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Toronto’s old Duchess (Centre) Theatre

07 Feb

Centre, AO-2037

              The Centre Theatre c. 1944. Ontario Archives, AO 2037

Plans for the Duchess Theatre were submitted to the City of Toronto in December of 1914. It was located at 20-22 Arthur Street, on the corner of Arthur and Markham Streets. In those years, there was no major east-west street that crossed the city, other than Bloor and Queen Streets. Dundas Street was created by stitching together various east-west streets, Arthur Street being one of them. When Dundas Street was created, the address of the Duchess Theatre changed from 20-22 Arthur Street to 722 Dundas Street West. Its 469 wooden seats were on a concrete floor, and there was no balcony.

In 1929, the theatre was renovated. The floor remained concrete, but the seating was increased to 505 seats, which were upholstered. The auditorium was the equal of two storeys in height, the brick facade plain, with an unadorned cornice. The Duchess was renovated again in 1940, the plans designed by Jay English. It is likely that this is when its name was changed to the Centre Theatre.

In 1947, there were complaints that kids in the theatre were rowdy and flagrantly smoking. One complainant wrote: the teenagers were in the theatre “for purposes other than observing the picture.” (It is left to our imagine what their purpose was.)

By 1948, the theatre had seriously deteriorated. It was reported that it was not heated in the evenings, there was smoking throughout the theatre, seats were broken, and boys and girls were wildly running up and down the aisles. As well, there was profane language and the teenagers were partly nude. The person who reported this state of affairs said that they had intended to write to the magazine named Hush. However, upon reflection, instead of writing to Hush, the person wrote to Mayor Saunders, who forwarded the complaint to the Picture Censors. I remember Hush magazine quite well. Its motto was “All the news that’s fit to print.” It was Toronto’s most popular “slush” magazine in the 1940s and 1950s.

In September 1957, it was discovered that the fire doors of the Centre Theatre were locked. In court, the manager said that the theatre had been broken into several times and the safe stolen. The fine for the offence of locking the fire doors was between $50 and $500. The judge fined the theatre $75.

I was unable to discover when the Centre Theatre closed.

                       Centre (formerly Duchess, 772 Dundas W   

Photo of the Centre at Dundas and Markham Streets, likely taken in the 1940s. The gasoline pump is for Imperial Oil, the company that for many years sponsored Hockey Night in Canada.

 

Duchess Ao 2039

                Lobby of the Centre Theatre, Ontario Archives, AO 2039

Duchess AO 2038

     Auditorium of the Centre Theatre, Ontario Archives AO 2038.

Series 1278-59  (3)

Site of the former Centre (Duchess) Theatre on Dundas Street. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 59 (3)

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 links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

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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One response to “Toronto’s old Duchess (Centre) Theatre

  1. multinik

    February 9, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    This was another theatre my family took me to until it closed (roughly between 1967-1977). We were there for almost every Sunday matinee!

     

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