The Parkdale Theatre: a passion den for teenagers

“This may seem drastic to you but I have seen the results of the work of some of these hoodlums,” wrote Ontario Censor Board and Theatres Inspection Branch chairman O.J. Silverthorne in 1953 after offering Famous Players some well-heeled advice on dealing with teen-age rowdiness at Toronto’s Parkdale Theatre.

Located at Queen St. W and Triller Ave., the Parkdale was one of several theatres designed by C. Howard Crane for the national Allen chain of theatres. Premiering April 5, 1920 with the comedy Duds, it was Parkdale’s premier entertainment spot until the arrival of Sunnyside Amusement Park and the Palais Royale opened a few years later.

When the Allens fell on hard times, a majority of their assets were purchased by N.L. Nathanson’s newly-formed Famous Players Canada Corporation. By the 1950s, the 1400 seat house — down from 1546 when it first opened — was still the biggest place to see a film in Parkdale.

Silverthorne’s letter to Stein was prompted by a written complaint from A.C. Cox of Byron, Ont., who saw Titanic at the Parkdale while visiting Toronto with his wife. Walking into a full auditorium, they settled on a seat at the front. Cox adds:

“The first thing that struck me was that the theatre was filled with smoke, not that I have anything against smoking, as I do so myself, but I was under the impression that patrons were allowed to smoke only in the rear seats of the theatre, but not in this case — people were smoking wherever you looked, and when you go and see a show and sit for at least a couple of hours, you don’t expect to find conditions like that.

However, that is not my chief complaint. As I mentioned we had to sit near the front of the theatre, and the goings-on I saw among teenagers were deplorable — necking, kissing and shouting… and when a clean-cut young girl would go by, or even your wife, some of the remarks passed were disgraceful. It looked to me more like a passion den for young teenagers.”

Morris Stein of Famous Players told Silverthorne that Mr. Mantle, the Parkdale’s long-time manager generally did everything he could to keep the teens under control, even hiring uniformed police officers to patrol the aisles and maintaining a blacklist of some 100 neighbourhood youths who were banned from the theatre.

Although the control of smoking and the actions of teenagers was not under the jurisdiction of the Theatres Branch, Silverthorne’s advice to Morris Stein of Famous Players was to  segregate the teenage girls when they came to the theatre unaccompanied, and “as soon as one of these teenagers started seat-hopping, I would have her removed from the premises.”

It was a rowdy place indeed, as a handful of box-office hold-ups had occurred in the previous years, as well as the well-publicized arrest of stick-up man and fraudster Arnold “Baby Face” Byers in February of 1950.

Undoubtedly, future generations of young whipper-snappers brought on the ruckus until the Parkdale closed in 1970, the same year  Famous Players was celebrating its 50th anniversary. The building, which spanned much of the street block like Crane’s other Allen cinemas the St. Clair and College,  still stands and has operated as an antique market for nearly two decades.

Sources

Toronto Daily Star, April 5 & 6, 1920; February 21, 1950.
Famous Players Canada Corp. correspondence; Morris Stein & O.J. Silverthorne, Silent Toronto Archives.

Images: Top, the Parkdale, week of July 25, 1927, screening Captain Salvation, City of Toronto Archives, Salmon fonds; middle, Toronto Daily Star, April 5, 1920; bottom, Parkdale auditorium, Archives of Ontario RG 56-11-0-312.

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