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Panasonic Theatre—Part II—archival photos

The Panasonic Theatre is located on the east side of Yonge Street, a short distance south of Bloor Street. It has changed named several times in its long history. In April 2015, in the Ontario Archives, I discovered several photos and a sketch of the theatre that I had not seen before.

Victoria

The theatre commenced its life in 1919 as the Victoria, when two Second-Empire houses on Yonge Street were renovated to create a theatre. The above sketch reveals the plans for remodelling the houses to create a theatre. The drawing shows the windows of the two former houses. The plans included shops on either side of the theatre’s entrance to provide rental income to offset the expenses of operating the theatre.

Victoria   3

The theatre’s name was changed to the Embassy in 1932, as shown on the marquee in the above photo. Other names it has possessed include the Astor, Showcase, and Festival. In 1993 it became the New Yorker and was renovated to accommodate live theatre. It is presently named the Panasonic. The view in the photo gazes north on Yonge Street toward Bloor, from the corner of Isabella and Yonge Street. In the foreground, on the northeast corner of Yonge and Isabella is a shop of the Reilly Lock Company, founded in 1932.

Astor, New Yorker,

This photo shows the New Yorker theatre in 1993, when it featured “Forever Plaid,” a spoof of the male harmony groups of the 1950s. The facade of the theatre shown in the 1919-sketch remains intact in this photo. Even the shop on the north side of the entrance can be seen. To create the Panasonic Theatre, the building was demolished, except for the facade, which today is covered with metal meshing. However, it remains visible beneath it.

DSCN8243

                                The Panasonic Theatre in 2015.

For a link to a more in depth post about the Panasonic Theatre:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/12/13/torontos-old-movie-theatresthe-panasonic-theatre-victoria-astor-new-yorker/

Map of 651 Yonge St, Toronto, ON M4Y 1Z9

                        Location of the Panasonic Theatre.

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

   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 Shea’s Victoria Theatre

Balwin Coll., TRL  S 1-3287 in 1955  pictures-r-5617[1]

Shea’s Victoria Theatre in 1955. Photo from the Baldwin Collection, Toronto Reference Library S 1-3287

In the early decades of the 20th century, the name “Shea” was synonymous with theatre excellence. The name referred to two brothers, Jeremiah (Jerry) and Michael Shea, born in St. Catherines, Ontario. Enterprising by nature, they realized the potential of the new entertainment medium,“moving pictures.” In 1903, they rented space at 91 Yonge Street and opened a small theatre, on the east side of the street, between King and Adelaide Streets. The theatre screened silent films, accompanied by vaudeville acts. The vaudeville’s slap-stick routines and comedians had always been popular, but it became obvious that the real attraction was now the “moving picture” shows. Films in this  decade were not as lengthy as today, so vaudeville routines were necessary if the Shea brother were to offer a performance that justified the five-cent admission price.  The Shea’s Theatre on Yonge Street was an immediate success. With the funds they accumulated, in 1910, they decided to open a larger and grander theatre.

The Shea brothers chose a site at 83 Victoria Street, on the southeast corner of Richmond and Victoria Streets. They engaged the architect Charles James Reid to design their theatre. In 1908, Reid had been appointed the official architect of the Roman Catholic Separate School Board in Toronto, and between the years 1910 and 1920, he designed many school throughout the city. He was also the architect of the York Theatre on Yonge Street, north of Bloor. Reid chose an unadorned facade for the new Shea’s theatre, with an elaborate cornice and beneath it, modillions that resembled large dentils. The design of the facade facing Victoria Street was symmetrical, except for the ground floor, where there was a door to the right of the entrance. A plain rectangular canopy over the entrance protected patrons from inclement weather as they alighted from cabs and carriages or entered on foot.

Determined to offer the best vaudeville and legitimate theatre in the city, the Shea brothers competed with the Princess and Royal Alexandra Theatres on King Street. In some respects this was not accurate, as the latter two theatres did not offer vaudeville. However, the Shea brothers did compete for popular touring plays. Shea’s Victoria, which was simply referred to as the Victoria, contained two balconies, the combined seating capacity approximately 1800 seats, of which 700 were on the ground-floor level. The projection booth was at the rear of the second balcony. A 1909 issue of Construction Magazine, a highly respected periodical, gave the theatre a positive review for its architectural design.

Despite the increasing popularity of films, the Victoria continued to offer live theatre. Barry Jones, a famous British film star in the 1920s, performed at the Victoria in 1926. In later years, Jones played Aristotle in the film “Alexander the Great.” This movie was released 1956, Richard Burton playing the role of Alexander. Jones retained fond memories of the Victoria, but stated that the Royal Alexandra was the finest theatre of them all. On April 16, 1936, “Ten Minute Alibi,” a smash hit from London’s West End, where it had played for two years, opened at the Victoria. It was one of many road shows performed at the theatre. These shows usually played between one and eight weeks, depending on ticket sales. Eventually, Famous Players purchased the theatre. 

