Blowing the Doors Off

The London Roundhouse
(Re-)Opens Its Enormous DoorS

It was barely 4 pm on April 22, 2015, when people began to fill our vestibule, with more lining up outside. This was the start of our three-hour grand opening, which was to kick off with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at one of our enormous (11 by 15 ½ foot) doors; however, they had to stay closed to keep the unseasonable weather safely on the other side. Despite the flurries, Londoners of all stripes were excited to see what Creative Property Developments, Nicholson Sheffield Architects, and the newly rebranded Ellipsis Digital and Engine SevenFour had done with the 128-year-old London Roundhouse, the sole remaining roundhouse in this city.

 
 

For those RSVPing via Eventbrite, their choices, besides the quotidian “Guest,” were “Heritage Geek,” “Railway Geek,” “Digital Media Geek,” “Coder Geek,” as well as former employees of Sansone or Great West Steakhouse, and people who helped with the renovation. And they were all there. Community members and leaders—Councillor Michael Van Holst quipped that we had a quorum of the London city council. Neighbours from SoHo, who had spent the last year watching the Roundhouse change and evolve. Our digital, and conventional, marketing compatriots: Jason Recker of Carve Design; Liam Stewart of Campus Creative; John D'Orsay, Eric Vardon and Robin Honey from Arcane; Victor Harris, Jay Menard, Dave Rino and Michael Grant of Digital Echidna; Eileen and Randy from Beanbot; Mary-Ellen Willard and Nathalie Noel of adHome; Colton Hathaway of Inner Geek; Larry Lau from ATMOS Marketing; and pretty much the whole team from MLD Solutions, including staff dog Gyzmo. We saw business owners, artists and a whole bunch of Londoners who were simply curious about the newly reopened Roundhouse. And people of all colours: Browns (including London mayor Matt Brown), Greens, Whites, and one Blue.

Former London mayor Joni Baechler’s reaction was fairly representative: “Oh my God, it’s amazing!” The usually loquacious Lincoln McCardle managed another “Amazing!” Eloquent ACO member Sandra Miller apologized for being struck almost speechless: “OMG, OMG is all I have to say.”

Carmi Levy, Voices.com VP of marketing and tech analyst is used to being put on the spot, so he fared better when asked what he thought about the new space. “I believe that spaces inspire… This place would be a rocket ride.” Joel Adams of Hacker Studios said that he saw the Roundhouse as an “inspiration for lots of up-and-coming companies in London—they should see a space like this and see the possibilities.” “I think it’s very impressive. I’m really happy to see it done this way,” said local history buff Benjamin Vasquez. And Wes Kinghorn, the chair of the London Advisory Committee on Heritage (LACH) described the Roundhouse as “a spectacular example of adaptive reuse that can be the model for other heritage buildings.”

Nancy Serratore came to the Roundhouse with memories: as a little girl growing up in the neighbourhood, she used to get fruit when the Roundhouse was the home of Sansone’s Fruit Co. She loved how the renovations “captured the old while integrating the new technology.”

Balancing the mix-and-mingle portion of the event, we had a brief official ceremony that began with remarks from Mayor Matt Brown, who called the opening “the rebirth of a very historical and very important building” and noted the growth of the SoHo tech sector. The mayor’s remarks were followed by words from Patrick Ambrogio, vice-president of Creative Property Developments; John Nicholson of Nicholson Sheffield Architects; and the president of the London branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, Maggie Whalley, who declared the Roundhouse renovation “inspiring.” Our esteemed leader, David Billson, was a charming M.C.

Edgar and Joe’s, a social enterprise of Goodwill, and our favourite cafe in SoHo, catered the event, with coffee from our friends at Las Chicas del Café, giving many of our visitors their first exposure to both of these wonderful organizations.

Charles Beckett from Elgin County Railway Museum was on hand to give telegraph demonstrations. Though the machinery failed briefly and outgoing messages came to a full stop, he took the opportunity to chat with guests, explaining how messages were transcribed in the past, then gleefully how they work now, as if by magic. "They just come out as text! Nobody is even there to write it all down!" DJ Freek used more recent technology to fill the Roundhouse with music. Between the crowd and the music and the excitement, the space felt like an upscale New York club on a Friday night.

Jeannette Palmer, our communications intern, was one of the smiling faces greeting visitors at the door, and counting numbers. Near as we can figure, nearly 800 people made it through the Roundhouse over the three hours. Jeannette remarked, “Everyone was excited to check out our new office space and for those leaving I overheard how impressed they were. So awesome!”

The closing of Holly Painter’s poem summed up the evening in many ways: “I’m here to shape this city, my city, and honestly, the sky’s the limit.”

If you missed our grand opening, or want to have another look, you can check out the renovated London Roundhouse during Doors Open London, the weekend of September 26.

If you don’t want to wait that long, or want to see the event, we’ll be posting photos and video soon.

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