Past Pieces of Toronto: The Odeon Hyland

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally posted on December 30, 2011.

hylandad

Opening ad for the Odeon Hyland, Toronto Star, November 17, 1948.

It was a dicey proposition: testing out a brand new movie theatre, and the Shakespearian adaptation that was its opening attraction, by filling the first showing with high school students. It was especially dicey after rowdy teens had recently disrupted a recent festival honouring the Bard at the Eaton Auditorium (now the Carlu). But Odeon Theatres officials felt that filling the new Hyland theatre with students from Northern Vocational High School (now Northern Secondary) for the afternoon presentation of Sir Laurence Olivier’s version of Hamlet on November 22, 1948 was worth any potential mishaps.

According to the Star, the kids were alright:

The kids at the showing were well-behaved, far from rowdy, and occasionally spell-bound. But they also chose to laugh in the wrong places and spoiled, for some of us, the complete beauty of many performances…Incomplete understanding of the drama rather than any intended rudeness was undoubtedly responsible for these unfortunate outbursts.

We’re certain many other patrons laughed at the wrong time during the Hyland’s half-century of operation at 1501 Yonge Street. When the theatre closed in February 2001, the experience of moviegoing at Yonge and St. Clair vanished with it.

Opening the Hyland faced greater challenges than pleasing teenagers. During the fall of 1948, the city instituted daily blackouts due to power shortages. As opening day neared, power cuts increased to twice daily during the working week—one in the morning, and a 45-minute blackout starting at 7 p.m. These cuts affected the final stages of construction, including the installation of kitchen equipment and sales of advance tickets to Hamlet. With the front of the house not ready, ticket sales were moved to a nearby drug store which, as the Star reported, confused one customer:

A lady, who doesn’t believe in signs, joined a queue in front of the theatre, in hope of getting reservations for Sir Laurence Olivier’s screen masterpiece. Finally she got to the head of the line and was most provoked to learn that she’d wasted a half hour to be interviewed for a job as usherette.

Despite these problems, tickets for Hamlet sold quickly. By the beginning of December, the house was booked solid through Christmas.

ts 50-04-12 tight little island ad

Toronto Star, April 12, 1950.

One of the Hyland’s greatest assets in its early years was manager Vic Nowe. His promotional skills drew people to see both the feature attraction and the award-winning tie-ins he devised. A lobby display of Victorian wallpaper designs during the run of Oliver Twist in 1949 was so popular that it toured other Odeon locations. To promote Tight Little Island the following year, Nowe saluted the film’s Scottish setting by covering the theatre’s entrance in plaid and offering performances in the lobby by highland dancers and bagpipers. When The Lavender Hill Mob ran in late 1951, the Hyland let the first 50 men wearing bowler hats a la star Alec Guinness in for free.

hyland lobby

Lobby of the Odeon Hyland. Archives of Ontario. 

As British cultural influences waned in Toronto, the near-exclusive programming of films from the mother country at the Hyland gave way to Hollywood blockbusters. When the theatre was split into two screens in the early 1970s, it followed a trend that affected several of the city’s remaining large single-auditorium cinemas.

By 1999, declining attendance led Cineplex Odeon to convert the Hyland into a showcase for art films. The theatre was still capable of drawing people—it grossed over $50,000 in three days in December 2000 as one of a trio of cinemas that carried the initial run of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—but the move was seen as a sign its days were numbered. When Cineplex Odeon was granted interim bankruptcy protection two months later, the Hyland was closed immediately. Anyone who attempted to phone the theatre for the day’s bill on February 16, 2001 was greeted with a generic recorded message: “We are honoured to have had the opportunity of serving your community. Thank you for your patronage and support.” Those arriving at the theatre in person were advised to head to the Varsity.

Demolished in 2003, the site of the Hyland is now the entrance to a Green P lot and a walkway named after another former Yonge and St. Clair landmark, longtime CFRB morning show host Wally Crouter.

Sources: the November 19, 1948, November 23, 1948, and February 17, 2001 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

gm 1959-09-16 toronto film society

Globe and Mail, September 16, 1959.

During the late 1950s, the Hyland served as a venue for several local film societies, including the A-G-E Film Society of Toronto, the French Cine Club, and the Toronto Film Society. Until voters approved general Sunday screenings in 1961, the offerings of these societies were among the few legal ways to see a movie on the Sabbath.

boxoffice 1972-10-16 conversion of hyland

Boxoffice, October 16, 1972. 

A Pandemic Night’s Wanderings: The Beaches, AGO, Grange Park

IMG_2353a

All photos in this post taken on May 11, 2020 and copyright Jamie Bradburn. 

A crisp night with few people out and about: the perfect time for my wife and I to wander around the city.

We began our journey on Queen Street in the east end of The Beaches. So far we haven’t relied on wine to get us through the crisis, but, judging from the regular lineups we’ve seen outside of LCBO stores, plenty of others are. Perhaps this is a good time to branch out and try different brands and styles, or conduct experiments in home vintages.

IMG_2355a

Outside a pet supply store, spaces were marked out for socially distanced pickup. Or was it a tribute to those unfortunate souls who earn three strikes on Family Feud?

