The Birchcliff Theatre in 1949.
Judging by comments posted on the internet, many people retain fond memories of their youth in the Birch Cliff community in East Toronto, and the Birchcliff Theatre in particular. Because I grew up in the west end of Toronto, I was never in this theatre, but I can certainly relate to the comments posted online about the Saturday afternoon matinees at the Birchcliff and the memories created by some of the great films screened there in the 1950s and 1960s.
The theatre was built in 1949, in the days when Birch Cliff was a quiet neighbourhood where people knew each other, as there were street parties and other community events. Birch Cliff was within walking distance of Lake Ontario, so it was an ideal neighbourhood for a kid to grow up. Many considered the Birchcliff Theatre the “icing on the cake” that made growing up in the community so special.
The theatre was built on the site of an old streetcar barn. It was located at 1535 Kingston Road, on the south side of the street, near Warden Avenue. It was part of the 20th Century Theatre chain, owned by Nat Taylor. In later years, Nat Taylor owned Loew’s Uptown, and in 1979 he partnered with Garth Drabinsky to built the Odeon Cineplex Eaton Centre, the largest multiscreen theatre complex in the world at that time.
The Birchcliff Theatre was typical of theatres built after the Second World War. Its architecture could be referred to as “ranch-style”, although this was a term usually applied to homes constructed in the suburbs in the post-war period. The theatres in this style were one storey in height, built with brick and often had large surfaces of concrete or granite. They possessed large windows that allowed plenteous light into their lobbies, and for their interiors to be seen from outside. In many ways, the Birchcliff’s architecture was akin to that of the Nortown on Eglinton Avenue West, although the latter theatre was more plush. The Birchcliff was also similar to the University on Bloor Street, although it was larger, more impressive, and possessed a granite facade rather than concrete. Perhaps the theatre that most resembled the Birchcliffe was the Westwood Theatre near Six Points, in the west end of the city. It was “boxy” and composed of basic rectangular shapes.
The Birchcliffe screened films until 1974, when television diminished attendance to the extent that it became unprofitable. After the theatre closed it was demolished and today there is an ambulance service—The Toronto Emergency Medical Service—on the site.
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To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new
To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings
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: