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Category Archives: Old Toronto movie theatres

Village Theatre on Spadina Road—Toronto

The Village Theatre at 418 Spadina Road in Forest Hill Village (Spadina Village) was a gem in the heart of a small business community that truly created the atmosphere of a small town. In past decades it was referred to as Lower Forest Hill Village and centred on Spadina Road and Lonsdale Avenue. E. M. Farquharson, in an article in the Canadian Home Journal, referred to the Village Theatre as “a neighbourhood cinema in a district of lovely homes.”

Plans for the theatre were submitted to the City of Toronto in November of 1935, at the height of the Great Depression. The architect was Herbert Duerr (1891-1966), who designed the Hollywood Theatre and the Major Rogers Road Theatre (Rogers Road and Silverthorne Avenue). Born in Pittsburgh, he caught the attention of Famous Players and became the corporation’s favourite architect. He designed many theatres across Canada and the United States.

         Village

               This sketch of the Village Theatre is from the Toronto Archives.

I was unable to locate any photos of the Village Theatre in the City of Toronto Archives or the Ontario Archives. However, of all the local theatres I have researched, judging by the sketch that has survived, it was architecturally one of the most unusual. It resembled a quaint shop or house that one might see in an Alpine village, its small peaked roof and unpretentious marquee adding to its quaintness.

The theatre’s box office was in a central position at the front of the structure, and extended from the facade toward the sidewalk. Double doors on either side of it gave access to the outer lobby, which was aligned east-west. Another set of doors opened onto the inner lobby. Because the theatre’s frontage was narrow, the lobby extended a considerable distance from the street. A drink machine that dispensed carbonated beverages was tucked into an alcove in the inner lobby. The auditorium was aligned north-south, with separate doors leading to the aisles. 

Village   7

           Diagram of the interior of the Village Theatre. City of Toronto Archives.

For many years, the manager of the theatre was Miss Evelyn Lilly. A pioneer in the industry, she was the first woman manager hired by Famous Players Corporation. A petit blonde woman, she was less than five feet in height, but possessed a forceful personality. During the years that she managed the theatre, she knew all the local theatregoers and was able to address most of them by name. In 1924, Miss Lilly had commenced her career as a cashier at the Kingswood Theatre, located at 922 Kingston Road, near Kingswood and Kingston Roads. She worked part time at the Kingswood—a few hours on weeknights and Saturday afternoons, for six dollars a week.

Patrons said that she added a woman’s touch at the Village Theatre. After every show, she opened the rear doors to air out the he auditorium. During the war years, she avoided screening war movies as she felt that women were too mindful of the real events taking place overseas to want to witness the conflict on screen. After the war, she became an advocate for more women managers.

After the theatre closed, the building was renovated and contained a dry cleaners. Eventually, the dry cleaners and the restaurant next to it were demolished to construct a boxy two-story building that contained an LCBO on the ground floor.   

Village  5

This undated photo in the City of Toronto Archives shows the site of the Village Theatre after it became a dry cleaners.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

A link to view posts that explore Toronto’s Heritage Buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/canadas-cultural-scenetorontos-architectural-heritage/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s old movie theatres will be released in the spring of 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 130 archival photographs.

A second publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will also be released in the spring of 2016. 

 

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Toronto’s old Shea’s Victoria Theatre

Balwin Coll., TRL  S 1-3287 in 1955  pictures-r-5617[1]

Shea’s Victoria Theatre in 1955. Photo from the Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library S 1-3287

In the early decades of the 20th century, the name “Shea” was synonymous with theatre excellence. The name referred to two brothers, Jeremiah (Jerry) and Michael Shea, born in St. Catherines, Ontario. Enterprising by nature, they realized the potential of the new entertainment medium,“moving pictures.” In 1903, they rented space at 91 Yonge Street and opened a small theatre, on the east side of the street, between King and Adelaide Streets. The theatre screened silent films, accompanied by vaudeville acts. The vaudeville’s slap-stick routines and comedians had always been popular, but it became obvious that the real attraction was now the “moving picture” shows. Films in this  decade were not as lengthy as today, so vaudeville routines were necessary if the Shea brother were to offer a performance that justified the five-cent admission price.  The Shea’s Theatre on Yonge Street was an immediate success. With the funds they accumulated, in 1910, they decided to open a larger and grander theatre.

The Shea brothers chose a site at 83 Victoria Street, on the southeast corner of Richmond and Victoria Streets. They engaged the architect Charles James Reid to design their theatre. In 1908, Reid had been appointed the official architect of the Roman Catholic Separate School Board in Toronto, and between the years 1910 and 1920, he designed many school throughout the city. He was also the architect of the York Theatre on Yonge Street, north of Bloor. Reid chose an unadorned facade for the new Shea’s theatre, with an elaborate cornice and beneath it, modillions that resembled large dentils. The design of the facade facing Victoria Street was symmetrical, except for the ground floor, where there was a door to the right of the entrance. A plain rectangular canopy over the entrance protected patrons from inclement weather as they alighted from cabs and carriages or entered on foot.

