Of the numerous Toronto movie houses built before World War II which are still in operation, none have undergone as many name changes as the Bloor Cinema, the venerable Annex institution which opened as the Madison in 1913.
Since then, Toronto’s biggest second-run cinema has also been known as the Midtown, Capri, Eden and since 1979, the Bloor.
While photoplays, movies – whatever you want to call them – have flickered away at 506 Bloor St. for nearly a century, the current building is far different from what people visited when it premiered the Edison two-reeler Alexia’s Strategy on December 23, 1913. In fact, all that is left of the Madison are the two side walls that house the theatre. The rest – including the facade – was demolished and rebuilt in 1940 when 20th Century Theatres leased the property and re-christened it the Midtown.
“Only the two walls of the Madison remain – the rest is entirely new from the brilliant vitrolite to the back wall of the stage,” wrote the Toronto Daily Star on May 7, 1941, the eve of the new theatre’s premiere.
The $70 000 re-design by famed theatre architects Kaplan & Sprachman – whose prolific work upgrading older buildings perhaps contributed to the city’s 20% rise in construction revenues that year – was mixed with the progressive guise of 20th Century Theatres president Nat Taylor. Ever the innovator, Taylor’s new Midtown was the first Toronto cinema to use black lights to illuminate the aisles, a future industry staple.
Despite competition from nearby Famous Players theatres – the adjacent Bloor (now Lee’s Palace), which closed its doors in 1957, and the Alhambra west of Bathurst – the Midtown remained a popular movie-going destination throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Offering second-run fare mixed with the occasional first-run feature, it was famous for its weekend matinees, packed to the brim, but always under the auspices of a Censor Board-mandated matron patrolling the aisles.
The Midtown was also a guaranteed spot to find Universal Horror double-bills, like on December 14, 1946, when it ran hour-long duds like The Mummy’s Curse and The Cat Creeps.
The building underwent a more subtle name change in 1967. The Capri carried over the Midtown’s programming policy and was listed alongside other 20th Century Theatres, which had been a subsidiary of Famous Players for some time.
It was during the 1960s where Toronto cinema-goers saw a major shift in programming, where one could see films by Russ Meyer, Doris Wishman and Herschel Gordon Lewis – albeit snipped by the shears of the Ontario Censor Board. The cinemas that showed this kind of fare weren’t merely relegated to the grindhouses of the Yonge Street Strip; they played everywhere, from the Titania (former Allen’s Danforth), the Vaughan Cinema on neighbourly St. Clair West, the Baronet (former Alhambra) to the Tee Pee Drive-In on Liverpool Rd.
In August of 1972, the Famous Players-owned Baronet shuttered and reopened weeks later as the Eve, “a cinema devoted to exploring new areas of thought and emotional stimulation.”
The Capri, also under the Famous Players umbrella, soon followed suit. On June 13, 1973, it ended a week-long run of The Soul of Nigger Charley and reinvented itself as the Eden the following day with a double-bill featuring Massage Parlor ’73 and I Am Sandra. Admission was free on opening day (between the hours of 12 and 5pm) provided you had the “combination to paradise” found in the Toronto Star and other dailies.
Since none of the adult theatres survive today (the Metro being the sole exception), their ubiquity in the 1970s is often overlooked. While pornography had not yet infiltrated the home – that would happen with the VCR in the 1980s – it still had a presence at the table over morning coffee; a quick glance at newspaper listings in the 1970s would have sent censors from the 1930s in a tizzy, where ads for Fantasm at the Eve floated alongside ads for For The Love of Benji – a strange by-product of the sexual revolution.
The building’s run as a porno theatre ended in early 1979, when Famous Players temporarily closed the theatre and announced it was reverting to first-run programming as the Bloor Theatre. It was short-lived however, and it closed on November 14, 1980, to be taken over by Carm Bordonaro and Festival Cinema’s Jerry Szczur and Tom Litvinkas the following month.
Carm and his brother Paul now own the building. Is it time for another name change? Bordanaro doesn’t think so. “That’s a tough one,” he says. “If I had to absolutely change the name — and I never would — it would have to be Cinema Paradiso.”
With thanks to Paul Moore.
The Toronto Daily Star, November 2, 18, 1940; May 7, 8, 1940; June 14, 1973; March 4 1980; December 27, 1980.
Ontario Archives, letter from Famous Players Canada to W.D. McPhee, Theatres Branch, 1957.
The Toronto Sun, June 7, 1981.