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Toronto’s old movie theatres—the Grant

04 Nov

Grant 1146N-143 (2)

                  City of Toronto Archives, 1146N-143

The above photo of the Grant Theatre was likely taken about 1940, as the films on the marquee were both released in 1936. The Grant was located at 522 Oakwood Avenue, where it intersects with Vaughan Road. Of all the theatres in Toronto, the Grant retains the most memories for me, as it was the first movie theatre that I ever attended. I was five years of age when my older brother and I departed the family home in 1943, fifteen cents clutched in our fists, and walked to the theatre. On arriving at the theatre, we visited the Oakwood Confectionary Store, next door to the theatre, and spent the grand sum of five cents on penny candy. The gentleman behind the counter was of considerable girth, and my brother informed me that everyone referred to the store as “Fats.” We knew nothing in those days about being politically correct.    

We purchased our ten-cent tickets at the box office, where a stern looking lady eyed our coins as if they might be counterfeit. Entering the theatre, we handed our tickets to another woman, who, similar to the man in the confectionary store, was of considerable girth. However, she had a slight moustache and the man in the candy store was cleanly shaved. I later learned that not only was she the ticket-taker, but was also the theatre’s “matron.” By law, theatre’s in this decade, theatre’s were forced to hire matrons to patrol the theatre to ensure the patrons behaved.

My brother and I thought that the matron at the Grant looked as if she could wrestle “Whipper Billy Watson” in the ring at Maple Leaf Garden. I thought that all matrons looked like the one at the Grant, but I later discovered that some of them were slender and pretty.  My brother told me that the matron did not allow anyone to spit, seat-hop, throw stink bombs, toss popcorn boxes into the aisles, and above all, she made certain that in the back rows of the theatre, no one became too “frisky” with a girl. Being five years old, I did not truly understand the latter offence, but I thought it sounded intriguing.

Matrons also patrolled the evening screenings, when mainly adults attended. They made certain that there was no smoking, except in the smoking section, which was in the loges or a few designated rows at the rear of the auditorium. During evening performances, the back rows of the theatres remained under careful scrutiny of the matron, should there be any wandering hands.

I will always remember my first movie experience in 1943. The screams and yells when the curtains opened and screen came alive with light, sound, and dazzling images, was sufficient to rock the foundations of the building. The matron, unable to subdue the wild antics of the youthful audience, gracefully slinked back to wherever it was that slinky matrons hid on such occasions. The first feature of the afternoon was a murder story. A man wanted to kill his wife, so tampered with the brakes of her car. She drove off a steep cliff and the automobile became a pile of rubble on the rocks below. Each time the murderer drove past the sight of the wreck, he gazed down. The film almost scared me to death.  The second feature of the afternoon was a skating film, starring Sonja Henie. It bored me to death and halfway through the film, I departed the theatre. To this day I have not decided if it is better to be scared to death or be bored to death. On second thought, I suppose the answer is neither—it is best to be pampered to death.

The Grant Theatre was a family owned theatre that opened in 1930. Because it was a neighbourhood theatre, its patrons were from the surrounding residential area. It was not possible to charge downtown ticket prices. As a resuIt, the Grant was unable to screen recently released films as they were too expensive to rent. Instead, they showed films that had been released several years earlier. To compensate for this, they always featured two movies per night or matinee. If one of them was classified by the censor board as “adult,” then an alternative film was shown at the Saturday afternoon children’s matinee. One pair of films was shown Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and another two movies on the remaining three days. By law, no movies were allowed on Sundays.

It was at the Grant that I viewed the antics of the “Bowery Boys,” who in earlier films had been known as “The Dead End Gang.” Their name was changed after they changed to Monogram Pictures. Many parents disapproved of their pictures as they thought the characters exhibited rude and disrespectful behaviour. They were a gang of New York ruffians who hung around Louie’s Sweet Shop, inventing schemes to make a few dollars. Their leader was Slip Mahoney, played by Leo Gorcey. The funniest character was Horace Debussy Jones, whom the Bowery Boys called “Sach.” This character was played by Huntz Hall. The plans of the gang invariably failed as they were a bunch of clowns at heart. The movies were cheap to produce and generated vast amount of money for the studios. The Laurel and Hardy, as well as the Abbott and Costello movie were similar in this respect. Other popular movies at the Saturday afternoon matinees were those that starred Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. Any movie with John Wayne was popular, whether it was a cowboy flick or a war film. We quickly learned that in cowboy movies, the bad guys wore black hats and the good guys wore white. It was a morally simplistic and wonderful world. Perhaps today’s politician should adapt the “hat method” of identification so voters can tell if they are bad or good.

