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Tag Archives: Ace Theatre

Memories of Toronto’s Ace (Photodrome) Theatre on Queen West.

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The above photo gazes at the south side of Queen Street West, where the Ace Theatre was located. The view looks east toward Yonge Street. The Simpsons Store, now the Bay, is in the top left-hand corner of the photo. The photo from the City of Toronto Archives was taken September 6, 1941, although there is a 1930s auto on the north side of the street.

The Ace Theatre was originally named the Photodrome, which opened in 1915. Its name was derived from an apparatus “consisting of a large wheel with spokes, which when turning very rapidly is illuminated by momentary flashes of light passing through slits in a rotating disk. By properly timing the succession of flashes the wheel is made to appear to be motionless, or to rotate more or less slowly in either direction.” (Source: Free Dictionary online.)

The theatre was one of Toronto’s early-day movie theatres. It possessed a stage, so likely featured vaudeville as well as silent movies. It was located at 39 Queen West, to the east of Bay Street. Unlike the Colonial (Bay) Theatre, two doors to the west, the Photodrome was not located in a structure that was purposely constructed for it, but was on the ground floor of a four-storey office building. The theatre possessed a large rectangular canopy that extended out over the sidewalk.

When it opened, the First World War was raging in Europe and silent movies were well attended since they provided an escape from the horrifying news from the front lines. It remained a popular theatre after the World War One and this continued into the 1920s. After sound films were introduced in the late-1920s, the theatre was converted to accommodate them. This assured its popularity during the Great Depression. 

In 1935, Sam Ulster purchased the Photodrome Theatre. In 1941, the son of Sam Ulster, Ben Ulster, renovated the theatre and reopened it on September 1 of that year as the Ace Theatre. It contained approximately 360 seats, about the same capacity as when it had been the Photodrome. For the opening, it offered a midnight show, a novel idea in this decade. Ben Ulster also owned the Broadway on Queen Street and Rio Theatre on Yonge Street. The Ulster family owned of the Town and Country Restaurant on Mutual Street. I remember this eatery very well as it was famous for its buffet, which featured roast beef and lobster. Its main rival was the Savarin Tavern on Bay Street. In 1942, the lobby of the Ace Theatre featured a display of sandbags and weapons to draw attention to the war effort and to encourage the purchase of War Bonds. The Ace Theatre was a familiar sight for many Torontonians as its huge sign, containing the letters A,C and E, were huge, each of them surrounded by large circles.

Similar to the Bay Theatre (the former Colonial), the Ace was sold to Simpson’s. The large sign for the Ace, which had sparkled nightly on Queen Street for many years, was sold to Nat Taylor’s 20th Century theatre chain, about the year 1947. It was installed on the former Regal (Iola) Theatre at 605 Danforth Avenue, which then became the Ace, but it had no connection with the theatre on Queen Street other than the sign.

Note: I am grateful to Mildred Ulster, the wife of Ben Ulster, for supplying information for this post. 

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This 1918 photo shows the Photodrome Theatre at 39 Queen West. It is on the left-hand side of the photo, with the large rectangular canopy extending out over the sidewalk. To the right (west) of it is the Colonial (Bay) Theatre, at 45 Queen West. The view gazes east along the south side of Queen Street, toward Yonge. Simpsons (now the Bay) is to the east of the Photodrome.

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This undated sketch from the Toronto Archives depicts the interior of the Photodrome Theatre. It reveals that there was a stage and that the washrooms were in the basement.

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                                     The Ace Theatre in the 1940s.

Sept. 6, 1941

Gazing east on Queen Street West toward Yonge Street, from the intersection of Bay and Queen on September 6, 1941.This photo from the City of Toronto Archives (G&M 13893) was taken at the height of the Second World War. In the right-hand bottom corner of the photo is a delivery truck of the Toronto Telegram newspaper.

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/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

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

                           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 .

 

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The Iola (Ace, Regal) Theatre—Toronto

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             The Ace Theatre c. 1948. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 89

The Ace Theatre opened in April 1913 as the New Onoka Theatre, but its name was soon changed to the Iola.  It was located at 605 Danforth Avenue, on the southeast corner at Gough Avenue. When it opened, it contained approximately 600 leatherette seats, but no balcony. The auditorium had two aisles; the seating arrangement was 5 seats on the sides and six seats in the middle section. As was usual in this decade, the women’s washroom was on the ground floor, its entrance off the foyer, and the men’s room was in the basement. The theatre’s facade was unadorned, with a plain symmetrical cornice.

In 1939, the theatre was renovated and the number of seats in the centre section of the auditorium was increased to seven seats. In 1945, the theatre was again renovated, and its name was changed to the Regal. At this time, its owner was Nat Taylor of 20th Century Theatres, who in the years ahead partnered with Garth Dravinsky to form Odeon Cineplex Corporation. Nat Taylor gave one of the apartments on the second floor of the building to his mother.

In 1947, the theatres’ name was changed again and it became the Ace. The alterations were done by the architects Kaplan and Sprachman. A candy bar was included in the plans. The sign that had adorned the Ace Theatre at 39 Queen Street West (the old Photodrome Theatre), was purchased and relocated to 605 Danforth Avenue and installed on the facade of the theatre. 

I was unable to discover when the Ace on Danforth Avenue ceased screening films, but it was likely in the mid-1950s. After it closed, it was converted for other commercial enterprises. The building was placed on the real estate market in December 1969, at the listed price of $197,000. At this time, the site was occupied by a financial institution. In the 1980s, it was the Greenview Fruit Market, and later it became a Shoppers Drug Mart. 

The building remains today (2014) but is unrecognizable as a former theatre.

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          Undated photo of the Ace, from the City of Toronto Archives

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Poster for the Ace theatre, from the late 1940s. The advertised films were quite old, even for the 1940s. Hell’s Angels was released in 1930.

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      Newspaper ad for the Ace theatre for a Saturday afternoon matinee.

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                A customer survey distributed by the Ace Theatre

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A promotional poster for the theatre, likely from 1947, when the theatre’s name was changed to the Ace.

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        An advertisement for a New Year’s Eve midnight show at the Ace

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The Ace Theatre when the film “Apache Rose” was playing. It was released in 1947, and was Roy Rogers’ first film shot in Technicolor.

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Newspaper ad for the film Apache Rose at the Ace Theatre. Photo is of Roy Roger and Dale Evans.

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                                      Newspaper ad for the Ace Theatre

Dec. 1969

     The former site of the Ace, when the building was for sale for $197,000.

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         The site of the Ace Theatre when it was the Greenview Fruit Market

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The Bay Theatre on Queen Street West, at Bay Street, when it was named the Ace. The sign from this theatre was relocated to the Ace on Danforth Avenue in the late-1940s

Note: all photos and ads were obtained form the City of Toronto Archives. The web site silenttoronto.com, by Eric Veillette, was one of the sources of information, along with the City of Toronto Archives.

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/ 

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 .

 

 

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