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Toronto’s old movie houses—the St. Clair Theatre (near Dufferin St.)
The above photo was taken in March of 1921, gazing east along St. Clair Avenue, from a short distance to the west of Dufferin Street. In this decade, the streetcars travelled on their own right-of-way, similar to today. On the northeast corner of St. Clair and Dufferin is the Imperial Bank (it later became the CIBC). To the east of the bank there is a row of shops, and to the east of them is the St. Clair Theatre. To the east of the theatre, partially blocked from view, is St. Clare Roman Catholic Church. This photo is from the City of Toronto Archives, from the Salmon Collection (It. 222).
The St. Clair Theatre was at 1154-56 St. Clair Avenue, near the northeast corner of St. Clair and Dufferin streets. When it opened in 1921, it was in the heart of the shopping district of the suburban community of Earlscourt, an area where many British immigrants resided. As it was an era without TV, and even radio being rare, St. Clair Avenue was “the place” to stroll whenever the weather permitted. Young men cruised the streets for gals, and couples wandered along the avenue, many of them attending the new theatre for an evening’s entertainment. The original plans for the theatre were drawn up in February of 1919 for the Allen Chain, and it opened its doors in 1921. The architect were Hynes, Feldman and Watson. The firm employed a similar design for the Parkdale Theatre on Queen Street.
The yellow-brick St. Clair Theatre was a large structure that dominated the streetscape. It contained 1137 leatherette seats and a balcony that accommodated a further 419 patrons. When it opened, there was no air-conditioning. The license was eventually transferred to Famous Players Corporation. A candy bar was installed in 1947. In 1950 the theatre was extensively renovated and new seats installed. The number of seats on the main floor was reduced to 1030 and the balcony to 400.
On August 14, 1956 a fire broke out at 10:15 pm in the backstage area. There was no panic and the theatre was quickly evacuated. It was discovered that a cigarette in the ushers’ dressing room was the cause of the fire. The damage was slight and the theatre reopened the following day. In the 1960s, because of the demographic changes in the district, the theatre was converted to screening Italian films and the theatre was altered to contain two auditoriums. In 1967, a three-year-old child was discovered inside the auditorium. No one ever determined how the youngster entered the theatre. People were scandalized by the incident as two restricted films were being shown.
Because the theatre auditorium was parallel to the street, after the theatre closed, it was easy to convert the structure to shops that faced the avenue for easy pedestrian access.
Information for this post form the files of the City of Toronto Archives.
The south facade of the St. Clair Theatre. This photo from the City of Toronto Archives (Series 2182-A-35099-1) was likely taken in 1950, since a 1949 Torpedo-back Pontiac is parked outside the theatre.
The orchestra and balcony of the St. Clair Theatre. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, AO 2179.
View of the interior from the rear of the theatre, looking toward the screen. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, A0 2178.
Entrance of the St. Clair Theatre. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, from the collection of the Ontario Archives, AO 2181.
This photo was likely taken about the year 1951, as the film shown on the marque, “No Way Out,” was released in 1950. Photo from the City of Toronto Archives, A0 2183.
View looking west along St. Clair Avenue toward Dufferin Street in September of 2013. The Church of St. Clare is in the foreground, on the northeast corner of St. Clair and Westmount Avenue. The St. Clair Theatre building is to the west (left side)of the church
The old St. Clair Theatre building in September of 2013.
The east facade of the old theatre site on Westmount Avenue. Notice the designs in the stonework near the top of the building.
Views of the detailed stonework on the south facade of the building.
Large brackets that remain on the south facade, which held the chains that supported marquee.
An emergency exit on the east facade that is now cemented over, and the charming detailing above the exit.
The north facade of the theatre in the laneway behind the building, the emergency exits and windows now bricked over (2013).
The old St. Clair Theatre, viewed from the south side of the street in August of 2013.