IMG_2361a

At Beech Avenue, a quartet of Muskoka chairs for a socially distanced rest.

IMG_2363a

Films on extended run at the Fox Theatre.

IMG_2364a

A message similar to those on marquees across the city, with a touch of Bogey.

IMG_2366a

A quiet night at the laundromat, with baskets lined up neatly in a row.

IMG_2370a

With the speed that businesses were forced to close, there are still a few St. Patrick’s Day displays kicking around. Later on, we reflected on how many window displays in the city have frozen a moment in time, and wondered if that’s incredible or unsettling.

IMG_2371a

A note of thanks painted on Valumart’s window.

IMG_2372a

We walked down to the lake, where warnings about ongoing work by the TRCA and COVID greeted us at the bottom of Silver Birch Avenue.

IMG_2375a

All along the boardwalk, there were signs that chairs and benches had once been covered with police tape, but the public had other ideas regarding their use. Other wanderers were seen admiring the clear night sky from Muskoka chairs along the beach.

IMG_2382a

After weaving our way along side streets back to the car, we headed into downtown. I’ve barely visited the core since the crisis began, and the few experiences haven’t been entirely pleasant. One night I drove along Yonge Street and played dodge ball with panhandlers driven by the lack of foot traffic into more desperate behaviour towards motorists. I feared for their safety (wandering in and out of traffic in a way that could have been fatal had they encountered road racers) and mine (blocking my path as I tried to turn, aggressively knocking on the window).  It was an uncomfortable experience for many reasons, ranging from practical (don’t accidentally injure or kill somebody!) to societal (was I nervous because these were desperate people coping with poverty and mental illness?).

We parked along McCaul across from OCAD. Few people were around, and the silence was broken by the occasional diverted streetcar passing by. The school was well lit.

IMG_2383a

At the AGO, a reminder of exhibitions I’ll never get to see. We talked about how museums might reopen, figuring those with large, roomy exhibition spaces where social distancing occur easily might return first, perhaps with reduced capacity or a reservation system for viewing time. Special exhibitions may have to have less “wow” factor to keep crowds away.

IMG_2384a

So, so quiet.

IMG_2385a

On the backside of the AGO, the garbage and recycling containers in Grange Park were taped off.

IMG_2387a

IMG_2389a

Henry Moore’s Two Large Forms seems to have found a good home in the revitalized park since moving from the other side of the gallery in 2017. Google Maps currently describes the park as a “city oasis with a Henry Moore sculpture.”

Won’t deny that…

IMG_2391a

Like several other downtown landmarks, OCAD was bathed in a purple glow to honour those working in the hospitality industry.

IMG_2398a

Its doors may be closed due to COVID, but the University Settlement Community Centre still shines its lights on Grange Road.

IMG_2401a

Among the other buildings lit in purple: Casa Loma, which we drove by on our way home.

Past Pieces of Toronto: Uptown Theatre

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was the debut installment of the series, originally published on November 4, 2011.

20111104uptown1970

Uptown Theatre, interior, Cinema 1, circa 1970. Photo by Roger Jowett. City of Toronto Archives, series 881, file 169, item 2.

Equipped with the latest in sound technology in its later years, the main auditorium of the Uptown was a great place to see films in which things go boom. As the action unfolded on the screen each punch or explosion reverberated in your seat. Such experiences, and the grand architecture and decor, made the demise of Uptown Theatre so painful: its final corporate parent refused to pay for wheelchair accessibility upgrade.

Loew’s Uptown opened on September 20, 1920 as a 1,600 seat theatre showing pioneering director D.W. Griffith’s film The Love Flower. As the Globe‘s E.R. Parkhurst reported, “it would be difficult to conceive of a theatre more admirably designed for the comfort of its patrons or better adapted for the enjoyment of the very best that brains, equipment and talent can provide in motion picture entertainment.” The opening gala saw appearances from leading lady (and Griffith’s lover) Carol Dempster, movie star/former Upper Canada College student Bert Lytell, theatre owner Marcus Loew, and Toronto mayor Tommy Church. A live orchestra was present, as it would be through the silent era until the Uptown became one of the first theatres in Toronto wired for talkies.

Following a fire in 1960, the theatre underwent renovations that, when officially unveiled to the public in 1962, the Toronto Star saw as a barely a nod to the new post-television reality of movie-going as a social occasion. “In New York,” noted Star writer Wendy Michener, “many houses serve coffee and have a really comfortable sitting-meeting-talking lounge. In Toronto, the only move in that direction to date has been the installation of hot-dog machines.” Perhaps theatre management sensed that Torontonians of the future would be able to snack on frankfurters anywhere downtown.

20111104uptownexterior

Uptown Theatre, 1970. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 111.

Shortly after the 20th Century theatre chain took over the Uptown in 1969, the cinema closed for four months as it was converted into a five-screen multiplex under the eye of architect Mandel Sprachman. Referring to his work on the Uptown and the Imperial Six further south on Yonge (now the Canon Theatre), Sprachman noted that “if I didn’t step in, those grand opulent cinema temples would be torn down and replaced with parking lots and high-rises. What I do is to give old cinemas a new lease on life. Architecturally speaking, I do my damnedest to help the old and new live together.” In the case of the Uptown, the result was a 1,000 seat main theatre for first-run spectaculars (starting with the musical version of Goodbye Mr. Chips), two other mainstream first-run screens, and the two “Backstage” theatres that specialized in art films. The complex was redesigned in eye-catching, playful pop-art influenced colours.

