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Movie Theatres in Toronto - Old and New

Benjamin Hemric

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Don't know how many Urban Toronto readers/posters already know about the wonderful "Cinema Treasures" website, but a recent post on Urban Toronto (in the architecture section) about Art Deco buildings (including theaters) reminded me of it, and it occurred to me that many here who don't already know about it would probably love learning about it.

Since I grew up and live in NYC, I've been most interested in the NYC theaters. But they have listings for theaters all over the U.S.A. and, when I looked just now, I see that also have listings for Canadian theaters (theatres!).

There are various search engines on the website and one can search, if I remember correctly, by theater architect, theater name, etc. (I was most active as a poster there a few years ago, so I'm not sure about how it operates these days.)

The contributions that various posters submit are really fascinating and, at least for NYC theaters, there are a number of enthusiasts who've posted tons of historic photos, etc.

Here's an attempted link to the now demolished Eaton Centre cinemas:

http://cinematreasures.org/theater/850/

If the link doesn't work, just type in Cinema Treasures in the search box of any search engine.

I hope people visit and enjoy this wonderful website.

Benjamin Hemric
Tuesday, July 20, 2010, 7:25 p.m.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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Being in the business since I was a teenager (I started as an usher at the Eglinton Theatre) I was drawn to the job being at an age when movie palaces in Toronto were beginning to fade but I have memories of some great Toronto cinemas now long gone. Cinema Treasures is a great site, a regular haunt of mine too. I worked at and also had access to roam and explore many old treasures in Toronto & Hamilton such as The Park, University, The Eve, The Paradise, Uptown, Palace, The Hyland, Imperial Six (now The Canon Theatre), Elgin (when it was a cinema), Hollywood, Runnymede, Tivoli, Century, Avon and more that I can't think of plus the newer complexes of course. The older cinemas were so magical in my mind with so many areas sealed off to the public for years and often decades to explore. Covered orchestra pits, backstage areas behind screens, dressing rooms, old coal burning boiler rooms deep down below and of course the most famous of all, what remained of the Wintergarden Theatre that sat way above the Elgin sealed off for over half a century decaying and practically forgotten. I often wish that I had been around in the 60's before so many of the grand movie palaces started falling to the wrecker's block but thankfully we at least have photographic evidence of these treasures now long gone.
 

kettal

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Can somebody explain why all movie theatres blast the AC like mad? What happened to setting the thermostat at a comfortable temperature?
 

SimonP

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Another great site on Toronto cinemas is Silent Toronto, which has detailed reminiscences about many of the old theatres.
 

Torontovibe

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The best place to see a movie in Toronto, back in the 70's, was the University Theatre, on Bloor Street. The theatre was huge, I think around 1000 seats. It got all the big, blockbuster movies and seeing a movie there was like an event. It was very exciting for a young, suburban boy. I miss those huge cinemas.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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The University was the best place to see a big Hollywood film in the 70's & 80's until it closed in 1986. It had a huge screen, two balconies, the best sound in the city and it got all the big 70MM blockbusters, often on exclusive runs (Logan's Run, The Black Hole, Apocalypse Now, Altered States, The Ninth Configuration, Alien) & on and on. I'm pretty sure that The University sat a little over 1600 people.
There were other great old cinemas in the 70's & 80's to see the blockbusters with big screens and great stereo sound, The Eglinton of course, The Carlton, the short lived Palace (cinema #1), The York (cinema #1), the Uptown (cinema #1), The Roxy (and not just for Rocky Horror), The Fairlawn and a few others. There were also great old cinemas that would play off-beat films like The International, The Town, The New Yorker/Showcase, The Cinema, Cinema Lumiere, The Capitol & Cinecity. My favorates as a teenager & when in my early 20's were the grindhouses like The Downtown, The Rio, Biltmore, Coronet, The Elgin (aka Yonge) and of course the Imperial Six, which wasn't really a grindhouse but it played all the big action & horror films. I miss those days. The burbs were littered with cinemas too but to me they didn't seem to have the magic and excitement of the old downtown/midtown cinemas.
 

Blovertis

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One thing I found exciting about the University was that they used to put up custom signage on the marquee advertising whatever was "now playing". In the days before front-loaded runs, "big" films like Apocalypse Now or Murder On The Orient Express were expected to play for six weeks or more.
 

