Toronto’s old movie houses—the Radio City Theatre

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The Radio City Theatre at 1454 Bathurst streets c. 1942. (Photo from City of Toronto Archives from the collection of the Ontario Archives, AO 2172)

The Radio City Theatre was located on the west side of Bathurst Street, a short distance south of St. Clair Avenue West. The theatre holds many memories for me. When I was about five years old, a neighbour took my friends and me to the Radio City Theatre. We travelled on the Vaughan bus. The cash fare was 3 cents for kids, but tickets were cheaper—10 for 25 cents. We were very excited about the trip, as we were to see the Walt Disney animated film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” (produced in 1937).  This was about the year 1943, at the height of the Second World War. I was too young to fully understand the impact of the dreadful news from the Europe, and the fear created by the constant casualty reports in the newspapers. However, I understood the terror when Snow White bit into the poisoned apple and fell into a deep sleep. Perhaps some adults viewed the arrival of the prince, who rescued Snow White, as symbolic of the relief that the end of the war would eventually deliver.

I did not attend the Radio City Theatre again until I was a few years older. I was about ten years of age when my parents finally allowed my brother and me to attend theatres that were not within walking distance of our home. Unaccompanied, one of the first theatres we visited was the Radio City. We boarded the Vaughan bus from its northern terminal at Vaughan and Oakwood and travelled to the Radio City Theatre. The bus fare was 3 cents. For the return journey, we boarded the Vaughan bus at the loop beside the south side of the theatre. When my brother and I were able to attend the Radio City unaccompanied by an adult, we felt very grown-up. We were convinced that it would not be long before we would need razors.

The Radio City opened in December of 1936, named after the more famous venue in New York City. Toronto’s mini-version showed movies and also featured live theatre. It contained 833 plush seats that were “self-raising.” These were seats that automatically raised when a patron stood to allow another patron to enter or depart from the aisle. The theatre contained two aisles, but no balcony. The rent paid by shops on either side of the entranceway provided extra income for the owners of the theatre. The theatre was purchased by the B&F chain in 1941, so it eventually became a sister theatre to the nearby Vaughan Theatre (built in 1947). The candy bar of the Radio City was added in June of 1951, designed by Jay English.

The satirical revue “Spring Thaw” was held at the Radio City in 1958 and 1959. The revue was a tradition in Toronto for many years, having been performed in various theatres, including the Royal Alexandra and the Odeon Fairlawn. “Spring Thaw” was revived in 1980 at the Crest Theatre, which today is named the Regent.

As theatre attendance dwindled during the 1950s, the Radio City became less and less profitable. However, the theatre continued to operate until 1975, when it finally closed and the building was demolished.

Radio City OA 2174

Lobby of the Radio City Theatre, photo from Ontario Archives (AO 2174)

rear of Radio City OA 2173

The rear view of the Radio City , gazing east from Vaughan Road, south of St. Clair Avenue. This picture shows the size of the theatre’s auditorium and its parking lot. The houses in the background of the photo are on the east side of Bathurst Street, facing west toward the theatre.  A small section of the bus loop for the Vaughan bus is visible on the right-hand side of the theatre. This photo from the Ontario Archives (AO 2173) was likely taken in the late-1930s, judging by the cars.

                          Radio City 1961

            A poster for a live show on stage at the theatre in 1961.

site of Radio City

The site of the Radio City, after the theatre was demolished. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, likely taken in the 1980s. 

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2 thoughts on “Toronto’s old movie houses—the Radio City Theatre

  1. Wow! My aunt and I used to frequent this theatre! I’m glad there is a photo of it. I remember when they tore it down, and I was only 8 at the time. It was saddening.

  2. The tim hortons is located on st.clair ave not on Bathurst street. he tim hortons stands close to where the Vaughn was locathed The top photo of the back of the movie house is located at the foot of Vaughan . There was a ttc loop there and then the ugly high rise. the loblaws sign painted on the brick building in the background. is still there today.

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