City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Collection, 135157. The film “Saraband” on the marquee was released in 1938.
The plans for the Odeon Fairlawn Theatre were submitted to the City of Toronto by the architect Jay English in December 1945. The sleek, ultra-modern theatre opened two years later, on August 14, 1947, at 3320 Yonge Street, a short distance north of Fairlawn Avenue, in North Toronto.
The theatre contained 1165 seats, plus another 754 in the balcony. It was owned by Snowden Investors Ltd., but leased to the British Odeon chain. Its first manager was Howard F. Elliott. The Fairlawn was the Odeon chain’s first entry into the Canadian theatre scene, offering British movies to compete with the American films that dominated the screens of Toronto. The year after the Fairlawn opened, its architect, Jay English, was hired to design the flagship theatre for the company—the Odeon Carlton. He also redesigned the lobby of the Fox Theatre, on Queen Street East, which survives to this day.
In 1948, the Fairlawn held a “Casanova Contest,” employing four young women as judges. From among the 22 competitors, they chose a twenty-year-old man, Edward King, as the winner. It was at the Fairlawn that the chain introduced a “Saturday Morning Movie Club,” which was a matinee offered at a time of the week when the theatre would have normally been empty. The idea was a success and the company opened similar clubs at their other theatres. I remember attending them when they commenced at the Colony Theatre, on Eglinton West near Vaughan Road. Unlike other matiness, they had an emcee who introduced the films. They often included lucky draws and contests. I believe that they also gave out small badges, which we pinned to our shirts. It may all sound pretty tame today, but in the 1940s, we were excited about attending the clubs and proud to wear the badges.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Fairlawn had many successful long-term showings of popular films. These included such classics as Lord Jim, Funny Girl, and Lawrence of Arabia. These films often had their debuts at other theatres, but settled in at the Fairlawn for the long haul, often for many months and sometimes a year. I remember seeing Cabaret, starring Liza Mannelli and Michael York, at the Fairlawn and can recall the long lines outside the theatre to purchase tickets.
In 1976, the theatre was redesigned, creating a separate auditorium in the space that had formerly been the balcony. This necessitated building another projection booth to accommodate the new space. The marquee was also altered.
The theatre remained popular throughout the early 1980s, but was abruptly closed on December 31, 1985. A retail/residential complex was erected on the site. The city lost a grand movie house, the loss felt keenly by the residents of North Toronto.
This photo was likely taken in 1947, the year the theatre opened, as the film on the marquee, “The Best Years of Our Lives” was released in 1946. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 7.
Lobby of the Odeon Fairlawn. Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 2150
The auditorium of the Fairlawn—photo from Ontario Archives AO 2151
Article in the Globe and Mail of July 28, 1948, about the Casanova Contest at the Fairlawn Theatre. Article from the City of Toronto Archives.
The site on Yonge Street where the Odeon Fairlawn was located. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives.
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Book published in 2014 about Toronto’s old movie theatres, which 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.
“Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen”
To place and order for this book, either in electronic or hard copy format, follow the link below.
Theatres Included in the Book
Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto
Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodrome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)
Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons
Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown
Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s
Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede
Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression
Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro
Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years
University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema
Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres
Savoy (Coronet), Westwood
Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes
Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)