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Category Archives: toronto’s modern theatres

Toronto’s historic Royal Alexandra Theatre

Tor. Pub. Lib. pictures-r-4963[1]

The Royal Alexander Theatre in August, 1955 , Toronto Public Library, r-4963-1

In the 19th century, King Street was one of the most fashionable residential streets in Toronto, as well as its most important business thoroughfare. Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario was located at Simcoe and John Streets, the location of today’s Roy Thomson Hall. The prestigious private school, Upper Canada College, was at one time located at the same intersection, on the northwest corner.

In the first decade of the 20th century, a group of business men, its most important member Cawthra Mulock, decided to finance the construction of a theatre to showcase legitimate theatrical productions. Most of them would be touring shows from London and New York. They purchased an 100-foot-wide lot at 260 King Street West, on the north side of the street, between Simcoe and John Streets. It had at one time been part of the previously mentioned campus of Upper Canada College.  

The syndicate hired the architect John M. Lyle, who in later years was to design Union Station on Front Street. For the theatre, Lyle chose the style that he preferred and had specialized in—Beaux-Arts classicism. It was constructed on a steel frame, which was not common in that decade. The exterior walls and floors were reinforced concrete, over two feet thick, and the walls were covered with yellow bricks. It had a Mansard roof with eye-windows inserted in it on three sides. The balconies were constructed of reinforced concrete on steel frames. There were no internal pillars, so no seat in the theatre would have an obstructed view. Sandstone blocks were placed on the facade facing King Street to create an imposing dignified appearance. The theatre was electrified so that no candles or gas lamps were required for stage or house lights, reducing the risk of fire. The stage’s fire curtain contained asbestos, woven on steel wire. There was also an automatic sprinkler system, its water supply contained in a cistern on the roof. There were sprinklers in the ceiling of the auditorium, as well as encircling the stage area and around the curtains. When it was built, it was the only truly fire-proof theatre in North America, setting the standard for theatres throughout the continent.

The stage was 45 feet wide and 35 feet in depth. The 17-foot wings were of sufficient size for the demands of most productions. Behind the stage were dressing rooms and washrooms. The space above the stage possessed extra height to accommodate most scenery and stage sets. Though the theatre was smaller than those in London and New York, the Royal Alex was a “road house,” meaning that touring groups arrived with their own scenery, which tended to be on a smaller scale than in-house productions. In the two balconies and box seats on the sides, as well as in the orchestra sections, there were plush comfortable seats. Every detail was observed to create excellent acoustics, and the auditorium was shaped according to these principles. In summer, storage spaces under the floor contained blocks of ice, so that in hot weather, vents in the floor allowed cool air into the theatre. This was in the days prior to air conditioning.

Royal permission was granted to name the theatre after the consort of King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra. It opened on August 26, 1907 with the musical production “Top O’ Th’ World,” starring  Harry Fairleigh and Anna Laughklin. During the many decades ahead, productions of Oklahoma, Kiss Me Kate, The King and I, Call Me Madam, and the Wizard of Oz had their Toronto premiers at the “Royal Alex,” as theatregoers usually refer to it. As well, Gilbert and Sullivan Operas and productions from New York’s Metropolitan Opera have been featured at the theatre.

By the late-1950s, the area surrounding the theatre had deteriorated and it was in danger of being demolished for a parking lot. In 1963, Ed Mirvish purchased the theatre for $215,000. He was quoted as saying that any real estate deal where the asking price was less than the value of the land alone, was a great buy. Mirvish restored the theatre to its early-twentieth- century grandeur and reopened it on September 9, 1963, featuring the play, “Never Too Late.” It was the beginning of the renaissance of King Street West. Today, the Bell Lightbox and Princess of Wales Theatre complement the historic Royal Alexander. It is one of the oldest continuously operating theatres in North America.

Note: I am grateful for the information contained in the book, “The Royal Alexandra Theatre” by Robert Brockhouse.

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                                                The theatre in 2012.

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                     The canopy of the theatre on King Street West.

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                                        Entrance doors on King Street.

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                             Architectural detailing of the cornice.

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                                      Interior view from the stage.