Over time, the Uptown became a key venue for the Toronto International Film Festival, especially as other Yorkville-area cinemas such as the Hollywood and Plaza closed their doors. When the Ontario Human Rights Commission ordered Famous Players to make the Backstage, Eglinton and Uptown wheelchair-accessible in 2001, the chain decided to close the historic theatres rather than incur the cost of required renovations. Famous Players cited a changing market and shifting demographics as the real reasons for the closures, but these were treated with skepticism in the press. The Backstage shut down immediately after the closures were announced in December 2001, and the rest of the Uptown lingered on until it took its final bow during the 2003 edition of TIFF. While the Eglinton survived as an event venue, the Uptown was sold to condo developers. Tragically, the theatre experienced a final burst of reverberating action during demolition work in December 2003 when a section collapsed onto the neighbouring Yorkville English Academy, killing student Augusto Cesar Mejia Solis.

Sources: the September 21, 1920 edition of the Globe and the August 16, 1962 edition of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

globe 20-09-18 preview of opening

Globe, September 18, 1920.

globe 20-09-20 opening gala preview

Globe, September 20, 1920.

ts 20-09-20 opening ad

Toronto Star, September 20, 1920.

world 1920-09-20 opening preview

Toronto World, September 20, 1920.

globe 20-09-21 opening night

Opening night coverage by E.R. Parkhurst, Globe, September 21, 1920.

world 1920-09-21 uptown opening

Toronto World, September 21, 1920. 

ts 62-08-16 reopening article

Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

ts 62-08-16 spiral road ad

Toronto Star, August 16, 1962.

ts 69-07-31 plans for uptown

Toronto Star, July 31, 1969.

backstage

Uptown Theatre, exterior, Balmuto Street, circa 1970. Photo by Roger Jowett, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 169.

From an interview with Mandel  Sprachman published in the June 21, 1980 Globe and Mail:

What is the role of the architect in the world of split palaces and mini-multiplexes? “If the job involves a palace,” says Sprachman, “I respect the work of the architects before me. I know they’re going to chop away at it, I can feel all the vaudeville people who once performed there–it gets pretty schmaltzy. I don’t want to do it but better me than a parking lot or a standard high-rise apartment building. The trick is to try to make cuts as clean as possible and leave as much as possible of the original building.”

star 1970-04-04 harvey cowan on uptown

Toronto Star, April 4, 1970.

tspa_0115406f_backstage

“Exuberant graphics decorate the Balmuto St. side of the revamped Uptown Theatre on Yonge St.; where the five theatres have been fitted in. The Backstage 1 and 2; entered from Balmuto; are the best part of the whole.” Photo by Dick Darrell, originally published in the April 4, 1970 edition of the Toronto Star. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive.

star 1970-12-12 toronto notebook

Toronto Star, December 12, 1970.

An excerpt from Doug Fetherling’s editorial page “Toronto Notebook.” “Marshall Delaney” was Robert Fulford’s film critic alias at Saturday Night magazine.

gm 2001-03-06 threatened

Globe and Mail, March 6, 2001.

gm 2001-03-14 keith norton letter

Globe and Mail, March 14, 2001. 

gm 2001-12-13 closure announced

Globe and Mail, December 13, 2001.

According to the December 12, 2001 Star, other estimated costs to the Uptown complex included $225,000 for a new sprinkler system, and $75,000 for upgrades to the Backstage. A Famous Players official admitted the theatres affected by the OHRC’s ruling would have closed anyway, but the decision “accelerated the plan.” The OHRC ordered Famous Players to pay five complainants between $8,000 and $10,000 each “as damages for loss arising out of the infringement of their rights.” One of the complainants was to receive an addition $2,000 in damages for mental anguish.

From the September 19, 2003 Star, an excerpt from Geoff Pevere’s column on the final closing of the Uptown:

The Uptown was the kind of theatre–old, deep and dark–that made even going to bad movies a little less painful. Even if the movie sucked, the floor was sticky and the guy in front of you kept shifting so you couldn’t see past his mullet, it felt good to be there. When an old movie theatre disappears, as just about all of them now have or soon will, with it go your memories of the emotions you experienced when seeing a movie there. This is what gives its disappearance a sadness that most other victims of dubious urban development lack: These were the places where you remember experiencing things intensely. You went there to feel fear, desire, laugh, pine and momentarily forget what awaited you outside.

star 2003-12-03 uptown collapse 2 knelman

Toronto Star, December 3, 2003.

As for the condo tower completed following the tragedy, Alex Bozikovic does not have kind words in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, calling it “a tall neo-Deco mediocrity.”

Bloordale/State Theatre

This installment of my “Ghost City” column for The Grid was originally published on December 18, 2012.

statetheatresmall

To be honest, I misplaced my notes as to where this image came from. Source info appreciated.

