In planning for Vaudeville Revue we’ve learned a lot about Toronto’s former Vaudeville theatres that have disappeared over the years. Whether they were converted into something for a new use or demolished altogether, the are very few Vaudeville palaces still standing in our city today.
Here’s a look at some of the greats that have been lost over the past century.
1. Shea’s Hippodrome
When Shea’s Hippodrome opened in 1914 it was Vaudeville theatre in Canada was was quickly deemed one of the top 4 in North America. Sadly, this colossal beauty had a short life; the Hippodrome was demolished in 1957. For an interesting story about its very unique and very expensive Wurlitzer Organ, check this out.
2. The Standard (The Strand, The Victory, Victory Burlesque)
The Standard opened in 1921 as a Yiddish theatre and remained a centre of Toronto’s Jewish community until it was converted to a cinema in 1934 and renamed The Strand. In 1941 it was rebranded again, this time as The Victory, part of the Twentieth Century Theatre chain. In 1961 it became the Victory Burlesque, one of only 3 burlesque houses in the city. While the building still remains, the theatre closed its doors permanently in 1975.
3. Shea’s Victoria
The Shea Brothers opened their second theatre, Shea’s Victoria, on the corner of Richmond and Victoria in 1910. This 1800 seat theatre included a projector so that films could be screened in addition to live theatre performances.
4. The Uptown
Loew’s Uptown Theatre opened in 1920, a 3000 seat sister theatre to The Pantages (currently the Ed Mirvish Theatre). This one as well was created for both cinema and Vaudeville. In 2001, new regulations required the theatre to become wheelchair accessible, something that would have cost about $700 000. Despite community outcries, the theatre was demolished in 2003. Sadly, the ill-advised removal of a structural beam lead to its accidental collapse and resulted in the death of a 27 year old man.
5. The Belsize (Regent, Crest)
The Belsize Theatre opened in 1927, another venue for theatre and film. Unlike many on this list, The Belsize didn’t turn from live theatre to film, but the other way around. In the 1950s the only theatre of note showing live theatre was The Royal Alexandra (who showed primarily American shows and tours) and many felt that a place was needed to showcase Canadian theatre. In 1953 the venue ceased showing films and was renovated and reopened as The Crest, a live theatre venue. In 1971 films began showing again and in 1988 it was again renovated and reopened, this time as The Regent, a movie theatre that still stands today.
6. The Runneymede
The Runnymede Theatre opened in 1927 as an “atmospheric Vaudeville”house, the first of its kind in Toronto. The venue was meant to make you feel as though you were transported to somewhere magical and exotic; the ceiling was painted blue and bulbs were lit up like stars, silver and blue lights were projected to give the feeling of clouds. By 1999, the theatre was no longer profitable, even as a 2-screen cinema. The building was purchased by a Chapters Bookstore, and in the conversion they kept and maintained much of the interior. Today, it is the location of a Shoppers Drug Mart, and while it still features much of the original trim and interior facade, there’s something very sad looking about its current appearance.
7. Capitol Theatre
The Capitol opened in 1918 and showed Vaudeville acts and silent films. By 1933, the theatre was converted to show only films. The theatre closed its doors in 1998 and remained empty for several years, before finally being purchased, undergoing major renovations and reopening as The Capitol Event Theatre. While the seats were removed and a bar installed, much of the original ornate interior remains, much like it does at the Runnymede.
8. Academy Theatre
The Academy opened in 1914, a smaller venue than most on the list with only 410 seats. It’s not known when exactly the theatre stopped showing Vaudeville acts, or when it stopped operating as a cinema, but it is likely to have occurred sometime after the 1960s. The venue still stands, though has not operated as a theatre in years.
9. Variety (Arcadian) Theatre
I have significantly less information on this theatre, but it housed in a building built in the late 1880s, and was likely built before the 1920s. In the late 1920s its name was changed to The Arcadian, and it seems that by the 30s it was a cinema and no longer live venue. The theatre closed in 1954 and for some time had a retail show that used the old sign. However, it has since been demolished.
10. Madison Theatre (The Midtown, The Capri, The Eden, Bloor Cinema, Hot Docs Cinema)
The Madison has had more renos and new names than most on this list. It originally opened in 1913, an early Picture Palace that also featured Vaudeville acts. In 1940 it was demolished and rebuilt as The Midtown, a cinema; all that remained of the original building were the two side walls. Movie attendance declined in the second half of the 20th century, and in the 1960s it was under the new management of the Famous Players chain and renamed the Capri. In 1973 it was again re-branded, this time as The Eden, and the theatre switched from playing mostly double-bills to a heavily censored “adult”films. Come 1979, Famous Players closed The Eden and re-opened it as The Bloor Cinema, now offering first-run, family-friendly entertainment. Soon the theatre introduced memberships and classic theatre runs, and eventually became a part of the Festival Theatre circuit. In the late 2000s the theatre had a bit of an uncertain future (read more here), but eventually it was bought, renovated, and re-opened as what it stands as today; The Hot Docs Cinema.
Think we missed some important former Vaudeville theatres? Tweet us your suggestions; @BygoneTheatre #VaudevilleRevue
Want to learn more about Toronto’s theatre history? Check out this amazing blog, where I sourced a lot of our material; Historic Toronto.
We may not have a Vaudeville house to perform in, but we’ll have historic acts on our stage and artifacts and more history like this in our lobby; join us for Vaudeville Revue, June 22-24th, Alumnae Theatre. Tickets on sale now.