The Eglinton Theatre’s Elegant Neighbours

When adding photos to the Silent Toronto collection, I typically look for theatres and cinemas, but most importantly,  neighbouring streetscapes showing some form of social activity.

Where did neighbourhood cinema patrons dine, shop, and in this case, deposit their paycheques?

So imagine my surprise when I found this gorgeous shot of the Eglinton Theatre‘s art deco neighbours.

Probably taken in the late 1940s, early 1950s, we see the north side of Eglinton Ave., east of Castle Knock Rd. The giant structure on the right is indeed Kaplan and Sprachman‘s famed Eglinton, which closed in 2002 and now operates as a banquet venue.

Here is the rare occasion when the elegance of a neighbourhood shop closely matches that of a cinema’s.

This StreetView shot shows that this strip of Forest Hill looks a little different today. Gone are the vitrolite facades, the Bank of Nova Scotia has moved to the east, the A&P building is now a clothing store, minus the wonderful deco trimmings.

It was a different scene in the post-war era: no yoga studios, organic grocery stores or Starbucks. Slightly to the west of the theatre, at 390 Eglinton (currently occupied by yet another clothing store) was Custom Sound and Vision — a picturesque “orthophonic parlour” if there ever was one. The photo of the record bar to the right was featured in the print programme for the 1955 “Spring Thaw” concert held at the Avenue Theatre, across the street, at Eglinton and Braemar.

Maxwell’s Mens Shop, with that wonderful signage, was a few doors to the east when the Eglinton opened in 1936. From the 1937 city directory, Sid’s Cleaners & Tailors, at 526 Eglinton, is one of the few businesses still in its original location.

And that lone man on the right side — is he a loan manager, a produce clerk, the booker at the Eglinton, or just a dude who likes to hang out near fire hydrants?


  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by F.W. Houlihan, Silent Toronto. Silent Toronto said: The Eglinton Theatre was a fancy joint, but it also had some fancy neighbours. New post at @SilentToronto: […]

  • Tim

    Great picture. I love reading these articles as I have a similar love for all of the great old theatres which have disappeared over the years. I really appreciate all the articles on this site helping to keep the memory alive!

    I used to work at the Eglinton from 1997-2000. The first film I worked was ‘Devil’s Advocate’ with Al Pacino in November ’97. At that time the Eglinton and Uptown were the crown jewels of Toronto cinema and the flagships of Famous Players. Within the company, the Eglinton was known to be then Famous Players President, John Bailey’s favourite theatre. We at the Eglinton always took pride in this and being what we considered the best theatre and staff in the chain. It was one of those amazing “play hard, work hard” atmospheres that I could tell a thousand stories of, much like the stories from this website.

    As I said, the Eglinton and Uptown were the flagship Toronto theatres of Famous Players. Whatever big blockbuster release was set to hit theatres, you could guarantee it would play at either the Eglinton or Uptown 1 (cinema 1 of the Uptown). Although it should be noted that theatres and film studios had distribution deals. Without getting too complex into the ins and outs and various loopholes, as a general statement Warner Brothers and Paramount films for example would always play at Famous Players, where as 20th Century Fox and Univeral would always play at Cineplex. In December of ’97 there were two big films coming out, James Bond: Tomorrow Never Dies and Titanic. We knew that between the Eglinton and Uptown we would each get one of the films.. but which one? Tomorrow Never Dies ended up going to the Uptown, Titanic to the Eglinton. We could have no idea what we were in for.

    Given the length of the film, Titanic only had 3 showings daily: 12pm, 4:15pm, 8:30pm. Each show on the weekend would sell out and as the weeks and months went on a strange thing happened.. the film just seemed to keep getting busier and busier. For your average film, having 2-3 weeks of steady business would be considered good, but this was unheard of. Often, we would be sold out for the ENTIRE DAY by 2pm, leaving the box office cashier with nothing to do except stick a sign up saying “ALL SHOWS SOLD OUT” and continuosly piont to it throughout the day as dismayed patrons came trying to buy tickets for a later show. Sometimes we would have an evening box office attendant scheduled from say 5pm-9:30pm and before they would even arrive for their shift, ever show was sold out for the day.

    Although the Eglinton’s auditorium was quite large, the lobby was quite small and unable to accomodate people waiting for the following shows. As well, the auditorium was accessed through an open-air staircase to the theatre. There were no doors to shut, thus if you were in the theatre you could hear loud things in the lobby (my appologies for the CRASHING sound of us refilling the ice cabinents behind the snack bar, we always tried to wait for a loud part in the film!). Therefore, even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to allow people waiting for the next show to wait inside the lobby. The lineups on the street for ticketholders extended down Eglinton Avenue and snaked all the way onto Castle Knock Road, and sometimes even snaking again onto Burnaby Blvd (the parallel street behind the Eglinton). It was the kind of event that is never seen anymore in the era of huge multiplexes. One of the theatre managers or one of the ushers would be standing outside with the red megaphone trying to tell a hundred people lined up for tickets that all shows were now sold out.

    Week in and week out hundreds and hundreds of people waited in the ticketholders lineup outside in the freezing cold.The Starbucks coffee shop on the corner of Castle Knock never knew of such business! Although there were a few of us who were just 17 or 18, still in high school, we took our job seriously, while most of the rest of the staff were in their mid 20s or early 30s. Theatres back then were not overrun with 15 year olds texting on their iphone while you repeat your order three times to them.. that would come a couple years later with the launch of the Coliseum/SilverCity theatres. Anyways, my point being that people who worked at a theatre still had the respect of the patrons. If an usher told you to do something, you’d probably be best served to listen to them.

    We ruled the lobby of the Eglinton with an iron fist. Believe me, we heard every story and excuse as to why someone should be allowed to wait in the lobby. While it may seem somewhat cruel to not allow people to wait inside these days (no doubt somebody would file a human rights complaint), when you have 775 people lined up for blocks in the middle of winter in the freezing cold, as soon as you make one exception you make a hundred. The odd time a man with a broken leg or pregnant woman was granted amnesty in the comfort of the big red chairs of the lobby.. but those people were few and far between. The pregnant wife may be allowed to sit down, however the husband would be sent back to the cold lineup. As well, the pregnant wife would not be allowed to enter the theatre until her husband came into the lobby, i.e. she would not be allowed to simply go into the theatre first. Can you imagine that kind of strict adherence to the rules these days? That’s how serious things were during Titanic at the Eglinton!

    Titanic had an incredible 6 month run at the Eglinton, especially considering the Eglinton was a single-screen theatre! Some people would tell us it was their 6th or 8th time seeing Titanic at the Eglinton. It was truly amazing to see a film play at the same theatre since Decemeber and in say March we were still selling out all 3 daily shows on the weekend. The first film to finally replace Titanic was Robert Redford’s, “The Horse Whisperer”, which was released May 15, 1998. Titanic did eventually return for another run at the Eglinton before it left theatres for its home video release.

    Here are a few pictures I took while working there. Most of these were taken during a Gala event for the film Ronin, which had a special screening. This was back in the day when we would decorate the lobby for certain films. For this one the staff were all dressed up in spy-related themes. I’m the one in the white tuxedo:

  • Rhea Copeland

    how well I remember those outside lineups at the Eglinton!

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