By the mid-1930s, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were Meccas for local moviegoers. Along their length within the limits of the City of Toronto, at least 35 cinemas offered Depression-era patrons entertainment. Among them was an Art Deco-styled theatre that provided a steady stream of magic shadows for over 30 years.

Then addressed as 1606 Bloor St. W., the Bloordale opened circa September 1935 as part of the Associated circuit. The cinema was designed by theatre experts Kaplan and Sprachman, whose other Art Deco cinemas included the Eglinton. Promotions during the theatre’s early years included a weekly Sunday-afternoon talent show broadcast on CKCL radio (later CKEY) in 1938. Music Stars of Tomorrow promised a screen test with the short lived Grand National movie company for the best performer, though we suspect that the firm’s dissolution soon after prevented anyone from achieving Hollywood glory. After a spell as part of the Odeon chain, the Bloordale was renamed the State around 1948 and joined the 20th Century Theatres circuit.

assorted state bloordale ads small

Assorted ads for the Bloordale and State cinemas, taken from the Toronto Star. Clockwise from top: February 2, 1955, February 5, 1965, and September 9, 1935.

An incident reported to provincial theatrical regulators in 1957 illustrates how well employees handled any situation. On Nov. 30 of that year, a patron carelessly tossed a lit cigarette into a room containing cardboard boxes filled with empty, returnable glass jugs. The boxes ignited, but staff quickly put out the fire. To keep patrons calm in case anyone noticed any smoke, the manager announced from the State’s stage that excess smoke from the neighbourhood had entered the theatre’s ventilation system. The report observed that “patrons received the announcement good-naturedly and the program continued without interruption or further difficulties.” Damage was estimated at five dollars.

The State continued as a first-run movie house until it closed around 1968. “Although a well-thought movie house,” John Sebert concluded in his book The Nabes, the cinema “never reached its potential, as it was on the fringe of about five neighbourhoods, but part of none.”

ts 72-11-15 will west toronto go wet

Toronto Star, November 15, 1972.

When the building was converted into the Quo Vadis banquet hall in the early 1970s, it ran into problems with the nearby Junction neighbourhood’s dry status. That the building stood within 10 feet of the southern boundary of the alcohol-free zone prompted owner Harry Snape to join businessmen from The Junction in successfully petitioning City Council for a vote on liquor during the 1972 municipal election. The dry forces, led by “Temperance Bill” Temple, went into full battle mode, claiming the money spent campaigning was better spent on footwear for children. Voters agreed, as all nine questions that would have allowed liquor were defeated. Snape, who served as the pro-booze spokesperson, warned that businesses like his would be driven away.

For years, the building housed Pekao Trading & Travel. During the late 1990s and into the 2000s, it was also home to Pekao Gallery, which Canadian Art magazine called “one of Toronto’s better-kept secrets.” Besides art exhibits, the underground space also served as a jazz venue. The building is currently home to an employment centre, frame store, and insurance office. The narrow vertical strip advertising Frame It on Bloor fills the space where the State’s projected sign once lit up the night.

Sources: Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz (Toronto: Glue, Inc., 2008), The Nabes by John Sebert (Oakville: Mosaic Press, 2001), the Fall 2001 edition of Canadian Art, and the March 23, 1972, November 15, 1972, and December 5, 1972 editions of the Toronto Star. Various reports filed in the City of Toronto Archives were also consulted.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

ts 72-12-05 wets lose

Toronto Star, December 5, 1972.

ts 72-12-09 quo vadis hall ad

Toronto Star, December 9, 1972.

No Necking Allowed in Long Branch, 1949

The following narrative speaks for itself, as an example of the “Toronto the Good” mentality (present in what was then a suburb) running up against the emergence of postwar teenage culture.

gm 1949-03-10 necking in long branch

Globe and Mail, March 10, 1949.

gm 1949-03-22 necking in long branch

Globe and Mail, March 22, 1949.

boxoffice 49-04-09 anti-necking in long branch

Box Office, April 9, 1949.

Vintage Toronto Ads: A Photoplay Palace Turns Ninety

Originally published on Torontoist on August 18, 2009.

20090818allens

Toronto Star, August 16, 1919 (upper left); Toronto Star, August 18, 1919 (the rest).

It was ninety years ago today that east-enders were first able to enjoy fine entertainment at the theatre that underwent numerous name changes between its opening as Allen’s Danforth and its current incarnation as the Music Hall. Growth in what was considered suburbia in 1919, along with the ease of reaching Danforth Avenue via the recently opened Prince Edward Viaduct, persuaded the Allen’s cinema chain to build a high-quality theatre in the neighbourhood.

The Mail and Empire provided a preview in its August 16, 1919 edition:

After having traced them half-way across the United States and a large portion of Canada, Messrs. Jule and Jay J. Allen received with great relief yesterday the news of the arrival of the 1,800 seats for their new Danforth theatre, which will be opened on Monday evening. The handsome structure is entirely complete and it is promised that it will show the people of Toronto something new in the way of cinema house construction. Although this house has been built largely for the convenience of the residents of the Danforth and Rosedale sections of the city, it is one of the largest motion picture houses in Toronto and among the most modern. There will be no formalities for the Monday evening performance, but the theatre will be open to the general public.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

No Toxie Today

The Music Hall, March 30, 2010. My notes indicate Toxie hadn’t been on the premises for awhile. The poster slots are currently filled with upcoming listings deep into 2020. Click on image for larger version.

