Bellevue Theatre & Lux Burlesque – Silver Screen to the Burlesque Years

1937 - The Bellevue Theatre at 360-362 College St, looking north
1937 – The Bellevue Theatre at 360-362 College St, looking north (Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, Fonds 27, Series 1, File 8, Item 1 – used with permission)

The Bellevue Theatre, later the Lux Burlesque, was located at ‪360-362 College St‬ (west of Brunswick Ave on the north side) in the Harbord Village neighbourhood of Toronto.

The Bellevue Theatre

Before becoming the Lux, the Art Moderne-style building was the Bellevue Theatre. Designed by Toronto architects Kaplan & Sprachman, it opened in 1937. The movie palace’s exterior was faced with brick, stone, granite, and structural glass. Two pairs of doors flanked the outside box office. The dramatic vertical facade was emphasized by the centre stepped parapet, an extension of the wall past the roofline.

When the 770+-seat theatre opened, television did not exist. It didn’t become mainstream until the early 1950s. So, for entertainment, people flocked to theatres. They enjoyed Hollywood’s glamour, drama, suspense and comedy in air-conditioned comfort. The Bellevue was a movie theatre until 1958.

The Lux Burlesque Theatre

1960 - The Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St, just west of Brunswick Ave
1960 – The Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St, just west of Brunswick Ave (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 474)

The year following, it became the Lux Burlesque Theatre. Owned by Ray Lux, the venue opened with a live bill of great vaudeville acts; however, no one wanted to pay to see them. The Lux began showing burlesque acts in the third week, which became the theatre’s emphasis. They brought in stars like “Cup Cake Cassidy,” “Linda Fontaine,” and “Carmella – The Sophia Loren” while also showing regular Hollywood movies. Toronto’s morality squad kept a watchful eye on things inside and outside the theatre.

Toronto the Good was the Capital of Burlesque

Toronto was the burlesque capital of Canada. The Lux’s competitors included the long-established Casino Theatre (on Queen St W at Bay St) and Victory Theatre (on Spadina Ave at Dundas St W).

1960 - Performers on the stage of the Lux in Toronto
1960 – Performers on the stage of the Lux in Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 488)

Not only was there fierce competition between the burlesque venues and the dancers themselves, but there were also publicity stunts. One such stunt was in the summer of 1960. Pink Champagne, a Lux performer, entered as one of the eight CNE models. The judges rejected Pinky. The manager of the Lux Theatre, Elliott Abells, told The Star “We thought it would be a cute idea to liven things up a bit. A simple, harmless publicity stunt and good fun.”

Never on a Sunday

By the 1960s, Torontonians wanted to start seeing movies and entertainment on Sundays. A great debate raged in City Council, and in April 1961, the Board of Control approved Sunday movies and lectures. Massey Hall and the Royal Alexandra Theatre then requested permission for Sunday stage performances. But what about vaudeville or burlesque shows? Lux Theatre manager Mr Abells applied to hold “theatrical performances.” Before the Board, he argued for burlesque, questioning if “the City had the moral right to tell Toronto citizens where they may go and what they may see on Sundays.”

City Council nearly passed a by-law to allow only certain designated areas to hold movie and theatrical performances on Sundays. Because this was considered “snobbish” and “political censorship by location,” Council approved a law allowing Sunday movies, concerts, lectures, no-curfew sports and theatrical performances throughout Toronto without bias. On the last Sunday of May in 1961, burlesque pioneer “Cup Cake Cassidy” headlined at the Lux.

After the Lux

Lux Burlesque closed in 1962. By the mid-’60s, the theatre reopened as the Elektra, showing Greek films. In the mid-’70s, it became the Lido and screened Asian films. A decade later, the building was demolished, and today, the site is home to a medical office building.

Did You Know?