Determined to offer the best vaudeville and legitimate theatre in the city, the Shea brothers competed with the Princess and Royal Alexandra Theatres on King Street. In some respects this was not accurate, as the latter two theatres did not offer vaudeville. However, the Shea brothers did compete for popular touring plays. Shea’s Victoria, which was simply referred to as the Victoria, contained two balconies, the combined seating capacity approximately 1800 seats, of which 700 were on the ground-floor level. The projection booth was at the rear of the second balcony. A 1909 issue of Construction Magazine, a highly respected periodical, gave the theatre a positive review for its architectural design.

Despite the increasing popularity of films, the Victoria continued to offer live theatre. Barry Jones, a famous British film star in the 1920s, performed at the Victoria in 1926. In later years, Jones played Aristotle in the film “Alexander the Great.” This movie was released 1956, Richard Burton playing the role of Alexander. Jones retained fond memories of the Victoria, but stated that the Royal Alexandra was the finest theatre of them all. On April 16, 1936, “Ten Minute Alibi,” a smash hit from London’s West End, where it had played for two years, opened at the Victoria. It was one of many road shows performed at the theatre. These shows usually played between one and eight weeks, depending on ticket sales. Eventually, Famous Players purchased the theatre. 

When vaudeville died, the Victoria closed. Though empty, it was employed for special events and for charity fund-raisers, such as those for Crippled Children’s. Jewish stage plays were also performed in the theatre. Since it was not in continuous use, during the early years of World War II, big-name theatrical acts rehearsed at the Victoria prior to being shipped overseas to entertain the troops.

About the year 1944, Famous Players submitted a request for a license to convert the theatre exclusively for movies. The license was granted on December 3, 1945, the capacity listed as 1896 seats. However, difficulties with the licensing authorities continued as the top balcony did not contain proper exists, the aisles blocking the escape route. The authorities ordered the upper balcony closed. In 1947, with a reduction in seating capacity to 1260, another licence was issued. The same year, a candy bar was installed.  During the summer of 1949, the theatre closed for renovations. It received new seating and a new floor in the auditorium. These were completed by January 1950.

The newly renovated Victoria continued as one of Toronto’s largest movie theatres. However, as attendance declined, the theatre’s size made it difficult to fill. No longer profitable, it was demolished in April 1956 by the wrecking company of A. Badali, and the site became a parking lot. Another of the city’s great theatres of yesteryears disappeared from the scene.

Victoria

             The auditorium of the Victoria, photo Ontario Archives.

                         Victoria  2

                     Lobby of the Victoria c. 1946, photo Ontario Archives.

Victoria  5

Auditorium of the Victoria, the organ and organist visible on the left-hand side of the stage. Photo Toronto Archives, Series 1278 File 166. 

Shea's Victoria

The Victoria c. 1946. The facade facing Victoria Street contains the marquee, but the canopy has been removed. The facade with the fire escape faced Richmond.

Victoria  6

               Theatre ad for the Victoria published January 30, 1946.

Victoria  3

This view gazes west along Richmond Street c. 1946. In the distance the Tivoli Theatre is visible. It was originally the Allen Theatre. 

                   May 6, 1956, Toro. Ref. Lob, Salmon Collec.  pictures-r-5615[1]

View gazing west along Richmond Street, the east wall of the theatre demolished to expose the auditorium. The remains of the two balconies are visible. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, the Salmon Collection.

The following article was written by Herbert Whittaker and appeared in the Globe and Mail on April 7, 1956. A copy of it is in the Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 166.

I paused outside the Victoria Theatre the other day and looked at the billboard. Somebody with a sense of style and maybe of irony, had printed, DEMOLITION by A. Badali. I pushed open the door and stepped inside. Mr. Badali’s show lived up to its name. What I saw without a doubt, the most devastating, shattering, heart-rendering performance the Victoria had ever witnessed. Mr. Badali was bringing down the house.

The shape of the auditorium was still there, clouded but not concealed by the debris. The proscenium arch still stood intact, although all beyond it had crumpled under the wrecker’s attacks. But it was not hard to recall the days of the Victoria’s youth, not hard to imagine these areas filled up with good citizens of an older Toronto and that beyond the arch filled in again with brightness and colour, and the actors moving about their business of fascinating.

I came back to the office and suggested that a photo should be taken immediately, if we were to catch a last look at the theatre. The editor agreed that it might be of interest to a great many people. I have reason to believe it has. In fact, one playgoer had the sound of tears in his voice when he spoke about it on the telephone.

Then I went off to meet Barry Jones, the British actor who was in town to talk about the forthcoming film of Alexander the Great, in which he plays Aristotle to Richard Burton’s Alexander.  

It was not too hard to get Mr. Jones off the subject of Alexander the Great onto that of Toronto theatres, because he has a very special affection for this town. Although widely known as a British star, through films and plays, Mr. Jones had only been in theatre 18 months when he made his first appearance here, and has had his most satisfactory experiences here during his many subsequent appearances.

