A marathon run on Bloor Street on April 14, 1936. Photo, Globe and Mail, G&M 29609
The above photo is the one I was able to discover of the Kenwood Theatre in the Toronto Archives. Fortunately, a Globe and Mail reporter snapped a picture of a marathon race along Bloor Street West, and the theatre was visible in the background. The theatre was located at 962 Bloor Street West, on the north side of the street, a short distance east of Dovercourt Road.
Similar to the Grover Theatre on the Danforth, the Kenwood received its name from the area’s telephone exchange. Kenwood telephone numbers commenced in 1920, with 4900 customers. It was the eleventh line that the city introduced. The exchange centred around Bloor West and Dufferin area, and thus, the Kenwood Theatre was within its range. There was a time in Toronto when it was possible to identify where a person lived from their telephone exchange. For example, everyone knew that the exchange Empire was a downtown number.
Plans for the theatre were submitted to the city by Kaplan and Sprachman in May 1929, and the Kenwood opened in 1930. Its facade reflected the Art Deco style and it possessed a large over-hanging cornice. Art Deco was very popular in the 1920s, especially with the architects Kaplan and Sprachman. There was a small shop on the west side of the theatre’s entrance that was a part of the building. It was rented to various tenants. On the second floor there were residential apartments. The Kenwood contained almost 600 upholstered seats, installed by the Globe Furniture Company of Waterloo. This firm supplied the hand-carved woodwork for the Metropolitan Church at Queen East and Church Street, when it was rebuilt following a disastrous fire in June 1928. The quality of the workmanship can be admired today, especially in the chancel of the church.
The auditorium of the Kenwood had a concrete floor and there was no balcony. On the ground floor, there was a central aisle only. The box office was beside the sidewalk. The foyer was only 24’ wide, as the building was long and narrow, extending considerable distance back from the street. The theatre was renovated just three years after it opened, by the firm of Kaplan and Sprachman. At this time, the women’s washroom was relocated from the basement to the first-floor level.
In 1942, a woman phoned the theatre to inquire about the kind of dinnerware being offered that evening. Free dinnerware was often given by theatres to patrons to boost attendance during weeknights. She was told that the theatre was offering a “miscellaneous dish.” She said that she would stay at home as she was not saving that brand. The manager at the time was Al Perly, the father-in-law of MP Bob Rae.
In 1946, the theatre was again renovated, and standing room was created in an area that had previously been a part of the lobby. In this year, the theatre’s owner was Nat Taylor, who in the years ahead owned Loew’s Uptown and went into partnership with Garth Drabinsky to form Odeon Cineplex Corporation. In 1947, a candy bar was added to the Kenwood Theatre.
In July 1951, the manger of the Kenwood was Grant Millar. He gave a local evicted family free passes to the theatre for an entire year, as well as free bags of candies for the children. He became known as the “good Samaritan manager.” In this year, the theatre was under the management of the 20th Century chain. In 1955, the candy bar in the lobby was updated.
The theatre closed in 1957, but remained on the real estate market in 1959. It was eventually sold and became a store named Krainska Knyha, which sold Ukrainian products such as clothing and table linens.
The auditorium of the Kenwood. Photo is from the web site of the Waterloo Public Library.
A rough sketch of the interior of the Kenwood, showing the box office, the stairs to the basement, the foyer and the store on the left-hand (west) side of the entrance. The long narrow auditorium is shown, as well as the central aisle. (Source, City of Toronto Archives)
The marquee and canopy of the Kenwood in 1933.
The Kenwood building site when it was a Ukrainian store.
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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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