The Oakwood Theatre c. 1940. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Mandel Sprachman Collection. The film “Dark Victory” starring Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart was released in 1939.
This photo was also likely taken about 1940, as the film “Four Daughters Courageous” was released in 1939. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 350.
Another photo from c. 1940, as the classic film “Wizard of Oz” is playing. It was released in 1939. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 350.
The above photo shows the interior of the Oakwood. It had approximately 1200 seats, with two centre aisles and two side aisles. This undated photo is from the Toronto Reference Library Collection.
The Oakwood Theatre opened in 1917 in the suburban community of Earlscourt, to the northwest of the downtown area. When it opened, the much smaller Royal George Theatre, west of Dufferin Street, was the only other theatre in the district. Recently, the area where the Oakwood Theatre once stood was renamed “Regal Village.”
The Oakwood Theatre was a project of the developer James Crang Jr. The street one block west of Oakwood Avenue is named Crang Avenue, after him. When the theatre opened, it claimed to be the largest theatre auditorium in the city, which was not true as Shea’s Hippodrome seated 3000. In 1924, after the Rogers Road streetcar line was inaugurated, its southern loop at St. Clair was constructed around the theatre. Eventually, the Oakwood streetcar used the same loop. Thus. the Oakwood’s location an ideal as it was situated at a transportation hub, with thousands of people able to travel to the theatre either of the two streetcar lines.
Descriptions of the theatre in the files of the Toronto Reference Library state that the theatre had large crystal chandeliers. They are the over-exposed bright spots in the above photo. There was no balcony. The facade facing Oakwood Avenue was plain but attractive, with terracotta tiles on the slanted roof. These tiles (Mediterranean/California-style) were quite popular throughout the 1920s. The apartment buildings on the south side of St. Clair, immediately east of Oakwood Avenue, possess the same type of tiles and they still can be seen today.
The Oakwood eventually became part of the Famous Players Chain. While downtown theatres screened the latest Hollywood films, the Oakwood showed movies that appealed to the British immigrants who lived in the surrounding area. The theatre was demolished in 1962, and there is now an apartment building on the site, with the postal address of 161 Oakwood Avenue.
I remember the the Oakwood Theatre well, since I attended it many times as a teenager. During the evenings, between film features, there was an intermission. Many patrons came outside to enjoy a cigarette. A friend and I sometimes mingled with the crowd and entered the theatre for free to view the second film of the evening. Somehow, we managed to live with our guilt and enjoy the films.
Sources, files of the City of Toronto Archives and Toronto Reference Library, as well as John Sebert’s book, “The Nabes.”
Oakwood Avenue, looking north from St. Clair Avenue in the 1920s. The Oakwood Theatre is on the right-hand side of the picture. In the background can be seen the Rogers Road or Oakwood streetcars. Photo City of Toronto Archives, 9825.
Same scene as above, in 2013. The northbound set of streetcar tracks is now paved over. The tall apartment building on the right is where the Oakwood Theatre was located.
The entrance of the Oakwood in the 1920s.
Apartment building on the site of the Oakwood Theatre (2013)
Streetcar loop that at one time went around the Oakwood Theatre (August, 2013). The houses on the north side of the loop have survived since the days when the theatre was located to the south of it.
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To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new
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Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog.
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