Tag Archives: University Theatre Toronto

Toronto’s old University Theatre Part II

                1969, Photo by J. Goode, Tor. Ref. Lib.

The University Theatre in 1969. Photo by J. Goode, Toronto Reference Library

Located at 100 Bloor Street West, the University Theatre was a short distance west of Bay Street. One of Toronto’s most popular theatres for almost four decades, it attracted patrons from across the entire city. Similar to the Odeon Carlton, it was a modern “movie palace,” even though the experts declared it too intimate to be classified as such. I do not understand this reasoning. Between the auditorium and the balcony, it contained 1350 seats, manufactured by Cana Theatre Chair Company. Its luxurious lobby was the equivalent of two storeys in height, with a grand staircase connecting the lower and mezzanine levels. Its wide screen was one of the largest ever installed in the city, ideal for wide-screen mega-hits.

Map of 100 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 3L7 

Admittedly, Loew’s Downtown (the Elgin) was larger with 1900 seats, but I believe that the University was truly a movie palace in both size and design. Its sleek modern façade had a dazzling art moderne-style marquee and towering signage, at its pinnacle the words “Famous Players.” The auditorium possessed modernistic vertical lines, emphasizing its vast height. It was one of the greatest postwar theatres ever built in Canada and was Famous Player’s attempt to compete with the Odeon Carlton. The University opened on March 25, 1949 with the film “Joan of Arc,” starring Ingrid Bergman.

My memories of the University Theatre are associated with some of the greatest mega-hits of the latter half of the 20th century. These films usually required that a ticket be purchased in advance. Tickets displayed the seat and row number, similar to live performances at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. There were intermissions halfway through the films. This feature, along with the ticketing system, added to the sense of occasion when attending screenings.

One of the first films that I recall seeing at the University was “The Ten Commandments,” in 1956. Then, in 1957, the theatre screened its first film in Cinerama. This wide-screen format was an instant hit. Other ticketed films that I remember are “Ben Hur” (1959), “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Cleopatra (1962), “My Fair Lady (1964), “Doctor Zhivago (1965) and “The Agony and the Esctasy” (1965).

The last mega-hit that I associate with the University is “Apocalyse Now” (1979). This Vietnam was film was not reserved-ticket seating. However, I can still recall how the entire theatre vibrated in the scene where the military helicopters roared across the beach, guns blazing, while majestic music thundered from the theatre’s Dolby sound system. Small wonder that the film played for 52 weeks at the theatre.

Due its enormous size, the theatre eventually developed financial problems when attendance declined. In the mid-1980s, the theatre’s manager was quoted as saying that even if the theatre were able to screen another hit with the same potential ticket sales as “Apocalypse Now,” the venue would not be profitable.

The University shut its doors in 1986. The building was demolished, except for its façade, which today is part of a high-rise condominium. However, the theatre’s box office remains, facing Bloor Street. Every time I pass it, I remember the great films that I saw at this venerable theatre.


A section of the lobby and the stairs leading to the balcony. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881- File 336


The University in 1980, after the enormous sign above the marquee had been removed. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 337

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The University Theatre in 1983, Photo City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, Fl 0124, Id. 0101

Series 881, Fl.336 It. !9A

The auditorium of the University, view from the stage area. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 336


View from the rear of the theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl. 336

5 Oct. 2013

View of the former University Theatre. When this photo was taken on October 5, 2013, the theatre has been demolished and converted for other commercial purposes. Its facade is attached to a modern condo, which can be seen behind it.


The former box office of the theatre, now employed as a display area for a shop that sells dinnerware etc. Photo taken in 2013.


The two-storey window of the lobby that faced Bloor Street. Photo, 2013.

To view the Home Page for this blog:

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

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories of the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  


   To place an order for this book: .

