The Blue Bell Theatre, May 1946, City of Toronto Archives
The original plans for the Blue Bell Theatre were submitted to the city by Hubert Duerr in 1929. A neighbourhood venue that screened silent movies, its architecture was a curious mixture of styles, and the canopy over the entrance unpretentious. Located at 309 Parliament Street, on the west side of the street, it was south of Dundas Street East. Located in a working-class community, where many Irish immigrants had settled in the 19th century, it was in the southern part of Cabbagetown.
On January 4, 1930 a driver failed to engage his emergency brake and his car rolled down the slight slope on Parliament Street and crashed into the ticket booth of the theatre. The cashier was too stunned to flee, but fortunately was not injured, although the ticket booth was damaged. Despite it being a relatively new theatre, it was renovated in 1933 by the architects Kaplan and Sprachman. It was a free-standing structure, with no shops included in the building that could be rented to provide extra revenues. However, it remained financially profitable for several decades. It originally contained 941 seats, with leather backs. It was cooled by water-washed air, which was typical in that decade.
In September 1954, the theatre was remodelled by Murray Sklar, and its named was changed to the Gay. The word had no connotation with the present-day meaning of the word. When it was renovated in 1954, the number of seats was reduced and a candy bar installed. The Gay was owned by Zelif Unger, who was well known for maintaining strict control during children’s Saturday-afternoon matinees. Any kid who misbehaved was promptly ejected from the theatre. This information was obtained from a post on the “Cabbagetown Regent Park Community Museum,” which also stated, “It was not uncommon [for kids] to receive a boot to the ass upon ejection.”
When theatre attendance dwindled, the theatre ceased screening Hollywood films and commenced showing East Indian films. It was considered a “Bollywood” theatre, and was operated by S. G. P. Jafry. The theatre finally was closed during the 1980s. Today, there are townhouses located on the site.
Sketch for the 1933 renovations by Kaplan and Sprachman.
The Blue Bell on a rainy evening in 1932, photo from the Mandel Sprachman Collection at the City of Toronto Archives.
The theatre after it was remodelled in 1954 and its named changed to the Gay.
Auditorium of the Blue Bell, photo from Ontario Archives AO 2278-35
Real Estate photo, when the theatre was for sale in February 1972, asking price $198,000.
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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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