Torontovibe

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I remember when The Exorcist opened at the University, it was a huge event. I went down and tried to get in to the theatre using fake ID (a female ID somebody had, I was DESPERATE lol) but was turned away. It was restricted to 18 and over and I was about 14/15 but wanted to see it so badly. It was reported on the news that people vomited and some ran screaming from the theatre. lol I just remember it being such a big event. Movie openings are so non-events these days. I guess when you have a theatre with over 1000 people all lined up along Bloor Street, it just becomes a circus, especially in the case of The Exorcist, with all the news media out there. When I finally saw it years later (I think in a rep theatre) I loved it!
 

Tewder

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Almost as exciting as the opening of a condo sales office near Bloor.
 

dt_toronto_geek

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I remember when The Exorcist opened at the University, it was a huge event. I went down and tried to get in to the theatre using fake ID (a female ID somebody had, I was DESPERATE lol) but was turned away. It was restricted to 18 and over and I was about 14/15 but wanted to see it so badly. It was reported on the news that people vomited and some ran screaming from the theatre. lol I just remember it being such a big event. Movie openings are so non-events these days. I guess when you have a theatre with over 1000 people all lined up along Bloor Street, it just becomes a circus, especially in the case of The Exorcist, with all the news media out there. When I finally saw it years later (I think in a rep theatre) I loved it!
I first saw The Exorcist at the Imperial Six during a re-issue around 1977 or 78 and got in no problem, no one cared there. I had similar experiences with Restricted films at the University with Altered States (it took me two tries until I got in) and Alien which took me 4 or 5 tries. I bought my ticket through a newspaper order form for Apocalypse Now and got a hard ticket in the mail a few weeks later. When the date came to see it I borrowed a friend's ID and wouldn't you know it, no one asked for it!
Most cinemas were easy to get into for Restricted movies when I was a teenager, the only other problem I recall was when I saw Dressed to Kill at the Plaza Cinemas. I got in OK but when I came out of the auditorium for concessions I got asked for ID by an older woman who worked there. I gave her a fake date of birth and she begrudgingly let me back into the auditorium but I remember I was shaking in my sneakers, she was very intimidating!
 

wwwebster

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For the possible interest of Toronto theatre buffs, some articles from the trade journal Construction:

Loew’s Yonge Street (now Elgin & Wintergarden), April 1915 (12 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour08macduoft#page/132/mode/2up/

Shea’s Hippodrome, April 1915 (7 pages, followed by Beaver, Big Nickel and York Theatres):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour08macduoft#page/144/mode/2up/

Allen (later Tivoli) Theatre, 13 Richmond East, February 1918 (7 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour11macduoft#page/38/mode/2up/

New Princess Theatre, 167-173 King West, February 1918 (5 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour11macduoft#page/n69/mode/2up/

Allen’s Bloor (now Lee’s Palace), May 1919 (6 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour12macduoft#page/146/mode/2up/

Allen’s Danforth (now Music Hall), November 1919 (6 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour12macduoft#page/344/mode/2up/

Pantages Theatre & Loew’s Uptown, November 1920 (12 pages):

http://www.archive.org/stream/constructionjour13macduoft#page/338/mode/2up/
 

dt_toronto_geek

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For the possible interest of Toronto theatre buffs, some articles from the trade journal Construction
WOW! Phenomenal links, thank you!!!!
 

dt_toronto_geek

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I always enjoyed the Uptown theatre, until the OHRC and five complaints had it shut down and demolished.
Nope. Once again I'll reinterate, the cinema chain chose not invest the money to make it accessible and eventually shut it down as the sale of the property was worth a fortune for their bottom line. The OHRC only passed down the ruling on this and a couple of other cinema complexes in Toronto. When they ran into their first complaint with the OHRC in the early 90's with the Cumberland, they had the place fully accessible in a year.
 

TJ O'Pootertoot

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It's a bit of semantics, isn't it?
That's not to say it's the OHRCs fault - they were right about both theatres needing upgrades - but that's what gave Famous Players the excuse to shut down both theatres.

I was born in the 70s but I have fond recollections of my dad taking me to Empire Strikes Back at the University, and seeing the 70mm Hamlet and Star Wars Special Editions at the York; and Titanic at the Eglinton - and they're all gone.

The quality of some of the multiplexes is legitimately better than what was out there in the 80s and 90s but it's sad that at least a couple of the great, old theatres (in terms of quality and atmosphere) went in such a short time.
 

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