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Miscellany Toronto Photographs: Then and Now

Tewder

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And it leaves me thinking that the whole business about overhead wires, streetcar tracks, etc as an emblem of ugliness is a red herring. Because if the former image seems deficient to some tastes for all the overhead visual pollution, the latter image is arguably deficient for the lack thereof--it's almost as if there were just some kind of bleak, nasty malaise in the air re traditional "main street retail" going into the early-to-mid-60s; at least, if I were to look at things empathetically. No wonder modernism (or suburban living) felt like such a breath of fresh air: this is the kind of stuff that could have leveraged quite badly were Toronto more like Flint or St Louis (or Brantford).

Against that tableau, the ultra-contemporary Isaacs aesthetic in the latter photo is startling: a jolt into a Kennedy era of urban sophistication, and a harbinger of urban gentrification to come...
I don't know that it's the lack of overhead wires that makes that scene so dismal.
 

street meet

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True enough that this photo is dismal for lots of reasons. The washed out colour, the dreary day. What I think Adma was referring to is not just the lack of over head wires, but human street clutter in general, parking metres, sandwich boards, bike locks... All this kind of stuff makes a street feel lived in and inviting in a way. Non?
 

Goldie

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A happier vision

True enough that this photo is dismal for lots of reasons. The washed out colour, the dreary day. What I think Adma was referring to is not just the lack of over head wires, but human street clutter in general, parking metres, sandwich boards, bike locks... All this kind of stuff makes a street feel lived in and inviting in a way. Non?
A little colour correction will often make a scene look a lot better.
See attached thumbnail:
 

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Mustapha

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A little colour correction will often make a scene look a lot better.
See attached thumbnail:
The Goldie[n] Touch. TM





June 13 addition.




Then. Danforth Avenue. Allen's Theatre. 1920?







Now. May 2010. The Music Hall.







http://www.heritagetoronto.org/discover-toronto/photos/celebrating-90-years-music-hall



"Since the 1970s, Torontonians have known it as The Music Hall - an aging, big theatre on the Danforth that hosted both live concerts and films. What most don't know, however, is that The Music Hall is a rare gem in this city - Toronto's most intact survivor of this country's first national cinema chain. It began as Allen's Danforth Theatre, one of some 60 Allen theatres across the country, and one of 10 in Toronto alone.

The story of Allen's Theatres, and of its Danforth Theatre, is a fascinating one. The pioneering movie company began in 1906 when Jule and Jay J. Allen, sons of Russian immigrants to the United States, decided to try to make a future in the fledgling film industry. Having noted the quick success of new movie houses in their home of Brantford, Pennsylvania, they decided to find a town without one, and begin their own. From earlier travels to Hamilton, Ontario, they recalled the absence of movie houses there (Toronto saw its first moving picture show on Yonge Street in 1896). When Hamilton didn't work out, the Allen brothers chose Brantford, Ontario. The success of their first movie house led to the relocation of the whole Allen family to Ontario, and to the opening of new theatres throughout the southwest of the province. In 1909, the family sold them all, opened what was "arguably the first film exchange in Canada" and headed for the boom-town of Calgary. By 1914, they were operating a chain of nine-theatres from Winnipeg to Vancouver. In 1915, the Allen's moved their headquarters to Toronto, and launched into an expansion frenzy. By 1921, Allen Theatres included 60 theatres across Canada, one in the U.S., and plans to set up shop in the United Kingdom and Russia. Having built "one of the finest and largest theatre circuits in the world" and having exclusive rights to distribute Paramount films, Allen Theatres was a major force in motion picture exhibition and distribution.

In the midst of the fantastic growth of their company, the Allen family helped make moving pictures "respectable" in Canada. When most movie theatres were store-front, fly-by-night operations hoping to make a fast dollar and move on, the Allens pioneered a new approach to the film business: they offered patrons a beautiful setting, in the most convenient downtown locations, and with the best of service. Across the country, the Allens created stunning theatres, including perhaps the first deluxe motion picture theatre in Canada in 1913. They sold a lavish "experience" of the movies, as much as the films themselves.

Allen's Danforth Theatre followed its company's textbook style. The fifth of what would be 10 theatres either built or renovated by the Allens in Toronto between 1917 and 1923, the Danforth Theatre took advantage of a relatively new neighbourhood - one in rapid development after the expectation of the Bloor Viaduct (or Prince Edward Viaduct) promised easy access to the city to the west. The Allen's Danforth Theatre was completed in 1919, one year after the opening of the viaduct.

