This photo of the Parkdale Theatre at 1605 Queen Street West, on the southwest corner of Queen and Triller Avenue, is from the Ontario Archives (AO 2171). It was taken around 1947. One of the features listed on the marquee is the Laurel and Hardy movie, “Chumps at Oxford,” released in 1940. Films of this type were immensely popular with both the public and the movie studios. The studios found that they were cheap to produce and the profits were high due to their popularity.
I was never inside this venerable theatre, but I remember it well. When I was a child in the 1940s, one of the most anticipated events of the summer was a trip on the streetcar to the fabled playground beside the lake—Sunnyside Amusement Park. We travelled on the Queen Streetcar, alighting at Roncesvalles. The theatre loomed majestically near the intersection. As a child, I thought it was a massive structure and longed to be of an age to attend it.
In later years, as a teenager, on hot summer nights I went swimming at Sunnyside Pool and again travelled on the Queen Streetcar to Roncesvalles. I always knew when I had arrived at the stop where I was to get off the streetcar when I saw the theatre appear on the south side of the street.
The Allen brothers, who had built the famous theatre at Adelaide and Victoria streets that was later renamed the Tivoli, as well as the Allen Danforth, were the first to recognize the potential of the Parkdale area for constructing a theatre. At the beginning of the 1920s, Parkdale was remote from the downtown. However, Sunnyside Amusement Park was under construction on the lakeshore. The brothers believed that a theatre in Parkdale would draw patrons from more than just the local community.
The Allen brothers opened the Parkdale Theatre in the spring of 1920. Two year later, Sunnyside finally opened. Many Torontonians who visited the park beside the lake to escape the heat and humidity of the city’s summers, attended the Parkdale Theatre before boarding a streetcar to journey home. As a result the theatre benefitted greatly from its location, as the Allen brothers had predicted.
Designed by Howard Crane, the auditorium of the theatre was situated parallel to Queen Street. Patrons entered at the northeast corner of the building. The expansive auditorium, with 1546 seats with leatherette backs, was richly decorated with plaster patterns that resembled Wedgewood, with circles radiating outward from a central medallion. The theatre was fully fire-proof, so the theatre advertised that smoking in the designated section was entirely safe. In January of 1938, water-washed air-conditioning was installed. In December 1945, permission was granted for a candy bar, but no popcorn was sold . During the 1950s, the theatre was operated by Famous Players Corporation.
The file on the Parkdale Theatre in the City of Toronto Archives details many happenings within the theatre. Today, we might view some of them amusing, but they reflect the social attitudes and concerns of theatre owners during the various decades. On January 13, 1938, the Parkdale screened the film “Said O’Reiley to McNab” without approval from the Ontario Censor Board. This was a serious offense, as in this decade, the government maintained strict control over the censoring of movies. The matter was resolved when the projectionist produced a letter from a Mr. Silverthorne from the board, that granted permission. It should be noted that the theatre did a little censoring of its own. It had a blacklist of over 100 youths who were not permitted in the theatre as they had committed some offense or other when they had previously attended the theatre. As well, teenage girls who attended on their own were seated away from the boys. If they “seat-hopped,” they were ejected.
On February 21, 1950 two detectives over-powered a notorious thief named “Baby-Faced Byers”. He derived his nickname from the fact that though he was thirty years old, he looked much younger. He had held up a bank in Vancouver the previous Friday. When confronted in the theatre, he reached for his gun but failed to draw it in time to prevent his capture. The detectives arrested him. Box office robberies were a constant threat. Most theatres maintained an alarm button that the cashier could press to alert the management to problems.
In October 1953, a patron complained that smoking was everywhere throughout the theatre. It was also stated that teenagers were exhibiting deplorable behaviour, as they were kissing, necking and shouting. The person complaining said, “It looked like a passion den for teenagers.” When I read this report, I remembered that as teenagers, we referred to drive-in theatres as “passion pits.” Even on hot July evenings, young couples carried a wool blanket to drive-ins.
On November 5, 1954 the Parkdale Theatre was inspected from 8:30 p.m. until 9:50 p.m. On this occasion, unknown to the inspector, the manager turned away over 50 teenagers at the box office, to prevent known rowdies from entering the theatre. The inspector sat near the front of the auditorium, and later reported that everyone was well behaved. He never learned the reason.
In 1955, a woman reported that there was a problem with rats in the Parkside Theatre and that there was water in the basement. Apparently water was running down the basement wall, its origin being from the building to the west of the theatre. A rain gutter was installed. An inspector later visited the theatre and said that he had found no rats. A theatre employee said of the woman who had made the complaint, “This woman, in my humble opinion, is crocked.”
Similar to most of the grand old theatres of Toronto, the Parkdale eventually suffered from dwindling attendance. It closed on July 6, 1970, having remained open longer than most. The building remains in existence today, having been converted into several shops that specialize in antique and second-hand furniture.
This undated photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 488, It. 2964) is likely from the 1920s.
In this photo from the City of Toronto Archives (G&M 131053), the marquee features the 1947 film, “Forever Amber.” The spacing of the lettering on the marquee leaves a little to be desired (it reads: Fore Veramber). Perhaps the employee who arranged the lettering was forever drinking amber rum. On the east side of the theatre is Triller Avenue.
Lobby of the Parkside Theatre, likely taken in the 1950s as the candy bar is evident. Wedgewood pattern are above the candy bar. Photo from the Ontario Archives, A0 2168.
Interior of the Parkside, and the ceiling with its Wedgewood-like patterns and concentric circles radiating from a central medallion. Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 2169.
The Parkdale, viewed from the rear, looking toward the screen and stage. Photo, Ontario Archives, AO 2170.
The building that was the site of the Parkdale during the spring of 2013. It contains shops that sell antiques and second-hand furniture. This is a view of the north side of the theatre, facing Queen Street.
Art Deco designs near the cornice on the northeast corner of the building.
The east facade of the building facing Triller Avenue
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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)