During the first half of the 20th century, Eglinton Avenue through Midtown Toronto was a far cry from the bustling thoroughfare we know today. In the decades before the Yonge subway first opened in 1954 with a northern terminus at Eglinton, the Forest Hill area was still a developing suburban community. Italian immigrant Agostino Arrigo Sr. was one of the first visionaries to purchase development lands along the then-bucolic Eglinton corridor, including a plot on the north side of Eglinton, just west of Avenue Road. After weathering the toughest years of the Great Depression in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Arrigo and theatre company Famous Players moved forward with plans to construct a new movie house that would become the Eglinton Theatre.
With an ambitious design by Toronto architects Harold Solomon Kaplan (1895-1973) and Abraham (Abe) Sprachman (1894-1971), styled in the then-emerging Moderne school of Art Deco architecture, the theatre opened its doors on April 15, 1936 to throngs of excited moviegoers. In the following decades, Kaplan & Sprachman's Eglinton Theatre screened hit movies ranging from The Sound Of Music to Star Wars to The Hunt for Red October before the rise of multiplex theatres led to the Eglinton's demise and subsequent April 1, 2002 closure.
Fortunately, this isn't where the story ended for the beloved cinema. Designated an historic landmark by the City of Toronto, the aging movie house would turn a new page in 2003 when hospitality and entertainment company Dynamic Hospitality & Entertainment Group announced its acquisition of the building. After restoration and renovation, the Art Deco theatre reopened that same year, now serving as a popular special events venue capable of hosting up to 1,000 guests, now known as the 'Eglinton Grand'.
Celebrating the cultural and architectural significance of the site, Parks Canada and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada unveiled two plaques yesterday respectively honouring Kaplan & Sprachman Architects and the theatre itself as a National Historic Site. To commemorate the unveiling, Dynamic hosted a ceremony attended by members of the Kaplan and Sprachman families, as well as members of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and other guests.
Sam D’Uva, Managing Director of Dynamic, told the crowd, “We’re thrilled that The Eglinton Theatre is being recognized with this honour. We want to thank the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada and Parks Canada for choosing to commemorate the property, one with such a storied history of cultural, corporate and social significance for the citizens of Toronto and the rest of the country. We’re proud that the historic building is now Toronto’s foremost destination for special events as The Eglinton Grand, with an experienced and dedicated team of professionals operating it, to ensure its viability for the future.”
With features like a sculptural ceiling, a zigzagging, stepped, and overlapping roof, and ornamental statuary to name a few, the Eglinton is considered among the best examples of Art Deco style in Canadian theatres. The installation of these two historical plaques in front of this landmark will hopefully help to draw the attention of passersby for years to come.