The La Salle Theatre in 1953. Photo City of Toronto Archives, S-1-484B
The above photo is the only picture of the La Salle Theatre that I was able to locate in the archives. It was fortunate that someone took this picture of a fire engine racing along Dundas Street West on a spring afternoon in 1953. The fire truck had been called to extinguish a fire at M. Mandel and Sons Lumber Yard, on the west side of Spadina Avenue, north of Dundas Street.
The theatre opened in 1928, and was originally named the Liberty; it was licensed to Mr. A. Finkelstein. Located was at 526-528 Dundas Street West, it was on the north side of the street, immediately to the west of a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia of today, on the northwest corner of Dundas and Spadina. The building where the theatre was located survives to this day (2014), as well as the bank. The bank remains an active branch, but the theatre disappeared decades ago. The two building are separated by a narrow alley, which also remains.
The theatre possessed a floor of concrete and steel, with 450 seats in its auditorium and another 200 seats in the balcony. There were two aisles downstairs. The ladies’ room was to the right of the foyer and the men’s room was in the basement. This arrangement was typical for washrooms in decades past—the ladies received the preferred location, on the ground-floor level. The theatre was cooled by water-washed air, installed by the Canadian Air Conditioning Company.
In 1938, the theatre was renovated, the plans designed by Harry Dobson. In this year, the theatre’s name was changed from the Liberty to the La Salle. In 1940, an inspector reported that the theatre was not being maintained properly, and that the owner was uncooperative. A similar report was issued the following year, and again in 1943 and in 1944. An inspector also noted that the matron on duty at the La Salle was wearing the mandatory white uniform, but the word “matron” was missing from it. Apparently, this was a mandatory requirement for all matrons’ uniforms. This information in the file of the LaSalle Theatre in the archives is the first time I have seen this requirement stipulated.
After the area where the LaSalle was located changed demographically, the theatre changed its name to the Pagoda and screened Chinese films. I received this information from Carlos De Sousa, who lived on Kensington Avenue in the 1960s. He also informed me that the theatre closed in the late-1960s or early-1970s.
Because I often shop at the Kensington Market, I have passed the building where the La Salle was located many times, but was unaware that a theatre had been located on the site. After my research, I re-examined the building and for the first time became aware that the shape of the structure resembled a theatre.
The La Salle Theatre (left-hand photo) and the building after it was renovated for other commercial purposes. Both photos are from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 99.
The building where the La Salle Theatre was located, in June of 2014.
The building at 526-528 Dundas Street West, in June 2014. The Bank of Nova Scotia is on the right-hand (east side of the theatre’s former site).
The site of the old La Salle Theatre, with the east facade and the laneway beside it visible (June 2014).
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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)