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Category Archives: architecture toronto

Toronto’s Brunswick House (now closed)

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The Brunswick House, view gazing east along Bloor Street from west of Brunswick Avenue. 

The Brunswick House, a well-known icon of the Toronto pub scene for 140 years, closed on April 1, 2016. It was slated to shutter its doors the previous day, but due to the enormous crowds attracted by its closing, it remained open for an extra day. Its demise will be mourned by many university students, locals, and others attracted to this unconventional, lively pub. Located at 481 Bloor Street West, it was on the southeast corner of Brunswick Avenue and Bloor Street West.

The Brunswick Hotel was established in 1876, to the northwest of the city, its proprietor Benjamin Hinchcliffe. When it opened, horse-drawn streetcars had not yet appeared in the district, since on Bloor Street, between Yonge and Bathurst Street, there remained many open fields and empty building lots. To the west of Dufferin Street was mostly farmland, so the Bloor and Brunswick area was viewed as rather remote. Thus, the hotel’s patrons were mainly those who resided in the area or travellers who needed local accommodations.

The building was architecturally typical of buildings constructed during the final decades of the 19th century. However, the three-storey red-brick structure would have been impressive in its day, its heavy cornice displaying a degree of extravagance that was unusual in the working-class district where it was located. Above the cornice was an elaborate parapet that gave the appearance of added height. The large rectangular windows allowed much daylight to enter the interior in an era that lacked electric lighting.

In 1900, the hotel remained under the proprietorship of Benjamin Hinchcliffe and was known as a saloon for immigrants and workmen of the district. Hinchcliffe resided at 207 Borden Street, near the corner of Borden and Sussex Streets, not far from his place of business. In 1902, W. J. Davidson became the manager of the hotel, and in 1912 Joseph McLachlan assumed control. In 1920, Mrs. Catherine (Kate) Davidson became the proprietor, commencing a long period under her management. During her days at the hotel, it was penalized several times for serving beer that possessed too high an alcoholic content. In 1942, Mrs. Davidson changed its name to the Ye Olde Brunswick Hotel.

In 1961, the hotel was purchased by Morris and Albert Nightingale, two brothers who increased business at the establishment by hosting unusual events such as pickle-eating contests and a Mrs. Brunswick contest for older woman. The promotional stunts attracted many customers and sometimes the police, who were called when the crowds became rowdy. A large room on the second floor, the Albert Hall, became famous as a jazz venue in the 1980s. It is not clear when the hotel’s name was changed from Ye Olde Brunswick Hotel to the Brunswick House, but it continued to attract people of various lifestyles, and on one occasion a wedding was performed within it. 

In 2005, the hotel’s interior and exterior were extensively renovated. When it closed in April 2016, the long rows of wooden tables in the pub area on the first floor, the pool table, games, and the stage for dancing, all fell silent. Abbis Mahmoud was the manager at the time of its closing. It appears that a Rexall Drug Store will occupy the large space on the ground floor, although this has not been confirmed.

Note: Below is additional information provided by Dorothy Willis in an email after the post on the Brunswick House was published on this blog.

I read with interest your article on Toronto’s Brunswick House on your website Historic Toronto (May 2016).  It is sad to note the loss of this historical building.  It was designated a Heritage Property in 1991 but will this make any difference to its future?
Benjamin Hinchcliffe (1831 – 1911) was my great great grandfather. After arriving in Toronto in 1865 from Silkstone England, his first hotel was the St. Georges at the corner of Yonge and Richmond (Mitchell’s Directory 1866), followed by the Osgoode House at Queen and York Streets from 1870 until he became innkeeper of the hotel at the corner of Brunswick and Bloor (various city directories).
Benjamin received his tavern licence in 1876 from the License Commissioners (Daily Globe May 8, 1876).  That same year, according to the Assessment Roll for the Ward of St. Patrick, City of Toronto, he was the owner and occupier of the tavern.  There was also a driving shed and ballroom on the property.
I have been writing a book on my Hinchcliffe family. I appreciated your photos and descriptions of the Brunswick in your article since I had never been inside. May I quote your descriptions in my book?
Also I did not realize that Benjamin still owned the Brunswick until his death in 1911, “in 1912 Joseph McLachan assumed control.” I had not researched the hotel once I thought he had branched into real estate so thank you for that info.
I have attached an undated photo of Benjamin and copies of his obit and probate of his will. He did not trust banks so put his money into property.
I wanted to let you see the man behind the Brunswick. Thank you for bringing the history of the Brunswick Inn to the readers of Toronto.

Map of 481 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 1X9

        Location of the Brunswick House on Bloor Street West.

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The north facade (left-hand side) on Bloor Street, and west facade on Brunswick Avenue on April 2, 2016.

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      The hotel’s west facade on Brunswick Avenue, April 2016.

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The cornice on the Brunswick House in 2016. The dentil-like modillions (brackets) are beneath the large cornice that extends out over the street.

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                             Entrance to the Brunswick House.

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The pub area on April 2, 2016, the day after the Brunswick House closed.

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               The foyer inside the main door that led to the pub. 

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Interior of the pub, the day after the Brunswick House permanently closed.

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Staircase that led to the second floor, where the Albert Hall was once located.

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The space on the second floor remained open on the day after the Brunswick House permanently closed. This space was once the jazz venue known as the Albert Hall. 