May 2012

              View of the theatre from David Pecaut Square in May 2012.

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

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

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.  

                      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 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 Photodrome, 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)

 

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Toronto’s old 1873 Union Station

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This view of the old Union Station in 1922 gazes east from the south side of the tracks near the Esplanade. On the right-hand side of the photo, where two towers are evident, is where the arrival and departure platforms were located. The building on the left-hand side of the photo with the large single tower contains the main entrance on Front Street. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, Series 393, f1548_It17919-1

The story of Toronto’s romance with train travel commenced in 1853, when a small shed was constructed to accommodate passengers journeying to Aurora. The shed was on the Esplanade, on the site where the Union Station of today is located. Within a few years, a larger facility was desperately needed. It opened on May 16, 1858, a short distance to the east of the shed, on the Esplanade, between Simcoe and York Streets. It was named Union Station, a term employed when several railway companies united to share the same station. There are Union Stations in many cities across North America.

Toronto’s Union Station of 1858 served the needs of travellers until it was also was inadequate for a city of Toronto’s size. A new station opened on July 1, 1873, further to the west, on the Esplanade, on land that was also between Simcoe Street and York Streets. An impressive structure designed by Thomas Seaton Scott, it possessed three ornate towers in the Romanesque and Second Empire styles, similar to the facade. The station faced the harbour, as it was an era when many passengers arrived in Toronto on lake steamers. The arrival and departure platforms, which faced the Esplanade, were not protected from the elements, so passengers suffered from the whims of the weather.

 

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The structure with the domed tower is Toronto’s Old Union Station that opened in 1873, on the Esplanade, facing the harbour. City of Toronto Archives, fF1231, It0076 (1)

In 1892, the station was extensively renovated. A large shed, containing three tracks beneath it, was constructed to the south of the station. A new entrance was built on Front Street, to the north—a seven-storey building constructed of Credit Valley limestone and red bricks. Designed by the architectural firm of Strickland and Symons, it was in the Romanesque style, and connected to the southern part by a walkway that extended over Station Street. This walkway became known as “The Bridge of Sighs,” after the famous bridge in Venice. The new red-brick addition contained a Great Hall, which served as a waiting room for passengers and also possessed rows of ticket booths. The renovated station served Toronto for several decades. However, it became obvious again that a larger station was required.

In 1904, a disastrous fire swept away much of the business district of Toronto, destroying most of Bay Street. On Front Street, almost all the buildings to the east of Union Station were reduced to rubble. City officials decided the following year to remove the remains of the destroyed buildings and construct a larger train station. However, City Hall was unable to decide on the design, size and other details of the proposed station, delaying its official approval until 1914. By this time, the First World War had commenced and the labour force was engaged in war work, further delaying construction of the station.

In 1920, the Union Station of today was basically complete. However, because the various railways using the station were unable to agree on the costs and which railway was responsible for construction of the tracks and bridges over Jarvis, York, Bay, Yonge etc., the opening of the station was delayed another seven years.

In 1927, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) visited Canada to attend the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of Confederation. On August 6, 1927, he officially opened the new Union Station. However, trains were unable to depart from it for five more days, due to unfinished installations. However, even then, many passengers that arrived in the new station were forced to walk to the old station to retrieve their luggage and depart the area.

For two more years, the old Union Station remained partially in service, until the new station was fully operational, which occurred in January 1931. Then, the old station was demolished, although the large seven-storey building on Front Street survived until the following year (1931). When it disappeared, Toronto’s old Union Station remained only in memories and photographs.

                              * * *

When researching information for one of my books about Toronto, I interviewed Bernard Aldridge, who as a young man, was in the station many times, as he travelled frequently in his line of work. He was over ninety years old when I interviewed him. Most of information that he told me I was able to verify in the archives, which allowed me to feel confident that the veracity of the details I was unable to verify. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to view the station through his eyes.

The following is derived from my notes of the interview. He was describing the 1873 station, after it was renovated in 1892, and is talking about the station as he remembered it in the 1920s.

