Sketch of the facade of the King Theatre for the renovations in 1932, by the architect Saxon H. Hunter
The King was among the first silent “moving picture” theatres that opened in Toronto. The plans were submitted to the City of Toronto in December 1914, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War. The theatre was long and narrow, extending back from the street a considerable distance. Located at 565 College Street, it was on the southwest corner at Manning Street. It contained a stage and an orchestra pit, similar to most theatres in the early decades of the 20th century, since it featured vaudeville and live theatre. It was not until the mid-1930s that motion pictures became the predominant attraction in theatres in Toronto.
When the King opened in 1914, it contained 347 seats. There was a centre aisle only, as the theatre was too narrow to accommodate a second aisle. Because the auditorium’s extreme length, the back rows were a considerable distance from the stage and screen. The rows of seats on the left-hand (west) side of the aisle were interrupted in two places to provide emergency exits, similar the bulkhead seats on airplanes today. The washrooms were in the basement, accessed by stairs off the small lobby.
In January 1930, a fire occurred in the projection room, which overlooked the auditorium at the rear of the theatre, behind one of the apartments on the second floor. It was quickly extinguished by the manager, who employed a “chemical fire apparatus” (fire extinguisher). However, the fire department had been called, and the firemen entered the theatre by a side door to avoid alarming those attending the show. There was no need for their services, as the fire had already been put out. The fire occurred during a matinee, when there were mostly children in the theatre. They were not aware that anything had occurred, as there was only a short break in the screening.
In 1932, there were major alterations to the King Theatre, employing plans designed by Saxon H. Hunter, who was also the architect of the Family Theatre on Queen Street east. His residence was at 122 Waverley Rd, near Queen East and Woodbine Avenue.
Essentially, Saxon rebuilt the theatre, since land had been purchased to allow the auditorium of the theatre to be widened. This meant that a new facade was required. The new auditorium had two aisles and its seating capacity was increased to around 600 seats. The centre section contained seven seats, and there were four seats in each of the side sections. The apartments above the theatre were enlarged. On the second floor, one of the apartments was where the theatre’s owner resided. On the third floor, the more spacious apartment had several bedrooms.
On November 27, 1933 the manager of the theatre, George A. Lester, was badly beaten, while he was inside the theatre. Two men from Detroit were arrested for the crime on December 5th. They said that they had been hired as “muscle men” by a rival theatre owner, and paid $50. Because they were contacted by a go-between, the person who placed the contract was never identified. It was said that the improvements to the King Theatre in 1932 had increased the King’s business, to the detriment of the other theatres in the area and this was the reason for the mugging.
In 1942, the King Theatre’s license was transferred from Angel Lester to Odeon Theatres.
In September 1946, the theatre was purchased by Norman Clavir from Odeon Corporation. He changed the name of the theatre to the Kino, and it then specialized in foreign films. It was the second theatre in Toronto to adapt this format, the other being the International Cinema. The first foreign film screened at the Kino was “Russia on Parade” and the second film was “Hello Moscow”; both of them were Artkino Productions. At the same time, the International Cinema was showing Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
In 1948 or 1949, the theatre’s name reverted again to the King, but continued to screen foreign films.
A letter in the files at the Toronto Archives, dated September 24, 1951, confirms that the name of the theatre was changed to the Studio. The same year, the theatre was again under renovation, this time according to plans created by Kaplan and Sprachman. A candy bar that sold popcorn was added to the right-hand side of the foyer.
Inspectors’ reports continued to be filed until 1969, and then they ceased. I assumed that this was the year that the theatre closed, but in a recent email from J. Holt, who lived across from the theatre, I was informed that the theatre did not close until the early 1880s. I am grateful to have received this information.
The theatre was demolished and a three-storey office building constructed on the site.
On the sketch the name of the theatre is shown as “King’s” and the address is listed as 347 College. However, it is the same theatre as it states that it is at College and Manning. The postal number was changed at some time, as happened frequently in the early decades of the 20th century. This sketch was drawn by Saxon H. Hunter in 1932, and it shows the interior of the theatre as it appeared in 1914, prior to being rebuilt and expanded.
The auditorium of the King Theatre after it was rebuilt in 1932, with an expanded auditorium and two aisles.
Plans for the 1932 renovations and reconstruction of the entrance and lobby of the King Theatre.
The King Theatre c. 1942, the movie on the marquee being “The Gay Sisters.”
The site of the King Theatre after the theatre was demolished. 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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