The Allenby Theatre in 1936, City of Toronto Archives, 1113-116
The Allenby Theatre was at 1219 Danforth Avenue, near Greenwood Avenue. Because I knew that the building where this venerable theatre was located still existed, on a hot summer day in 2013, I travelled on the subway to find it. Having always resided in the west end of Toronto, I had rarely ventured any great distance to the east of Yonge Street.
After exiting the subway at the Greenwood Station, I walked west along the Danforth. I was intrigued and delighted with the streetscape, as the shops, cafes and restaurants were interesting and inviting. However, I must admit that locating the old theatre was the highlight of my trip. When I saw the theatre, I was amazed to discover that its facade and box office remained attractive and in excellent condition. They appeared not to have changed since as the day they were built.
The Allenby commenced its life in 1936. It was designed by Kaplan and Sprachman, the prolific architects who created about 75 percent of the theatres constructed in Canada between 1921 and 1950. The Allenby is one of the finest theatres that they designed in the Art Deco style. The symmetrical yellow-brick facade has strong vertical lines, employing raised bricks to divide the facade into sections. In the cornice at the top, the sections are capped with stone. In typical Art Deco style, the cornice has rounded shapes and corners. A central column of stone rises from the canopy and extends up to the cornice. The overall effect is that of simple elegance. The canopy over the entrance is large, but it does not obscure the facade and detract from the over-all design. The entrance contains an attractive box office, and on either side of it are shops that in their day were rented to offset the costs of operating the theatre.
The auditorium of the Allenby contained 775 seats, in a pattern of eight on either side and fifteen in the centre section. There was no balcony. In 1942, the theatre received permission to allow 25 patrons to stand at the rear of the theatre, behind the centre section. The air-conditioning consisted of water-washed air, typical of the era.
In the late-1930s, the theatre inaugurated a children’s movie club—the Pop Eye Club. For the price of 10 cents, children saw two feature films, a newsreel, and two “Popeye the Sailor” cartoons. In the cartoons, Popeye attained magical strength after gulping a tin of spinach. The Pop Eye Club commenced at 1 p.m. each Saturday. At these matinees, children were able to purchase a soda pop and a big bag of candy for 5 cents. Surely this deal was enough to make any kid swallow a tin of spinach.
I located only one complaint against the theatre in the files at the Toronto Archives. In 1947, someone observed that the matrons on duty were not in uniform. This infraction of the rules was officially investigated.
The name of the Allenby was eventually changed to the Roxy. The movie “The Rocky Horror Show’ was screened there before it moved to the Bloor Theatre. For a brief period, the theatre enjoyed considerable success. Unfortunately, the Roxy was unable to compete with the popularity of TV and it eventually was closed. For a few years it was named the Apollo and screened Greek films. But this too was unsuccessful.
The building was vacant for a few years and in danger of being demolished. However, it was declared a heritage site in 2007. The building was finally became the location of a coffee shop. Today, to enter the shop, customers pass under the magnificent canopy of the old Allenby and view the box office, where in former decades, eager patrons purchased theatre tickets.
The Allenby in 1935. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278-15, SC 488-1117.
Lobby of the Allenby, its Art Deco designs evident in the ceiling. City of Toronto Archives, 1119-116.
Auditorium of the Allenby, City of Toronto Archives,1278-15 (AO 2259)
Entrance and box office of the Allenby. The film “Up Goes Maisie” is displayed on the marquee. The movie was released in 1946. Photo from the Ontario Archives, AO 2258.
The former box office and entrance to the coffee shop in 2013.
Details on the theatre’s facade (photo taken in 2013).
Centre column of stone that rises from above the marquee, upward to the cornice. (Photo, 2013)
The canopy on the north facade, facing Danforth Avenue, and a portion of the west facade that reveals the original yellow colour of the bricks.
The restored Allenby, which now contains a coffee shop, during the summer of 2013. Similar to when the theatre opened, there is a gasoline station on the west side of the theatre.
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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)