The above photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 124, file 0124, It. 0017) shows the Broadway Theatre at 75 Queen Street West c.1960. To the east of the theatre (to the left of it in the photo) is the low-budget White Hotel, one of several economy hotels along the strip where the Broadway was located. In the photo, the land on the north side of Queen Street has already been cleared of buildings to construct the New City Hall. The street in the foreground of the photo is Bay Street, where it intersects with Queen Street West. The traffic lane for cars to negotiate a right turn on Queen Street is evident. The Casino was five doors to the west of the Broadway, its marquee visible in the above photo.
The Broadway opened in 1919 as the Globe Theatre, with almost 500 seats. Around the year 1933, it changed its name to the Roxy and commenced offering “Girlie Shows” as well as vaudeville and B-movies. In February of that year, two eighteen-year olds decided to be married on the stage of the theatre. The event attracted a large audience as the ceremony had been advertised as part of the show. A Baptist minister was hired, the bride was on stage in her bridal gown, and the groom was in his tuxedo. The jazz band in the orchestra pit was preparing to play the wedding march when the police crashed into the theatre. The parents of the teenagers claimed that their children were under age. However, the marriage was performed the following afternoon, after the participants proved to the police that they were of sufficient age. The event gave the theatre much free publicity, although many people in Toronto frowned upon the entire affair.
In 1935, the manager of the Broadway was found murdered in his office, shot twice in the head, sprawled in a pool of blood. It was found that $378 was missing from the safe, but the police did not believe that robbery was the motive. A friend had talked with the manager two days prior to the murder, and told the police that his friend had appeared worried. He had enquired, “What’s the matter? Business no good?” He received no reply. The manger’s son-in-law said at the inquest that there were problems among the actors in the burlesque show and that several of them had threatened to quit. The murder was never solved.
In 1937, the name of the theatre was changed to the Broadway, which conjured images of the fashionable theatre district of New York City. However, it did not reflect the glamour of its namesake. In 1938, the theatre was purchased by Ben Ulster, the son of Sam Ulster. It then showed mainly western and action movies.
When the city expropriated the land for the New City Hall, civic officials decided that the row of buildings on the south side of Queen Street was not compatible with the image that they wished to project. In 1965, the land was expropriated and the buildings were demolished. The Broadway Theatre disappeared, only memories and a few photographs remain of a theatre that was both infamous and famous. The Sheraton Hotel is now on the site.
Note: I am grateful to Mildred Ulster, wife of Ben Ulster, for some of the information in this post.
The front of the theatre when it was the Roxy, c. 1932-34. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, Fl. 176.
The Roxy Theatre in the mid-1930s. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, file 176. The lad on the bicycle seems fascinated by the display at the theatre entrance.
View of the marque of the Broadway, in the upper left-hand side of the photo, the view looking west from the Old City Hall.
The entrance of the Broadway Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1143, File 140)
The Broadway Theatre, likely during the 1930s. (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1145, It. 142 (2))
A penny (front and reverse sides) handed out by the Broadway Theatre as a promotional stunt for a war movie during the 1950s. Cardboard was glued to the back of the penny. The movie was playing on December 10, 11, and 12, but does not indicate the year. Penny from the collection of Walter Godfrey, Toronto.
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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)