When passengers alighted from the trains, they were protected from the weather by a cavernous hemispherical iron dome, high above the tracks, enclosed at either end with expansive panes of glass. The pillars supporting the dome appeared insufficient to support the massive weight of the towering structure. On the platforms, after passengers retrieved their luggage, they proceeded up the stairs that led to a narrow elevated walkway that crossed over the tracks.

Passengers then entered the Bridge of Sighs, which crossed over Station Street. It led to a double set of swinging doors that opened onto the Grand Hall, which was about the same size as that of today’s Union Station. However, it was square-shaped, rather than rectangular. Its elegant splendour and vaulted ceiling amazed travellers, with its intricate classical designs and ornamentations. Near the top of its soaring walls were small, circular windows that allowed daylight to penetrate, splashing ribbons of light and shadow across the domed ceiling. Throughout the Grand Hall was an abundance of brightly polished brass. Every hour throughout the day, employees laboured endlessly to remove smudges and fingerprints, no opportunity ignored to remind travellers that they had arrived at a transportation temple of significance. Some stated that the hall’s magnificence resembled that of an ancient European cathedral.

The train station also attempted to satisfy the more mundane needs of travellers, as it contained a souvenir shop, a newsstand and a row of shoeshine chairs. Tickets were sold at an endless line of wickets adorned with brass grillwork. The huge benches of solid Canadian oak, over three inches thick, with elegantly carved backs, resembled church pews. They possessed no armrests. Weary travellers often reclined on these benches to nap while awaiting trains.

After exiting the Grand Hall, passengers entered a hallway on the north side, about sixty feet in length, which led to another set of double doors, surrounded by a carved archway of brown stone. Beyond the archway was a ramp that gently sloped down toward Front Street. From there, people were able to board streetcars to travel to the various places of the city that they were soon to call “home.”

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This 1910 photo reveals a train platform and the large canopy over it to protect passengers. The walkway named the Bridge of Sighs is visible, connecting the 1873 station to the seven-storey building on Front Street, built in 1892. Smoke from the train locomotives obscures all but the tip of two of the towers of the 1873 station. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 100.

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This photo was taken after landfill pushed the lake further south to create space for rail yards and buildings, and the construction of a large canopy over the arrival/departure platforms. The towers are on the south side of the original 1873 station. City of Toronto Archives, f1244, IT502 (1)

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View gazes west beneath the large canopy located in the arrival/departure area. Visible is the staircase that leads up to the narrow elevated walkway, which allowed passengers to cross over the tracks to reach the Bridge of Sighs. City of Toronto Archives, It5040 (1).

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This 1922 photo was taken from west of the station. The towers on the right-hand side of the photo overlook the arrival/departure areas and the great iron dome that covers them. The building seen on the left side of the photo, with the large tower, overlooks Front Street and contains the Great Hall. This picture shows the immense size of the station, from its south side where the tracks are located, to its north facade facing Front Street. City of Toronto Archives, Series 393, F1548, S0393, It.17919-1

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This 1923 photo looks northeast toward the south facade of the station, the north tower on Front Street also evident in the top/right-hand corner. The multitude of coaches demonstrates the popularity of passenger train travel in this decade. Toronto Archives, Series 393, F1548, It.18430.

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

To view previous blogs about movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

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.  

                      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 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 Photodrome, 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)

 

 

 

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Theatre book in TIFF book store

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

The recently published book about Toronto’s old movie theatres is now available in the TIFF book store. TIFF members receive a 15% discount on the $21.99 retail price. 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 learn more about the book, follow the link to a blog by Bernie Fletcher, who expertly explores the movie theatres in the east end of Toronto. The blog mentions some of the material in the book. http://www.beachmetro.com/2014/09/09/golden-age-movie-houses/

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), thePhotodome, 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)

                 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 .

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

To view previous posts about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/torontos-old-movie-theatrestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/canadas-cultural-scenetorontos-architectural-heritage/

 

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TIFF madness 2014—King St. festival

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King Street on the afternoon of the day TIFF opened, Thursday, September 5, 2014. The crowds had not yet gathered.

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King Street gazing west at John Street, on the evening of September 6, 2014. The crowds had certainly arrived.