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The west facade of the Brunswick House, facing Brunswick Avenue. Photo taken April 2, 2016.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

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Arena Gardens (Mutual Street Arena) now demolished

City of Tor, Archives Arena- SC 646-  nd[1]

     Mutual Street Arena, City of Toronto Archives, SC 646

When I was a boy in the 1940s, my friends and I enjoyed roller skating on the sidewalks in our neighbourhood. We purchased our skates from a hardware store that also sold sports equipment such as toboggans and sleds. The roller skates clamped on to our shoes, a key employed to open and close the clamps to fit the size of our shoes. When we became teenagers, we considered ourselves quite grown up when our parents allowed us to journey on the streetcar to downtown Toronto to skate at the Mutual Street Arena. It was located at 78 Mutual Street, on the east side of the street, between Dundas Street East and Shuter Street. Compared to our neighbourhood sidewalks, the smooth floor of the arena was “roller-skating heaven.” We skated to music around the enormous rink-size floor, which contained ice during the hockey season. I remember that the arena was an impressive structure, although when I visited it in the 1950s, it was no longer in its prime.

In the 1880s, there was an outdoor a rink on the four-acres site on the west side of Mutual Street. In summer, the open space was a children’s playground, with an ornamental fountain. In the 1890s, the Toronto Directories reveal that it contained the Canadian Curling Rink. The Goad’s Atlas does not depict any building on the location, so it is assumed that it was an outdoor rink. In 1902, the Caledonian Skating Rink occupied the space, and Mr. J. Moore was the caretaker. One source states that this rink was housed in a large building, but the maps do not depict any structure. I was unable to resolve this discrepancy. The 1910 Goad’s map of the area simply shows the site as containing a “skating rink,” and again, no building is depicted.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the population of the city continued to expand. A larger auditorium was needed for special events and concerts, as Massey Hall was no longer of sufficient size. As a result, a group of investors, headed by Sir. Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame, formed the Toronto Arena Company. They purchased the site on Mutual Street, where the Caledonian Rink was located, and raised the funds to finance a building. To design the structure, the architect F. H. Herbert, from the firm of Ross and McFarland was hired. Herbert created a plain rectangular building with a symmetrical east facade with limited ornamentation. It was originally to be primarily an opera venue and special events space, but the plans were changed as the investors believed that it would be more profitable if it were combined with a hockey arena. The total cost of the building was $500,000, and when it was completed, it was the largest auditorium in Canada. The ice rink was 230’ by 95’, surrounded by seats that accommodated almost 8000 persons. Its name was to be the Arena Gardens of Toronto.

It opened on October 7, 1912, but the equipment to produce ice for the rinks had not yet been installed. However, but this did not detract from the excitement of its inauguration. Opera and comedy were the themes on opening night. Centre stage was taken my Marie Dressler, Arturo Tibaldi, and Albert Spalding. Also present was a star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera—Alice Neilson, supported by a 62-man orchestra. In late November of the same year, the ice plant commenced operating, one of the first in Canada to manufacture ice artificially. It was able of producing 60 tons of ice every 24 hours, resulting in the extra ice being sold for kitchen ice-boxes across the city.

The first hockey game in the arena was held in November of 1912, and the Toronto Arena Hockey Club was born. The team’s name was the Toronto Blue Shirts in 1912, its colours being blue and white. Many simply referred to it as the Toronto Team. In 1913, a huge rally was held in the arena for Sir Wilfrid Laurier, even though he had been defeated in the 1911 election.

In May of 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River. More passengers lost their lives in this tragedy than on the Titanic. It was Canada’s greatest maritime disaster. The funeral service for the victims that were members of The Salvation Army was held in the Arena Gardens, as it was the only building in the city able to accommodate the crowd of mourners. The funeral procession departed from the arena and proceeded north on Yonge Street to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, north of St. Clair Avenue.    

In 1919, the name of the hockey team playing in the arena was changed to the St. Patricks (St. Pats). On February 4, 1923, Norman Albert narrated the first radio broadcast of a  game. In 1921, a prohibition rally of 12,000 was accommodated in the Garden Arena. In 1925, the inaugural service of the newly formed United Church of Canada was held within it. For the 1926-1927 season, the St. Patricks name was changed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1931, the Leaf franchise relocated to Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton and Church Streets. The Arena Gardens was renamed Mutual Street Arena, and the building at Carlton and Church became known simply as, “The Gardens.”

After the Leafs departed, the arena on Mutual Street was used for boxing matches, boat shows, home shows, wrestling, and tennis. In 1942, Glenn Miller’s Band performed in the arena, and in 1949, Frank Sinatra crooned to enthralled crowds. In 1962, it was closed for a massive $3 million renovation. At this time, a restaurant and curling rink were added. When it reopened, it was renamed The Terrace, its main use now roller and ice skating.

In 1989, as property values increased in the core of the city, the owners of the arena sold the building and it was demolished.

              Arena_Gardens_Map[1]

                                       Site of the Mutual Street Arena.

Commons Wikipedia  Board_of_Trade_banquet_to_Rt_Hon_RL_Borden,_KC_LLD_(Arena_Gardens),_Toronto,_September_23,_1912_(HS85-10-25998)[1]

Board of Trade banquet for the Hon. R. L. Borden on September 23, 1912. Photo, Commons Wikipedia.

Wikipedia  1913- Sir_Wilfrid_Laurier's_reception_at_Liberal_meeting,_Arena_Gardens[1]

                Political rally in the arena for Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1913.

