Construction on the seven-storey Eaton’s College Street, on the southwest corner of College and Yonge Streets, commenced in 1928 and was completed in 1930. Covering an entire city block, the retail store was officially opened on October 30th of that year, Lady Eaton and her son John David Eaton officiating at the ceremony. The magnificent structure, the jewel in the crown of the retail empire of the T. Eaton Company, was designed by the firm of Ross and Macdonald, in association with Sproatt and Rolph.
Unfortunately, by the time Eaton’s College was completed, the Great Depression had descended across the nation. The 40-storey skyscraper, planned for the western side of the building, was never completed. However, the interior of the section that was finished was perhaps the most magnificent retail store in Canada at that time. Its interior was trimmed with marble and granite, especially on the first-floor level. Most of the store’s interior was designed by Eaton’s own architect, Rene Cera. The brown granite was from Gananoque and the black granite from Mount Joseph, Quebec. Marble for the exposed pillars and the colonnade in the interior were imported from Europe. In stores across Canada, Eaton’s carried its own brand of products, labelled “Etonia.” However, the higher-class goods at Eaton’s College Street were to possess their own trademark—“Haddon Hall.” The store specialized in high quality furniture.
As a teenager in the 1950s, I remember that each Christmas season, the east hallway on the first floor level contained a vast display of Xmas decorations. It was a sight to behold, as it extended for almost a city block. In those years, I worked for the British American Oil Company (BA Oil), its head office located on the northwest corner of Bay and College Streets. BA Oil was later taken over by Gulf Oil. When I worked at BA Oil, at lunch hour in inclement weather, I often crossed over to the southeast corner of the intersection and walked through Eaton’s College to reach Yonge Street, on the far east side of the store.
Even today, the building that was Eaton’s College Street, is one of the grandest structures in the city. The cladding on the building is ivory-coloured Tyndall limestone from a quarry east of Winnipeg. The north and east facades continue to dominate the intersection of College and Yonge Streets with their displays of elegant Art Deco trim and classical ornamentations, which include Greek and Roman designs as well as floral motifs. However, I believe that the overall effect is pleasing rather than fussy.
The two top floors are recessed back from the street, allowing cornices to be placed above the fifth floor. These cornices have unadorned straight lines, but possess intricate detailing below them, as well as ornate metal railings of nickel and copper. They are similar to the cornices at the roofline of the building, and equally impressive. Tall pilasters of limestone rise vertically from the second floor to the cornices above the fifth floor. The large rectangular windows are situated between these pilasters. The windows allow generous light to enter the interior, which was ideal for the enormous retail areas that at one time occupied the various floors. At the street level, the display windows are enormous. Today, the window on the northeast corner is of sufficient size to contain a Tim Horton’s coffee shop.
On March 26, 1931, on the top floors of Eaton’s College, the 1300-seat concert hall, Eaton’s Auditorium, opened to the public. It was the creation of the French architect Jacque Carlu, famous for having designed the dining rooms of the great ocean liners—the Normandie and the IIe de France. Under his supervision, the concert hall, with its elegant lobby, the auditorium with its superb acoustics and the exclusive restaurant named the Round Room, showcased the latest styles of the decade. Many famous personalities entertained audiences in the great hall, including Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington. It was also the favourite recording venue for Glenn Gould.
As a young man, I was in this auditorium on several occasions and was always impressed with its luxurious surroundings and the warmth of the sound. I seem to recall that the plush seats were grey in colour.
When the Eaton Centre, further south at Queen and Yonge Streets opened in 1977, the Eaton’s Store on the north end of the Eaton Centre contained sufficient display space to accommodate the downtown requirements of the company. The College Street store closed in 1977. It was sold to developers and renamed College Park. The new owners divided the building into small retail spaces on the ground floor, with offices on the higher floors. Space was also rented for courtrooms.
In 1978, luxury condos were constructed on top of the low-rise (southern) portion of the building. However, the opening of the Art Deco concert hall, originally known as Eaton’s Auditorium was delayed as the new owners disputed the protection it received because of the Heritage designation of the building. The difficulties were eventually resolved. It was restored and renamed the Carlu, in honour of its designer. Unfortunately, the court battles delayed its reopening until 2003.
The building remains a designated Heritage site under the Ontario Heritage Act.
Note. Some of the information in this post was obtained from, “The Eatons,” by Rod McQueen, Stoddard Publishing Company, 1998.
If you enjoy discovering Toronto’s heritage buildings and neighbourhoods, the following blog is an excellent source of reference about the history of the Parkdale community: pvhs.info
When the Eaton’s College Street store closed in 1977, I visited the store to purchase a keepsake. The above photo is of a sketch of Eaton’s College that appeared on a shopping bag that Eaton’s provided for the closing sale. I kept it as I considered it as valued a keepsake as the item that I purchased.
The reverse side of the same shopping bag, depicting the old Queen Street store that was demolished to built the Eaton Centre.
A view gazing east along College Street toward Yonge Street. I took this photo in 1958 from the roof of what was then the British American Oil building, located on the northwest corner of College and Bay Streets.
An architect’s drawing of the Eaton’s College Street store as it was originally conceived. Because of the Great Depression, the tower was never built. Source of photo, City of Toronto Archives.
Lady Eaton and her son John David Eaton at the opening of the Eaton’s College Street Store in 1930. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, It. 1637.
The corner of Bay and College Streets on April 24, 1930. The view gazes south on Bay Street, the Eaton’s College Street Store under construction on the southeast corner (upper left-hand corner of the photo). City of Toronto Archives, Series 71, It. 7579.
Gazing east on College Street from Bay Street in 1954. The Eaton’s College Street Store is on the southeast corner of Bay and College Streets (right-hand side of the photo).
This undated photo is from the City of Toronto Archives (Fonds 124, Fl. 003, Id. 0062). The view gazes north on Yonge Street toward College Street. The shadows in the photo indicate that it was taken on an early-morning in winter, as the sun is illuminating the south and east facades of the building. This also explains why there is very little traffic.
The grand entrance to Eaton’s College on Yonge Street, south of College Street. Today it is one of the entrances to College Park. Photo taken in 2013.
The east facade of the old Eaton’s Store, now College Park. The view gazes north on Yonge Street toward College Street. Photo taken in 2013.
A section of the east hallway of the old Eaton’s College store, now College Park. Photo taken in 2013.
A view of College Park, gazing east on College Street toward Yonge Street. Photo taken in 2013.
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To view previous blogs about old movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern
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)