“It was in 1923,” Mr. Jones recalled warmly, “when I first came to Toronto with the Cameron Mathews stock company at the Regent Theatre. It’s a parking lot now,” he added morosely. “The Comedie Theatre, which had been called the Gaiety before that was the next theatre I worked in,” he went on. “That was in 1925. It stands where the Victory Building now stands, I think. Then, there was the Uptown. That was where the Glaser Company played. I remember O. P. Heggie was in the cast, a fine actor. That was in 1926.”And Mr. Jones had played at the Victoria in 1926. This same Victoria that now entertains the wrecker Badli.

Later, Mr. Jones was to go on to greater experiences at the Royal Alexandra. It was here that his famous tours with Maurice Colbourne began, and here that they drew their biggest and best audiences, Mr. Jones recalled fondly. Those plays were history-making, as being the last of a long line of theatrical treats to come from England. Robert Sherwood’s “The Queen’s Husband,” Briedie’s “Tobias and the Angel,” Mr. Colbourne’s own “Charles I”, Shaw’s “John Bull’s Other Island” and hot from the headlines, Shaw’s “Geneva Geneva” played in the stormy year of 1939, completed in memorable cycle, and a theatrical era.

There are, then, reasons for Mr. Jones’ affection for Toronto as a theatrical centre, and particularly for the Royal Alexandra. He upholds the “Royal Alex” as the best theatre he has ever played in, anywhere. “If the Royal Alexandra was ever ton down,” said Mr. Jones threateningly, I should never return to Toronto. Don’t let anything happen to it. I smiled sympathetically, pleased with his interest. Then the echo of names came back to me—the Regent Theatre, the Comedie, the Uptown, the Old Princess, the Victoria—I stopped smiling.

I thought of the Victoria at this moment being razed to make a parking lot. I wondered if someday, somebody else would be naming theatres which no longer existed—“and then there was the Royal Alexandra and the Crest on Mount Pleasant and the Avenue, where Spring Thaw used to play. A city is bound together by its happy hours, by the memories of exciting nights spend in mutual laughter or tears at a mimic show. How many happy hours of the past are made anchorless by the demolition of the Victoria?

Walking around the side of the shattered building, I had seen a curious sight. Against one wall, as a tarpaulin, the wreckers were using a bit of old canvas they had found in the wreckage found backstage. But it wasn’t any old bit of canvas. It had once been a backdrop, on it still was the painted scene—a garden, in the Maxfield Parrish tradition, with a lovely blue vista. The old painted cloth, which once created illusions under the stage lights, now hung tawdrily in the spring sunshine, flapping idly. It might be the banner of a losing cause, so disconsolate it looked. But as I looked at it, it seemed to brighten into a gallant flag.

“Let them tear down the Victoria. Let them put a parking lot there. What I stand for is glory and colour and communication, and laughter and tears, and thrilling voices sounding out and the roar of applause to follow. What will the parking lot leave behind it, when automobiles are obsolete and gasoline outmoded?”

Mr. Whittaker was unaware that of the over 150 theatres that existed when he wrote the article, all but a handful of them would disappear. 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Princess Theatre

Princess

The Princess Theatre on November 18, 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Salmon Collection, Series 1278 File 136.

In 1880, a grand theatre opened in Toronto at 167 King Street West. Its original name was the Academy of Music, but it was changed to the more regal title of Princess. Located on the south side of King Street West, it was between Simcoe and York Streets. The row of buildings that included the theatre no longer exists as it was demolished when University Avenue was extended south from Queen Street. Thus, the site today is buried beneath the multi-lane University Avenue.

The theatre’s opening was an historic event, as it was first theatre in Toronto of any size that offered live theatre. No one knew that the opening of the Princess was the beginning of Toronto’s rise to become the third most important English-speaking theatre centre in the world. The theatre was amazing for its day. It was the first public building in Toronto to be electrified, following the lead of the Savoy Theatre in London, England, the first building in that city to be electrified.

The Princess was an early-day version of an entertainment complex, as it contained a ballroom, banquet room, art gallery and drawing room, as well as a luxurious auditorium and stage. Along with comic and dramatic plays, it also featured major sporting events. On May 23, 1896, the title contest between fighters Tommy Dixon and Frank Zimpher, for the featherweight boxing division was held at the Princess, 

Mary Pickford, whose real name was Gladys Smith, gave her first stage performance at the Princess in 1900, in the play “The Silver King.” Her mother needed money and allowed her daughter to audition for the part. Mary Pickford loved the experience and eventually became the greatest film star of her day, the first international star of the silver screen. In 1907, the city’s first performance of the opera “Madame Butterfly” was at the Princess, just three years after its Milan debut. The same year, another theatre opened on King Street, offering live theatre in competition with the Princess. This was the Royal Alexandra Theatre, which remains in existence today.

In 1915, fire destroyed much of the Princess Theatre. It required two years to repair the damage and reopened in 1917 as the New Princess Theatre. 

In November 1924, the film “Thief of Bagdad” premiered at the Princess, starring Douglas Fairbanks, the husband of Mary Pickford. It was a silent film and for the occasion the theatre hired a 20-piece orchestra to provide the background music. It was a gala performance, since the theatre rarely showed films, as it specialized in live theatre. However, because this one of the most important movies of the decade, the theatre allowed an exception.