The theatre marked its 90th with a plaque presentation by Heritage Toronto, followed by a silent feature with live piano accompaniment. As the opening night film exists in fragments, viewers saw another Madge Kennedy vehicle, 1920’s Dollars and Sense. The admission price was sensible—only one thin dollar. It was a fun evening, despite a few technical hiccups.

The Music Hall is still a busy concert venue, marking its 100th anniversary in 2019.

photoplay 1920-05 madge kennedy photo 500px

Photoplay, May 1920.

From the Toronto Star‘s August 7, 1919 description of Through the Wrong Door:

Through the Wrong Door is playing to capacity houses at the Allen this week, and the exvellent feature which is offered more than justifies the large crowds. Light, gay, and amusing, Through the Wrong Door is frankly composed to chase dull care away, and it is so well interpreted by Madge Kennedy and the cast in general that the effect is a very pleasant one. She softens and beautifies by some very fine acting the role of a bright young girl who throws over her fiance abd elopes with a man she scarcely knows. In the new dignity of one who sympathizes with the man her own father has deliberately tried to ruin, who she is assisting to achieve natural justice, she plays the part so convincingly that the sudden change of mind and heart is not only excused, but approved most cordially.

Motion Picture World, June 5, 1920.

Vintage Toronto Ads: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

gm 1969-12-20 ohmss ad

Globe and Mail, December 20, 1969.

To some, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the best James Bond movie ever made. To others, it’s the one with…what’s his name…George Lazenby? Either way (and count me closer to the former), it was one of top movie attractions for Toronto moviegoers during the holiday season 50 years ago.

How did local film critcs feel?

The Telegram‘s Clyde Gilmour felt that “newcomer Lazenby’s amateurishness as an actor sticks out all over the place, but the role has become a comic-strip character anyway. Bond No. 2 does the job quite satisfactorily.” Gilmour also believed that Telly Savalas played Blofeld “with his accustomed air of amiable deviltry.”

In the Star, Dorothy Mikos felt Lazenby was acceptable, as the role didn’t require fine acting. “All that is required is a large conventionally handsome man who can fall down and stand up on cue.”

The sourest review was courtesy of The Globe and Mail‘s Martin Knelman, who found “the new 007 bats .000.” He also didn’t care for some of the film’s audience, if this sneering observation following a packed viewing at the old Odeon Carlton theatre is any indication:

Fighting my way out of the theatre, I heard a middle-aged woman say she had been lured into the city from a suburb for the first time in months to see this movie, and now that she’d seen it, she didn’t know what to look forward to. One could fake pity for people who don’t have anything in their lives to look forward to besides a James Bond movie, but that’s really beside the point.

Knelman ended his review by comparing people anticipating Bond movies to friends who eagerly awaited trying the “far-out specialty of the month” at their local ice cream parlour. “They play at the ritual of looking forward each month to going down to sample the new flavor, and I think people go to the James Bond movies in the same spirit. Dr. No and Goldfinger were yummy enough, but On Her Majesty’s Secret Service left the same taste in my mouth as peanut butter licorice sherbet.”

Whatever, Martin.

Of the other major new releases that week, Knelman found John Vernon’s performance as an evil Castro-esque Cuban the most entertaining thing about Alfred Hitchcock’s Topaz, and felt director Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria was “just a big, crude, stupid movie.”

star 1969-12-19 movie ads 2

Toronto Star, December 19, 1969. Click on image for larger version.

A sampling of other movies that season, along with some interesting double bills assembled by the 20th Century chain.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Coming Christmas Day—The Odeon York!

Originally published on Torontoist on December 20, 2011.

20111220york

Toronto Star, December 24, 1969.

Things opened on Christmas Day: presents under a tree, cards from dear friends, bottles of wine at the dinner table, old family wounds, and movie theatres.

Yes, movie theatres.

Catching a film on December 25 is a tradition for lonely souls eager to escape painful reminders of the holidays, for families and friends to flee chaotic Christmas celebrations for a few hours, and a shared cultural experience for those who don’t celebrate Christmas in the first place. With a large pool of customers to draw upon, especially on a day when few other businesses are open, why not use Christmas to debut a splashy new cinema?

Parents may have welcomed the York Theatre’s opening bill on December 25, 1969, since neither of the main attractions was suitable for younger audiences. We suspect kids were content to stay home and play with Santa’s deliveries. Viewers could take the theatre’s spiral staircase to see a farce (Cactus Flower) or a foursome (Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice).

Blockbusters graced the screens of the York until 2001. After operating as an event venue and fitness club, the site became the Madison condo project.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

star 1984-09-19 amadeus ad

Toronto Star, September 19, 1984.

The York occupies a sentimental spot in my heart, as it was the first place I saw a drama intended for grown-ups, as opposed to family-friendly blockbusters like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. We ate dinner at Harvey’s on the northeast side of Yonge and Eglinton, then walked over to see Amadeus. Nine-year-old Jamie was impressed, following along without being bored.