Well-positioned on the Danforth, the Theatre also boasted a beautiful and comfortable building. Since 1917, the Allens had hired a leading theatre architect, C. Howard Crane of Detroit, to design their new theatres with local architecture firms. For the Danforth Theatre, Crane teamed up with Hynes, Feldman & Watson, Architects. The new building closely fit the Allen mould. A combined vaudeville/movie performance venue, it seated 1,600 people. Designed in a modified Georgian Revival style, the Danforth Theatre's decorative theme was broadly Adamesque - defined by a restrained use of Greco-Roman motifs.

The completed building was featured in Construction magazine in its November 1919 issue. The article noted the "artistic and comfortable surroundings", and applauded the fact that "all elements which might tend to distract have been carefully eliminated." The result was "a harmonious and inviting effect." Though perhaps understated in comparison to other theatres of the day, the theatre boasted a wrought iron canopy on the façade and a rich interior featuring red quarry tile on the lobby floor and Venetian marble stairs to the mezzanine. The auditorium itself was defined by extensive plaster decoration on both the ceilings and walls, tapestry silk wall panels, and gold-trimmed rose velour curtains. Always good promoters, the Allens dubbed the theatre "Canada's First Super-Suburban Photoplay Palace."

Sadly, ownership of the new theatre changed before the building was five years old. As quickly as Allen Theatres rose, it fell. Stretched thin by their aggressive building campaign, the company was hurt by a recession in 1921. More importantly, they had lost their exclusive rights to distribute Paramount films to Famous Players in 1919, with whom they were now in very intense competition. In May, 1922, creditors asked the courts to declare the Allens bankcrupt. In June, 35 of the largest Allen theatres, including the Allen's Danforth Theatre, were bought at fire-sale prices by none other than Famous Players.

Renovated in 1929 by Famous Players, the Allen's Danforth Theatre became known as the Century Theatre. In the 1970s, it became known as The Music Hall, and once again hosted both movies and live performances. An important fixture in the Riverdale community, The Music Hall hosted all of the 15 annual "Riverdale Share" concerts to benefit local charities. The theatre increasingly fell into bad repair, however, with the sound of water dripping from the ceiling distracting movie goers. In 2005, the theatre was sold again. It has been partially restored, and now functions largely as a special events venue. In 2008, it is the best preserved of Toronto's 10 former Allen Theatres, with only one other, a heavily reworked Lee's Palace, still functioning as a performance venue.

Allen's Danforth Theatre was listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties in 1985."
 

Goldie

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Movie magic

Thanks for that wondrful dose of nostalgia and the history of Allen's Danforth.
I often went there when it was the Century Cinema.
These were some of my other hangouts - many years ago!
Wish I had a photo of the Iola since that's where I saw my first movie.
 

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spider

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Have we met?

These were my childhood and early teen haunts as well. I fondly remember attending Saturday matinees at the Cameo with my friends in the 1940's , stamping our feet and shouting in unison "we want the show".
 

junctionist

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And it leaves me thinking that the whole business about overhead wires, streetcar tracks, etc as an emblem of ugliness is a red herring. Because if the former image seems deficient to some tastes for all the overhead visual pollution, the latter image is arguably deficient for the lack thereof--it's almost as if there were just some kind of bleak, nasty malaise in the air re traditional "main street retail" going into the early-to-mid-60s; at least, if I were to look at things empathetically. No wonder modernism (or suburban living) felt like such a breath of fresh air: this is the kind of stuff that could have leveraged quite badly were Toronto more like Flint or St Louis (or Brantford).
I think most simply complain about the overhead wires along the sides of our streets and the big wooden poles holding them up; their idea of an attractive streetscape isn't a minimalist streetscape with no elements beyond the formula of road-sidewalk-buildings. Rather, it's one with signs, attractive streetlighting and traffic signals, healthy trees, polished storefronts and restored heritage buildings.

This photo posted by Mustapha above is a closer but nonetheless imperfect example of the idea:
 

Goldie

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These were my childhood and early teen haunts as well. I fondly remember attending Saturday matinees at the Cameo with my friends in the 1940's , stamping our feet and shouting in unison "we want the show".
My favorite memory of the Cameo is the 'Green Hornet' serial, although I more clearly remember 'Captain Marvel' at the Iola.
 