May 1914- Heritage Centre

Funeral Service for the victims of the Empress of Ireland in the arena in 1914, held under the auspices of the Salvation Army. Photo, Salvation Army’s George Scott Railton Heritage Centre.

heritage toronto  oldfront[1]

Undated photo of the east facade of the arena on Mutual Street. View gazes south on Mutual Street.

btw, 1940 and 1960,  f1257_s1057_it0964[1]

Interior of the arena between the years 1940 and 1960. Photo Toronto Archives, S1257, S 1057, item 0964. 

btw, 1940-1960  f1257_s1057_it0965[1]

The arena between the years 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, F1257, S 1057, Item 0965.

Tor. Sun, March 16, 2013  Milke Filey  1297389943990_ORIGINAL[1]

Photo of the arena in the 1920s, accompanying an article by Mike Filey in the Toronto Sun on March 15, 2013. View gazes north on Mutual Street.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

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Toronto’s Cyclorama (demolished) on Front Street

f0124_fl0003_id0058[1]

In the foreground is the building that once housed Toronto’s Cyclorama, on Front Street West. The photo was taken c. 1975, the year prior to its demolition. The Walker House (Hotel) is to the east (left) of the Cyclorama and the Swiss Bear Restaurant (with the pointed roof) is between the two structures. Both of these have also been demolished. In the distance (far left) is today’s Union Station. Toronto Archives, F0124, fl. 0003, id. 0057. 

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, Front Street as depicted in the above photo was very familiar to me. I drove or walked past this section of the street many times, but knew very little about the history of the rather strange looking parking garage that was circular in shape. My father had told me that it had once contained some sort of enormous painting, which encircled its interior. However, he knew nothing more about the structure. It was built long before he arrived in the city in 1921, and he had never been inside it.

I did not pursue the matter any further, as being a teenager I was busy with other things. In my mind, it remained simply an odd-shaped parking garage that was quite ugly, and thus I did not take much notice when I heard that it was being demolished. However, when researching the cyclorama for this post, I discovered that it was once an important part of Toronto’s entertainment scene.

Cycloramas were popular in the final decades of the nineteenth century as they presented dramatic scenes in blazing colours. Photography was in its infancy and there were no coloured photographs other than those that were hand-tinted. The only way of depicting colourful scenery or important events was by creating paintings with oils or watercolours. As a result, in the 1880s, in Europe and North America, large buildings were constructed to display huge 360 degree canvases. They wrapped around the interior of the structures and viewers stood on stages in the centre of the paintings or on walkways. Erected for public entertainment, these buildings were named cycloramas because they were cylindrical in shape.

Toronto’s Cyclorama was typically round in appearance, similar to others world-wide. However, it actually possessed 16 flat sides, the resulting hexadecagon looking like an enormous circle. It was a combination of an art gallery and an amusement arcade. Around the interior of the brick building, which was the equivalent of three storeys in height, in which multiple canvases were connected to create a 400-foot continuous scene. The painting was 50 feet high, the dome above it coloured to resemble the sky. Created by an Austrian artist, August Lohr, the perspective was increased to simulate a 3D effect. Erected by the Toronto Art Exhibition Company Ltd., the building’s architects were Kennedy and Holland. It was located on the south side of Front Street West, between York and Simcoe Streets. The old Union Station (now demolished), was immediately to the south of it.

When Toronto’s cyclorama opened on September 13, 1887, it was a colourful and amazing sight for 19th-century visitors. The first presentation was a panoramic view of the Battle of Sedan, one of the bloodiest battles of the Franco Prussian War of the 1870s. In front of the the scene were real and manufactured artefacts (weapons, uniforms , a real horse that was stuffed, a cannon, etc.). To add realism, at peak viewing times costumed actors portrayed soldiers, sound effects were added, and sometimes smoke to simulate the after effects of cannon fire. Visitors paid 25 cents to enter the building, and viewed the art work from a walkway that allowed them to move around the entire circle. The concept was a great success.

In 1889, the Battle of Gettysburg was shown at the cyclorama. Then, the Battle of Waterloo was the subject, and next, Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion. Historic and religious themes were the favourites of cycloramas in Europe as well as in North America. 

However, as the 20th century approached, technology continued to advance and magic lantern shows (slides) began to reproduce authentic scenes of nature, cities, and even important events. These were followed by silent movies that were often filmed on real locations. Attendance at cycloramas throughout the world slowly declined.

Toronto’s cyclorama was seized by the City of Toronto about the year 1898, for non-payment of $2095 in taxes. It remained empty for many years, and was in danger of being demolished. Finally, in 1927, it was purchased by the Petrie Machinery Company for a showroom and factory. A few years later, it was remodelled to create a parking garage for the nearby Royal York Hotel, which opened in June, 1929. The conversion of the cyclorama into a garage presented many engineering problems. In the 1940s, the cyclorama became a showroom for Elgin Motors, and finally, a parking garage for Avis Car Rentals. 

In 1976, the cyclorama was purchased, and along with the Walker House Hotel, was demolished to erect Citigroup Place. Today, when I drive southbound on York Street to reach the Gardiner Expressway, at Front Street I often think of the old Walker House and Toronto’s Cyclorama.

Map of 121 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5J

                         Site of Toronto’s Cyclorama.

skritchblogspot.com  Petriecyclorama-emporium1906[1]

Postcard from 1906, depicting the cyclorama when it was the Petrie Machinery Emporium. The view is from Front Street, the old Union Station erected in 1873, to the west of it. All these buildings have been demolished. Image from skritch.blogspot.com

Fonds 1244, Item 1099

The cyclorama in 1922, when it was the Petrie Machinery Company showroom and factory. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 1099.

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The dome of the cyclorama on December 6, 1923. Toronto Archives, F1548, S0393, Item 20964.