Best of all, I was a big boy now! Bring on the non-kiddie films!

(I went to kid-friendly flicks for a few more years)

I wonder if my father thought it might spur me to share his love of classical music. If so, it didn’t, though I briefly explored his Mozart records when we returned home.

Given the timing of Amadeus‘s release, this may have occurred either on my last trip to Toronto before my grandmother moved down to Amherstburg or the first visit there after she left the city.

By the time I moved to Toronto in 1999, the York was nearing its end. At the time, the few remaining non-rep house single or double screen cinemas in the old City of Toronto were heading toward their demise. A survey of the scene by the Star in January 2001 indicated that Cineplex Odeon was operating the York on a month-to-month basis and a “For Lease” sign was already out front. Elsewhere, Famous Players did not renew the lease at the Plaza in the Hudson’s Bay Centre, while the fates of the Eglinton and Uptown waited for a ruling in a human rights complaint regarding accessibility (the result of which was used as an excuse for their closure).

Sometimes when an old movie house closes, we can’t help feeling that there’s something more being demolished than the broken seats and torn carpets in the lobby. For some of us, our vivid memories of movies that mattered to us long ago are all wrapped up with memories of the way we were, who was with us at the time, and, of course, the odd little details about those places where we gathered long ago waiting in the dark for something wonderful to happen. – Martin Knelman, Toronto Star, January 21, 2001.

The Revue Cinema Celebrates a Century

Originally published on Torontoist on October 19, 2012.

20121019revueexterior1941

Exterior of Revue Cinema, 1941. Archives of Ontario, AO 2020.

The Revue Cinema, on Roncesvalles Avenue, celebrated its 100th birthday on Thursday. It has outlived countless other small movie houses, and is now one of the last classic neighbourhood cinemas in Toronto.

A century ago, when the Revue cranked up its first projector, film was only starting to shed its novelty status. The major American studios of the time were doing their best to quash innovation, but they couldn’t. Movies were becoming longer, developing complexity, and stretching the limits of imagination.

Audiences were discovering the magic of the silver screen, which made Martin Scorsese’s homage to the early days of filmmaking, Hugo, an appropriate choice for a free centennial screening at the Revue last night. Just as one of the movie’s central characters, film pioneer Georges Méliès, experimented with the latest in film technology during the first decade of the 20th century, Hugo offered the Revue a chance to show off its latest acquisition: a 3D digital projector funded with an Ontario Trillium Grant.

The continued existence of the Revue is magical, especially given how close it came to permanently shutting down in 2006 and 2007. Community support revived it, and it now operates as a not-for-profit. Coinciding with the Revue’s centennial is the launch of a new membership program. The Revue Film Society (which operates the theatre) hopes the program will fund improvements, such as internal renovations and the restoration of the marquee that collapsed during the venue’s brief closure.

The Revue’s birthday celebrations will continue throughout the next week. It will be screening 17 film classics, from tonight’s showing of Singin’ in the Rain and Raiders of the Lost Ark, to October 25’s bill of It Happened One Night and The Big Lebowski. The films will be introduced by buffs, critics, fashion designers, and the next generation of film fans.

Editors note: the rest of this article was originally presented in a gallery format.

20121019roncymap1913

Detail from the 1913 edition of Goad’s Atlas of Toronto. Howard Public School is shaded in blue, the Revue Cinema in green.

During the planning stages of the Revue in late 1911 and early 1912 its owner, the Suburban Amusement Company, faced stiff opposition from school board officials worried about the detrimental effects of “moving picture shows” on innocent youth. Like any new form of entertainment in a morally uptight city, films came under fire for the potentially naughty thoughts they could implant on impressionable minds.

During the Toronto Board of Education’s January 18, 1912 meeting, trustee W.W. Hodgson successfully introduced two motions aimed to prevent the Revue from receiving a moving picture license from the Board of Police Commissioners: a request to the provincial legislature to prohibit the construction of any movie theatre within 1,000 feet of any public school, and a letter to the police commissioners to persuade them to deny the license, as it was only 250 feet away from Howard Public School (then located on Howard Park Avenue). Hodgson believed that movies drained children of morals and money. Fellow trustee Dr. J. Noble feared that films caused a condition he termed “moving picture eye” and moved a motion to have a medical inspector investigate the damage movies did to young eyes. Noble was also on the record for finding censors lax for allowing films into the country which insulted the Canadian military—“We don’t want any Yankee jingoism over here.”

The police board didn’t protest the location of the theatre. When the Revue was granted its license on January 30, 1912, the Mail and Empire observed that “the people living in the immediate vicinity did not object to the granting of the license, and in the minds of the commissioners their views were to be considered in preference to those of people who had previously objected.”

20121019cleanpictures

Star Weekly, April 26, 1913.

