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Toronto’s old movie theatres—the Danforth Music Hall (Allan’s Danforth)

14 Dec

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The Danforth Music Hall, at 147 the Danforth, is located on the south side of the street, a short distance east of Broadview Avenue. It is one of Toronto’s oldest surviving theatres, having opened in 1919 as Allen’s Danforth Theatre. In the decade when it opened, there was much opposition the movie theatres, as many people viewed them as places of doubtful moral standards. This was likely because most movie theatres were originally vaudeville or burlesque houses, which often featured comedians who told risqué jokes. As a result, it was common for clergymen to declare that it was sinful to attend theatres. To create an degree of respectability, the owners of the theatres referred to their films as “photo plays,” linking them to the legitimate stage performances of the day. This was never truly effective. Even in the late-1930s, many churches continued their opposition to movie theatres.   

In 1918, when the Prince Edward Viaduct was completed across the Don Valley, the Danforth area on the east side of the valley was more accessible from the downtown. This was greatly assisted by the extension of streetcar service, continuous from Bloor Street, across the Prince Edward Viaduct, to the Danforth.

The Allen brothers, two enterprising young businessmen, arrived in Toronto in 1915. They opened the Allen Theatre (later renamed the Tivoli) on Richmond Street in 1917. The Allen was one of the city’s grandest and most popular movie theatres. Having acquired success with this theatre, the brothers sought another location to expand their theatre business. They knew that residential development was expanding into the Danforth area after the Prince Edward Viaduct had been completed, and decided to be among the first to offer the new form of entertainment—photo plays. In 1919, they opened the Allen Danforth Theatre at 147 Danforth Avenue.

The historic plaque on the theatre states that it was advertised as, “Canada’s First Super Photoplay Palace.” The records in the Toronto Archives reveal that the theatre opened as a vaudeville house and screened silent films. It converted to sound films in 1929. 

The architects were Hynes, Feldman and Watson, who were part of the firm of Howard Crane of Detroit, who designed the Allen (Tivoli) and the Bloor Theatres. The 1600-seat Allen’s Danforth was taken over by Famous Players in 1923, and was renamed the Century. During the 1970s, the theatre screened Greek films, and it was know as the Titania.  In 1978, it was renamed the Danforth Music Hall, offering live stage performance. However, a roll-down screen allowed it to also show movies.

Allen's dan. Fonds 1231, Item 712

This photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 1231, It. 712) is one of the earliest pictures of the Allen’s Danforth Theatre. It was likely taken the year the theatre opened or shortly thereafter. The streetcar tracks can be seen along the Danforth, and the land to the east of the theatre remains undeveloped and has a car parked on it.

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This photo was taken in the spring of 2013, the Allan’s Danforth now renamed The Danforth Music Hall. The picture reveals the slight ornamentation that adorns the building’s facade.

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The lobby in the late 1940s, when the theatre was named the Century. Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 1997. The movie displayed on the poster in the lobby is “The Hit Parade of 1947,” directed by Frank McDonald, starring Eddie Albert, Constance Moore and Joan Edwards. 

AO 1998

                  Auditorium of the theatre (Ontario Archives AO 1998)

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Detailing of the theatre, and the stylized initials—AT (Allan’s Theatre). Photo taken in 2013.

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Detailing around the second and third-storey windows above the marquee                 

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                  Entrance of the Danforth Music Hall in 2013 (previously Allan’s Danforth and the Century)

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

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

To view previous blogs about Toronto’s heritage buildings and the city’s history:

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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