The Playhouse Theatre c. 1938. Movies showing are Mae West in “Klondike Annie” and Margaret Lindsey in “The Law in Her Hands,”both films released in 1936. Photo is from the Toronto Archives SC 488-1099.
When I was a teenager, I was familiar with the College Street area north of the Kensington Market, but I do not remember the Playhouse Theatre. Located at 344 College Street, it was on the north side of the street, a few doors east of Brunswick Avenue. The theatre was on the ground-floor level of a three-storey building block, erected in the 1880s or 1890s. During the latter decades of the 19th century, grouping two or more structures into a single building was an excellent business enterprise in, since it was more economical to construct and maintain than detached structures. It also reduced the amount of land required to erect the structure. Landlords rented the first-floor levels for shops and the floors above them for offices or residential apartments. The Playhouse rented space within such a building, occupying the equivalent of two stores. The theatre likely opened in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
The theatre’s marquee stretched across the entire front of it, the large sign above the marquee attached to the façade between the second and third floors. At night, anyone living in the apartments on these floors was exposed to the bright lights of the sign. The box office was at the edge of the sidewalk, the entrance doors positioned on either side.
I was unable to discover any information about the theatre in the archives. However, because of it was on the ground-floor level, I am certain there would have been no balcony as the ceiling was not of sufficient height. The building extended back from College Street, so the theatre’s auditorium would have been long and narrow, likely with a single aisle. In the decade when it opened, it would have most certainly possessed a small stage for vaudeville acts. In the years ahead, the Playhouse was renamed the Melody Theatre.
There is a poster in the collection of the Toronto Public Library, dated 1950, which advertises a live musical program at the Portuguese Melody Theatre at 344 College Street. The theatre was responding to the demographic changes in the neighbourhood and was screening Portuguese films as well. I was unable to discover the year that the theatre closed.
Site of the Playhouse (Melody Theatre)
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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 relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.
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Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Store and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791
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), the Photodome, 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)