In all seasons, the landscapes of Ontario appear splendid under sunny skies, but after sunset, deep forest shadows and darkened rural pastures are less inviting. I would suggest it is the opposite with cities. The harsh sunlight of the day displays their wrinkles and warts, but after the sun sets and the twinkling lights emerge, cities develop a charm that I find irresistible. Buildings that are mere brick and cement during the day, after daylight fades, magically emerge as works of art, especially if the structures are floodlit. When I gaze at some of Toronto’s historic structures at night, I catch a fleeing glimpse of these grand old structures as Torontonians might have seen them in the past. The magnificent Elgin Theatre on Yonge Street, near Queen, is one of these romantic buildings. Gazing at it when it is bathed in the soft lights of evening, I recall entering its doors as a teenager in the 1950s to see the greatest movie ever filmed—“Gone With the Wind.” However, the theatre did not appear as in the above photo, as when I saw the famous movie in the theatre in the1950s, it still possessed its grand marquee with its myriad of electric lights.
I have already placed a post on this blog (May 31, 2012) about the Elgin Theatre and Winter Garden, detailing their story from when they opened in December,1913 (the Elgin) and the Winter Garden in February 1914, until the present time. The following is a link to this post: https://tayloronhistory.com/2012/05/31/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-elgin-winter-garden-theatres/
The Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres are two of the best vaudeville venues built during the early years of the 20th century. As the decades progressed, the Elgin transitioned into a vaudeville/movie house, and finally into a movie picture palace. The facade is neo-classical in design and its interior continues in this style, with marble columns, gilded plaster trim, a seven-storey staircase. The Winter Garden Theatre, which is above the Elgin, resembled a roof-top garden, the only one remaining in Canada. It possessed real leaves, support columns masquerading as tree trunks, and scenically painted walls.
Research in the City of Toronto Archives has discovered photos that were previously unknown to me of these famous theatres. The purpose of this post is to share them.
A view gazing north on Yonge Street from Queen, the Elgin (then named Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre) on the right-hand (east) side of Yonge. The featured film is “Mutiny on the Bounty,” starring Charles Laughton and Clark Gable, released in 1935.
The same view as the above photo, but closer to the auditorium doors, a view of the candy bar evident. The cigarette machine appears out of place today.
The grand entrance hallway after restoration in the 1980s.
View from the balcony of the Elgin, in the 1980s. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 53.
A section of the staircase that led from the Loew’s Downtown Theatre to the Winter Garden above in 1922. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 100.
This advertisement was painted on the south facade of Loew’s Downtown Theatre (Elgin). The signage likely dates from the 1920s, when the theatre featured vaudeville. I believe that it reads: “Loew’s—Leader in Toronto—New Starts Daily.” This photo was taken in 2011. By 2013, it had deteriorated so badly that it was almost impossible to read.
Interior of the Winter Garden in 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 100.
Interior of the Winter Garden during “Doors Open Toronto” in 2011.
Seats in the Winter Garden in 2011 (left) and the original seats in the Elgin (Loew’s Downtown)
The Elgin Theatre in 2012.
A model in the theatre that depicts a cross-section of the Elgin/Winter Garden Complex. It views the complex from the south, so the theatre auditoriums are not visible. The left-hand side of the model depicts the section that faces Yonge Street. The long hallway that forms an entrance to the Elgin is at the bottom-right of the model. This model shows the complex after it was purchased and restored by the Ontario Heritage Foundation.
The signage on Elgin Theatre and Winter Garden Complex (left) and the theatre’s facade during the summer of 2013 (right).
To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.com/
To view previous posts on this blog about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new
To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:
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.
To place an order for this book: