Photo from City of Toronto Archives, c. 1933.
The Pickford Theatre at 382 Queen Street West was located on the northwest corner of Queen Street and Spadina Avenue. It opened in 1908 as the Auditorium Theatre, occupying the ground floor of the three-storey Moler Barber Building. Its entrance was on Queen Street, and it contained 356 seats with plush backs, but possessed no balcony. However, it contained a stage for live theatre and vaudeville. The floors above the theatre were rented for offices and as residential apartments. It’s corner location was ideal as the two streets it faced contained much foot traffic. As well, two of the busiest streetcar lines in the city passed by its doors (Queen and Spadina).
The theatre was renovated in 1913, extending the auditorium slightly to the north. This allowed the seating capacity to be increased to 456 seats. The entrance was improved and its name was changed to the Avenue Theatre.
In 1915, the theatre was renamed the Pickford. During the First World War, it entertained many of the troops. Mary Pickford, for whom the theatre was named, had been born in Toronto. Her real name was Gladys Marie Smith, but she changed it to Mary Pickford when she appeared on Broadway in 1907. Her career in films began in 1909, and by 1915 she was a rising star on the Hollywood scene. She became known as “America’s Sweetheart” and became the first truly international star of the silver screen. Her final silent film was in 1927. In a “talkie” (film with sound), at the Academy Awards of 1929 she won the Oscar for best actress for her role as Coquette. She was one of the founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which was responsible for the Academy Awards. Mary Pickford was also one of the creators of United Artists Studios, along with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, in partnership with Charles Chaplin and W. D. Griffiths. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were the first stars to officially place their footprints in cement in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Mary Pickford died in 1979.
In January 1938, water-washed air cooling was installed in the Pickford Theatre to create a more comfortable environment during Toronto’s humid summer days. After the theatre closed, in the years ahead, the building was occupied by Bargain Benny’s. Eventually the Moler Building was demolished and a small cafe was constructed on the site. Today (2014) a Macdonald’s restaurant is situated where the Pickford Theatre once stood.
Mary Pickford as a young actress (left) and in the 1930s (right). Photos, City of Toronto Archives.
The front of the theatre c. 1913, when it was the Auditorium Theatre. It advertised vaudeville and silent movies.
Drawing for the improved front of the theatre on Queen Street.
The Moler Building at Queen and Spadina, c. 1920s. The theatre is on the first-floor level.
The Moler Building when it was occupied by Bargain Benny’s.
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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)