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Toronto’s amazing intersection at Yonge and Front Streets

25 Mar

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Standing at the intersection of Yonge and Front Streets today, it is difficult to imagine that at one time it was beside the shoreline of the Lake Ontario. Gazing south from the intersection, the gentle slope of Yonge Street, south of Front Street, indicates where the embankment was in the early days of the 19th century. At that time, the town of York was to the west of the intersection, nestled around the eastern end of the harbour. However, as the city expanded westward, the land around Yonge and Front was absorbed into the town. Later in the century, landfill was dumped into the harbour, pushing the shoreline of the lake further south. Railway tracks were constructed on a portion of this reclaimed land. The tracks remain there today, but a bridge has been built where they cross over Yonge Street.

The above photo, taken in March of 2013, shows the four corners of the intersection. On the northwest corner is the old 1885 Bank of Montreal that now houses the Hockey Hall of Fame. On the northeast corner, at 33 Yonge Street, is an office building of glass and steel. On the southwest corner is the impressive Dominion Public Building, constructed in 1930. On the southeast corner is the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. When it opened its doors as a theatre on 1 October 1960, it was named the O’Keefe Centre. Today the L-Tower condo is being constructed on part of the land that was once owned by the theatre.

           Fonds 1244, Item 589 

The above photo of the intersection was taken in 1916. On the southeast corner (bottom right of the photo), the roof of the Consolidated Rubber Company can be seen. It was taken over by the Dominion Rubber Company. On the northeast corner is the Board of Trade Building, with its impressive turret. On the southwest corner be seen a corner the rooftop of the old Customs House. On the northwest corner is the old Bank of Montreal Building, which is the only structure that remains today from this 1916 photo.

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The old Bank of Montreal building that was in the 1916 photo, as it appears in 2013.

f1568_it0370[1]  SE corner, c. 1900 - former Great Western railway ter.

This photo, taken around the year 1900. It shows the southeast corner of the intersection, where the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts is now located.  The building in the picture had previously been the terminal of the Great Western Railway, which was converted into a wholesale fruit market. On the right-hand side of the building is Yonge Street, where it slopes gently toward the lake.

Fonds 1244, Item 10072

This photo from the City of Toronto Archives looks north on Yonge Street in 1912.  It was taken from the roof of the Customs House, on the southwest corner of the intersection. There is a partial view of the Canadian Consolidated Rubber Company, on the southeast corner of the intersection. It was demolished, and the site is presently occupied by the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. Gazing north up Yonge Street is a tall building, at 67 Yonge. It is the 15-story Trader’s Bank Building, constructed in 1906. It still  exists today, but cannot be seen from Front Street because of the tall buildings surrounding it. On the northeast corner is the Board of Trade building.

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This photo, taken in 1959 or 1960, shows the southeast corner where the O’Keefe Centre is under construction. The theatre is now named the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. The large 5-storey brick building to the east of the theatre was demolished to provide a site for the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts. To the east of this building are the Front Street warehouses that still exist there today. A corner of the old Bank of Montreal building is on the left of the photo.

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This 1959-60 photo also shows the O’Keefe Centre (Sony Centre for the Performing Arts) under construction on the southeast corner of Yonge and Front, where the railway terminal that was converted into a wholesale fruit market once stood. The Dominion Public Building is opposite it, on the southwest corner. The northeast corner is a parking lot, and the northwest corner contains the old Bank of Montreal building.

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View looking west along Front Street in 2013, the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in the foreground. The L-Tower Condo is under construction behind the Centre, to the south of it.

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This is the Dominion Public Building of the southwest corner of the intersection in March of 2013. It was constructed in 1930.

Fonds 1244, Item 1173C

This building was on the corner where the Dominion Public Building is now is located. The photo was taken In 1908, and shows the old Customs House. One of the previous  photograph in this post, which looked north up Yonge Street in 1912, was taken from the roof of this building. It was demolished in 1919, to create a site for the Dominion Public Building, although its construction did not begin for several years. In the interim, it remained a vacant lot.

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This is the northeast corner of the intersection in March of 2013, showing the modern office building at 33 Yonge Street, with its glass facades.

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This magnificent Romanesque building, is the Board of Trade Building, erected in 1892, on the northeast corner of the intersection. The structure possesses a curved front and a roof with a conical tower. It had a structural steel skeleton, its facade of stone and brick. An international contest was held for its design, the New York City firm of Messrs. James and James being the winner. It was demolished in 1958, and for a few years was a parking lot. It is where the modern structure with the glass facades exists today.

It is amazing that a building with such architectural excellence was demolished, especially considering the quality of the structure that replaced it.

f1548_s0393_it20390[1]  1926

This photo was taken in 1926, gazing north up Yonge Street. The gentle slope of the old shoreline is clearly visible. It would be interesting to know why the young lad is hopping on the running board of the automobile on the right.

s0071_it10254[1]  1934

This is the Dominion Public Building in April of 1934, four years after it was officially opened. It is on the southwest corner of the intersection, where the Customs House was once located. The photo is from the TTC Collection, from the City of Toronto Archives. It was taken to reveal the “chaos” that double-parking was causing on Front Street. Judging by the amount of traffic that is visible, the “chaos” seems rather quaint today.

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The Dominion Public Building in March of 2013, the street partially closed to traffic due to construction.

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Gazing north up Yonge Street from the south side of Front Street in 2013. It is difficult to visualize the intersection in the past. Thankfully at least one structure remains from the 19th century. Its future seems secure as it houses the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Note: all historic photos in the post are from the City of Toronto Archives

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

Links to other posts about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

Links to posts about Toronto’s movie houses—past and present.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication 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.  

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                To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

      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), thePhotodome, 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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