After almost four decades as one of Toronto’s most popular theatres, it finally shuttered its doors. The theatre was demolished in 1931. 

DSCN6704   DSCN6696

DSCN6698  DSCN6703

    Programs from the Princess Theatre, Ontario Archives.

I am indebted to www.world theatres.com, silenttoronto.com, and Man in the green goggles journals.hil.unb.ca for some of the information contained in this post.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Grant Theatre-Post II

  Grant 1146N-143 (2)

              Grant Theatre in 1936. City of Toronto Archives, SC 488-1146

Of all the theatres explored in my posts, my fondest memories are of the Grant Theatre, where I attended my first Saturday-afternoon matinee and where I met all the great film stars of my youth. It opened in 1930 as an independent theatre, owned by the Grant family. Located at 524 Oakwood Avenue, it was near the intersection of Vaughan Road and Oakwood Avenue. It was an advantageous site for a theatre as the Oakwood streetcars and the Vaughan buses passed by its doors. In the 1940s, there were shops surrounding it that created a mini-village. The Oakwood Hotel a short distance to the south of it was the other entertainment attraction in the immediate area.

Map of 524 Oakwood Ave, Toronto, ON M6E 2X1

               Location of the Grant Theatre at 524 Oakwood Avenue.

When I visited the Grant the 1940s, the theatre was already showing its age. However, as a child, I thought it was the most wonderful movie palace in the entire world—a constant source of pure magic. When I attended my first Saturday-afternoon matinee, the first film shown was a murder mystery that almost scared me to death. I remember gazing at my older brother, who appeared entranced with the plot and not frightened in the least. I sat glued to the seat, tighter than the chewing gum stuck to its underside. Somehow, I managed to survive.

The second feature starred Sonja Henie, the three-time Olympic champion who had become a movie star. I must admit that her graceful antics on the ice bored me. However, in the weeks ahead, I saw enough exciting films to erase the memories of Sonja Henie. I was introduced to pirates, cowboys, detective, assorted villains, comedians and musical/dancing stars.

My favourite comedy teams on the screen at the Grant were Laurel and Hardy, as well as Abbott and Costello. Their antics were enormously funny, much of their humour centring on the predicaments they encountered in daily life. Their style of comedy was familiar to me through the radio programs such as “The Life of Riley,” starring William Bendix, as well as the “Amos and Andy” show. This type of comedy continues today in sit-com TV shows such as Schitts Creek, Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairies. Another series of comedy films I enjoyed when I was a boy was “The Bowery Boys.” Their movies told about the antics of a group of teenage boys who considered themselves wise guys, but their plans to acquire a few dollars always ended in failure. The situations they created were endlessly funny, or so I thought at the time.

Even after we purchased our first black and white television in 1953, the Grant retained its attraction due to the big-screen format and the superior quality of the pictures compared to TV. However, as TV images improved and with the introduction of colour TV, the Grant Theatre finally lost to the in-house entertainment medium.

Another event that helped destroy the appeal of movie theatres was the introduction of “Hockey Night in Canada,” in the 1952-1953 season. Young men began staying home to watch the games, broadcast by the CBC. The first tavern/bar in Canada to broadcast these games was the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen West near Spadina Avenue. Saturday nights “on the town” were no longer the same. Toronto’s entertainment scene was changing and movie houses were the losers.

In 1953, our family moved away from the area where the Grant was located. The theatre closed its doors in 1956. It was demolished except for the walls, and it renovated for other commercial purposes.

Grant 1147-144

Auditorium of the Grant, showing the south wall of the theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Series  1147 It. 144

Grant 1148-145

Auditorium and north wall of the Grant, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1148, It. 145.

Grant

The Grant Theatre in the late-1950s, after it closed and was converted into a bowling alley.

Grant 532 Oakwood

The old theatre after the canopy and marquee were removed and it was a banquet hall.

Grant theatre 2

                          The site of the Grant theatre in 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Odeon Danforth Theatre—Post 11

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Odeon Danforth Theatre, the film “Jassy” on the marquee. Released in 1947, it was a drama about an English squire and his daughter’s friendship with Jassy, a Gypsy psychic. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 119. 

The Odeon Danforth is another of the movie theatres on the Danforth that I remember well, but never attended. However, I viewed it many times from the windows of the old Bloor PCC streetcars, which passed in front of the theatre. The Bloor cars were removed from service after the Bloor-Danforth Subway opened in 1966. The Odeon Danforth’s main rival was the Palace Theatre, located a short distance to the east of it. Both theatres are now long gone.

The Odeon chain of theatres entered the Toronto market to screen British films, but later showed Hollywood films as well. In the 1950s and 1960s, Odeon developed the policy of featuring the same films simultaneously in several of its theatres. As I lived nearer to the Odeon Humber, there was no need for me to journey to the east end of the city to view  the films playing at the Odeon Danforth.

On a hot day in July 2014, I travelled on the subway to visit the site where the theatre had once stood, at 635 Danforth Avenue. Today, a branch of Extreme Fitness, an exercise gym, is on the location. The site is on the south side of Danforth Avenue, a short distance west of Pape Avenue.

