Memories of the Uptown Theatre in Toronto
The Beatles rocked American TV audiences in 1964 when they took the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York.
I saw my first rock concert in Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall…which was an old theatre…and the old building managed to withstand the sonic assault of Motorhead. My ears rang for three days after that show.
In addition to my fondness for early rhythm and blues and rock and roll, I seem to have a thing for old theatres and my favourite movie palace was Toronto’s Uptown Theatre on Yonge Street, just south of Bloor.
It was demolished in 2003 and today the glorious old theatre where I saw Raging Bull and Pink Floyd’s The Wall is long gone and a friggin’ condo has taken its place.
By the time I became a regular at the Uptown…travelling by subway from the suburb of Scarborough…it was actually five theatres. The Uptown 1,2 and 3 were accessible from Yonge Street and the two Backstage theatres had entrances one block west off Balmuto Street. But the Uptown had been built as one massive movie house, with over 3,000 seats, before the 1969 renovations turned it into one of the first multiplexes. More on that topic later.
The Loew’s Uptown opened in 1920 and featured vaudeville acts as well as moving pictures. I can only imaging what it would have felt like sitting in a crowd of 3,000 watching Casablanca.
Of course, I understood the economics of maintaining such large movie venues so it wasn’t a surprise when grand old ladies like the nearby University Theatre closed. One screen and 1,300 seats or 20 screens with a few hundred seats per room. And that led to….
The Cineplex! Oh the horror. When The Eaton Centre Cineplex opened with 21 screens I remember one critic comparing the experience to watching a movie in someone’s garage.
Luckily, chain owners realized people didn’t like sitting in such tiny theatres and gave us bigger multiplexes with stadium seating, which meant you didn’t have to worry about having your view blocked by a tall person sitting in front of you.
But, back in the ’70s there was one lovely old theatre that had stadium seating…the Uptown #1.
It was ahead of its time. Someday, if I happen to wander past the site of the former Uptown Theatre I won’t see an upscale condo. I’ll imagine the lights dimming and the curtains parting and having an unobstructed view, eagerly awaiting a few hours of movie magic in a theatre I remember fondly to this day, and always will.