Brock Theatre on Dundas West in 1937. The film “Ebb Tide,” starring Ray Milland is advertised on the marquee. The movie was set in the South Seas and was based on the story by Robert Louis Stevenson. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278- Fl. 60.
The Brock Theatre at 1587 Dundas Street West, opened in 1936. It was between Lansdowne and Dufferin Avenue, east of Brock Avenue. The two-storey building was originally the Dundas Playhouse, but was redesigned by Sprachman and Mandel and reopened in 1936 as the Brock Theatre, owned by Samuel Lent. It contained 706 seats, all on one level, as there was no balcony. The facade was exceedingly plain, typical of many buildings erected during the Great Depression. However, the canopy over the entrance was extravagantly large and attracted attention at the street level, especially when its lights flashed on Dundas Street in the darkness of a moonless evening.
In February of 1949, a man with a nylon stocking over his head, pushed his arm through the window of the box office and punched in the stomach the young girl who was selling tickets. The robber waved a revolver in her face, but instead of handing over the cash, she pushed the alarm buzzer. The manager immediately rushed to the scene, and the man fled.
The same year as the attempted robbery, the theatre was again renovated by Sprachman and Mandel, and its name changed to the Gem. During the these renovations, the old marquee was removed. The new marquee was smaller and v-shaped, with the word Gem on either side of it. The word Gem also appeared on the top of the marquee in large letters that flashed in the dark like an enormous beacon. A candy bar was also added during these renovations.
A Playbill for the Dundas Playhouse (Brock) Theatre in 1919
The theatre after it was renovated and its name changed to the Gem. In this photo, the theatre is screening Italian films. It was likely taken in the early 1960s.
City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, fl. 60.
The theatre was updated in 1955 and for a brief period screened Italian films, and then, Polish. However, attendance declined and in 1958, its owners placed the theatre on the real estate market, asking price $65,000. It was on the market again in January 1961, but the price was reduced to $55,000. In May 1961, it was reduced further to $33,500. The theatre was eventually closed and the premises renovated to create a banquet hall. In January 1965, the site of the old Brock Theatre was again on the market, at the asking price of $120,000.
The theatre site when it was a banquet hall.
The site of the Gem Theatre when it was the location of a catering business.
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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.
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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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