Map of 635 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K 1R2

The Odeon Danforth opened on April 16, 1947. Later the same year the Odeon chain opened the Odeon Toronto (Carlton) on September 9th, and the Odeon Hyland on November 22, 1948. The previous year, the company had opened the Odeon Fairlawn on Yonge Street. The following year they opened the Odeon Humber on January 7th. The Odeon Danforth was the only theatre they owned located east of the Don Valley.

The theatre was impressive, its massive marquee dominating the street. The modern glass doors were recessed a distance back from the street, creating an open space that formed a grand approach for patrons entering the theatre. This compensated  for the theatre’s small frontage on The Danforth. The box office was outside, to the right of the doors. Since the theatre extended back a good distance from the street, there was space for an extensive lobby, which was richly carpeted, with a wide staircase leading to the balcony. Its auditorium was large, possessing over 1300 seats, including the ground-floor and the balcony. The seating on the main floor contained two aisles—a centre section and further seating  on either side of the aisles. Surrounding the screen were rich folds of drapery, which created elegance, but also intimacy. The walls were decorated with sweeping decorative lines that accented its modernistic style.

When the demographics of the area changed, the theatre commenced showing Greek films and its name was changed to the Rex. Eventually the theatre was no longer profitable and it closed. Finally, the building was renovated for a fitness gym, but some of the interior architectural features of the theatre were maintained. Passing by the site of the Odeon Danforth today, it is difficult to conceive that there was once a grand theatre on the premises.

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Ground-floor seating of the Odeon Danforth, with its sweeping decorative lines on the side walls and generous drapery near the screen. Photo Ontario Archives, AO 2142.

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Lobby of the theatre, with the rich carpeting and the grand staircase to the balcony. Ontario Archives, AO 2141.

              Odeon Danforth (3)

The fitness gym in 2014, at 635 Danforth Avenue, where the Odeon Danforth was located.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

 

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Toronto’s Paradise Theatre—Part II

Paradise

                      Paradise Theatre c. 1946. Ontario Archives

During the summer of 2014, in my quest to locate and photograph Toronto’s old local theatres, none of the discoveries surprised and pleased me more than the sight of the Paradise Theatre. Located at 1008 Bloor Street West, it is on the northwest corner of Bloor and Westmoreland Avenue. However, I must admit that my pleasure slowly became tinged with a hint of sadness, as its impressive marquee was blank, devoid of the names of films, and the spaces where posters had once advertised films were empty or contained faded posters. One of the spaces had graffiti defacing it. The theatre was akin to a grand old lady whose glory days had vanished and was now a relic from the past.

Despite these thoughts, I must confess I was gladdened by the realization that at least the theatre had survived, and despite the passing of the many decades since it opened, its façade of glazed bricks still sparkled in the afternoon sun. Its marquee may have been empty, but it was well preserved and as attractive as when it was first installed. In my opinion, the Paradise is an architectural gem.

The site where it exists has a long history in the story of Toronto’s local theatres. The first theatre built on this site at 1008 Bloor Street was named the Kitchener. It opened its doors to screen silent movies in 1909, in the days prior to the First World War. The cost of constructing the theatre was $3000. To build the Paradise, the old Kitchener Theatre was gutted, very little of it being retained.

The present-day cinema opened in 1937, designed by the Lithuanian-born Benjamin Brown, one of the city’s famous architects. He had previously created the Reading Building in 1925, the Tower Building in 1927, and Balfour Building in 1930, all located on Spadina Avenue. Brown also was the architect of the infamous Victory Theatre. Benjamin Brown chose the Art Deco style for the Paradise Theatre. The tall rectangular windows on the second floor and the narrow rows of raised bricks create the impression of extra height. Its cornice is relatively unadorned, with a raised centre section in the central position, typical of many Art Deco buildings. When it opened in 1937, its auditorium contained a small stage, with dressing rooms to accommodate actors when live performances were offered. It was an intimate theatre, containing a small lobby and less than 500 seats in its auditorium, including the balcony.

The theatre changed ownership several times during the decades ahead, but except for a period in the 1980s, when it screened soft porno and was named Eve’s Paradise, it always retained its original name. It screened Italian films in the 1960s. In the 1990s it was a repertoire theatre, part of the Festival chain.

By the early years of the 21st century, it had become somewhat shabby, its projectors having insufficient power to properly illuminate the film-prints, and the sound system was in poor shape. It closed in 2006, but in 2007 was listed as a Heritage Property. Unfortunately, because the laws are very lax, this did not ensure that it would not be demolished.

However, this story has a happy ending. The Paradise Theatre was purchased by Moray Tawse, who plans to restore it to its original glory. It will become an arts centre and community theatre, a true addition to Toronto’s cultural scene.

To view plans for the redevelopment of the Paradise Theatre, google: www.insidetoronto.com

Paradise, OA 2308

Undated photo of the auditorium of the Paradise. Photo from Ontario Archives.

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            Lobby of the Paradise. Photo from the Ontario Archives.

