The Pickford Theatre in 1916
The intersection of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West is today one of the busiest intersections in downtown Toronto. I sometimes refer to it as “hamburger corner,” as there are four fast-food hamburger outlets located at this intersection. However, until I commenced researching Toronto’s old movie houses, I had never realized that it was also the site of one of the city’s earliest theatres—the Auditorium Theatre.
It was located at 382 Queen Street West, on the northwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street West. It opened in 1908, on the ground-floor level of the Moler College Barber Building, which was three storeys in height and topped by a Mansard roof. The 1916 photo depicts the theatre and shows two of the three storeys above it.
When the theatre opened in the first decade of the 20th century, the movie theatre business was in its infancy and was considered a risky business enterprise. Thus, renting space within an existing building was the least expensive way to present “film plays.” However, within a few years this attitude changed due to the increasing popularity of the movies. Buildings were then constructed for the express purpose of showing films. The situation now was reversed, as theatre owners rented excess space for other business enterprises. The funds assisted in reducing the expenses of operating a theatre.
When the Auditorium opened, it imitated the format established by the Theatorium Theatre at Yonge and Queen, which featured films and a series of vaudeville acts. The Theatorium was a nickelodeon, as it charged five cents for tickets. The Auditorium Theatre followed this pattern too. It boasted that it showed films that required three reels to complete, considered quite a technological feat in 1908.
The interior space of the theatre was long and narrow, extending back from Queen Street. There was a stage at the north end of the auditorium, but its ceiling was not of sufficient height to accommodate a large screen. This restriction also prevented the building of a balcony. Thus, it was a small theatre, containing less than 400 leatherette seats, all with plush-backs. It possessed three narrow sections of seats, separated by two aisles. From its opening day, it was well attended as there were no other theatres in close proximity to it.
In 1913 the theatre was renovated, its north wall extended further back to increase the seating capacity by almost 50 seats. Following the alterations, the theatre was renamed the Avenue, the name likely chosen because it was on Spadina Avenue.
In 1915, it again changed its name and became the Mary Pickford Theatre. This allowed the theatre to take advantage of the fame associated with the first true international film star of the silver screen. She had been born in Toronto and her name added to the popularity of the theatre. The theatre’s name was later shortened and it was simply referred to as the Pickford. This name was to remain until 1945, when it was renamed the Variety.
The old theatre finally closed in 1947. The Moler Barber Building, where the Pickford had been located, during the 1950s was occupied by Bargain Benny’s. It operated on business practices similar to Honest Ed’s. The bargain emporium went bankrupt in 1961. After the building was demolished in 1972, a small cafe was erected on the site. Today, a hamburger outlet occupies the cafe.
The entrance to the Standard Theatre, later renamed the Pickford.
View gazes north on Spadina toward Queen Street West. The Pickford was on the ground floor of the Moler Barber building, which has a turret on its southeast corner.
The Moler Barber Building at Spadina and Queen in 1958, where the Pickford Theatre was located.
The small cafe that was erected on the site after the Moler Barber Building was demolished.
The northwest corner of Queen and Spadina after the cafe became a McDonald’s outlet (photo 2012) .
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To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern
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.
To place an order for this book:
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)