The Panasonic Theatre at 651 Yonge Street was originally a four-story residence, built in 1911 in the Second-Empire style, with a Mansard roof containing windows with ornate surrounds. In 1919, the house was gutted and converted into a theatre, named the Victoria. It screened silent movies, with a live piano player, until it was renovated in 1932 and converted to sound films. At this time, its name was changed to the Embassy. During the years ahead, the theatre’s name changed several more times, becoming the Astor, Showcase and Festival. The above picture from the Ontario Archives (AO 2126) was taken in 1935, when it was the Astor. The film on the marquee is the “Prince and the Pauper,” based on Mark Twain’s novel by the same name. The film was released in 1937.
During the 1970s, the theatre was one of the venues for the “Festival of Festivals,” which later changed its name to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). On Christmas day in 1978, I attended the theatre and saw the film “The Last Emperor, “ the story of Tao Wu, the last emperor of China. In 1993, the theatre was renovated and converted from a movie theatre into a venue for live theatre. It was renamed The New Yorker. It premiered the Toronto production of the off-Broadway musical, “Forever Plaid.” It paid homage to the harmonizing male-groups popular in the 1950s. The production opened with a spoof version of the song “Love is a Many Splendid Thing.” I remember seeing the show at the New Yorker and enjoying it immensely.
During 2004 and 2005, the theatre was demolished, except for the facade. A modern theatre was constructed on the site of the former residence from 1911. In June of 2005, the theatre was purchased by Live Nation, and in 2008 it became part of the group of theatres owned by David Mirvish. It is presently named the Panasonic, and the early 20th-century facade is mostly obscured by metal webbing.
The auditorium of the theatre when it was named the Astor. Ontario Archives- AO 2128
The theatre lobby when it was the Astor. Ontario Archives – AO 2127. This photo was taken about 1940.
The facade of the Panasonic Theatre during the summer of 2013. The facade of the 1911 house is visible behind the metal screen.
Views of the Mansard roof of the 1911 residence, behind the metallic screen.
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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.
To place an order for this book:
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)