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              King Street gazing east on Sunday afternoon, September 7, 2014

The closing of King Street to vehicle traffic for four days during TIFF 2014, allowed Torontonians to discover the possibilities when streets are open to pedestrians only. When we consider how many people are living in the core of the city, the surrounding suburbs, and the number of tourists visiting from around the world, it is a pity that our streets are so rarely open for strolling and relaxation. Because we live at a latitude that possesses short summers, the tragedy of this situation is compounded.

More and more people are now purchasing homes in areas throughout the metro area where they no longer require a car, in districts close to the subways or streetcar lines. Throughout the years, TIFF has constantly strived to showcase Toronto to the world. The closing of the street in front of the Bell Lightbox is a further extension of this concept. During TIFF, to stroll along King Street, especially at night, has always been a unique experience, but this year, it was doubly true. King Street looked great! It is a pity that the street was closed to vehicles for only four days.

I faithfully attend TIFF each year. I usually do not attend the Hollywood premiers, but prefer to view foreign films and relatively unknown movies that I would otherwise not have an opportunity to see, including many Canadian films. I particularly enjoy the discussions with the actors, producers and directors that follow the screenings. I consider TIFF one of the most important events of my year.

When the festival is not in operation, I continue to attend the Bell Lightbox to view some of the classics of yesteryears, particularly those that I remember from the days of my youth when I attended Toronto’s old historic movie venues. It is great to view them on the big screen as they were originally intended to be seen.

The Bell Lightbox has become an integral part of my entertainment world.

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              Cafes in front of the the Bell Lightbox on King Street West.

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A cafe/restaurant awaits the evening’s customer who wish to take in the sights of TIFF 

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The Princess of Wales Theatre prepares for the premier of the film “The Equalizer.”

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The stage on the reflecting pool on the north side of the Roy Thomson Hall, where a sound system and DJ played music for the guests on the terrace of the hall.

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Picnic tables on King Street to the west of Simcoe Street, the 1908 Union Building in the background.

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Restaurant patios directly opposite the entrance to the Bell Lightbox.

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               Giant chess board on King Street during TIFF 2014.

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                 Crowds in front of the Princess of Wales Theatre

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           The Roy Thomson Hall at King and Simcoe during TIFF 2014 

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Concert stage on the north side of King Street, between Peter and John Streets

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            La Fenice Restaurant on the north side of King Street

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                 The red carpet in the Bell Lightbox, TIFF, 2014

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                  Scotiabank Theatres, one of the venues for TIFF

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

To view previous blogs about Toronto’s old movie houses and modern cinemas

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/torontos-old-movie-theatrestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to Toronto’s Heritage Buildings

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/canadas-cultural-scenetorontos-architectural-heritage/ 

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.

                           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 .

The closing section of the book is about the Bell Lightbox, one of the best of the city’s modern theatre venues. The book is available at Chapters/Indigo and the book store in the Bell Lightbox. It will also be featured during “Word on the Street” on September 21st.    

 

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Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen

Book published in 2014 about Toronto’s old movie theatres. The book 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.  

“Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen”

                           !cid_6E1BDA0D-74B3-4810-AB4C-AC5CC5C0BE31@thehistorypress

        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), thePhotodome, 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)

Why a book on theatres ?

Several years ago I commenced this blog about Toronto’s heritage buildings and included posts about Toronto’s old movie houses. Seeking further information about the theatres of yesteryear, I searched for books to assist me, only to discover that very few were available. However, I secured a copy of John Sebert’s book, “The Nabes,” published in 2001. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as it excellently chronicled Toronto’s neighbourhood theatres, referred to as “Nabes,” but it did not include the movie houses located in the city’s downtown.

Most of us attended neighbourhood theatres only until we were of an age to travel further afield. Then, as teenagers, the downtown movie houses became the main attraction. Attending them became high adventure. After all, few memories in life are more golden than those of our teenage years and in the past, movie theatres played a major role during the formative years of many teenagers. To some extent, this remains true today.

