The Royal Theatre at 608-610 College Street, near Clinton Avenue, is in the heart of Little Italy, although the area also has a substantial Portuguese community as well. When the Royal opened in October in 1939, it was named the Pylon, and was located in a community that was predominately British. The choice of the name Pylon is unknown, but in ancient Egypt it was the name given to the entrance of a grand temple. Perhaps the owner of the Pylon Theatre wished to portray that when people attended the theatre, they were in a place of significance.
The builder of the theatre was a woman named Ray Lewis. She was determined to create a venue that would truly be the entertainment centre of the community. To accomplish this aim, she included a roller-skating rink at the rear of the theatre and a dance hall on the second floor. Ray Lewis was born Rae Levinsky, in Toronto in 1883. She was the editor-in-chief of the “Canadian Moving Picture Digest,” and eventually became its owner. Ray Lewis was influential in the Toronto theatre scene in an era when it was not common for a woman to engage directly in owning and managing a company.
The architect of the 749-seat theatre was Benjamin Swartz, who designed the old Mount Sinai Hospital on Yorkville Avenue, as well as many homes, factories and apartment buildings throughout Toronto. The Pylon was built in the Art Deco style, with a yellow-brick facade. On the facade were raised columns of bricks (pilasters), which rose from the second-floor level to the cornice atop the building. The cornice and the rows of bricks were crowned with stone. The rows of bricks created strong vertical lines that dominated the facade. The windows on the second floor were inserted between the raised bricks. Today, the theatre retains its original marquee, though the sign above the marquee has been changed. As well, the sign now reads “Royal” instead of “Pylon.”
During the 1940s, the theatre held matinees for children, pioneering the idea of encouraging adults to attend, though they were seated in a separate section of the auditorium. The management claimed the idea worked well, although I find this difficult to believe. However, there is no doubt about the success of the theatre’s children’s parties, held for Jewish and Roman Catholic organizations. In the evenings, during this decade, amateur talent nights were offered as well as short-subject films. The name of the theatre was changed from the Pylon to the Royal at some time after the old Royal Theatre at Dundas and Dufferin closed.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, the demographics of the neighbourhood surrounding the theatre changed. The owner of the Bar Cafe Diplomatico on College Street, Rocco Mastrangelo, purchased the theatre. He also bought the St. Clair Theatre and showed Italian films at both venues. Interestingly, the Bar Cafe Diplimatico survives to this day (2014). In the 1990s, the theatre was renamed the Golden Princess and screened Asian films.
The theatre eventually became part of the Festival chain of theatres and reverted to its original name, the Royal. In 2006 the chain folded and the theatre became independently owned. Today, it is an integral part of the scene in Little Italy, screening recent films, second-run features, and independent art films. During the day, it is rented for studio and rehearsal space.
The original owner of the Pylon Theatre, Miss Ray Levinsky (Ray Lewis). Photo from the Globe and Mail, January 8, 1915. (Source, City of Toronto Archives)
The Royal (Pylon) c. 1940, when it screened Hollywood films. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, M. Sprachman Collection.
The Royal Theatre, when it was named the Pylon, in the 1970s when it featured Italian films. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, fl. 1197
The Pylon Theatre on College Street, with its original marquee and signage. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, M. Sprachman Collection.
The old Royal Theatre at Dundas and Dufferin Streets. The Pylon adopted its name after it closed.
The Royal Theatre on College Street during the summer of 2013.
The Royal, summer 2013.
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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)