Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, Fl. 0124, Id. 0148. The picture was likely taken in 1965, the year the theatre closed, since the marquee is blank.
The Tivoli Theatre at 17 Richmond Street East, on the southwest corner at Victoria Street, was originally named the Allen Theatre. I remember this movie house vividly, as it was where I first saw the musical “Oklahoma,” starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Gene Nelson and Rod Steiger. The film was based on the 1943 Broadway hit by the same name. The music and lyrics by Rogers and Hammerstein were among the best they ever wrote. An American friend of mine, who is now a Canadian, once told me that when he was a teenager and saw the movie “Oklahoma,” he felt so proud that he knew that God had meant for him to be an American. He laughed as he added that God had no idea that later in life he would change his citizenship. However, his love for the film never changed. For me, the music and romance of the film was to be forever entangled with my memories of the Tivoli Theatre. I feel very fortunate to have attended this exceptional theatre.
When the film Oklahoma opened at the Tivoli in 1955, it was the first time I had ever visited the theatre, and the first time viewing the wide-screen 70 mm format known as Todd-AO. It was the Tivoli that introduced Todd-AO to Toronto. In 1956, I saw “Around the World in 80 Days” in Todd-AO, and can still recall the fantastic scenes shot from the balloon as it soared across the sky. To view this film on a TV screen or mobile device should be against the law. I hope that the Bell Lightbox (TIFF) offers this film soon, as I’d love to see it again on the big screen and enjoy the music from the sound track.
The original cast album for the musical—“Oklahoma.”
The Tivoli opened its doors as the Allen Theatre on November 10, 1917, a dismal month in the Toronto calendar. It was also a dismal year, as the First World War was raging in Europe. Because of the difficult times, people flocked to the theatre, many of them seeking a distraction from the depressing war news and casualty reports that continually appeared in the newspapers. It was rare to find a family that had not been scarred in some way by the war, as everyone had either a relative, neighbour or friend who was serving in the armed forces.
Patrons entered the Allen Theatre through a grand lobby that lead to a spacious foyer. Opposite it was an attractive lounge, referred to as a “rendezvous area.” Carpeted sloping ramps led from the foyer to the auditorium, which was a staggering size. The Allen was the first theatre in Toronto that departed from the traditional format of including a balcony to increase seating capacity. Instead, it possessed a single sloping floor that began at the stage and ascended to the rear wall. It was similar to the “Stadium seating” of today.
C. Howard Crane was the architect of the 13,500-foot theatre, containing 1553 plush seats. He also designed the Allen Danforth and the Bloor Theatre. The Telegram newspaper once referred to the Allen as: “The wonder of the moment.” During the years of silent movies, Luigi Romanelli’s orchestral often provided the music for the films. He also performed frequently at the King Edward Hotel and was featured at 27 organ concerts in Varsity Arena, the city’s man sports arena at that time.
It was customary during the early decades of the 20th century for buildings that contained theatres to have shops built into them. In the Allen, there were six small shops on Richmond Street East and one on Victoria Street. They were included in the building without any loss of seating in the interior of the theatre, and the rental income helped offset the costs of operating the theatre.
The Allen was constructed in the Adams Style, highly decorative but light and airy in appearance. It was originally designed for vaudeville and plays, so contained dressing rooms for the actors. However, it was easily converted to permit the screening of films. Because of the sloped auditorium floor with no balcony, the interior had no columns. The lighting in the ramps that lead to the auditorium was diffused, pointing toward the floor, allowing patrons to find their way in the semi-darkness without any disturbing light entering the auditorium. The theatre was well known for its comfortable seating, wide aisles, and well-spaced exits.
In 1923, the name of the theatre was changed to the Tivoli, licensed to Tivoli Theatre of Toronto Ltd. The name Tivoli was derived from a town near Rome, a famous summer resort with fountains and the Villa d’Este, with its magnificent gardens. The name has been copied the world over and is synonymous with entertainment. Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is perhaps the most famous of the venues.
In 1927, the theatre featured the film “The Somme,” about the bloody battle during the First World War. Taxis had carried the French troops to the battlefield. For the opening of the film, the theatre hired sufficient taxi cabs to create long lines of taxis along Adelaide Street, near the theatre, with large signs on them advertising the film. In 1938, water-washed air-conditioning was installed. In 1946, an acrid odour was detected in the men’s room of the Tivoli, and when people’s eyes began to water, the fire department was called. A burning cigarette had been left on a plastic toilet seat. The theatre was emptied, but an hour later, the crowds were allowed to return. In 1947, a candy bar was installed in the theatre, one of the first in the city. It sold chocolate bars for six cents, despite a recent increase in price of two cents. However, it applied only to children. It created excellent public relations for the theatre.
In October, 1948, during the run of the film “Life With Father,” starring Elizabeth Taylor, William Powell and Irene Dunne, it was reported that 33,352 people viewed the film, of which 1365 were children. Someone wrote a letter to the editor of the Telegram newspaper to complain about the suitability of such a movie being seen by minors. It was felt that the humour was “too rollicking.” The manager of the theatre replied that the children had been accompanied by their parents. He also stated that elderly ladies and churchmen had attended the screenings, and none of them had complained. The matter was closed. “Toronto the Good” survived another year without any serious defilement.
The theatre was closed in 1965 and was soon demolished.
The Allen Theatre in 1919, before its name was changed to the Tivoli. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 350.
City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160
The marquee of the Tivoli in 1947, the featured film starring Betty Grable. Pictures of her had adorned the foot-lockers and barracks of Allied troops during the Second World War. The phrase “Betty Gable” legs were synonymous with those that were long and shapely. She remained a popular star for many years after the war ended. The theatre’s marquee had been changed since the the 1919 photo was taken. Photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, file 350.
Looking toward the screen and stage area from the rear of the theatre in 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160
View from the stage in 1930. The auditorium of the Tivoli, with its sloping floor. It possessed no balcony, similar to the “stadium seating” of modern theatres. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160
The luxurious “rendezvous” area inside the foyer, and the sloping ramp on the west side, which led to the vast auditorium.
The Tivoli in 1948, when the black and white film “The Cry of the City” was the featured movie. Photo from the web site of John Chuckman. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160
The Tivoli in 1955, when Oklahoma was playing. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160.
The interior foyer of the theatre in 1956. The east ramp leading to the auditorium is visible. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, file 160
The theatre in 1961, when the epic drama “El Cid” was being screened. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 251, Series 1278, File 160.
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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)