Despite including the downtown theatres in my book, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” it is not a comprehensive study of the old movie houses of Toronto. There are too many to accomplish this within a single edition. As a result, I have selected a combination of downtown and local theatres, from the earliest days of cinema to the arrival on the Toronto scene of multiplex theatres and the Bell Lightbox, headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). I retain fond memories of many of the theatres mentioned and have included personal anecdotes, as well as stories from those whom I interviewed.

Movie houses started popping up around Toronto in the 1910s and ‘20s. The main theatre drags became the places to stroll, as young guys cruised for gals and couples wandered around places like St. Clair Avenue, the Danforth or Gerrard Street before catching films. The book entitled “Toronto’s Theatres” revisits Toronto’s historic movie houses of yesteryears, beginning with the early-day nickelodeons and the great movie palaces that followed. It explores an era when unattended cigarettes were a great danger to theatre goers. In these early decades, moral standards and restrictions on the content allowed in films were very different to today.

Discover the “Theatre Without a Name” which remains open today as one of the oldest continuously used theatres in the city. The Toronto International Film Festival now brings cinema to the city’s centre stage. Discover how Toronto became the Hollywood of the north and how the city’s love affair with film started in the movie houses of its past.

To place and order for this book, either in electronic or hard copy format, follow the link below.

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

 

 

 

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Toronto’s Bell Lightbox (TIFF) on King St. West

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I remember when the site of the Bell Lightbox, the headquarters of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), was a parking lot. I also recall the excitement that occurred when they announced that a permanent home for the festival was to be built, designed by the architectural firm of Kuwbara Payne McKenna Blumberg (KPMB). Until it was completed, the festival’s offices were to remain in several different buildings in the downtown area. The new headquarters would allow TIFF’s support facilities to be located in a single structure. Another difficulty, prior to the construction of the new building, was that the screening venues for the festival were scattered from Bloor Street in the north to King Street in the south. Since the new headquarters was to be located in the heart of the city’s Entertainment District, it was hoped that the festival’s screening venues would eventually cluster around it. This did indeed occur. 

After construction began, I anxiously watched the storeys rise, one after the other. Located at 350 King Street West, on Reitman Square, on the northwest corner of John and King Streets, it soon towered to a height of 46 floors. The name “Bell Lightbox” seemed appropriate, since Bell Corporation was a major financial contributor, and the word “lightbox” was an early-day name for a camera. The building opened on September 12, 2010, the 35th year since the inauguration of the festival, with a massive street party on King Street. Featuring live performers and concerts, it was a gala that lit the night until the early-morning hours.

The TIFF Lightbox occupies the five-storey podium of the 46-storey tower, its entire space dedicated to film—screening, archival, and educational. Above the Lightbox is a hotel/condo complex named the Festival Tower, set back from the street, with a separate entrance at 80 John Street. When sales commenced for the condos, rumours spread in the press and on the internet that Hollywood stars were purchasing condo units in the tower to provide accommodations and entertainment suites during the festival. However, the identity of the stars was kept a secret. These stories added to the mystery and glamour surrounding the building.

The TIFF Lightbox contains five cinemas, three studios, two restaurants, the Film Reference Library, a gift shop, two art galleries, a licensed lounge and a museum-quality display gallery. The members’ lounge is on the second floor, on the southeast corner of the building, with panoramic views of the street below where colourful streetcars ramble along the crowded avenue. The lobby is the equivalent of three storeys in height. An exceedingly tall escalator ascends from the lobby to the second floor. The south facade of the podium contains sheets of glass that during the day reflect the ever-changing panorama of historic King Street, and at night, its interior lights illuminate the streetscape like a giant beacon.

The theatres in the complex are among the most comfortable in the city. The rows are steeply-sloped to create stadium seating, ensuring that each seat possesses an unobstructed view of the screen. The Lightbox owns five types of 35 mm cameras, as well as one that is 70 mm.   

I toured the building after it opened in 2010 and enjoyed the experience. However, I must admit that I had never attended the festival itself. I had resisted because I did not enjoy line-ups and did not wish to sit in a darkened theatre on a sunny late-summer day. However, in 2011, a friend had an extra ticket for a screening of a South Asian film at TIFF and offered it to me. I attended and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, particularly the discussion with the stars of the film following the screening. The next day, I purchased tickets to view a movie at the Elgin, and on arrival at the theatre, my friends and I were dismayed at the length of the line-up. However, when the doors opened, the lines entered within minutes. The organizational skills of the volunteers were amazing. My resistance to attending TIFF crumbled. I purchased a membership that I intended to use the following year.

