MYSEUM:DISCOVER / Now and Then: Toronto's Movie Theatres
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The Allen Brothers opened this palace in the spirng of 1920. They also owned and operated the Allen’s on Bloor an the Allen’s on the Danforth. The Sunnyside Amusement Park opened two years later helping to supply audiences looking to escape the summer heat–come for the fair, stay for the movie–it worked.
With 1546 seats thi beautiful theatre was fully fireproof, so smoking was advertised and in 1938, air-conditioning was added.
On February 21, 1950, two detectives overpowered a notorious bank-robber named “Baby-Faced Byers” in this theatre. He was 30 but he looked younger. When he was arrested he reached for his gun but failed to draw in time. If he had, the story might have ended differently.
This neighbourhood theatre opened just after the First World War. It was originally licensed to two brothers–Clarence and William Welsman.
With 400 wooden seats with backs covered in leatherette, the Brighton had a cozy feel to it in comparison to larger theatres. The building was more than just for entertainment. The theatre had no balcony but it had third floor apartments facing south. It was truly a community space.
This theatre opened in 1919. Allen’s Danforth Theatre was part of the Allen chain of theatres operated by two brothers Jay and Jule Allen. It was a big place with 1600 seats and it was designed by Hynes, Feldman and Watson who were part of the Detroit architectural firm of Howard Crane. This firm also designed both of the other Allen theatres.
This was also once a vaudeville house in an attempt to project an image of respectability, Allen’s advertised their theatre as “Canada’s First Super Photoplay Palace”. Toronto the Good often didn’t approve of going to the movies. Cinemas were seen as dens of sin with risqué comedians and burlesque titillation.
The theatre was taken over by Famous Players in 1923, renamed the Century and converted to sound films in 1929, just in time for the Depression. By the 1970s, this site was renamed the Tatania and was screening second-run films, kung-fu films and Greek films for the growing Hellenic community on the Danforth.
“This theatre would run Westerns all day for next to nothing. John Wayne, Horror, you name it. it was the place to be in the early 60s.”
The Orpheum Theatre opened in 1930 and it was run by the Rittenberg family. This theatre provided an affordable escape from the harsh realities of Depression-era Toronto. The theatre once had 500 well-padded seats for their patrons with another 146 in the balcony, but it shtut down in 1977 because of the growing popularity of television. In 1983 it re-opened as The Golden Dragon, but then closed again in 1987 to become a jewelry store.
This magnificent theatre first opened in 1913. It contains two full-sized theatres stacked on top of each other. Very few of these stacked theatres were ever built and this is the only one that survives in Canada
The lower theatre was called “Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre”. With seating for 2149 patrons, it was intended to be the flagship facility for the expanding vaudeville and film empire of New York’s Marcus Loew. Irving Berlin came to the opening night. Back then, a typical show at Loew’s consisted of 8 to 10 vaudeville acts with a silent film and a newsreel. It was affectionately known as a “Grind House” because performers had to continuously grind out shows starting at 11 in the morning.
The Winter Garden Theatre was seven stories above Loew’s and could accommodate 1410 patrons. It opened in 1914. The décor of this theatre attempted to recreate an English country garden with cotton blossoms and real beech leaves dipped in preservatives. In 1928, after only 18 years in operation, this vaudeville theatre closed. Movies had taken over.
Allen’s Bloor Theatre opened on March 10, 1919 with the film, “Why Change Your Wife” starring Gloria Swanson. It was built and run by brothers Jules and Jay Allenwho opened their first, “moving picture theatre” in Brantfort in 1907. They arrived in Toronto in 1915 and went on to build a chain of theatres. The exteriors of their theatres were often plain but the interiors were palatial.
A Huge amount of now HUGE bands played their Toronto debut here. On April 16th, 1990 for example, Nirvana played a sparsely-attended gig here. It did not go so well. Other international bands who first Toronto appearances here first include Oasis, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Verve, Blue, Smashing Pumpkins, Magnetic Fields, The Tragically Hip, Hey Rosetta!, The Sheepdogs, Arkells, July Talk and Mumford & Sons.
The Eastwood Theatre was built in 1927 and it was the largest theatre east of Yonge Street at the time. The auditorium had almost 900 wooden seats with leather backs for live theatre and vaudeville shows. Movies were shown here until 1966 when it closed.
The 1972, the theatre was purchased for $10,000 by Gian Naz and it became (according to the new owner) the first theatre in Canada to exclusively screen Indian films. He renamed it the NAAZ Theatre
The Naaz Theatre was at its peak of popularity in the mid-to-late 1970s, during which time some of the biggest stars in Bollywood–including Bachchan, Rameshwari, Rajesh Khanna, and Sharmila Tagore–visited for screenings and signed autographs.
In the mid 1920s, Forest Hill was opening up for suburban development. Eglinton Avenue still had many open fields on it. Sicilian immigrant Agostino Arrigo knew that the area needed a movie theatre, so he decided to build one. The theatre cost $200,000 which was an outrageous amount of money then but the Art Deco style remains an iconic part of Eglinton.
This was Famous Players’ flagship theatre and opened on April 2, 1936–right in the middle of the Great Depresion. Admission was expensive for the era–35 cents for orchestra seats and 45 cents for the loges (smoking section).
Between 1965 and 1967, the “hills were alive with the Sound of Music”. This movie played here for 146 weeks. 20th Century Fox paid for extensive renovations to the theatre to ensure that this launch would be spectacular even though they weren’t the owners. In 2002, The theatre closed because of declining movie attendance and it was converted to a special events venue.
In March of 2015, plans were submitted to the City proposing the merging of two shops into a single space to create Leon Brick’s Amusement Arcade. These plans were approved and a rooftop garden was added. This arcade changed hands in 1916, becoming the Garden Theatre, retaining the rooftop patio for refreshments.
There were 481 leatherette seats in auditorium, 57 seats in the small balcony and no air-conditioning but there were fans to keep everyone cool in the summer heat.
Morris and Sam Rittenberg purchased the building in 1942. They renovated and renamed it The Cinema Lumiere. In 1950, The Garden Billiard Academy opened on the 2nd floor.
Theatre closed in 1967 and became the Central Billiard Acadamy until 1972 when that closed and the building went through a number of different tenants until it became what it is today.
The Standard Theatre opened in 1921. It was designed by the first registered Jewish architect in Toronto, Benjamin Brown. He also designed the beautiful Balfour Building further down Spadina and Adelaide. At one time The Standard was one of the finest Yiddish Theatres in North America. It was financed by selling shares to the local Kensington Market merchants. Melodrama! Comedies! Tragedies! New York touring companies performing Shakespeare in Yiddish.
In 1929, the local constabulary was called to break up a meeting at the theatre commemorating the death of Lenin. The pretext for this raid? It was illegal at that time to address a group in any language but English. In 1933, the Progressive Arts Club presented a play called Eight Men Speak, a defense of 8 imprisoned Communist Party leaders. The first performance sold out and the second was shut down when the local police threatenend to revoke the theatre’s license.
The Pylon opened in October of 1939. The neighbourhood was predominantly British then. It is now Little Italy. Ray Lewis was the original owner. She put a roller skating rink ath the back of the theatre and a dance hall on the second floor.
In the late 1950’s the demographics in the neighbourhood changed with an influx of Italian immigrants. Rocco Mastrangelo, owner of the Café Diplomatico, bought the theatre and started screening Italian films. In the 1990’s, this theatre was briefly called The Golden Princess, screening mostly Asian films.