Given the controversy about the corruptive effects of films on children, it’s not surprising that the Revue lent its name to an advertisement promising “good, clean motion pictures” within a year of its opening. General Film was the distribution arm of the Motion Picture Patents Company, a trust of studios who attempted to monopolize the movie industry by obstructing independent filmmakers. Like most monoliths, it didn’t stay on top of developments like the growing popularity of feature-length movies. By the end of the decade, only Pathé (later absorbed into RKO) and Vitagraph (later bought by Warner Brothers) remained active out of the trust members listed in this ad, while the studios they tried to suppress evolved into majors like Paramount and Universal. One connection between this ad and the Revue’s 100th anniversary celebrations: among the studios distributed through General was Méliès, the American arm of the Star Film Company run by pioneering French filmmaker Georges Méliès, a key character in Hugo.

20121019revue1930

Toronto Star, February 28, 1930.

As the Revue was a neighbourhood theatre, it didn’t receive the large-scale newspaper ads reserved for the downtown movie palaces. It was listed among the community theatres, who received either B-movies or first-run features that had finished their runs elsewhere in the city. Married in Hollywood was a 1929 Fox musical of which only 12 minutes from the final reel is known to survive. Of the films playing elsewhere in this listing, Four Devils is considered among one of the most significant lost silent features of the late 1920s. It was one of a handful of American films helmed by F.W. Murnau, whose credits include the early vampire movie Nosferatu.

20121019revueinterior1941

Interior of Revue Cinema, 1941. Archives of Ontario, AO 2021.

By 1938, the Revue passed into the hands of Jacob Smith, who hired Sydney Roth to serve as its manager. Besides the Revue, this management team also ran the Kum-C on Queen Street West in Parkdale. They hired local theatre architectural experts Kaplan and Sprachman to remodel the theatre. Among the additions was the theatre’s signature marquee, which would last for the next 70 years. The Revue reached its peak capacity when this photo was taken—543 seats. Cramming in viewers meant sacrificing elements like a candy counter. Hungry patrons waited until 1955 before a proper snack stand was installed, for which two rows of seating was removed. 20121019twentieth1943

Toronto Star, July 31, 1943.

By World War II the Revue was associated with the 20th Century theatre chain, which eventually merged into Famous Players. Effects of the conflict on the theatre included 24-hour operation to accommodate shift workers from war production plants, and free milk for children during matinees (which was a treat given milk rations kids faced at home). The condition of the theatre varied during the remainder of its days as a first-run house. An inspection in October 1956 noted that “although this theatre is much below par and needs painting—it is being kept reasonably well maintained.” Renovations shut down the Revue for an entire month during the summer of 1965.

20121019brandofashions

Toronto Star, July 6, 1972. Click on image for larger version.

By the early 1970s, neighbourhood theatres which hadn’t been killed off by television or other factors were finding new ways to survive. While several Toronto theatres switched to porn flicks, the Revue changed from first run to rep house fare in 1972. The new programming began with a Canada Day bill of Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood and the Judy Garland version of A Star is Born—all for a nickel’s admission. The follow-up was a nine-film Marlon Brando festival, which inspired the Star to run a fashion spread based on the actor’s oeuvre.

20121019dietrichfestival

Toronto Star, August 26, 1972.

Thematic festivals were a staple of the new Revue, ranging from Marlene Dietrich to “Trains, Boats, and Planes.”

20121019kungfufriday

Patrons lined up for “Kung-Fu Friday” at the Revue, June 23, 2006. Photo by Jamie Bradburn.

The rep house market in Toronto has waxed and waned over the decades. One of its low points came in 2006 when the last three theatres of the Festival group (the Kingsway, the Paradise, and the Revue) announced their closure, blaming the move on poor ticket sales and DVD rentals. Immediately film buffs and neighbourhood residents formed the Revue Film Society to save the theatre. After a showing of Lawrence of Arabia on June 30, 2006, the Revue drew its curtains for what many feared would be the last time.

The Revue’s future didn’t look promising in early 2007. The building was put on the market. A deal to reopen the theatre fell through. Things hit bottom around 3 a.m. on February 18, 2007 when a heavy load of snow weakened a support chain on the marquee, causing it to collapse to the ground. It seemed like the final insult.

Things began looking up in June 2007 when neighbourhood residents Danny and Letty Mullin bought the property and leased it to the Revue Film Society. After volunteers spent the summer fixing the theatre up, the Revue reopened in October 2007 with a screening of Some Like It Hot. Since then, it has offered up a range of regular programming targeted parents with toddlers, bookworms, foodies, and silent film buffs.

Additional information from the January 19, 1912 and January 30, 1912 editions of the Mail and Empire, and the January 19, 1912 edition of the Toronto Star.

Days of Carltons Past

Originally published on Torontoist on November 25, 2009.

When the house lights come up for the last time at the Carlton Cinemas on December 6, it won’t the first time Toronto moviegoers will witness the closing of a theatre by that name. One version was a neighbourhood venue, the other a grand palace. Guess which one of those two is still standing?

tspa_0048344f_frantics

“The gang’s all here. The Frantics comedy show on CBC radio enjoys a cult following of nutty fans and 375 of them showed up for the taping of the one hundreth show at CBC studios on Parliament St. last night. Funny costumes were de rigueur; of course. Particularly on Grey Cup day.” Photo by Dick Darrell, 1984. Toronto Public Library, Toronto Star Photo Archive, tspa_0048344f.

