Garden   4

The Garden Theatre at 290 College Street as it appeared in the early decades of the 20th century, when it possessed a roof garden. The covering over the garden space is evident in the photo. On the second floor there are two French balconies, creating an elegant facade. There was no large canopy over the entrance. The theatre was on the north side of College Street, a short distance west of Spadina. This Photo is from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 71.

290 College

The site of the old Garden Theatre, as it appeared during the summer of 2013. The structure that covered the roof garden has long since been removed.  The French balconies have been altered to create windows. The facade is no longer elegant.

The Garden Theatre was among the first of the city’s movie houses. It has a long story. Plans were submitted to the City of Toronto for the site at 290 College in March 1915, proposing that two shops be combined into a single space to house Leon Brick’s Amusement Arcade. The plans were approved and a roof top garden, designed by J. H. Stanford, was built on top of the structure. In 1916, the premises changed hands and was converted into the Garden Theatre, but the roof garden was retained. The open-air space contained chairs and tables, arranged for patrons to enjoy refreshments. The theatre below the roof garden contained 538 seats, 481 leatherette seats in the auditorium, and another 57 wooden seats in the small balcony. The theatre possessed no air-conditioning, but had fans and vents to circulate the air.


The above photo shows the theatre’s rooftop garden. It is not known when it was removed from the theatre.

In 1936, Kaplan and Sprachman were hired to renovate the theatre. The women’s washrooms were placed behind the ticket booth, the men’s facilities located in the basement. The floor of the auditorium was changed from wood to concrete, and the seating arrangement was altered. The side aisles were removed and a wider centre aisle installed. This allowed for larger, more comfortable seats. The B and F Theatre chain assumed control of the theatre in the same year.

In 1942, the theatre was purchased by Morris and Sam Rittenberg. They renovated it, employing the designer Jay English, and renamed it Cinema Lumiere . 

In 1950, the Garden Billiard Academy opened on the second floor. In this year, next door, to the west of the theatre was the Melody Restaurant, at the rear of it the Frosty Ice Cream Company. Patrons were able to view a film and enjoy a coffee and sandwich after the movie, and in hot weather, purchase a cooling treat. In 1960, the billiard academy was renovated and renamed the New Garden Billiard Academy. Reservations to reserve a table could be made by dialling WA 2-9136. However, by that year the eatery next door was called the Budapest Restaurant, as the demographics of the neighbourhood were changing, the area becoming more multi-cultural. 

In 1967, the theatre closed and the premises became the home of the Central Billiard Academy. The billiard academy closed in 1972, and during the years ahead, the premises were leased for other commercial enterprises. 

Garden, pre-1936 Tor. Ref. L

              The auditorium as it appeared pre-1936, with side aisles.


This undated photo from the City of Toronto Archives shows the interior of the theatre after 1936. The side aisles have been removed, and a wider centre aisle added.

Oct. 1965,   $49,000

It is likely that this photo was taken in 1967, as the theatre had closed but the New Garden Billiard Academy remained on the premises, and possibly occupied the entire building. By the end of the year, the Central Billiard Academy occupied the site. The photo is a real estate picture, as the building for sale for $49,000. There was no roof garden, but the French balconies on the second floor remained. The theatre canopy that remains today can be seen.

290 College 5   290 College 3

The site of the old Garden Theatre on College Street, and its canopy in August 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

Book published in 2014 about Toronto’s old movie theatres, which explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

“Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen”


To place and order for this book, either in electronic or hard copy format, follow the link below.

        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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3 thoughts on “Toronto’s old movie theatres–the Garden Theatre on College St.

  1. The Orpheum Theatre was opened by my Grandfather Norman, and subsequently owned by my Father Morris and his Brother-in-law Percy (also the projectionist) until it closed. I helped out there on the candy bar on Saturday matinees. The Garden Theatre was purchased by my Father Morris and his Brother Sam in 1942, and sold in 1973. I worked part time as manager and in the candy bar. The new owners re-named the theatre Cinema Lumiere. The theatres were part of my growing up, and prepared me for a career in the industry, working for several distribution companies, eventually opening Creswin Film Distributors Ltd. in 1978. Your pictures were forwarded to me by oldest son Kevin, not in the industry, although he also worked at the Orpheum.What wonderful memories these evoke. Thanks for the memories!!!!

  2. Fantastic. I worked as an usher at the Capri on Bloor in 1971. Now Hot Docs cinema.So many of the cinemas have disappeared since then.

  3. Im trying to find anything about The Colege Theatre which I attended faithfully during the fifty;s and sixty’s.Does anyone have any info ?

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