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

Theatres Included in the Book:

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), the Photodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)


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Toronto’s old University Theatre

                      Ao 2018

                 The University when it opened in March 1949, Photo from Ontario Archives, AO 2108

            Map of 100 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON M5S 3L7

                                           Map  from Google, 2014

Shortly after World War II, Famous Players Corporation commenced planning for a movie theatre to be built at 100 Bloor Street West, in the street’s upscale retail section between Bay Street and Avenue Road. The excavation and the pouring of the cement foundations were completed on April 17, 1947.  On March 25, 1949 the University thrust wide its doors to an eager public. The architect had been A.G. Facey, who also designed the Nortown. The University Theatre’s smooth, rounded granite facade was sleek and modern, its lobby two-storeys in height, and its Art Moderne marquee towered high into the sky. Its auditorium contained approximately 1350 seats, installed by the Canadian Theatre Chair Company. It possessed Dolby sound and an enormously wide screen, ideal for screening epic films. However, despite the theatre’s size, it was said to be too intimate to be referred to as a “movie palace.” In a way, this was a tribute to the atmosphere created by the designer of the theatre’s interior, Eric W. Hounsom.

The film on opening day was “Joan of Arc,” starring Ingrid Bergman. Matinees tickets were 75 cents, but it was $1.20 to attend during the evening. A critic wrote, “The film spread itself like a colourful mediaeval tapestry over the screen . . . a pageant, rather than a re-creation of history . . . a spectacle rather than a drama.” Some felt that Bergman was too old to play the teenager heroine, Joan of Arc. Others said that perhaps the theatre was the real attraction, not the opening film.

My grandfather thought the theatre and the film were magnificent. He had been the night watchman during the theatre’s construction and appreciated the complimentary pass he received to view the film. However, the opening meant that he lost his job. My grandmother was relieved, as she thought him too old to be travelling downtown at night to the construction site.

I will never forget the University Theatre. As a teenager and as a young man, I enjoyed many excellent movies in it.” In 1956, I purchased an advanced-seating ticket to view “The Ten Commandments,” and in 1959 the film, “Ben-Hur.” In 1963 I saw “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Watching “love among the pyramids” was a great thrill. In the 1965-movie “Doctor Zhivago,” directed by David Lean, the winter scenes, filmed in Canada, were gorgeous. However, my rear-end almost froze. Lara’s theme did not compensate, although Julie Christie was “hot.” Despite my perceived sufferings at the University Theatre, I consider myself fortunate to have attended this magnificent venue.

In my mind, Charlton Heston was forever Moses or Judah Ben-Hur. Later, he played the role of Michelangelo in the 1965 film, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” based on the novel by Irving Stone. Why he became head of the “National Rifle Association” was always a mystery to me. In the movies, he represented valour and justice, but I was never able to find any justice in promoting unrestricted gun sales. Today, I wonder if conservative-minded Charlton Heston was ever disturbed by the fact that when he performed the role of Michelangelo, he was portraying a gay man.

Eventually, the economics of operating the theatre changed. In the 1980s, the manager of the University stated that even if another film came along such as “Apocalypse Now,” which had played for 52 weeks at the theatre, it was not possible to keep the University open. Eventually, it was offered for sale. The Toronto Historical Board attempted to have it designated a Heritage Building, but the request was denied.

When they locked its doors in 1986, a truly great movie auditorium was lost. Today, the theatre’s façade is part of a condominium. This is all that remains to remind Torontonians of its existence.  Great theatres such as the University can never be replaced. Our heritage buildings disappear, and it seems that very few lament their passing. Years later, when they demolished Loew’s Uptown, my sentiments were similar

                    881-339. on May 19, 1980

The University Theatre on May 19, 1980. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881-Fl.339


Lobby of the theatre, photo from City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, fl. 336

   G&M 135159

This photo dates from about 1950, but the two feature films on the marquee are from the 1930s. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail Collection, 135159

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View of the auditorium from the rear of the balcony. City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl.336 It. 18A


The magnificent screen area of the University, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl. 336

Series 881, Fl.336 It. !9A

The auditorium from the front of the stage area, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl.336, It. 19A

Series 881, File 337

The lobby of the University, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, Fl. 337


The University was the first theatre in Toronto to screen Cinerama. It required three cameras and the theatre was renovated to accommodate its requirements.


Tickets for Cinerama at the University Theatre. Source, City of Toronto Archives.


Program for the special screening of “South Seas Adventure” at the University. Source: City of Toronto Archives.


The facade of the University, which is all that remains of the theatre (August 2013).

To view the Home Page for this blog:

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

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

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog.


                 To place an order for this book: .





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