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View of the Paradise on the northwest coroner of Bloor and Westmoreland during the summer of 2014.

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                        Marquee and the sign of the Paradise.

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                             Brick designs on the facade of the theatre.

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    The lobby and entrance door to the auditorium of the Paradise in 2014.

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Gazing west along the busy section of Bloor Street West, where the Paradise is located.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

              Books by the Blog’s Author

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“ Lost Toronto”—employing detailed archival photographs, this recaptures the city’s lost theatres, sporting venues, bars, restaurants and shops. This richly illustrated book brings some of Toronto’s most remarkable buildings and much-loved venues back to life. From the loss of John Strachan’s Bishop’s Palace in 1890 to the scrapping of the S. S. Cayuga in 1960 and the closure of the HMV Superstore in 2017, these pages cover more than 150 years of the city’s built heritage to reveal a Toronto that once was.

 

                         cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses. To place an order for this book, published by History Press:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in most book stores such as Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox and AGO Book Shop. It can also be ordered by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

 

                  image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]

“Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again” explores 81 theatres. It contains over 125 archival photographs, with interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories. Note: an article on this book was published in Toronto Life Magazine, October 2016 issue.

For a link to the article published by |Toronto Life Magazine: torontolife.com/…/photos-old-cinemas-dougtaylortoronto-local-movie-theatres-of-y…

The book is available at local book stores throughout Toronto or for a link to order this book: https://www.dundurn.com/books/Torontos-Local-Movie-Theatres-Yesteryear 

 

 Toronto: Then and Now®

“Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. It contains archival and modern photos that allow readers to compare scenes and discover how they have changed over the decades. Note: a review of this book was published in Spacing Magazine, October 2016. For a link to this review:

spacing.ca/toronto/2016/09/02/reading-list-toronto-then-and-now/

For further information on ordering this book, follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21

 

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Toronto’s Revue Theatre-Part II

AO 2020

The Revue Theatre in 1938, Ontario Archives.

The Revue Theatre at 400 Roncesvalles Avenue is one of the oldest surviving movie houses in Toronto, its only rival for this distinction being the Fox Theatre, on Queen Street East. Both theatres opened between 1912 and 1913 and remain active today. Their façades are unchanged from when they opened, although the original marquees on both theatres have been removed as they were too costly to maintain.

Because of the Revue’s location, I was never inside it when I was a teenager. However, during “Doors Open Toronto” in 2013, I journeyed on the streetcar to visit it. I had my choice of boarding either a King or a College streetcar, as the theatre is located near the intersection of Roncesvalles and Howard Park Avenues. This caused me to realize the advantage of the theatre’s location in earlier decades, when almost everyone moved around the city by streetcar. On arriving at the theatre, I was impressed with the young volunteers that enthusiastically talked about the Revue and provided tours of the space behind the screen. They also allowed access to the projection room. Free popcorn was available at the candy bar—a nice touch.

In the mid-19th century, the area known as Parkdale, to the south of where the Revue is located today, was relative undeveloped. However, it was expanding rapidly, even though it was considered remote from the downtown. Nestled beside Lake Ontario, many of its inhabitants were cottagers who spent only the summer months in Parkdale, sharing it with people who were enjoying day-trips to the beach from the core of the city. However, because of its highly desirable location beside the lake, Parkdale increasingly attracted more and more permanent residents, many large Victorian-style homes appearing on its tree-lined streets. As a result, it was annexed to the City of Toronto in 1889. As land prices increased and vacant residential lots disappeared, residential development moved further northward, along Roncesvalles Avenue. This street derived its name from a mountain pass in the Pyrenees, where a battle was fought in the Napoleonic Wars. 

As the area of Roncesvalles near Howard Park Avenue became more populated, it was obvious that building a movie theatre in the area could be a profitable enterprise. Thus, between 1912-1913, the Revue Theatre was constructed. Though in a quiet neighbourhood to the northwest of the downtown core, it benefited from being close to two streetcar lines and surrounded by residential streets to the east and west of Roncesvalles with ever-increasing populations .

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People arriving at the terminus of the College streetcar line in High Park in 1906, on an open trolley car. This was only a few blocks from where the Revue Theatre was located. City of Toronto Archives, Series 71, Item 9896

The Revue was not a large theatre, containing only around 500 seats. However, its size was appropriate for a local theatre that depended mainly on the surrounding community for patrons, supplemented by those who arrived by streetcar. The theatre’s Fabricord seats were comfortable, and its two aisles provided easy access and exiting of the theatre. This was an advantage in an era when movie-goers entered and departed constantly, rather than arriving at the staring time of a film. Despite the theatre’s modest size, it possessed an impressive marquee, attached to a façade displaying classical designs, with Greek dentils and Doric columns. The cornice on the peaked roof and the horizontal lower cornice below it contained classical decorative detailing. The interior was decorated with designs possessing geometric shapes and patterns.

In the 1980s, the theatre became part of the Festival Theatre chain. However, in 2006 the company closed the Revue. It appeared as if a developer might purchase the property and demolish it. Fortunately, concerned residents raised funds to ensure its survival as a functioning movie house. It reopened the following year, operated by the non-profit Revue Film Society.