Each year since, I have faithfully attended TIFF, and now consider it one of the highlights of my year. Several weeks prior to the festival, I purchase a package and choose the films I wish to see. I tend to avoid the popular Hollywood films as they will arrive in the regular theatres at some point following the festival. Instead, I concentrate on foreign movies and films that I might otherwise never have an opportunity to see. I choose mainly evening performances to enable me to continue enjoying September’s late-summer days. This  approach works well for me, though it would not be everyone’s approach to choosing movies. I consider attending TIFF a wonderful experience. I am hooked.

The atmosphere on King Street during the festival is amazing. It’s wild, a kaleidoscope of colour and motion. While attending the various screenings, I have enjoyed conversations with strangers during the short waiting times before the theatre doors open. Inside the theatres, while waiting for the movies to begin, invariably people chat with me and share their opinions about films they have seen.

My visits to the Bell Lightbox are not restricted to when TIFF is in operation. I attend films there throughout the year. Viewing movies there is akin to attending a live theatrical performance, whether it is a movie classic from yesteryear, a foreign film, a recent Hollywood release or an art film. One evening I went to see a film about the painter Tom Thomson and was surprised to see that the theatre was full. It was gratifying to realize how much interest the famous artist generated.

On another occasion I viewed “2001 Space Odyssey,” viewing it as it was intended, with a 70 mm projector and Dolby sound. Another night a group of us saw the 1979-film “Love at First Bite.” The movie was corny and delightfully campy. Great fun! After the movie, the star of the film, George Hamilton, appeared and answered questions. The same group of friends also saw “Jaws,” and after viewing it on the big screen, we rediscovered what a terrifying film it was. The Bell Lightbox has become a regular haunt for my friends and me as it offers a wide range of films and experiences 365 days a year.

The Bell Lightbox is now an integral part of the Toronto scene. It participates in various events of the city. During the summer of 2012, the City of Toronto placed second-hand pianos throughout the downtown area and encouraged people to perform on them. Artists decorated the pianos, each one representing a country that would be participating in the 2015 Pan Am Games. The piano representing Costa Rica was in the lobby of the Bell Lightbox.

Toronto is greatly enriched by the presence of the Bell Lightbox, home to one of the world’s greatest film festivals. 

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The TIFF Lightbox and the Festival Tower Hotel/Condo above it during the summer of 2012. View gazes west on King Street.

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             The lobby of the Bell Lightbox from the second-floor level

Lobby of Light box, 2013

          Lobby of the Bell Lightbox during TIFF 2013, the red carpet visible.

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                              The Bell Lightbox during 2012 TIFF

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                 Entrance to the three-storey lobby of the Bell Lightbox

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              The south facade of the Bell Lightbox on King Street West

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

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

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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   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 .

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), thePhotodome, 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)

 

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Toronto architecture—Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinemas

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Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinema is on the second floor of the Manulife Centre, at the busy intersection of Bloor and Bay Streets. The theatre in the fifty-one-storey building was renovated in 1998 to become the Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinemas, with eight auditoriums and four VIP theatres. It was the first theatre in the city to offer small auditoriums, licensed for alcoholic drinks, with VIP service that delivered food and beverages from the snack bar directly to the patrons’ seats.  I saw the James Bond film “Quantum of Solace” in one of the VIP theatres in 2008 and was impressed, especially with the luxuriously comfortable seats. Cineplex Entertainment company now has VIP theatres in their Queensway complex and several more are under construction in their other theatres (as of 2014). The Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinema presently has twelve screens as well as 3-D projectors.

The hallways and lobby of the Cineplex Odeon Varsity Cinemas are not as elaborate as some of the other Cineplex Cinemas. The lobby and hallways contains little art work other than numerous movie posters and a large aquarium. However, it is a comfortable and well-located venue that is likely to remain popular. It screens the latest movies and continually draws crowds to its auditoriums, especially on weekends.

