The Biltmore Theatre in 1948, the year it opened. City of Toronto Archives, SC 303-A
The Biltmore Theatre, built in 1948, seated almost 1000 patrons, twice the capacity of the Rio Theatre, located further north on Yonge Street, closer to Gerrard Street. When it opened, the Biltmore’s main competition were the Imperial and Loew’s Downtown. Both these theatres had larger seating capacities, and thus were able to afford to rent recent Hollywood releases. As a result, the Biltmore offered two features for a single admission price.
When I was a teenager in the 1950s, my friends and I rarely attended the Biltmore, since our neighbourhood movie houses satisfied our need to view older films. When we journeyed downtown we wanted to see the latest movie hits, so attended the larger theatres in the area.
The above photo gazes north on Yonge Street from near Dundas Street. The Biltmore, with its impressive sign and marquee, is on the right-hand side (east side) of Yonge Street. To the north of the theatre can be seen the turret on the Edison Hotel. It had previously been named the Princess Hotel, and it burned on 3 January 2011. Only the walls of the building survived. However, the empty shell of the building was boarded-up and unattended for a several years. The north wall of the structure eventually collapsed into the street. Then, the entire structure was demolished.
With the onslaught of television, attendance at the Biltmore dwindled. In an attempt to attract patrons, the Biltmore offered double and sometimes triple features, at a very low price, sometimes as cheap as one dollar, if you entered before 6 pm. I am told that at one time the theatre also offered five movies for the price of three dollars. In its latter years, the Biltmore screened martial arts films, action flicks and sometimes soft-core porn. However, all attempts to increase revenues failed.
The Biltmore closed in 1986, according to John Farquharson, who worked as a projectionist at the theatre. With the demise of the Biltmore, another of Toronto’s old movie houses was lost. The site was used for various commercial enterprises until it was demolished in 1991 to construct the 25,000 square-foot HMV Superstore that is a part of the building complex on the northeast corner of Dundas and Yonge. Its postal address 10 Dundas St. East.
Gazing north on Yonge Street from near Dundas Street on 3 January 1950. The Biltmore Theatre is on the right-hand side of the photo. Photo is from the City of Toronto Archives.
The Biltmore in the late-1980s, shortly after it closed as an operating movie theatre. This photo gazes north on Yonge Street. The northeast corner of Yonge and Dundas Streets is in the foreground on the right-hand side. The modern neon sign to the south of the Biltmore, for the Pin Ball Arcade, at night over-shadowed the once impressive marquee of the Biltmore. The turret on the Edison Hotel is visible further north on the street. The northeast corner of Dundas and Yonge, where Mr. Submarine is located, was once the site of the famous Brown Derby Tavern. Photo is from the City of Toronto Archives.
The Biltmore at night. Photo from the blog, Torontothenandnow.blogspot.com
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