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Mustapha

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49Moore asked me to post this this evening.


" Here is another contribution. It is of the old Police Station number 4 and TFD Hose Company number 7. The combination building was constructed in 1879 at 470 Wilton Street (renamed Dundas St East) and remained in service until 1952 when it was demolished to make way for the now disappearing Regent Park housing development.

A new fire station was constructed across the street at 475 Dundas and remains serving the area today. The Police Station moved around the corner onto Regent Street and was renumbered as 51 Division after the police amalgamation in 1957.

The Gas station in the foreground became a Regent station in later years. The land was sold in the late 80's and is now the site of the community health center on the south-east corner of Parliament and Dundas."






 

Mustapha

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Then. 1935.

This is the west side of Yonge; Albertus to the south, Craighurst to the north. This block is midway between Eglinton and Lawrence.

My gramps had a laundry here from 1925 to 1975 - you can see the laundry sign and 'Low Sam' in the window. The business was started by three unrelated men all with the last name of Low, hence Low Sam; Sam being the Chinese word for three. Eventually as the partners all died leaving Gramps as sole proprietor, he adopted the name Sam Low because that's what everyone called him.

Mr. Watson's bike store was taken over by Mr. Hopkins senior and then by his son Ken. Hopkins Cycle and Sports operated until about 1995, winding up where the Club Monaco is now. More than a few older bikes in the nabe with the Hopkins sticker on the frame; I still have mine.

Sam's barber neighbour to the south was Fred Lill. Mr. Lill operated from 1924 to about 1984.

The Red and White grocery was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Maslen up until about 1975. I last met Mrs. Maslen in about 1990 - she lived above the old store.

At the south end of the block was Stan Muston florist (not seen in the old picture). It's now a Second Cup. Muston's had live ducklings in the south window every Easter. At night they would be huddled under a light for heat - girls and boys would walk out around 9pm to say goodnight. My oldest considers herself fortunate to remember as Mustons closed about 1988.



The old neighbourhood is even more appealing now. In these blocks there are interesting restaurants and shops for every budget.




 

adma

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I find it interesting that in the old photo, the laundry had a higher cornice line in its three-unit block--but in the newer photo, the line is flush...
 

seemsartless

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Mr. Watson's bike store was taken over by Mr. Hopkins senior and then by his son Ken. Hopkins Cycle and Sports operated until about 1995, winding up where the Club Monaco is now. More than a few older bikes in the nabe with the Hopkins sticker on the frame; I still have mine.
Thanks for the summary of the block. I'm sure my first few bikes came from Hopkins Cycle, I have a hazy memory of the layout, with the odds and ends along the north wall...
 

thedeepend

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You know something...re the whole "urban ugliness" argument, I've been considering the following two "before" pictures.





And it leaves me thinking that the whole business about overhead wires, streetcar tracks, etc as an emblem of ugliness is a red herring. Because if the former image seems deficient to some tastes for all the overhead visual pollution, the latter image is arguably deficient for the lack thereof--it's almost as if there were just some kind of bleak, nasty malaise in the air re traditional "main street retail" going into the early-to-mid-60s; at least, if I were to look at things empathetically. No wonder modernism (or suburban living) felt like such a breath of fresh air: this is the kind of stuff that could have leveraged quite badly were Toronto more like Flint or St Louis (or Brantford).

Against that tableau, the ultra-contemporary Isaacs aesthetic in the latter photo is startling: a jolt into a Kennedy era of urban sophistication, and a harbinger of urban gentrification to come...
Interesting points…
You’re right in pointing out that there is a certain desolate harshness that one finds in the streetscapes of the 1960’s, one that slowly goes into eclipse in the early 1970’s, with the rise of Yorkville, and the first glimmers of ‘trendiness’ on Queen Street represented by the opening of restaurants like Le Select and Peter Pan.

You can easily see how a tough, gritty city like Toronto could have tipped over into the kind of ugly and dangerous decline that destroyed so many American downtowns…and yet, there was something that allowed Toronto to shed its hardscrabble skin and transform into another kind of place.

By the early 70’s there is a definite transition going on, one that begins with new kinds of restaurants and drinking establishments, shops and services, as well as the rise of a new wave of chain stores and restaurants, many of them aimed at a younger demographic: McDonalds, Mr. Sub, Burger King; Le Chateau, Big Steel, Thriftys etc.