An article written by Adam Meyes on June 10, 2013 in the Business Section of the Toronto Star, provided information about Cineplex Entertainment. He wrote that the company presently controls seventy percent of the movie screens in Canada, even though it does not operate east of Quebec.

Cineplex absorbed the Famous Players chain and also purchased four complexes owned by AMC Corporation. One of these was the AMC Theatre at Yonge and Dundas. In November 2013, the company finally extended east of Quebec by acquiring twenty-four Empire Theatres in Atlantic Canada.

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The spacious entrance to the Cineplex Odeon Varsity on the second floor of the Manulife Centre.

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                       Hallway leading to the various auditoriums.

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                              Hallway that displays a large aquarium.

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               The auditoriums have its stadium-style seating.

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The open space in the Manulife Centre on the second floor, at the top of the escalator that ascends from the first floor level. In the photo, the entrance to the theatre is on the far side.

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

To view previous blogs about other movie houses of Toronto—old and new

The Fox Theatre on Queen Street East which has shown films since 1913.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-fox-theatre-on-queen-east/

The “Bloor Hot Docs Cinema” on Bloor Street West

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-bloor-hot-docs-cinema/

The Vaughan Theatre on St. Clair Avenue

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/torontos-lost-treasuresthe-vaughan-theatre-on-st-clair-ave/

Toronto’s first movie screening and its first movie theatre

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/torontos-first-movie-screening-and-first-movie-theatre/

The ultra-modern Scotiabank Theatre at Richmond and John Streets

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/04/04/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-modern-scotiabank-theatre/

Cineplex Theatre at Yonge and Dundas Streets

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/torontos-architectural-gems-cineplex-at-dundas-and-yonge-streets/

The Ed Mirvish Theatre (the Pantages, Imperial and Cannon)

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-ed-mirvish-theatre-pantages-imperial-canon/

The Downtown Theatre (now demolished) at Yonge and Dundas

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/torontos-lost-movie-theatresthe-downtown-theatre-on-yonge-st-south-of-dundas/

The Orpheum Theatre on Queen St., west of Bathurst

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/torontos-old-movie-theatres-the-orpheum-on-queen-st-w/

The Bellevue Theatre on College Street that became the Lux Burlesque Theatre

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/the-bellevue-theatre-lux-burlesque-theatre-on-college-street/

Old movie houses of Toronto

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/old-movie-houses-of-toronto/

The Odeon Carlton theatre on Carlton St., east of Yonge St.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/07/02/colour-photo-of-the-odeon-carlton-in-1956-a-marilyn-monroe-film-playing/

2011/07/02/colour-photo-of-the-odeon-carlton-in-1956-a-marilyn-monroe-film-playing/https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

The Victory burlesque and movie theatre on Spadina at Dundas:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/09/08/the-sinful-victory-burlesque-theatre-at-dundas-and-spadina/

The Shea’s Hippodrome Theatre on Bay St. near Queen

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/07/04/sheas-hippodrome-theatre-where-the-nathan-phillips-square-exists-today/

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/photographs-from-the-1950s-of-sheas-hippodrome-theatre-located-on-the-site-of-torontos-new-city-hall/

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/old-movie-houses-of-toronto-fond-memories-of-sheas-hippodrome/

Attending a matinee in the old movie houses of Toronto during the “golden age of cinema”

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/attending-a-movie-matinee-in-toronto-during-the-golden-age-of-cinema/

The University Theatre on Bloor St., west of Bay Street.

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/the-opening-of-torontos-university-theatre-on-bloor-street/

Archival photos of the Imperial and Downtown Theatres on Yonge Street

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/02/04/archival-photos-of-torontos-old-theatres-give-reality-to-historical-novel/

The Elgin/Winter/Garden Theatres on Yonge Street

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/torontos-architectural-gemsthe-elgin-winter-garden-theatres/

The now vanished Avon Theatre at 1092 Queen Street West

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/torontos-lost-movie-theatresthe-avon-at-1092-queen-west/

 

 

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