Toronto’s old movie theatres—the Nortown at Bathurst and Eglinton

Series 1278, Filw 108, AO 2132   in 1948

The Nortown Theatre in 1948.  Photo City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 108, OA 2132. The film “Sitting Pretty” starred Robert Young, Maureen O’Hara and Clifton Webb. This highly successful film led to the “Mr. Belvedere” series of movies.

The Nortown Theatre at 875 Eglinton Avenue West, was located a few doors west of Bathurst Street. When it opened its doors on 17 March 1948, it was considered one of the most ultra-modern theatres of its day. Built for Famous Players Corporation, its construction was personally supervised by Jules Wolfe, supervisor of theatres for the company. It was operated on a “first-run-and-date policy”, which booked the latest films at the earliest date they were available.  The architect for the Nortown was A. G. Facey of Toronto, who also designed the University Theatre on Bloor Street West. Although the Nortown was less impressive than the University, it had a stylish contemporary exterior, with large stainless steel windows on both the ground level and the second floor. The window on the first-floor level, which covers a third of the exterior of the first floor, was slanted to provide an excellent view of the interior lobby area, where there were built-in seats that were deep red in colour. It was a “classy” theatre venue, meant to appeal to the up-scale Forest Hill District where it was located. In John Sebert’s book, “The Nabes,” he referred to it as  a “high-end Nabe.” (The term “Nabe” refers to a neighbourhood theatre.”) 

The floor of the orchestra section was of concrete, dye having been added to the cement to colour it Venetian red. Because of the pigment, it never required painting. The auditorium contained 958 push upholstered  seats, spaced wide apart for maximum comfort. There was no balcony, but the last ten rows were the smoking section. In 1972, though still screening movies, the building was put up for sale. It was advertised as 30,882.5 square feet, and the asking price was $890,000. It was eventually purchased and was demolished in 1974. A mini-plaza was erected on the site. 

My memories of the theatre include seeing the 1951 Film “The African Queen,” directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn,” as well as “With A Song in my heart—the Jane Jane Froman Story” in 1952. Both movies remain vividly in the mind today, and continue to be favourites when they appear on TCM.

Sources, The City of Toronto Archives.

AO 2133  1948

Interior of the Nortown Theatre in 1948. (Photo, City of Toronto Archives AO 2133)

Series 1278, File 108,  AO 2131,  in 1948

Lounge area of the Nortown in 1948, Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 108, AO 2131.

Series 1278, File 108, AO 2131   in 1948

Futuristic lobby area o the Nortown in 1948, the year the year the theatre opened. Series 1278, File 108, AO 2131

Series 1278, File 108

The Nortown , viewed from the northwest corner of Bathurst and Eglinton West, with a parking lot on the east side of the theatre.

Series 1278, File 108  Nortown   2

Real estate photo when the theatre was for sale in 1972. Photo is from the City of Toronto Archives.

Series 1278, File 108

The site where the Nortown was located, a mini-plaza now located there. Photo from City of Toronto Archives.

f1257_s1057_it6544[1] Bath. and Eglinton

Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1257, S. 1057, It. 6544

This photo looks toward the northeast corner of Bathurst and Eglinton in the late-1940s, around the time the Nortown Theatre was built. On the southeast corner is a vacant lot, in it a small wooden structure that has a porch on it with pillars. The brick building to the east of the lot, (behind the wooden structure) with the large billboard on its west side, is Crosstown Pharmacy. I worked there in the early 1950s as a delivery boy. The owner of the pharmacy was Ed Greene, the brother of Lorne Greene, the famous actor who was star of the TV show “Bonanza”. He had been a star at the Stratford Festival. On the north side of Eglinton, on the ground floor of the most westerly (left-hand) apartment buildings is a small shop that was Milton’s Pharmacy. 

Many days I pedalled my bike past the Nortown Theatre and gazed at the theatre marquee to see which film was featured.

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