  • Along with designing many theatres across Canada, the architect duo of Kaplan & Sprachman also created the Allenby and Eglinton theatres in the City. They also did extensive reconstruction on Toronto’s oldest operating cinema, the Revue Theatre.
  • Burlesque started in the UK in the 1860s. It later made its way to New York City and then to Toronto. This was during the Victorian era when many layers of clothing were worn. In burlesque, to keep their legs technically covered, performers wore tights which, at the time, were considered risqué. Burlesque flourished into a type of variety show with comedy routines, songs and dance.
  • Burlesque performers created characters and became famous for their props, like a huge oyster shell or a giant tea cup.
  • Kate Murtagh was an American singer and actress. She appeared as a policewoman in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and was the waitress pictured on Supertramp’s Breakfast in America album cover.
  • In Toronto, the popularity of burlesque began to wane in the 1960s, and by the 1970s, it ultimately died out when full-nudity clubs were established.

Bellevue & Lux Burlesque Photos

1937 - The Bellevue Theatre at 360-362 College St, looking north
1937 – The Bellevue Theatre at 360-362 College St, looking north (Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, Fonds 27, Series 1, File 8, Item 1 – used with permission)
1960 - The marquee and box office of the Lux Burlesque Theatre
1960 – The marquee and box office of the Lux Burlesque Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 474)
1960 - Performers on the stage of the Lux in Toronto
1960 – Performers on the stage of the Lux in Toronto (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 488)
1937 - Bellevue Theatre later Lux Burlesque Theatre once at ‪360-362 College St, north side west of Brunswick Ave
1937 – Bellevue Theatre later Lux Burlesque Theatre once at ‪360-362 College St, north side west of Brunswick Ave (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 1158)
1960 - View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave - the Lux on the right and the historic No. 8 Hose Station on the left
1960 – View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave – the Lux on the right and the historic No. 8 Hose Station on the left (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5555)
1960 - Performers walking towards the Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St
1960 – Performers walking towards the Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 480)
1959 - Kate Murtagh, American singer and actress, on stage at the Lux
1959 – Kate Murtagh, American singer and actress, on stage at the Lux (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 3835)
1960 - Patrons outside of the Lux
1960 – Patrons outside of the Lux (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 478)
1960 - Promotional photo of Carmella - The Sophia Loren of Burlesk
1960 – Promotional photo of Carmella – The Sophia Loren of Burlesk (Kaplan & Sprachman Architect Fonds, photo of photo taken at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 410, File 476)
1960s - The Lux, looking northeast from Bellevue Ave towards College St
1960s – The Lux, looking northeast from Bellevue Ave towards College St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 5556)
1960 - Performers on the stage of the Lux Burlesque Theatre
1960 – Performers on the stage of the Lux Burlesque Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 486)
1958 - View of College St, near Bellevue Ave looking northeast
1958 – View of College St, near Bellevue Ave looking northeast (City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Sub Series 100 Item 271)
1937 - Lobby of the Bellevue Theatre
1937 – Lobby of the Bellevue Theatre (Ontario Jewish Archives, Blankenstein Family Heritage Centre, Fonds 27, Series 1, File 8, Item 2 – used with permission)
1960 - Performers and patrons in front of the Lux
1960 – Performers and patrons in front of the Lux (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 479)
1960 - Performers posing on stage at the Lux Burlesque Theatre
1960 – Performers posing on stage at the Lux Burlesque Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 483)
1960 - The Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St, just west of Brunswick Ave
1960 – The Lux Burlesque Theatre on College St, just west of Brunswick Ave (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 474)
1983 - View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave - the Lido Theatre on the right
1983 – View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave – the Lido Theatre on the right (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 71, Item 96)
2020 - View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave - 360 College St on the right and the historic No. 8 Hose Station on the left
2020 – View of College St looking west across Brunswick Ave – 360 College St on the right and the historic No. 8 Hose Station on the left (Google Maps)
2022 - Looking northeast from Bellevue Ave towards the property Bellevue Theatre and Lux Burlesque once occupied at 360 College St
2022 – Looking northeast from Bellevue Ave towards the property Bellevue Theatre and Lux Burlesque once occupied at 360 College St
2021 - Looking northwest towards the property Bellevue Theatre and Lux Burlesque once occupied at 360 College St
2021 – Looking northwest towards the property Bellevue Theatre and Lux Burlesque once occupied at 360 College St
1961 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Lux Theatre
1961 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address of the Lux Theatre (Toronto Public Library)
1939 - The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of the Bellevue Theatre
1939 – The Toronto City Directory showing the address and phone number of the Bellevue Theatre (Toronto Public Library)
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