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This photo was taken on June 3, 1926. It gazes toward the northwest, the three towers of the Union Station, erected in 1873, on the left-hand side. The taller tower to the north of the three towers is the section of the station on Front Street. The south and east sides of the cyclorama are visible, as well as the Walker House beside it, on the east side. The bridge crossing over the railway tracks is on York Street. Toronto Archives, F1580, Item 0017.

f1231_it0100[1]

This panoramic view gazes at the south (rear) and east sides of the cyclorama, the Walker House to the east of it. York Street is between the Walker House and Union Station, which opened in 1927. Front Street is on the north side of the buildings. The Queen’s Hotel, where the Royal York Hotel is today, is across from Union Station. The clock tower of the Old City Hall is in the upper left-hand corner. Photo was taken c.1927, and is from the collection of the Toronto Archives, F1231, Item 0100 (1).

201216-cyclorama-splitfrom BlogTo  [1]

Split image depicting the cyclorama in the 1940s (left) and a sketch of the cyclorama in the late-19th century. Image from www.BlogTo.com  

pinterest.com  57d71de398cd8e5a3b93f277b5d4866e[1]

Undated photo of the interior of the cyclorama, when floors had been built inside it to convert it into a parking garage. Image from pinterest.com.

1953, pictures-r-3686[1]

View of the north (front) side of the cyclorama on Front Street in 1953, the Walker House to the east of it. Toronto Public Library r-3686.

Walker House - view from York St below University Ave – January 7, 1975

The south side of the cyclorama and the Walker House (foreground) on January 7, 1975. View gazes west on Station Street from York Street. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl 0051, Item 0001 

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The site where the cyclorama and the Walker House were located, on Front Street to the west of York Street. Photo taken in March 2016.

A link to discover more about the old Walker House Hotel to the east of the cyclorama:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/walker-house-hotel-demolished-front-and-york-streets/ 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

Walker House Hotel (demolished) – Front and York Streets

York and Front--1954.  pictures-r-4959[1]

The Walker House (hotel) on the southwest corner of Front and York Streets in 1954, Toronto Public Library r- 4958

Although I was never inside the old Walker House on Front Street, I remember it quite well. in the 1950s, when I first received a driving license, I passed by it many times while driving south on University Avenue, en route to the newly constructed Gardiner Expressway. In that decade, the Walker House was highly popular as it contained several well-known restaurants – Rathskeller, the Franz Josef Room, and on the west side of the hotel, the Swiss Bear. The latter was in a building that resembled a Swiss chalet. On weekdays, these restaurants were frequented by businessmen, as the hotel was not far from the financial district.

I had only one personal contact with the hotel, and it was merely with an artefact from it. After the hotel was demolished, its wooden bar was sold, removed, and installed in Crispins Restaurant at Church and Gerrard Street East, in a bar at the rear of the eatery. I remember being shown the bar. It was about 30 feet long, built of dark-stained wood. It possessed a rich mahogany-like sheen, but it was likely crafted from native wood such as oak or cherry. It would have been impressive in its original location.

The Walker House was completed in 1873, the same year that the Grand Trunk Railway opened its station on the Esplanade, between York and Simcoe Streets. The Esplanade was constructed on landfill, created by dumping soil and rubble into the harbour south of Front Street. The Walker House was a short distance to the northeast of the station, constructed to accommodate travellers that arrived in the city by train. In 1873, the hotel advertised that guests would be met at the station and their luggage transported directly to the hotel’s lobby. In 1879, the hostelry hosted guests that arrived to attend Toronto’s first permanent Industrial Exhibition, a precursor of today’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). 

The Walker House was also constructed on landfill, the slope of York Street on its east side, indicating the lake’s original shoreline. However, even when the hotel was erected, the lake had already been pushed further south. On the hotel’s west side there was an alley, and next to it was the Cyclorama. The hotel was well known for having comfortable rooms during the summer months, as it received the cool breezes from the harbour.

The four-story Walker House was rectangular in shape, its northeast corner angled so that its entrance faced both Front and York Streets. In 1892, the doorway was relocated to the north side, at 121 Front Street East. The rooms contained numerous large rectangular windows that provided excellent interior lighting and a view of the harbour. The top of the windows were Roman arches, typical of many 19th-century buildings. The windows and their surrounds provided texture on the otherwise unornamented brick facades, the cornice at the roofline also unadorned. The simple rectangular shape of the building allowed corridors on the floors to be straight, with exit stairways at each end. This lessened the possibility of guests being trapped, if a fire occurred.   

When the hotel opened in 1873, the proprietor was David Walker, who had worked for many years at the Americana Hotel at Yonge and Front Streets. Originally, the Walker House contained 125 rooms, which rented for $2 a day. The hotel was enlarged several times, and eventually a fifth storey added. The establishment was immensely popular, since not only was it near the train station, it was close to the luxury shops on King Street, and the provincial legislative buildings at Front and Simcoe Streets.

The hotel was renown in the latter part of the 19th century for its fine dining room, which seated 170 people. Its New Year’s Eve banquets and Christmas-day dinners were always booked well in advance. The Walker House competed for patrons with the prestigious Queen’s Hotel, further east on the north side of Front Street, where the Royal York is today located, and the Rossin House at King and York. The Walker House was one of the first hostelries to install an elevator and electric call buttons to allow guests to connect with the front office. 

However, during the 1970s, the land near the financial district was among the most coveted real estate in Toronto. Sites were continually being sought by developers to erect low-rise and mid-rise structures. The Walker House became was a casualty of this building boom. It was sold and demolished in 1976, another Toronto landmark from my youth disappearing.