In February of the year it reopened, a section of the marquee collapsed to the sidewalk, likely cause by the weight of the snow. For safety reasons, it was necessary to remove the entire marquee. A part of it was preserved by storing it in an area behind the screen.

Thankfully, the Revue Cinema remains today and continues to offer nightly screenings. It is one of Toronto’s few remaining neighbourhood theatres of yesteryear.

Revue 1109-106

The Revue Theatre in 1935, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1109 File 106

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The Revue Theatre in 1935, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1111, It. 108

AO 2021

   Interior of the Revue Theatre in the 1930s, City of Toronto Archives.

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      Interior of the theatre in 2013, from the rear of the auditorium. 

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                   View of the auditorium from near the screen.

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Greek dentils in the peak of the facade and the name of the theatre.

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     A section of the old marquee that is stored behind the screen.

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                        Facade of the Revue Theatre in 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Radio City Theatre—Part II

Radio City OA 2172

The Radio City Theatre in 1941, Ontario Archives

The Radio City Theatre was located at 1454 Bathurst Street, a short distance south of St. Clair Avenue West. It was built adjacent to the southern loop of the Vaughan Bus, which terminated at the north end of its route at Oakwood Avenue and Vaughan Road. As a young boy, I travelled on the Vaughan bus many times. The first time I visited The Radio City Theatre I was too young to go unaccompanied, so an adult neighbour took a friend, my brother and me to see Walt Disney’s animated film, “Snow White.” The film had been released in 1937, but I saw it as the Radio City in 1943.

As a child, I thought the theatre was amazing. Its size and grandeur appeared palatial, worthy of the prince charming that rescued Snow White in the Disney film. I knew the story of Snow White quite well as I had signed-out the picture book from the library at Vaughan and Oakwood Avenues. When I first visited the theatre, it was spanking new, having opened just five years earlier in 1936. Its auditorium contained about 800 seats. The lobby was richly carpeted and included a fireplace. 

I did not attend the theatre again until I was of sufficient age to ride the Vaughan bus on my own. However, I rarely attended it, since by that time the larger and more attractive Vaughan Theatre had opened nearby. Both theatres were managed by the B&F chain.

The theatre’s doors were shuttered in 1975 and the building was demolished. The site today contains a low-rise building that is used for other commercial purposes.

Radio City OA 2174

            Lobby of the Radio City Theatre. Ontario Archives, AO 2174.

site of Radio City

                     Building on the site of the Radio City Theatre.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Odeon Humber Theatre—Part II

Odeon Humber, Photo Gilbert A. Milne, 51618

The Odeon Humber Theatre in 1993, after it had been divided into two auditoriums. One of the movies on the marquee is Woody Allen’s “Manhattan Murder Mystery.” Photo City of Toronto Archives, Gilbert A. Milne 51618

The Odeon Humber was one of the local theatres that I often attended when I was a teenager. Of the five original Odeon theatres, it is the only one that remains today, all the others having been demolished.

My family relocated in 1954 from the Fairbank District, where we lived near the Rogers Road-Oakwood area. Our new home was near Jane Street and Lambton Avenue, in the west end of the city. In that year, the TTC service did not extend beyond Jane and Annette Streets, so to travel to the Humber Theatre we journeyed on the privately-owned Roseland Bus Lines to Jane and Annette Streets, and then, to reach Jane and Bloor we boarded an Annette Trolley bus.

The Humber Theatre was located in the Bloor West Village. It was only a few doors to the west of the intersection of Bloor and Jane Streets, on the north side of the street, at 2442 Bloor Street West. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was in an area that possessed much pedestrian traffic, since it where the Bloor streetcars looped before travelling east as far as Luttrell Avenue. This was prior to the opening of the Bloor /Danforth Subway in 1966.

Map of 2442 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M6S 1R1

                      Location of the Odeon Humber Theatre.

Designed by Jay Isadore English (1903-1947), at a cost of $400,000,  the Humber Theatre opened on January 27, 1948. My first visit to the Humber was in 1954, the year that Hurricane Hazel devastated the city, causing much destruction and loss of life, when the Humber and Don Rivers flooded their banks. The Odeon Humber was a large theatre, containing 1200 seats. It was constructed by the British Odeon Chain, a subsidiary of the Rank Organization. At the beginning of Rank movies, I remember that a well-muscled man struck a huge gong at the opening of each film and the words, “J. Arthur Rank Presents” appeared on screen.

One Saturday evening, when I was in my late-teens, I attended the Odeon Theatre accompanied by a friend. After we arrived, two couples from my high school entered the theatre and sat behind us. They teased us about not having  girl friends to take to the theatre on a Saturday night. Being teenagers had its embarrassing moments, which we thought were disasters.

I purchased my first car in 1967, a bright-red Acadian Pontiac, at the astronomical price of $3300. During the next few years, I often visited the Odeon Humber, parking in the Green-P parking behind the theatre, entered by the street to the west of the theatre—Riverview Gardens.