Greasy spoons, (‘chop houses’!) and working class bars give way to cafés and pubs with sandblasted walls and skylights. B-movie and exploitation movie houses become the city’s first repertory cinemas…

I suppose it speaks as much to the rise of a new generation of entrepreneurs as much as a change in the character the people who lived in the city. By the early 1970’s, the oldest of the baby boomers were approaching 30—and many of them were starting out in business—opening restaurants and shops, and the like.

It was clearly a very fertile time for new ideas:

On the one hand there was a generalized mainstreaming of modernist aesthetics; juxtaposed with the hippie fetish for the 'authentic' and the ‘natural’ on the other. Mixed in with that were two more extreme manifestations of changing taste: the era of ‘space age’ design crystallized by the moon landing and Kubrick’s 2001 (perfectly captured at the pop design level by the 1970’s stereo systems designed for Electrohome and Clairtone); and the opposing early rise of retro aesthetics found in early 70’s films like American Graffiti, Cabaret, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, Chinatown etc, all of which allowed for a revisioning of the way that cities and people could look. One that allowed for the urban past to be rediscovered—and be better, slicker, sexier….

All of these gave rise to a unprecedented plethora of new options for design and aesthetics, and it seems that Toronto was a city that hungrily pursued all that was on offer….
 
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thecharioteer

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Interesting points…
You’re right in pointing out that there is a certain desolate harshness that one finds in the streetscapes of the 1960’s, one that slowly goes into eclipse in the early 1970’s, with the rise of Yorkville, and the first glimmers of ‘trendiness’ on Queen Street represented by the opening of restaurants like Le Select and Peter Pan.

You can easily see how a tough, gritty city like Toronto could have tipped over into the kind of ugly and dangerous decline that destroyed so many American downtowns…and yet, there was something that allowed Toronto to shed its hardscrabble skin and transform into another kind of place.

By the early 70’s there is a definite transition going on, one that begins with new kinds of restaurants and drinking establishments, shops and services, as well as the rise of a new wave of chain stores and restaurants, many of them aimed at a younger demographic: McDonalds, Mr. Sub, Burger King; Le Chateau, Big Steel, Thriftys etc.

Greasy spoons, (‘chop houses’!) and working class bars give way to cafés and pubs with sandblasted walls and skylights. B-movie and exploitation movie houses become the city’s first repertory cinemas…

I suppose it speaks as much to the rise of a new generation of entrepreneurs as much as a change in the character the people who lived in the city. By the early 1970’s, the oldest of the baby boomers were approaching 30—and many of them were starting out in business—opening restaurants and shops, and the like.

It was clearly a very fertile time for new ideas:

On the one hand there was a generalized mainstreaming of modernist aesthetics; juxtaposed with the hippie fetish for the 'authentic' and the ‘natural’ on the other. Mixed in with that were two more extreme manifestations of changing taste: the era of ‘space age’ design crystallized by the moon landing and Kubrick’s 2001 (perfectly captured at the pop design level by the 1970’s stereo systems designed for Electrohome and Clairtone); and the opposing early rise of retro aesthetics found in early 70’s films like American Graffiti, Cabaret, The Godfather, The Great Gatsby, Chinatown etc, all of which allowed for a revisioning of the way that cities and people could look. One that allowed for the urban past to be rediscovered—and be better, slicker, sexier….

All of these gave rise to a unprecedented plethora of new options for design and aesthetics, and it seems that Toronto was a city that hungrily pursued all that was on offer….
Excellent points, deepend. Got me thinking that perhaps the building that best represents this transition is York Square on the NE corner of Yorkville and Avenue Road by Diamond & Myers (1968-9). Building on the precedent of Lothian Mews by Webb Zerafa Menkes (1964), it was one of the first projects that both preserved existing buildings and integrated them into a new structure while creating a beautifully proportioned open space. Urbanistically superb, cutting edge (for the time) in terms of detailing, fenestration and materials, it became the symbol of ot the "new" Yorkville (and "new" Toronto). Unsentimental in its handling of the old buildings, it's almost Roman in its nonchalance.




Recent:



The courtyard 1969:


1970's (or 80's?):


Recent:





 
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adma

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Interesting how the upper wall/gable of the easternmost Yorkville section of York Square was subsequently "cleaned up" in detail...
 

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