A 19-storey office tower was erected on the site – Citigroup Place – completed in 1983. 

A link to discover more about the cyclorama, to the west of the Walker House:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/torontos-cyclorama-demolished-on-front-street/

Map of 121 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5J

Location of the Walker House at Front and York Streets. The site is today a considerable distance from the lake.

               Jan 2, 1888, TRL.  cihm_32339_0004[1]

Menu of the Walker House on January 2, 1888. In the sketch, the hotel has only four storeys. From the collection of the Toronto Public Library.

TRL, sketch 1890, south down York Street  pictures-r-2417[1]

Watercolour of 1890, which depicts the Walker House on the right-hand side. The building on the left is the proposed CPR Railway Station, which was never built. The Union Station of today was eventually erected on the site. In the watercolour, the shoreline of the lake is not far from the hotel. The trains on the tracks south of the Esplanade are visible in the far background. Collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-2417. 

                1910, 20101116-GoadUnion[1]

Map of 1910 showing the Walker House on the southwest corner of Front and York Streets. The Union Station in the lower left-hand side of the map is not the train station of today, but the one that opened in 1873. The year the map was published, a grand entrance had been added to it on its north side, on Front Street. The round structure on the west side of the Walker House is the Cyclorama.  There is no University Avenue on the map, as it was not extended south of Queen Street until the 1930s. Map from the Goad’s Atlas of 1910, Toronto Reference Library.

Postcard 1910, TPR. pcr-2214[1]

Postcard depicting the Walker House in 1910, after the fifth storey was added. Toronto Public Library, r-2214. 

1924- pictures-r-4357[1]

View gazing west on Front Street from Bay Street in 1924. The new Union Station of today was not yet open to the public. It officially opened in 1927. The Queen’s Hotel is the white building in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. The Walker House is to the west of Union Station, at York at Front Streets. Toronto Public Library, r- 4357.

201111-west-bay-royal-york-1928-f1244_it10085[1]

Gazing west on Front Street from near Yonge Street in 1928. Union Station is now open, but only partially functioning. The Royal York has replaced the Queen’s Hotel, but is not yet open for guests. The Walker House is visible in the distance on the west side of the new Union Station. The tower behind the Walker House is part of the old train station of 1873, the section with the tower on Front Street erected in 1910. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 10085.

1945,  f1257_s1057_it0542[1]

The Walker House in 1945. The view gazes directly at the northeast corner of the rectangular-shaped building. York Street is on the east side of the hotel. The building to the south of the hotel, on its south side, is on Station Street. It remains today and is included in the Skywalk that connects the new Union Station (1927) with the CN Tower. Toronto Archives, F1247, S 1057, Item 054.

f0124_fl0003_id0056[1]

Undated photo of the Walker House. Next to the hotel (west side) is the round facade of the Cyclorama, which was also demolished in 1976. Between the hotel and the Cyclorama is the pointed roof of the Swiss Bear Restaurant. View gazes west on Front Street from York Street. The slope on York Street is where the original shoreline was located, prior to landfill being dumped into the harbour. Toronto Archives, F0124, Fl 0003, Id. 0056.

                    DSCN0383

The 19-storey Citigroup Place at Front and York Streets in 2016, where the Walker House once stood.

DSCN0384

The Citigroup Place tower, and visible to the south of it, the building from the old Union Station, now part of the Skywalk. 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

Tags: , ,

The old Toronto Star Building (demolished)

Fonds 1244, Item 10094

The old Toronto Star newspaper building is the large structure on the left-hand side of the photo.The view is from the southwest, looking at the south facade of the building c. 1968. The towering Bank of Commerce Building (now CIBC, on the right-hand side of the photo) is visible further east, on the south side of King Street. The large structure with the two flags atop it is the Bank of Nova Scotia at King and Bay. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 10094

When I was a boy in the 1940s, my parents purchased a Toronto Daily Star newspaper route. Six days a week, I delivered papers to about 65 customers. The newspapers were 3 cents a copy, but 10 cents extra on Saturday, if the customer bought the Star Weekly magazine section. For each newspaper I received a half cent for delivery. I considered the roughly $2 a week I earned to be a princely income. I retained my route until I was in grade nine, when I sold the route to become a delivery boy for Crosstown Pharmacy, at Eglinton and Bathurst. I was paid about 30 cents hour, and the customers’ tips were more lucrative than on the paper route.

I had been an avid comic-book reader when I was in public school, one of my favourite being Superman, featuring the fictional characters — Lois Lane and Clark Kent. I did not realize that in the 1930s, the creator of the comic, Joe Shuster, had also been a paperboy for the Star. The head office of the Toronto newspaper was the inspiration for the Daily Planet, where Clark Kent was employed. I do not personally remember ever seeing the Star building, but after researching it and examining photos of it, I can understand why it gripped the imagination of Joe Shuster. 

The Toronto Star, established in 1892, relocated in 1905 from Adelaide Street to a four-storey building at 18-20 King Street West. In the decades ahead, it constantly increased its circulation. Writers like the Nobel-prize winning Ernest Hemingway added to the newspaper’s reputation. Hemingway worked at the Star from 1920 to 1924 and credited the freedom to travel and write for the Star a major reason for his future success as an author.

In the late-1920s, with a circulation of 175,00 and 650 employees, the newspaper relocated to a larger building at 80 King Street West. It was one of the finest Art Deco office towers ever built in North America. Symmetrical in design, its construction commenced in November 1927, and completed in January 1929. At a cost of $1.5 million, it was designed by Chapman and Oxley.  A classical example of the style, it possessed strong vertical lines that ascended from its six-storey podium to the pinnacle of the tower. Containing 22 storeys, there were no setbacks on the front facade, facing King Street, but there were setbacks on the east and west sides, allowing the tower to rise from the centre section above the sixth floor.

