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Toronto’s old Odeon Danforth Theatre

30 Nov

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                           Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 119

The Odeon Danforth Theatre was located at 635 Danforth Avenue, on the south side of the street, a short distance west of Pape Avenue. Similar to the other theatres in the Odeon chain—the Carlton, Humber, Fairlawn and Hyland—the Danforth originally featured mainly British film. When the theatre opened its doors on April 16, 1948, Toronto was enjoying the postwar economic boom, and no section of the economy benefitted more than the theatre industry. Families had been reunited after the men returned from Europe and the Pacific front. They wished to forget the hardships of the war years, and going to the movies was a favourite past-time. The film on the marquee in the above photo, taken on opening night, had been released in 1947. It was a gripping melodrama.

Theatres had existed on the site of the Odeon Danforth prior to the Odeon chain purchasing the property—the Rex and the Athena Palace. The new Odeon Theatre was designed by Jay English. It contained 852 seats in the auditorium and a further 476 in the balcony. Because I lived in the west end of Toronto, I was never inside the Odeon Danforth. I rarely ever travelled east of Yonge Street, which was the great divide. However, I was aware of it, as I had seen its name in the newspaper ads when I was checking to determine what was playing at other Odeon Theatres.

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These ads appeared in the Toronto Star on February 16, 1952. The Odeon Carlton was still referred to as the Odeon Toronto. The ad also reveals that the Christie Theatre was a part of the Odeon chain. The year 1952, when the above ad appeared, was when the popularity of the city’s movie theatres was at its height. The following year, TV sets were purchased by the thousands across Toronto to view the Coronation. It was the beginning of the end for many theatres, particularly those in local neighbourhoods.

In 1964, at the Odeon Danforth, faulty wiring caused the popcorn machine at the concession stand to catch fire. Patrons were immediately evacuated. The theatre passed out 587 free tickets for a return visit, although 13 people requested refunds. The damage was minimal, mostly caused by the thick smoke, but the repair bill was $50,000. In March 1965, another fire occurred in the balcony, caused by a cigarette butt smouldering in a seat. The seat was removed, cut open, and thrown into a snow bank outside the theatre. The disturbance was minimal. 

Unfortunately, I have not been able to discover the exact year that the Odeon Danforth closed, but it was likely in the late-1960s or early 1970s. The building was renovated to accommodate other commercial purposes, and today contains an Extreme Fitness outlet. Roger Smith of Toronto informed me that the interior of the theatre remains basically intact. He vividly recalls viewing the film “Jaws” in the theatre in 1975.

Dec. 1950, Odeon Danforth

The notation on this photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 1278, file 119) states that this photo was taken in 1950. If this is accurate, then the Odeon Danforth was screening films that were quite old—“Cavalcade” was released in 1933 and “On Approval” in 1944.  This was confirmed by Roger Smith of Toronto, who remembers that the theatre had difficulty renting more up-to-date films. The view in the above photo looks east along the Danforth. The eastbound PCC streetcar is stopped at Pape Avenue. The marquee of the Palace Theatre is visible on the north (left-hand side) of the street.

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Lobby of the Odeon Danforth and stairs leading to the balcony. Photo, Ontario Archives, AO 2141

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            Auditorium of the Odeon Danforth. Photo, Ontario Archives 2142

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The site of the Odeon Danforth in 2013, at 635 Danforth Avenue.

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The bank on the right in the photo is the building that was next door(west side) of the Odeon Danforth, and the large brown-brick building across the road on the left (north side of Danforth Avenue) is where the Palace Theatre was located.

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The bank on the west side of the Odeon Danforth in the summer of 2013. The site of the theatre was to the east of it.

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

To view previous posts 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 heritage 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. 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.  

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                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 .

      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), thePhotodome, 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)

 

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3 responses to “Toronto’s old Odeon Danforth Theatre

  1. Cameron French

    December 17, 2013 at 1:45 am

    You’re mistaken on the Odeon Danforth. The Extreme Fitness now stands in the old building, and the theater space remains, now filled with exercise equipment. I just finished a 4 miler on a treadmill up on the old balcony. Hot as hell up there.

     
  2. Tim

    January 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Actually Doug, the entrance to the old Odeon Danforth is the Extreme Fitness and not the bank. The theatre is still there and it still looks like one inside, at least it did when I was in the fitness facility during an open house while Taste of the Danforth was on.

     

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