When vaudeville died, the Victoria closed. Though empty, it was employed for special events and for charity fund-raisers, such as those for Crippled Children’s. Jewish stage plays were also performed in the theatre. Since it was not in continuous use, during the early years of World War II, big-name theatrical acts rehearsed at the Victoria prior to being shipped overseas to entertain the troops.

About the year 1944, Famous Players submitted a request for a license to convert the theatre exclusively for movies. The license was granted on December 3, 1945, the capacity listed as 1896 seats. However, difficulties with the licensing authorities continued as the top balcony did not contain proper exists, the aisles blocking the escape route. The authorities ordered the upper balcony closed. In 1947, with a reduction in seating capacity to 1260, another licence was issued. The same year, a candy bar was installed.  During the summer of 1949, the theatre closed for renovations. It received new seating and a new floor in the auditorium. These were completed by January 1950.

The newly renovated Victoria continued as one of Toronto’s largest movie theatres. However, as attendance declined, the theatre’s size made it difficult to fill. No longer profitable, it was demolished in April 1956 by the wrecking company of A. Badali, and the site became a parking lot. Another of the city’s great theatres of yesteryears disappeared from the scene.

Victoria

             The auditorium of the Victoria, photo Ontario Archives.

                         Victoria  2

                     Lobby of the Victoria c. 1946, photo Ontario Archives.

Victoria  5

Auditorium of the Victoria, the organ and organist visible on the left-hand side of the stage. Photo Toronto Archives, Series 1278 File 166. 

Shea's Victoria

The Victoria c. 1946. The facade facing Victoria Street contains the marquee, but the canopy has been removed. The facade with the fire escape faced Richmond.

Victoria  6

               Theatre ad for the Victoria published January 30, 1946.

Victoria  3

This view gazes west along Richmond Street c. 1946. In the distance the Tivoli Theatre is visible. It was originally the Allen Theatre. 

                   May 6, 1956, Toro. Ref. Lob, Salmon Collec.  pictures-r-5615[1]

View gazing west along Richmond Street, the east wall of the theatre demolished to expose the auditorium. The remains of the two balconies are visible. Photo, City of Toronto Archives, the Salmon Collection.

The following article was written by Herbert Whittaker and appeared in the Globe and Mail on April 7, 1956. A copy of it is in the Toronto Archives, Series 1278, File 166.

I paused outside the Victoria Theatre the other day and looked at the billboard. Somebody with a sense of style and maybe of irony, had printed, DEMOLITION by A. Badali. I pushed open the door and stepped inside. Mr. Badali’s show lived up to its name. What I saw without a doubt, the most devastating, shattering, heart-rendering performance the Victoria had ever witnessed. Mr. Badali was bringing down the house.

The shape of the auditorium was still there, clouded but not concealed by the debris. The proscenium arch still stood intact, although all beyond it had crumpled under the wrecker’s attacks. But it was not hard to recall the days of the Victoria’s youth, not hard to imagine these areas filled up with good citizens of an older Toronto and that beyond the arch filled in again with brightness and colour, and the actors moving about their business of fascinating.

I came back to the office and suggested that a photo should be taken immediately, if we were to catch a last look at the theatre. The editor agreed that it might be of interest to a great many people. I have reason to believe it has. In fact, one playgoer had the sound of tears in his voice when he spoke about it on the telephone.

Then I went off to meet Barry Jones, the British actor who was in town to talk about the forthcoming film of Alexander the Great, in which he plays Aristotle to Richard Burton’s Alexander.  

It was not too hard to get Mr. Jones off the subject of Alexander the Great onto that of Toronto theatres, because he has a very special affection for this town. Although widely known as a British star, through films and plays, Mr. Jones had only been in theatre 18 months when he made his first appearance here, and has had his most satisfactory experiences here during his many subsequent appearances.

“It was in 1923,” Mr. Jones recalled warmly, “when I first came to Toronto with the Cameron Mathews stock company at the Regent Theatre. It’s a parking lot now,” he added morosely. “The Comedie Theatre, which had been called the Gaiety before that was the next theatre I worked in,” he went on. “That was in 1925. It stands where the Victory Building now stands, I think. Then, there was the Uptown. That was where the Glaser Company played. I remember O. P. Heggie was in the cast, a fine actor. That was in 1926.”And Mr. Jones had played at the Victoria in 1926. This same Victoria that now entertains the wrecker Badli.