The tower (floors 7-22) was erected with structural steel and faced with limestone. It was mostly rented to other companies for offices, helping to offset the expense of maintaining the building, as well as providing investment income for the newspaper. The Star’s radio station was on the 21st. floor of the tower, station CFCA, which ceased broadcasting in 1933. 

The six-storey podium was constructed of reinforced concrete, its ground floor occupying two-storeys. The lower three floors were faced with granite. The podium was where the daily operations of the newspaper were located, including the printing presses and delivery facilities. It also contained the offices for the reporters, proof readers, editors, photographers, and the newspaper archives. Above the entrance doors, there was a decorative bronze screen, typical of many Art Deco structures. Atop the screen was an arch, and above it was stonework with carved floral motifs. It was a grand entrance, important in an era when celebrities and politicians were often interviewed at newspaper offices, rather than having reporters seek them out.

The ground floor contained rental stores that included a barber shop. On its east side there was a restaurant, which for many years was operated by Stoodleigh’s. This restaurant chain also had an outlet on the north side of the CNE Grandstand, which was only in operation when the Ex was open. The lobby on the first floor of the Star building was elegant, with marble columns and trim. Elevators with bronze doors, etched with Art Deco designs, swept visitors and employees to the upper floors. Each elevator was staffed by an intendant with white gloves, who opened and closed the doors and provided assistance. Anyone who remembers Eaton’s and Simpsons during the 1940s and 1950s, would be familiar with this type of service.

The trucks that delivered the newspapers across the city departed directly from the Star building on King Street. When I was a paperboy, one of these trucks arrived six days a week, around 4 pm, at a depot at Vaughan Road and Greyton Avenue, in the Township of York. About 20 newspaper boys picked up their bundles of papers from this location. There were no newspaper girls in the 1940s.

In 1967, the TD Centre (Toronto-Dominion bank) opened on the south side of King Street, directly across from the Toronto Star Building. As the area was the heart of the city’s financial district, the newspaper received lucrative offers from those who wished to redevelop the site. Finally, in 1971, the Star finally sold their building and relocated to the foot of Yonge Street (1Yonge), near the harbour. The wonderful Art Deco Star building was demolished in 1972, and in its place appeared the 72-storey First Canadian Place office complex, directly across from the TD Centre.

The Art Deco-inspired bronze doors from the Star Building were relocated to an office structure on Bay Street, south of Queen Street. I was unable to discover exactly where, but a reader suggested that they are likely in the Metro Trust Building at 357 Bay Street, north of Temperance Street. Some of the Star building’s ornate stonework was transported to Scarborough and placed on the grounds of the Guild Inn, alongside similar remnants of carved stone from other demolished Toronto edifices.

I understand that some of Toronto’s architectural past must be replaced to meet the needs of a modern city. However, our city has destroyed so many of its structures of yesteryear that little remains to link us with those who laboured to build Toronto. A truly modern, progressive city retains the best of its former years and incorporates it into the present-day. This concept is gaining ground in Toronto, but it still has a long way to go. Other cities have accomplished this blend, and are the better for it. They attract more tourists and have an improved urban environment, while creating an enriched life for their citizens.

Sources: www.thestar.com (Dave Russill) – www.canadacolll.com— “Lost Toronto” by William Dendy, “Art Deco Architecture in Toronto” by Tim Morawetz. 

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,kgluQwIyFqgXxyp-fScbyALv2n4tmabDoUK_x1tGPITL7YlfMH-ogIIfQpxQeI2QgmeO6-iSPs9ozNY0IlPgUGAttdY1CMuvI5udz7P[1].png

        Location of the old Star building on King Street West.

Fonds 1244, Item 342

The front of the Star building at 18-20 King Street, prior to the newspaper relocating to 80 King Street. The photo was taken during the federal election of 1911, when the main political issue was reciprocity (free trade) with the United States, Toronto Archives. F1244, Item 0342.

Fonds 1244, Item 881

A crowd outside the Star building at 18-20 King St. in 1914, which contained the newspaper’s offices from 1905 to 1929. It was common in that decade for people to gather outside newspaper offices to receive a glimpse of the day’s headlines. It was a way to encourage readers to purchase a copy.Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 0881

Fonds 1244, Item 3012

All of the above buildings on King Street (except the three on the far left) were demolished in 1927 to construct the Star building. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 3012.

                  Ont. Archives, 1920  I0022003[1]

The Star building shortly after it opened in 1929. View gazes east on King Street toward Yonge. Ontario Archives, 10022003.

                        F 1231, S 1131, Item 0069 -king-toward-bay-1930[1]

Gazing east along King Street toward Yonge c. 1930. The Star building is on the left, and the Bank of Commerce tower (CIBC) is in the distance on the right. Toronto Archives, F1231, Fl 131, Item 0069

Fonds 1244, Item 2054

Office space for reporters in the building on December 17, 1930. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 2054.

Fonds 1244, Item 2057

     Lobby of the building c. 1930, Toronto Archives, F 1244, Item 2057.

Fonds 1244, Item 2186

King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto in 1939, in front of the Star building, which was decorated for the Royal Tour. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 2186.

