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Toronto’s old movie theatres—the Regent (the Belsize, the Crest)

21 Dec

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The Regent Theatre at 551 Mount Pleasant Road is an old neighbourhood theatres that has survived into the modern era. The theatre opened in 1927 as an entertainment and movie venue. Its architect was Murray Brown, a Scotsman by birth who opened a practice in Toronto in 1914. He designed many theatres in the city, such at the Park Theatre (Bedford) on north Yonge Street. Murray Brown is not to be confused with Benjamin Brown, who was the architect of several Art Deco warehouse lofts on Spadina Avenue, as well as the Victory Theatre at Dundas and Spadina. The Victory was one of the city’s notorious burlesque theatres.

In the 1920s, the city was expanding northward, and the empty fields and dirt roads of the Mount Pleasant/Eglinton area were disappearing due to a residential building boom. It soon became obvious that it was an ideal location for a neighbourhood theatre. When the Regent Theatre opened in 1927, it was a part of the Famous Players Chain. Its original name was the Belsize, likely after the well-known residential area in London. The theatre possessed an impressive lobby and a single screen, set amid an opulent interior that contained decorative arches, ornate plaster trim, and small Venetian-style balconies with box seats. The auditorium included a stage area to accommodate live theatre as well as movies. The Belsize had 726 leatherette seats and an additional 205 in the balcony.

The facade of the Regent Theatre is symmetrical. On the second floor there are large windows, topped by Roman arches. Stone trim was added to the facade to create a formal but attractive appearance. In the middle of the pediment, below the peaked roof, there is a large stone crest. I was unable to discover its origin or meaning. The roof contains terracotta tiles.

In 1953, the Belsize ceased screening movies. It was renovated and reopened as the Crest, a venue for live theatre. In the 1950s, the only theatre offering live stage performances was the Royal Alexandra, which featured plays and musicals from the American touring companies. Many people felt that a theatre that featured Canadian talent was needed in the city, and the Crest was renovated to fulfill this need. For a few years, during the 1960s, it was well known for a revival of the annual satirical  review—“Spring Thaw.” I attended “Spring Thaw” several times during that decade, and immensely enjoyed the shows. It was there that I saw Barbara Hamilton on stage. In 1968, I attended the play, “Jack Brel is Alive and Living in Paris,” on the stage at the Crest. At one time, only the Royal Alexandra Theatre surpassed the Crest in importance in Toronto’s live theatrical scene.

In March of 1971, the theatre commenced screening films once more. In 1988, it was again extensively renovated and reopened as the Regent. The name Regent had been employed by two of Toronto’s earlier theatres. One of them was on the southwest corner of John and Adelaide Streets. However, it retained the name between the years 1884 and 1890 only, and then became the Majestic. It was demolished in 1930. Another Regent Theatre was at 225 Queen Street East, west of Sherbourne, but it too was demolished.

Thankfully, the Regent on Mount Pleasant Avenue has survived into the modern era. The old Belsize Theatre lives on.

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The Belsize (Regent) Theatre on Mount Pleasant Avenue in the late-1920s. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, file 27

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The interior of the theatre, with its Venetian-style balconies on the sides and its ornate decorations surrounding the stage/screen. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 27.

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The impressive lobby of the Belsize (now the Regent) Theatre, with its terrazzo floor and richly decorated ceiling. The mouldings are also noteworthy. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, Fl. 27

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View of the interior lobby from the second-floor level of the Belsize Theatre. Photo, City of Toronto Archives

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This photo was taken in the early 1950s, when the theatre was the Crest. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 27

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                 The Regent Theatre during the summer of 2013

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The lobby of the Regent, August 2013. The rich detailing of the former Belsize theatre has disappeared.

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          Ticket booth and entrance of the Regent, in August of 2013.

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      The Regent Theatre on a quiet Sunday morning in August of 2013.

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/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-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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