The Alhambra Theatre was at 568 Bloor Street, on the north side of the street, a short distance west of Bathurst Street. The above photograph, from the City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 372, SS 0100, It. 063), was taken in 1966, and looks west on Bloor Street.
The photo evokes many memories for me. During the summer of 1956, I worked in the Dominion Bank, later renamed the TD Bank after it amalgamated with the Bank of Toronto). The bank was on the southeast corner of Bloor and Bathurst. Although the above picture was taken ten years after I worked in the area, the section of Bloor Street is similar to the way I remember it. The iconic Honest Ed’s had not yet taken over the entire block. It occupied only the southeast corner of Bloor and Markham Streets. Honest Ed’s was the largest customer at the Dominion Bank branch where I worked.
Each morning, travelling to the bank, I boarded the Bloor streetcar at its western terminus at Jane Street. When I arrived at Bathurst Street, I always gazed at the Alhambra to see what films were being featured. The two movie titles on the marquee in above picture are now considered classics and are featured regularly on TCM—“Our Man in Havana” with Alex Guiness, Burl Ives and Maureen O’Hara, as well as “Once More With Feeling” starring Yul Bryner. I believe that the automobile in the foreground is a Ford Fairlane, and that the car behind it is either an Oldsmobile or a Buick from the late 1950s.
The Alhambra opened in 1920 as a venue for movies and vaudeville. The ticket booth was in the centre of the front lobby. On the day of the opening, the price of an orchestra seat was 25 cents, balcony 15 cents, and lodges and boxes 35 cents. There was a 2 pm show, and the evening show was at 7 pm. Both featured a musical review and the film “Back Stage,” starring Fatty Arbuckle. There was also a short play titled, “The Woman Thou Gavest Me,” based on the book by Hall Caine. The 7 pm performance ended with a rousing rendition of “God Save the King.” The theatre possessed 622 leatherette seats, with an additional 383 in the balcony. A candy bar was included in the theatre in 1946. Air-conditioning was provided by water-cooled air.
In August 1946, a fire bug ignited three separate fires in different locations in the theatre. Fortunately, they were all quickly extinguished and there was little damage. In 1949, the theatre received a new marquee and improved seating was installed. In 1950, the furnace in the theatre’s basement over-heated and caught fire, but the evacuation was accomplished quickly and without panic. Passes were distributed for patrons to return for another performance.
I did not discover any scandals associated with the Alhambra, but in 1954 the manager was warned not to allow the theatre’s matron to work in the candy bar. Matrons were women hired to police theatres during performances to ensure that patrons behaved properly. I shudder to think what sins were committed in the back rows of the Alhambra while the matron was selling confections. Perhaps a wandering hand strayed into the wrong popcorn box.
In 1969, Famous Players Corporation commenced operating the theatre, after renovating it and changing its name to the Baronet. At this time, the box office was relocated to the right-hand side of the entrance, and the stairs to the balcony on the east side of the lobby were removed.
When theatre attendance declined in the 1960s, the Alhambra changed it name to the Eve and commenced showing porno films. By the standards of today, the term “porno” had a different meaning. Most of these films could now be shown on prime-time television. When the theatre was demolished, sometime in the 1980s, the building erected on the site contained a Swiss Chalet Restaurant. After the restaurant closed, various retail establishments occupied the site.
This photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278 file 14, was likely taken in the 1920s, judging by the automobile in the photo. The marquee is impressive, but does not obscure the Moorish architectural detailing on the facade. The large Moorish arch above the marquee and the support pillars resemble the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. The windows also contain Moorish ornamentations. It is from these details that the theatre derived its name—the Alhambra. The cornice at the top of the theatre has modillions (large ornamental brackets) beneath it.
Interior of the Alhambra, Ontario Archives, AO 2257
Interior view of the Alhambra, Ontario Archives, AO 1975. Notice that the balcony wraps around the sides of the auditorium.
Lobby of the Alhambra, Ontario Archives AO 1977
This photo is from the mid-1930s. The marquee has been altered, hiding much of the facade. The facade has also been altered.
In this 1942 photo (Series 1278, File 14) the facade of the theatre is again uncluttered to display its Moorish architectural style.
This photo was likely taken about 1950 as the film “Sorrowful Jones” was released in 1949. Picture is from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 14. The marquee has again been altered, and the symbol of the Famous Players Corporation is evident. In the foreground is the streetcar tracks for the Bloor streetcar.
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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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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)