Fonds 1244, Item 2058

          The press room c. 1945, Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 2058

                    Fonds 1244, Item 10093

The south facade of the Star building at 80 King Street between 1967 and 1970. Toronto Archives, F 1244, Item 10093

20121112-Star-Facade[1]

Sketch of the podium of the Star building from the files of the Toronto Star, 20121112

                        c. 1945 f1257_s1057_it2037[1]

The newspaper’s offices c. 1945, Toronto Archives, F 1257, S 1057, Item 2037.

                     DSCN0381

First Canadian Place in March 2016, on the former site of the Toronto Star Building. The TD Centre is on the south side of the street, opposite it.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,

The Gordon House, Toronto’s lost mansion

c. 1900  pictures-r-5407[1]

The Gordon Mansion on Clarence Square (Toronto) in 1900. Toronto Public Library, r-5407

On the east side of Spadina Avenue, between Front and King Streets, there is a small green space named Clarence Square. During the early 19th century, it was part of the military reserve attached to Fort York. The square was laid out in the 1830s by British engineers to complement the lakeside promenade, a green area near the lake where citizens were able to enjoy strolling and picnicking during good weather. In those years, Lake Ontario was directly to the south of it. The shoreline was eventually pushed further south by dumping landfill into the harbour, so today, Clarence Square is isolated from the water. However, it remains a quiet retreat in the heart of the city, where mature trees provide shelter from the heat of the summer sun.

DSCN7044   s0372_ss0052_it0198[1]

Clarence Square in the spring of 2014 (left) and in 1913 (right). The right-hand photo is from Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0052, Item 0198.

Clarence Square is reminiscent of squares created in London, England during the 1820s. Referred to as Regency-style squares, they were generally enclosed on three sides by stylish homes, with one side facing a wide avenue. The green space within them was usually open to the public, although sometimes, particularly in Britain, it was private. Regent Square Gardens in central London is perhaps one of the best-known examples.

The design was promoted in Canada by amateur architects such as William Warren Baldwin. When Clarence Square was built, its counterpart in Toronto was Victoria Square (old Garrison Cemetery), on the west side of Spadina Avenue, at Portland Street. The squares were like bookends, with Wellington Place (now Wellington Street) in between. Wellington Place was viewed as an ideal site for grand mansions and stately homes as it was a wide tree-lined avenue. Clarence Square was nearby, so it too was deemed to be a prestigious location.

data=RfCSdfNZ0LFPrHSm0ublXdzhdrDFhtmHhN1u-gM,d9ZELueiA3KSO1iO_ewCkml0PeJizHUz6W0UeK-m2qdISirKk1La82OHEwHG6UwdPCYdcovLzM-R3CQasRmzlfLU1_bDPTsgayMwqIf[1].png

            Clarence Square, in today’s Fashion District, Toronto

Clarence Square received its name from the third son of King George III, Prince William Henry, born in 1765. In 1789, he was granted the title Duke of Clarence and St. Andrew’s. The Duke served in the Royal Navy and became Admiral of the Fleet in 1811. The Duke of Clarence ascended the throne as King William IV, and died on June 20, 1837. This was the decade when Clarence Square was created by the British troops from Fort York. William IV was succeeded on the throne by his niece, Elizabeth Victoria, and the Victorian era began.

Because of the location of Clarence Square, for a few years it was viewed as a possible site for a new Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor, Queen Victoria’s representative in the province. However, about the year 1853, the square was no longer considered suitable for this purpose, so the land surrounding it was opened for development. John Gordon purchased property near the southeast corner of the square, and about the year 1874 built a palatial mansion. Its postal address was 303 Clarence Square. Gordon was businessman, born in Scotland in 1828, who arrived in Canada with his family in 1841. He became a partner in a wholesale importing company, and later, the president of the Toronto, Bruce and Grey Railway.

Gordon chose the architect John Browne to design his 2 1/2-storey residence. Browne decided on the Italianate style, with ornate trim and intricate classical detailing. The pediment on the north facade contained two gables. The heavy cornice below the roof was supported by large scrolled brackets (modillions). In the centre of the roof, at the summit, was  a structure referred to as a monitor, with its own roof that was parallel to the roof line of the house. The monitor contained windows that illuminated the central staircase located directly beneath it. The porch had two sets of narrow double columns, with arches above them, the columns supporting an impressive roof. The east and west facades of the house possessed rounded extensions with windows that allowed extra light into the interior, similar to the bay windows in Toronto’s Bay and Gable homes.

The mansion, near the southeast corner of the square, was an impressive sight. Its location added to its appeal since the mature trees and gardens in the square, as well as the ornate fountain in the square’s centre, created a setting that was almost rural, yet near the heart of the city.

Gordon lived in his mansion until 1879, when he departed Toronto to take up residency in Paris, France, where he died in 1882. He had retained ownership of the house while abroad, but after his death it was offered for sale. It remained empty for two years before it was purchased by his brother-in-law William Mortimer Clark. Clark maintained it as his residence until 1903. In that year he was appointed lieutenant governor of Ontario and moved to Government House at Simcoe Street and King Street West. When his term as lieutenant governor ended in 1908, he returned to his home on Clarence Square and lived there until 1912.

By this year, the area was no longer deemed prestigious due to the construction of CPR railway sidings on the land to the south of Front Street. In 1913, the Steele Briggs Seed Company purchased the property, demolished the house and erected a large warehouse on the site. 

