Intending to write a book on Toronto’s old theatres, I began downloading photographs in the collection of the City of Toronto Archives. Among the many pictures, I found were several of the Lux Burlesque Theatre at 360-362 College Street. Although I do not remember this theatre, I soon discovered that for a few years it attracted much press in the city’s newspapers. Its owner was in the forefront of the fight to legalize Sunday theatrical performances. Toronto City Council did not pass a law legalizing the opening of theatres on Sunday until May 23, 1961. I remember as a teenager, in the 1950s, going to see the film “Around the World in Eighty Days” in Detroit, and thinking that I was indeed engaging in sinful and illicit behaviour. “Toronto the Good” did not allow such dubious endeavours.
However, the Lux Theatre possessed a distinguished history prior to it becoming a burlesque house, and the theatre continued showing films for many years after burlesque departed the scene.
The above photo from the City of Toronto Archives shows the Lux Burlesque Theatre during the 1960s. The theatre was on the north side of College Street, one building to the west of Brunswick Avenue. The street in the foreground is Bellevue Avenue, a residential street that extends south from College Street into the Kensington Market.
A line of patrons purchasing tickets at the box office of the Lux Burlesque Theatre
The above photo is of the facade, marquee and box office of the Lux during the 1960s.
In 1904, the site at 360 College Street was an empty lot, although at 362 College was the Wickware Barber shop. In 1915, the shop at 360 College had been built and two barbers had moved in – Sandler and Swiken. The shop at 362 was unoccupied. Between the years 1916 and 1937, various business establishments occupied the two shops at 360 and 362 College Street. In 1938, the shops were demolished to construct a theatre. In that year Altman’s Chop House was to the east of the properties (at #356) and a Jenny Lind Candy Shop was at 366-68 College, to the west of the site, where the new theatre was being erected.
In 1939, the Bellevue Theatre opened its box office, its address being 360-362 College Street. The Second World War commenced that year, and many of the troops stationed in Toronto that were receiving training prior to being shipped overseas, attended movies in the theatre. At the end of the war, the shop to the east of the theatre was Smith’s Sandwich Bar, an ideal place to have a snack either before or after a film. The Bellevue continued as movie house until 1958, and customers were able to phone WA 1-1633 to learn the starting times of the movies.
In 1959, the name Bellevue was changed to the Lux, and the theatre became a burlesque house, which soon became famous. It was in direct competition with the Casino on Queen Street and the Victory on Spadina for connoisseurs of the subtle art of the partial removal of clothes to the accompaniment of thumping music. The burlesque tradition in Toronto was already well established, thanks to the Casino, which had been one of city’s favourite burlesque houses for decades. When my father was a young man, he had been a faithful devotee of burlesque.
For the opening of the Lux in 1959, the owner of the theatre, Elliot Abells, flew in the famous stripper “Cup Cakes Cassidy” for a one-night performance. Despite the public’s image of burlesque, it was never as daring as many believed. However, following a labour dispute, when picket lines prevented customers from attending, and with the decline in popularity of burlesque, the Lux Theatre closed in December of 1962.
In 1968 the Lux was the Elektra Theatre and showed Greek movies. This ended in 1970, but in 1976 it again reopened as the Lido Theatre, and screened Asian films. The theatre was eventually closed permanently, and the building was demolished in 1986.
Cup Cakes Cassidy in Front of the Lux Theatre in 1959. Photo from the Toronto Star, April 10, 2016.
The site of the Bellevue Theatre (Lux) today on College Street, the recessed entrance to the modern building located where the box office of the old theatre was once located.
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For more information about the topics explored on this blog:
The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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:
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 former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.
Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com here or to contact the publisher directly: