The Downtown Theatre in 1972, the year it was demolished. The height of the building indicates the size of the interior auditorium. The marquee in the above photo advertises two horror films, “The Death Master” was a tale of a hippie vampire. Photo from City of Toronto Archives.
The Downtown Theatre, now demolished, was at 285 Yonge Street, on the east side of the street, south of Dundas Street. Today, the site forms the southern portion of the Yonge-Dundas Square. The Downtown Theatre opened in 1948, the architects being Mandel Sprachman and Harold Solomon Kaplan. Though it was never one of Toronto’s premier movie houses, along with the Biltmore, it offered a choice to those theatre patrons who wished to view a double feature, as opposed to the Imperial and Loew’s Downtown that offered only one feature.
When I was a child, the week before Christmas, my brother and I journeyed downtown with my mother. Darkness had settled over the street by the time we returned home. I remember viewing the lights of the old theatre through the window of a Peter Witt, Yonge Street streetcar. The magnificent marquee and flashing sign of the Downtown Theatre soared high into the sky. Its sparkling neon lights dominated the street, along with similar displays such as those of Loew’s Downtown, the Imperial, and the Biltmore theatres. I longed for the day when I was of age to travel downtown on my own to attend one of these humongous theatres. Our local movie house was the “Grant” at Vaughan and Oakwood. It was puny in comparison.
Another fond memory of the Downtown Theatre is of the horror films that I viewed on its enormous screen. I remember sitting in the 1059-seat Downtown Theatre, entranced by the B-Grade horror films and pseudo-horror movies such as “Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy.” The famous comedians were very funny, but the mummy was terrifying. Life did not offer anything better than this until I was of age to attend restricted movies.
When the Downtown Theatre was demolished in 1972, lost forever was the light-show that performed on Toronto’s main street each evening to the delight of those who passed by on the street. I miss the Downtown and the other great movie houses that once graced the Yonge Street strip. With the demise of the magnificent neon sign on the store of “Sam the Record Man,” the best neon sign that remains on the strip today is that of the Zanzibar Tavern.
To link to a previous post about “Sam the Record Man” store on Yonge Street:
This photo from the City of Toronto Archives shows where the Downtown was located in relation to the Imperial (Pantages) to the north. The old Imperial is now the Ed Mirvish Theatre. The film showing at the Imperial in this photo is the 1972 movie, “The Godfather.”
I took this photo of the marquee and sign of the Downtown in 1956, with a 35mm Kodak Pony camera. “Rock Pretty Baby” was one of the first rock movies and today is still considered the best of those that were produced in the 1950s. Sal Mineo played drums in the film and John Saxon was on guitar.
The Downtown in 1949, the year after it opened. The sports drama, “Kid from Cleveland” is playing, starring Russ Tamblyn, who later starred in “West Side Story” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”. The street in the foreground is Yonge Street, and the street extending eastward along the side of the theatre is Dundas Square, formerly named Wilton Street. Today, Dundas Square forms the southern boundary of the Yonge –Dundas Square. Notice that the second feature was a western romance: “Massacre River,” starring Guy Madison and Carole Lombard.
These superb photos of the Downtown were taken in March of 1972 by John Wallington. The film “Tales from the Crypt” starred Peter Cushing and Joan Collins.
This spectacular visual of Dundas Square in May of 2010 is from the Wikimedia Commons site. It looks north from where the old Downtown Theatre once stood. The Eaton Centre is on the left-hand side.
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To view previous blogs about other old movie houses of Toronto
The Orpheum Theatre on Queen St., west of Bathurst
The Bellevue Theatre on College Street that became the Lux Burlesque Theatre
Old movie houses of Toronto
The Odeon Carlton theatre on Carlton St., east of Yonge St.
The Victory burlesque and movie theatre on Spadina at Dundas:
The Shea’s Hippodrome Theatre on Bay St. near Queen
Attending a matinee in the old movie houses of Toronto during the “golden age of cinema”
The University Theatre on Bloor St., west of Bay Street.
Archival photos of the Imperial and Downtown Theatres on Yonge Street
The Elgin/Winter/Garden Theatres on Yonge Street
The now vanished Avon Theatre at 1092 Queen Street West