TRL,   c. 1900  pictures-r-6486[1]

The Gordon House on Clarence Square c. 1900 (Toronto Public Library r-6486)

drawing room  pictures-r-6491[1] 

The drawing room in the Gordon House in 1912 (Toronto Public Library r-6489). The rounded shape from the exterior extensions provides extra depth and added light during daylight hours. The ornate plaster designs on the ceiling add dignity to a room that was already impressive. The large mirror above the marble mantel of the fireplace reflects the intricacy of the patterns on the ceiling

drawing room, 1912,  pictures-r-6490[1]

Drawing room in 1912, the year William Mortimer Clark departed the property. Toronto Public Library r- 6490

dining rom, 1912  pictures-r-6489[1]

Dining room of the Gordon home in 1912, Toronto Public Library, r-6489

drawing room, 1912  pictures-r-6488[1]

      Dining room in 1912, Toronto Public Library, r-6488

library. 1912  pictures-r-6493[1]

The library in the Gordon mansion in 1912, Toronto Public Library r- 6493

The north facade of the Steele Briggs Warehouse at 49 Spadina Avenue, which is today on the south side of Clarence Square, where the Gordon mansion once stood.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852_thumb

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

Grand Opera House on Adelaide Street, Toronto

                    1921-- f1231_it0843a[1]

The Grand Opera House on Adelaide Street in 1921, view looking west on Adelaide Street. Toronto Archives, F 1231, Item 0843.

Toronto’s first building purposefully constructed to house a theatre was the Royal Lyceum), opened by John Richie on September 25, 1849. It was located behind a row of buildings on the south side of Adelaide Street West, between Bay and York Streets. Patrons entered the theatre from King Street, through Theatre Lane, where there was an archway between 99 and 101 King Street. It was the city’s first opera house, though it offered more than opera, as it featured plays, groups of actors, strolling musicians, soloists, and elocutionists. Prior to the theatre being built, such entertainment was generally held in taverns, small converted temporary premises, or hotel dining rooms. The Royal Lyceum possessed a proper stage with stage lights, an orchestra pit, dressing rooms, and a balcony

Royal Lyceum. Ade,aide St. pictures-r-6837[1]

Watercolour of the south facade of the Royal Lyceum, from the collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-6837

Unfortunately, the Royal Lyceum burnt in 1874, but the year before, a new company had been created to construct another theatre—The Grand Opera House. It was to be erected at 9-15 Adelaide Street West, a short distance west of Yonge Street. The new venue was to be managed by Mrs. Charlotte Morrison, a retired actress. Its architect was Thomas R. Jackson of New York, who designed the Toronto theatre in the Second Empire style, with Mansard roofs atop its east and west wings, connecting sections, and the tower.

The four-story theatre was constructed of brick and stone, with wooden joists to support the interior walls and floors. Its interior was elaborately trimmed, its ornate gas lamps ignited by batteries. On the first floor, facing Adelaide Street, on either side of the theatre’s arched entranceway, were shops that were rented. The floors above the shops contained offices that were also rented. The funds derived from the shops and offices helped defray the expenses of operating the opera house. The theatre’s arched entranceway led patrons into to a plush reception foyer, 50 feet in depth. Beyond it was the main foyer, where the ticket booth and refreshment bars were located. Stairs on the east and west sides of the foyer allowed patrons to ascend to the dress circle and the two balconies, similar to the Royal Alexandra Theatre of today.  

The theatre’s domed auditorium accommodated 1323 patrons. On the main floor (orchestra section) and in the balconies, people sat on chairs that folded to allow access to the other seats in the row. This was a new feature not yet common in Toronto. The stage was of sufficient size to allow large-scale productions, as it was 53 feet wide and 65 feet deep. In front of the stage was a sunken orchestra pit. The building was steam heated.

The Grand Opera House opened on September 21, 1874 with a gala that attracted the elite of the city. The evening’s feature performance was Richard Sheridan’s 18th-century comedy, “School for Scandal,” with the theatre’s manager, Mrs. Charlotte Morrison in the role of Lady Teazle. When the opera house held grand balls, the seats in the orchestra section were covered with a wooden temporary floor to allow people to dance the night away within the magnificent theatre.

However, despite it being well attended, critically acclaimed, and highly popular, the theatre was not a financial success. In 1876, it was sold in an auction to Alexander Manning. Three years later, the building was badly damaged by fire. The exterior walls had not been damaged, but the interior was gutted. Manning hired the architectural firm of Lalor and Martin, and it was rebuilt in a mere 51 days. The new architects’ designs were faithful to the original plans, except that the seating was increased to 1750. The grand reopening occurred on February 9, 1880 with a production of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”During the years, famous actors who were on its stage included Maurice Barrymore (father of Lionel and Ethel) and Sarah Bernhardt. For the next two decades, Toronto’s theatre scene focused on the Grand Opera House.

In 1919, Ambrose Small, the theatre’s manager, disappeared along with a considerable amount of cash. His body was never found and the case remained unsolved.

During the early years of the 20th century, its importance diminished due to competition from the Royal Alexandra and the Princess Theatres on King Street. Finally. the Grand Opera House was closed and it was demolished in 1927. 

Sources: urbantoronto.ca—torontohistory.net—”Lost Toronto” by William Dendy. 

Map of 15 Adelaide St W, Toronto, ON M5H 1L6 

Site of the Grand Opera House on Adelaide Street, between Yonge and Bay Streets.

Canadian Illustrated News  62576-v6[1] - Copy

Interior of the Grand Opera House, Canadian Illustrated News, Canada Archives, 62576-v6 

                    ONt. Archives, 1920  I0021963[1]

The Grand Opera House in 1920, view gazing east on Adelaide Street. Ontario Archives, 10021963

 

                              Fonds 1244, Item 7069

Looking east toward Yonge Street in 1924, Toronto Archives, F 1244, Item 7069

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It 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 by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

Tags: ,