and the city had developed certain guidlines for buildings in this area and was enforced by a board (not sure if they were paid or if it was volunteer) from their local historical Society. could something like this be created here? The city may not go watching and checking but they seem open to partnerships and perhaps this commitee could be one?

If you want these things to be preserved things need to move forward. All too often it seems that people get caught up in an issue only when it has gone beyond the point of no return.

Anyway that's my 2 cents on this matter!

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 28, 2011 at 17:10:04

One for the conspiracy fans.

May 2009: Lyric Century Apartments prepare to begin construction

August 2009: City declares 140 King William surplus and sells it to the HRCC

January 2010: City orders Cocov to raze the Century

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2013 at 14:27:09

November 2011:

HRCC no longer has an interest in this property

http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/22B7965F-7CA7-4C0B-A0AC-C7B6BE6DA8EE/0/Nov14EDRMS_n234545_v1_7_2__PED11198.pdf

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