From Dingman’s Hall to Jilly’s

Originally published on Torontoist on May 13, 2014.

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Broadview Hotel, circa 1945. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 518. 

When it opened nearly 125 years ago, the landmark building at the northwest corner of Queen and Broadview was a community gathering spot. Fraternal brotherhoods, athletic clubs, and other local organizations met there. Political candidates stumped for east-end votes. Music lovers enjoyed the occasional concert. We suspect that dances were held, though few would have involved poles or the intentional removal of clothing.

It’s possible that some or all of these activities could return to the Broadview Hotel now that the current home of Jilly’s strip club has been sold to Streetcar Developments. If, as the new owner has indicated, condos aren’t part of the building’s future, it might make sense to cater to a wide range of interests.

The site was built for $25,000 in 1891 by soap manufacturer Archibald Dingman. The Romanesque Revival building, originally dubbed Dingman’s Hall, was the tallest on the east side of the Don River. In its early years, it featured a the Canadian Bank of Commerce branch on the ground floor, professional offices on middle floors, and grand halls on the upper levels. From the start, politicians used it for community meetings or campaign stops—in July 1891, for example, Mayor Edward Clarke convened a meeting to discuss neighbourhood concerns regarding pollution problems in Ashbridge’s Marsh (part of which became the modern Port Lands).

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Looking north up Broadview Avenue from Queen Street East, June 26, 1918. Fonds 200, Series 372, Subseries 58, Item 750.

For the next 15 years, Dingman’s Hall was a major social gathering spot for the city’s growing east end. Dingman was an absentee landlord during the last few years of his ownership, as he’d decided to pursue his fortunes in the District of Alberta in the Northwest Territories. He ran a natural gas firm which lit Calgary’s streets, and saw his name bestowed on Alberta’s first commercial oil well in 1914.

Dingman sold the property in 1906 to T.J. Elward, proprietor of a hotel near the St. Lawrence Market. Elward’s petitions to transfer his liquor licence and transform Dingman’s Hall into a hotel were opposed by local teetotallers and the Globe, which felt that the three taverns already in the area should be sufficient. In 1907, though, the plan was resubmitted to the City’s licensing department and approved—and the building was soon renamed the Broadview Hotel.

While groups like local athletic clubs continued to meet there, in some ways the building’s downward slide had already begun. Reports of ownership squabbles made it into the papers, as did charges during the mid-1920s that it sold beer that was stronger than advertised. The name evolved over the years: Broadview Hotel, Lincoln Hotel, Broadview House, New Broadview House, etc. By the time the building was purchased by Harold Kamin for under $2 million in 1986, the main floor housed a strip club.

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During the 1930s, the site was known as the Lincoln Hotel. Its neighbour was the Teck Theatre. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231, Item 641.

Jilly’s earned notoriety for its loud and public promise of “Girls! Girls! Girls!”, but it wasn’t always the dancers who drew attention. Local animal activists were horrified in December 1991 by the “Jane Jones Exotic Circus.” Ms. Jones’s striptease routines were accompanied by a boa constrictor, a python, and a 450-pound defanged Siberian tiger named Qedesh. “She brings out the animal and the tiger just lies there on the stage,” activist Liz White told the Star. “She takes off most of her clothes and kind of lies all over the tiger while a male commentator talks about how this is an endangered species. It’s unreal.” Jilly’s staff noted Qedesh was “just a pussycat.” The complaints reached city council, spurring debate on outlawing the display and ownership of wild animals.

As faded west-end hotels like the Drake and Gladstone revived in the mid-2000s, speculation about the future of the Broadview increased. Drake owner Jeff Stober fended off rumours he was interested in the property. Kamin admitted to speaking with condo developers and architects, but, as he told the National Post in 2006, “I’m at the stage in my life where I don’t want any other problems.” Articles focused on its gritty nature and the fact that it, as well as being a strip club, was home to a number of low-income tenants.

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Broadview House, July 11, 1977. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 7, Item 134.

A brief closure in November 2013 for renovations renewed interest in the Broadview’s future. Councillor Paula Fletcher moved a motion at Toronto and East York Community Council to assess the possibility of a heritage designation. (The site was listed in 1975.) Yet the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrouwer felt secure that Jilly’s would serve patrons for years to come: “As long as I live, Toronto will never again grant a licence to a strip club. Grandfathered strip clubs cling jealously to their status.”

The building’s importance may have been summed up best by architect Angus Skene a decade ago: “What is important is that the building still stands.” And as he said more generally of buildings with colourful pasts: “They’re more interesting when they’re debauched, proving that, despite where you start in life, you never know what your future holds.”

Additional material from the July 6, 1891, and May 10, 1907 editions of the Globe; the December 19, 1991 edition of the Globe and Mail; the June 16, 2006 and November 27, 2013 editions of the National Post; and the January 4, 2004 edition of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Burlesque, Yonge Style

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2007.

Vintage Ad #387: Starvin' Marvin's

Source: Toronto Life, August 1971.

There used to be a sign above a video arcade that proclaimed “Yonge Street is Fun Street.” Back in the 1960s and 1970s, much of that fun was to be had at the many bars and clubs that lined the street south of Gerrard––Le Coq D’Or, Steele’s Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, Zanzibar Tavern and so on. Depending on the venue, you could listen to music, dance the night away or catch a striptease. Today’s advertiser combined all three.

By the early 1970s, the morality rules regulating the exotic dance industry weakened as old-style burlesque houses gave way to modern strip joints. Among the rules that had been in effect as recently as the mid-1960s:

  • No touching of curtains, walls or proscenium.
  • No lying down on the stage or runway.
  • No bumping of props.
  • No body movements that could suggest a simulated sex act to the audience.
  • No running of any article of clothing between the legs.

Starvin’ Marvin’s appears to have combined the old and the new by the time of this ad––comedians continued to perform between dancers who bared more. By mid-decade the last of the old-style houses, the Victory on Spadina, had called it a day.

The stylized portrayal of the dancers fits the artwork of the era, even if one figure is quite politically incorrect. Based on figures published in the Toronto Star years later, the average dancer earned around $450 a week.

331 Yonge was also home to the Hawk’s Nest, a teen-oriented spinoff of its next-door neighbour, Le Coq D’Or. The club was named after Ronnie Hawkins, who had a hand in its operation. Hawkins used Le Coq D’Or as his base for most of the 1960s, with his backing bands a school for many Canadian musicians, notably The Band.

Painting a portrait of Yonge Street during the Christmas holidays in 1977, Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes lamented the recent closing of Starvin’ Marvin’s:

Raunchy old Starvin Marvin’s, where ladies used to undress on cue and Ronnie Hawkins used to romp, is gone, replaced, f’r hevvin’s sake, by a wholesale house that offers radios, skis, hockey sticks, chain saws and can-openers. All that is left of Starvin’ Marvin’s, in fact, is a sign advising, KEEP COOL – WE’RE AIR CONDITIONED. As the year declines toward a melancholy end, many hunger for imagery, the warm glow if fire, a reassuring star of hope. Starvin’ Marvin is dead on crass old bawdy Yonge, but God is fairly alive.

Additional material from Crisis at the Victory Burlesk by Robert Fulford (1968) and The Globe and Mail, December 19, 1977.