Later, Mr. Jones was to go on to greater experiences at the Royal Alexandra. It was here that his famous tours with Maurice Colbourne began, and here that they drew their biggest and best audiences, Mr. Jones recalled fondly. Those plays were history-making, as being the last of a long line of theatrical treats to come from England. Robert Sherwood’s “The Queen’s Husband,” Briedie’s “Tobias and the Angel,” Mr. Colbourne’s own “Charles I”, Shaw’s “John Bull’s Other Island” and hot from the headlines, Shaw’s “Geneva Geneva” played in the stormy year of 1939, completed in memorable cycle, and a theatrical era.

There are, then, reasons for Mr. Jones’ affection for Toronto as a theatrical centre, and particularly for the Royal Alexandra. He upholds the “Royal Alex” as the best theatre he has ever played in, anywhere. “If the Royal Alexandra was ever ton down,” said Mr. Jones threateningly, I should never return to Toronto. Don’t let anything happen to it. I smiled sympathetically, pleased with his interest. Then the echo of names came back to me—the Regent Theatre, the Comedie, the Uptown, the Old Princess, the Victoria—I stopped smiling.

I thought of the Victoria at this moment being razed to make a parking lot. I wondered if someday, somebody else would be naming theatres which no longer existed—“and then there was the Royal Alexandra and the Crest on Mount Pleasant and the Avenue, where Spring Thaw used to play. A city is bound together by its happy hours, by the memories of exciting nights spend in mutual laughter or tears at a mimic show. How many happy hours of the past are made anchorless by the demolition of the Victoria?

Walking around the side of the shattered building, I had seen a curious sight. Against one wall, as a tarpaulin, the wreckers were using a bit of old canvas they had found in the wreckage found backstage. But it wasn’t any old bit of canvas. It had once been a backdrop, on it still was the painted scene—a garden, in the Maxfield Parrish tradition, with a lovely blue vista. The old painted cloth, which once created illusions under the stage lights, now hung tawdrily in the spring sunshine, flapping idly. It might be the banner of a losing cause, so disconsolate it looked. But as I looked at it, it seemed to brighten into a gallant flag.

“Let them tear down the Victoria. Let them put a parking lot there. What I stand for is glory and colour and communication, and laughter and tears, and thrilling voices sounding out and the roar of applause to follow. What will the parking lot leave behind it, when automobiles are obsolete and gasoline outmoded?”

Mr. Whittaker was unaware that of the over 150 theatres that existed when he wrote the article, all but a handful of them would disappear. 

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 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 movie theatres—the Panasonic Theatre (Victoria, Astor, New Yorker)

Astor OA 2126

The Panasonic Theatre at 651 Yonge Street was originally a four-story residence, built in 1911 in the Second-Empire style, with a Mansard roof containing windows with ornate surrounds. In 1919, the house was gutted and converted into a theatre, named the Victoria. It screened silent movies, with a live piano player, until it was renovated in 1932 and converted to sound films. At this time, its name was changed to the Embassy. During the years ahead, the theatre’s name changed several more times, becoming the Astor, Showcase and Festival. The above picture from the Ontario Archives (AO 2126) was taken in 1935, when it was the Astor. The film on the marquee is the “Prince and the Pauper,” based on Mark Twain’s novel by the same name. The film was released in 1937.

During the 1970s, the theatre was one of the venues for the “Festival of Festivals,” which later changed its name to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). On Christmas day in 1978, I attended the theatre and saw the film “The Last Emperor, “ the story of Tao Wu, the last emperor of China. In 1993, the theatre was renovated and converted from a movie theatre into a venue for live theatre. It was renamed The New Yorker. It premiered the Toronto production of the off-Broadway musical, “Forever Plaid.” It paid homage to the harmonizing male-groups popular in the 1950s. The production opened with a spoof version of the song “Love is a Many Splendid Thing.” I remember seeing the show at the New Yorker and enjoying it immensely.

During 2004 and 2005, the theatre was demolished, except for the facade. A modern theatre was constructed on the site of the former residence from 1911. In June of 2005, the theatre was purchased by Live Nation, and in 2008 it became part of the group of theatres owned by David Mirvish. It is presently named the Panasonic, and the early 20th-century facade is mostly obscured by metal webbing.

Astor, OA 2128

The auditorium of the theatre when it was named the Astor. Ontario Archives- AO 2128

                   Astor OA 2127

The theatre lobby when it was the Astor. Ontario Archives – AO 2127. This photo was taken about 1940.

DSCN8243

The facade of the Panasonic Theatre during the summer of 2013. The facade of the 1911 house is visible behind the metal screen.

DSCN8244   DSCN8246

Views of the Mansard roof of the 1911 residence, behind the metallic screen.

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/2013/12/18/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

                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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