Toronto’s old Loew’s Uptown Theatre

Lowe's Uptown, Golden Nugget

This 1960s photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 124, File 10124 file 0002 Id. 109) gazes south on Yonge, from a short distance north of Bloor Street. On the southwest corner of the intersection is a shop with a red-tiled roof, which is Frank Stollery’s Shirts. This shop remains on the site today, although additional floors have been added to the top of it. In the mid-1950s, the intersection looked much the same as in the 1960’s photo. For those who recall the street in the 1950s, some may remember the Pilot Tavern, which was slightly north of Bloor Street, on the west side of Yonge. However, one of the things I remember the most about this corner was gazing south on Yonge Street at the marquee of Loew’s Uptown Theatre. 

                Series 881, File 373   (2) 

The above photo of Loew’s Uptown Theatre is from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 881, File 373). The featured film is a romantic comedy, “Theadora Goes Wild,” starring Irene Dunn  and Melvyn Douglas, released in 1936.

Loew’s Uptown at 764 Yonge Street, was one of Toronto’s great movie palaces. They named it the Uptown to distinguish it from Loew’s other theatre, located near Queen Street. The Uptown Theatre opened in September of 1920 as a vaudeville and movie house. Marcus Loew, a financier who became a movie magnate, constructed the theatre. Its architect was Thomas W. Lamb, who also designed the Pantages Theatre, now named the Ed Mirvish.

In the 1920s until the early 1960s, unlike today, when people enter at the beginning-time of the movie, patrons entered and departed theatres whenever they wished. As a result, large lobbies were unnecessary. The lobby at Loew’s Uptown was even smaller than that of the Pantages. However, similar to the Pantages, the theatre’s frontage on Yonge Street was narrow, due to the expensive real estate prices on the city’s main street. To compensate, a grand hallway connected the entrance on the street to the theatre’s auditorium, which was behind the shops that fronted on Yonge. During the 1950s and 1960s, many times I climbed the grand staircase to reach the interior of the theatre. I always marvelled at its rich ornamentation.

In 1920, Marcus Loew came to Toronto to attend the opening of his magnificent theatre. On the morning of the event, when he arrived from New York, Mayor Church met him at Union Station and escorted him to the King Edward Hotel. The opening night feature film was D. W. Griffith’s “The Love Flower,” which had been released that year by United Artists. The orchestra of Frank Arundel provided the music to accompany the silent film. The greatest number of film stars ever to appear in the city to that date was assembled for the opening. They included Bert Lytell, a resident of Toronto, who was a boxer before he became a movie star. Other stars at the opening were Delores Cassinelli and Carol Dempster, the latter one of the stars of “The Love Flower.”

The following day Marcus Lowe visited the Uptown Theatre again, as well as his theatre at Yonge and Queen Streets.

The year Loew’s Uptown opened, the 2800-seat theatre was considered the height of luxury, even containing a Japanese temple garden. The theatre was decorated in colours of rose, grey and gold, tastefully blended to create an atmosphere of subdued elegance. Concealed diffused lighting illuminated the auditorium. Fancy plasterwork, decorative arches and classical columns ornamented the auditorium, lobby and entranceway. On the dome above the auditorium was an enormous design similar to the one that today graces the ceiling of the Ed Mirvish (Pantages) Theatre. There were many other similarities between the two theatres, as they were both designed by Thomas W. Lamb. Some considered them sister theatres as they resembled each other, though the Uptown was the smaller of the two.

A fire in the 1960s damaged the Uptown Theatre. When it was restored, some of the original detailed plasterwork was replaced with smooth plaster rather than attempting to duplicate the 1920s intricate designs. However, the large medallion-like design on the dome above the auditorium was maintained. Some of the damaged areas were covered with drapery rather than paying the expense of restoration.

In 1969, Nat Taylor owned the theatre. He closed it on September 5th of that year to convert it into five separate cinemas, and renamed it the Uptown 5. The Uptown’s 1,2 and 3 auditoriums featured first-run movies and the Backstage 4 and 5 showed art films. The entrance to the backstage theatres was from Balmuto Street, behind the theatre, to the west. The Uptown 5 was one of the first multi-screen complexes in the world. The architects, Mandel Sprachman and Marvin Giller, were hired for the redesign. In 1970, Nat Taylor sold the theatre to 20th Century Theatres, which had no connection to the famous studio of the same name. It was Nat Taylor who later entered a partnership with Garth Drabinsky to form Cineplex entertainment.

In the first decade of the 21st century, the city demanded that the Uptown be updated to include wheelchair access. A court case ensued and the theatre lost. The cost would have been $700,000 for the alterations, and in a time of dwindling theatre attendance, the funds could not be justified. Sadly, the theatre was sold and it was closed on September 14, 2003, following a showing of the TIFF film, “Undead.”

A 48-story, 284-suite condo was constructed on the site.

Loew's Dt.  6

This photo from the City of Toronto Archives is NOT Loew’s Uptown, but is Loew’s Downtown (the Elgin), also designed by Thomas W. Lamb. It clearly demonstrates the luxury of theatres that were referred to as “movie palaces,” during the early decades of the 20th century. Loew’s Uptown was similar to the above photo.

Nov. 1920 Construc Mag.

The interior of Loew’s Uptown Theatre in November of 1920, two months after the theatre opened. The photo is from Construction Magazine, in the collection of the Toronto Reference Library. The sets on the stage are for a play or a series of vaudeville acts.

                 Tor Ref. PS 345 DSCN0045

The foyer at the rear of the auditorium of the theatre in 1920, photo from Construction Magazine. The railings are marble. The stairs at the end of the foyer lead to the balcony.

   399px-Uptown_Theatre_1971-   Series 1465, File 312, It. 48

This photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 1465, File 312) was taken in 1971. It gazes south on Yonge Street. The marquee of the Uptown is on the west side (right-hand) side of the street.


This photo from the City of Toronto Archives was taken about the year 1993, when the Uptown 5 had three theatres that were accessed from Yonge Street. 


The facade containing the entrance to the old Uptown Theatre in 2011, after the theatre ceased operation. The red banners on the structure are advertisements for Rogers Communication Corporation. The long narrow section of the building (red brick wall with graffiti on it), which is behind the Yonge Street facade, at one time contained the long hallway that led from the street to the interior of the theatre.


The top portion of the Yonge Street facade of the theatre. The Greek theatre masks remain, but the centre portion of the row of dentils above the masks is missing. Photo taken in 2011.


The theatre mask on the north side of the east facing facade of the theatre. Photo was taken in 2011.

DSCN8241   DSCN8237

The large archway of the entrance to the Uptown Theatre still exists today. The brackets on either side of the archway is where the marquee was attached in 1920 (left photo).

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