The Odeon Humber Theatre was split into two auditoriums in 1975. One theatre was on the ground floor and the other was in the space that had previously been the balcony. It received a $400,000 renovation in 1999, when larger seats, digital sound and a new concession stand were installed. It was eventually owned by Cineplex Odeon Corporation, but the company closed it in 2003. The building was empty for several years and was in danger of being demolished for condominiums. However, it was rescued by Rui Pereira, owner of the Kingsway Cinema, who reopened as a multiplex theatre named the Humber Cinemas. It now contains five auditoriums. The theatre space in the balcony remains in tact, but the ground-floor area now contains four small theatres.

It is hoped that the Humber Cinemas survives in the years ahead, as it representative of the local theatres that at one time were in almost every community across the city.

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         The Odeon Humbers auditorium, Ontario Archives, AO 2152

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The Odeon Humber after it was converted to the Humber Cinemas, photo taken in 2013.

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   Entrance of the Humber Cinemas during the summer of 2013. 

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                                Lobby of the Humber Cinemas.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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Toronto’s old Vaughan Theatre—Part II

OA 2194

The Vaughan Theatre c. 1947. Photo from the Ontario Archives, AO 2194.

When I was a young boy, the Grant and Colony Theatres were my local hangouts, in the days when my parent allowed me to attend only those theatres within walking distance of our house on Lauder Avenue. However, when I was ten years old, my parents purchased a newspaper route for me and I commenced delivering the Toronto Star to over sixty customers on our street. Papers sold for 3 cents, and I considered the profits from my business enterprise to be substantial.

A bus fare was three cents cash or four tickets for a dime. Having obtained great affluence, I pleaded with my parents for permission to travel on the bus to theatres on St. Clair Avenue West. The St. Clair Theatre I was able to walk to, but the Vaughan was too far away. With my money and parents’ permission, my first goal was to attend the Vaughan Theatre at 542 St. Clair West, a few doors west of the intersection of St. Clair and Vaughan Road.

Because I had newspapers to deliver, it was important that I return home by 5 pm. However, I must admit that after attending a matinee at the Vaughan, my customers sometimes waited longer than usual for their papers. I never explained to them why I was late, for fear that my reason might appear trivial. However, visiting the Vaughan Theatre on hot summer’s day was worth risking the wrath of my customers.

The feature of the theatre that I remember the most was its air conditioning system. It was cooler than the older theatres that I was accustomed to, as the theatre had opened in 1947 and was spanking new. The refreshing temperatures were a welcomed treat after travelling on the hot Vaughan bus. As we liked to say as kids, “It was Popsicle Cool.” In the 1940s, air conditioning was only available at Eaton’s, Simpsons, movie theatres and a few wealthy homes in Forest Hill or Rosedale. I felt the cool air against my face the instant I opened one of the modern glass doors of the theatre.

After I entering the lobby, I walked down several carpeted steps to the candy bar, situated in front of me, along the north wall. To enter the auditorium I walked up one of the gently sloped ramps on the east and west sides of the lobby. The auditorium contained almost a thousand seats, arranged in rows in the “stadium seating” style, as it is referred to today.  Designs on the walls and ceiling contained simple vertical line. Generous layers of drapery surrounded the screen, creating a luxurious appearance, especially when the curtains swept open at the beginning of a film.

I attended the Vaughan Theatre often, until our family relocated to the west end of the city in 1953. The theatre eventually closed and was demolished in the 1980s. Today, the site contains some undistinguished buildings that add nothing to the streetscape.

As a kid I had no interest in the history of the theatre, but recently, when researching  the theatre, I learned that plans for the Vaughan were approved by the city in May 1946, and the pouring of the concrete commenced in October the same year. The theatre opened on November 27, 1947. The architects, Kaplan and Sprachman, designed a modern yellow-brick structure with a sign above the marquee that soared high into the air, the letters B&F at its pinnacle. B&F was the name of the company that managed the theatre. This company was formed in 1921, when Samuel Fine and Samuel Bloom formed a partnership. They eventually operated 21 theatres. In 1927, the company became a subsidiary of Famous Players Corporation. B&F pioneered the ideas of screening double-bill (two movies) shows for a single admission price. This allowed smaller theatres to compete with the larger downtown theatres that showed recent releases. In 1923, they featured this concept for first time at the Christie Theatre on St. Clair, near Wychwood Avenue. B&F also pioneered the idea of midnight showings to attract the late-night crowds.

I remember the Vaughan as an exceptionally attractive structure. When it closed and was demolished, I felt that the city lost an important part of its theatrical heritage.

Map of 544 St Clair Ave W, Toronto, ON M6C 1A5

Location of the Vaughan Theatre at 542 St. Clair West.

Vaughan Mandel S.

Interior of the Vaughan Theatre, Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, the Mandel Collection.

Vaughan, Series 881, File 350

Lobby and candy bar of the Vaughan Theatre, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881 File 350

SC 488-7340

The Vaughan Theatre in 1947, the film :”Framed” with Glenn Ford on the marquee. City of Toronto Archives, Series 488 File7340.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                      cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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