The College Theatre in 1947, City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 48
For several decades, the College Theatre’s curved facade dominated the northwest corner of College Street and Dovercourt Road. Located at 960 College Street, it was another of the theatres constructed by the Allen brothers, who also owned the Allen’s Danforth (the Danforth Music Hall) and the Allen (Tivoli) at Adelaide and Victoria Streets. The College opened in 1921 under the ownership of Allen College Theatre Limited, but was leased to Famous Players Corporation. It was one of the largest theatres ever built on College Street, west of Yonge. It contained almost 1500 seats, even though there was no balcony. Its facade was exceedingly plain, with an unornamented cornice. However, it was a comfortable theatre to attend, as its auditorium possessed four aisles and the seats were plush. The sides of the auditorium were richly ornamented with Wedgewood-style designs, and on the ceiling there were similar motifs and Art Deco style chandeliers.
The theatre was immensely popular during the 1920s, but the years of the Great Depression were financially difficult hard as it was not easy to fill a theatre of its size. However, during the war years of the 1940s, it thrived as many of the factories supporting the war industries were located in the west end of the city, within easy travelling distance of the theatre.
On July 6, 1953 there was a fire in the doorman’s room, which was extinguished by the manager. The audience was ordered to exit the theatre by the fire marshal, but 400 patrons refused to leave until emergency tickets were given out. Obviously they believed that there was no real danger or they would have departed the building quickly. It turned out that they were correct, as the damage inflicted by the fire was only $400.
During the 1960s, many theatres had problems due to the increasing popularity of television. The College tried various approaches to increase attendance. In November 1962, it held a Hockey Night. It was a great success, but unfortunately, it was the exception rather than the rule, and the number of patrons continued to decline. The theatre closed on March 3, 1967 and was listed on the real estate market for $300,000. It was eventually purchased and the magnificent theatre was demolished.
The auditorium of the College Theatre, Ontario Archives, AO 2050
Lobby of the College Theatre, Ontario Archives, AO 2048
The College Theatre in 1967, when it was for sale for $300,000. Photo from a real estate ad, in the City of Toronto Archives.
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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)