The Grant was listed in the newspaper ads in 1952 under “National Theatres,” but it was eventually taken over by the Odeon chain. Screenings commenced at 5 p.m. and were continuous until near midnight. People entered and departed at any hour. When people decided to attend the movies, they simply walked to the theatre, rarely bothering to check when the features started. For this information, it was necessary to phone the theatre (Orchard 7331), as except for the large downtown theatres, the newspaper ads did not give the starting time. Patrons departed the theatre after viewing the sections that preceded their entry.

The auditorium of the Grant contained 672 seats, and there was no balcony. Blackout curtains were placed across the entries to the aisles to prevent light from the lobby from disturbing the viewing in the auditorium. This was necessary as patrons were continually arriving and departing. This was not necessary during children’s matinees, as they started at 1:30 p.m. and ended after the second feature film was over. The washrooms of the theatre were on the second floor, reached by stairs located on either side of the lobby.

Because theatre attendance was less on Monday and Tuesday nights, the Grant offered special promotions to attract patrons. Free dinnerware was a favourite, the women receiving a different piece of dinnerware each time they attended. Sometimes, the offer was extended to include weekends as well. While the films were in progress, woman sometimes stood up to allow other patrons to enter or depart the theatre. Forgetting they had a plate or cup and saucer on their lap, the dinnerware crashed to the floor with a resounding clatter. Each time this occurred, the audience noisily applauded, whistled and cheered. Some nights, the theatre distributed autographed photos of movie stars. As a kid, I always marvelled that Cary Grant, Roy Rogers, and John Wayne had the time to sign so many pictures.   

My family moved away from the neighbourhood where the Grant was located in 1953, so I was not aware for several years that the Grant Theatre had closed its doors in 1956. Another entertainment venue “bit the dust,” as the cowboys of the purple sage would have said.

DSCN3753

The above ad appeared in the Toronto Star on Saturday, February 16, 1952. Even though it was a Saturday, night, the theatre was offering “Lorraine” dinnerware. The Grant is the only theatre in the above ad that is offering dinnerware. In 1952, many films were still filmed in black and white, so the theatre informed patrons when the movie was in colour. The evening’s performance commenced at 5 pm, but there was an afternoon matinee for children.

The auditorium of the Grant contained 672 seats, and there was no balcony. Blackout curtains were placed across the entries to the aisles to prevent light from the lobby from disturbing the viewing in the auditorium. This was necessary as patrons were continually arriving and departing. This was not necessary during children’s matinees, as they started at 1:30 pm and ended after the second feature film was over. The washrooms of the theatre were on the second floor, reached by stairs located on either side of the lobby. The men’s was on the south side, and the women’s on the north.

Because theatre attendance was less on Monday and Tuesday nights, the Grant offered special promotions to attract patrons. Free dinnerware was a favourite, the women receiving a different piece of dinnerware each time they attended. Sometimes, the offer was extended to include weekends as well. While the films were in progress, woman sometime stood up to allow other patrons to enter or depart the theatre. Forgetting they had a plate or cup and saucer on their lap, the dinnerware crashed to the floor with a resounding clatter. Each time this occurred, the audience noisily applauded, whistled and cheered. Some nights, the theatre distributed autographed photos of movie stars. As a kid, I always marvelled that Cary Grant, Roy Rogers, and John Wayne had the time to sign so many pictures.   

My family moved away from the neighbourhood where the Grant was located in 1953, so I was not aware for several years that the Grant Theatre had closed its doors in 1956. Another entertainment venue “bit the dust,” as the cowboys of the purple sage would have said.

DSCN3748

This platter was given to my mother in the early 1950s by the Grant Theatre, for attending the theatre on a Monday night. The reverse side of it indicates that the platter’s design contained 22-K gold.  For the photo, the fork was placed on the platter to enable the viewer to judge its size. I believe that my mother attended several evening and collected coupons, which enabled her to receive a platter. Normally, it was just dinner or side plates that were given out.

DSCN3749 

Reverse side of the platter. Photo of the platter was taken in 2013. Pottery from this company remain available on E-Bay, listed as antique.

Grant 1147-144

Interior of the Grant, showing the south wall. City of Toronto Archives, 1147-144

Grant 1148-145

  Interior of the Grant and the north wall, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1147, File 145 

Grant

After the theatre closed, it was the Oakwood Bowling Alley, but the marquee was retained. In the this photo, the confectionary store that we referred to as “Fats,” can be seen to the right of the old theatre’s marquee.

Grant 532 Oakwood

Later, when the Grant became a banquet hall, the marquee was removed.

Grant theatre 2

               The site of the Grant Theatre in August of 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view previous posts on this blog about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog.

cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]_thumb

To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

 

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