The first theatre to bear the Carlton name welcomed audiences to 509 Parliament Street in Cabbagetown between 1930 and 1954. After the projectionists were sent packing, the building was used as a CBC production facility, primarily for radio. Since the Mother Corp’s departure to Front Street, the building has served as a dance space and currently houses 509 Dance and the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre.

While the first Carlton was geared to its neighbourhood, the second theatre to bear the name was designed as a showcase for British cinema giant Odeon’s post-war entry into the Canadian market. The chain spent two years and two-and-a-half million dollars constructing the Odeon Toronto (as it was originally known) at 20 Carlton Street, with the resulting product outlined by John Lindsay in his book Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres:

In the auditorium, hundreds of hidden lights constantly changed colours on the smooth plastered walls. This frequently changing light and colour was accomplished through a patented lighting panel called a “Thyratron, painting with life.” The enormous two and a half ton contour (sculpted) curtain rose slowly, it various motors lifting each swag to a predetermined height. The curtain also changed colour to match the changing colour of the walls of the big auditorium. The smooth line of the balcony swept around in a great gentle curve flaring out at the side walls to accommodate large aisles. The auditorium held 2,300 richly upholstered seats, although it was spacious enough for 3,000 or more, and every inch of the floor was broadloomed. The woodwork was light blonde and the mural on the grand staircase was in pastel tones depicting the theme of picture making. The trim was stainless steel with huge areas of mirror and other glass. The Odeon Toronto’s marquee with its huge vertical sign was the biggest Toronto had ever seen before or since.

20091125odeon1949

Globe and Mail, January 7, 1949.

“Toronto had a North American movie premiere last night fit to make the most premiere-hardened citizen of glamorous Hollywood lift his eyebrows,” gushed the Globe and Mail when the Odeon opened on September 9, 1948. “It was what they call a ‘brilliant premiere,’ noted the Star. “That is to say, a lot of people gathered in the lobby to exchange small talk.” British actors Trevor Howard and Patricia Roc provided the star power, with the latter joking that the theatre was “really too good for Canada. We have nothing as grand in London, and if you don’t want it—well, we’ll just take it home with us.” Howard played upon his mother’s Canadian roots, noting that when Odeon offered to invite his local relatives to the opening, sixty-two responded. After a few words from assorted dignitaries on stage, the curtain drew back and the audience saw the Canadian premiere of David Lean’s version of Oliver Twist.

As the Odeon chain spread throughout Toronto, it ceased making sense to refer to this theatre simply as the Odeon, so its name was officially changed to the Odeon Carlton in 1956. Business continued to be brisk for the next decade—several accounts from around the time it closed referred to a successful run of Thunderball during the winter of 1966 that saw a steady stream of sold-out crowds during the seven daily opportunities to see 007 in action. The theatre also proved to be the last movie house in Toronto to regularly entertain the audience with live organ music from the “magnificent console” its ads touted.

20091125odeon1972

Odeon Carlton, summer 1972. Photo by F. Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 158.

By the early 1970s, the theatre’s size worked against it. Average weeknight crowds of two hundred and fifty patrons were not enough to pay the bills, so the site was sold to a developer. Burt Reynolds was the last star to grace the Carlton’s screen when White Lightning entertained the closing night crowd on September 27, 1973. When organist Colin Corbett played a farewell number, audience members rushed to the stage to ask for more. The credit roll was aborted and Corbett resumed playing tunes like “Auld Lang Syne.”

The imminent threat of demolition provoked a last minute rush of ideas on preserving the theatre. Alderman Art Eggleton spearheaded an unsuccessful attempt by city council to apply a heritage designation to stave off the wrecking ball, while the Canadian Opera Company proposed to convert the Carlton into an opera house/ballet venue. While opera officials had starry-eyed visions of the possibilities that the site offered (mostly because it wasn’t the O’Keefe Centre), National Ballet of Canada Artistic Director Celia Franca had a clearheaded view of the situation. She felt the rush to look at the Carlton was an emotional one based on the circumstances and that nobody had investigated the site too deeply. Despite a few protests and notions among city councillors to expropriate the property, demolition began in late November. The seats were passed around to other Odeon cinemas and a theatre chain in Vancouver, while the organ was shipped to Queens University and installed at Jock Harty Arena.

Cinemaphiles would have to wait until 1981 for films to show again at 20 Carlton, although the address was now applied to a new building slightly east of the original.

Additional material from Palaces of the Night: Canada’s Grand Theatres by John Lindsay (Toronto: Lynx Images, 1999) and the following newspapers: the September 10, 1948, October 6, 1973, and November 24, 1973 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the September 10, 1948, and November 23, 1973 editions of the Toronto Star.

UPDATE

The Carlton’s closure was shortlived, as it reopened under new management in June 2010. As of November 2017, it’s still in business. The Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre currently occupies 509 Parliament.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If you compare this version of the post to the original, you may notice some changes. Some are subtle, like moving around images. One isn’t: replacing the original lead image, which was a contemporary shot of 509 Parliament with an archival photo. By this time, I was starting to use Torontoist’s great pool of photographers for images where appropriate. There may be some cases in upcoming posts where I’ll reach out to the photographers to ask permission to use their shots, otherwise you should expect substitutions of images I took or relevant archival material.