The Royal Alexandra Theatre or simply The Royal Alex is located at 260 King St W in the Entertainment District of Toronto.
The Design of the Royal Alexandra Theatre
The Beaux-Arts style gem was built in 1907 and designed by architect John Lyle. Funding for the theatre came from a group led by Cawthra Mulock who was called “Toronto’s youngest millionaire”. The interior of the “Edwardian jewel box” features rich walnut and cherry woods, marble, crystal chandeliers, gilded and elaborate plasterwork along with fine silks and velvet.
The theatre was Toronto’s first steel-framed structure which allowed for no internal columns along with a cantilevered balcony and gallery. The Royal Alexandra Theatre was the first “air-conditioned” playhouse in Canada too. When first built, ice was kept in a huge pit below the auditorium to cool the building. The Royal Alex was one of the original “fireproof’ theatres in North America.
The exterior of this treasure is clad with brick and stone detailing. The front facade features Ionic pilasters along with elaborately decorated windows. The centre, two-and-a-half-storey entrance block is topped with a decorative cornice that supports a parapet, cartouche and the inscription “ROYAL ALEXANDRA” as well as a mansard roof with arched dormers. On either side of the entrance block are recessed single-storey wings that feature cornices, brick quoins and keystones while behind the block are the auditorium and fly tower.
Its Royal Title Honours Queen Alexandra
The theatre was granted a royal title by King Edward VII to honour his consort, Queen Alexandra (great grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II). Sophisticated international theatre and musical productions from London and New York played at the theatre as well as famous performers like Mary Pickford, Humphrey Bogart and more. In its early days, the Royal Alex was in competition with other live theatres including the Princess and the Grand Opera House.
Ed Mirvish & the Beginning of the Entertainment District
In the ’50s, the theatre and area were in decline. Visionary Ed Mirvish saved the theatre from demolition in the early 1960s. His full restoration of this beautiful building started the rejuvenation of what we know today as the Entertainment District. There were no restaurants in the area so to help attract patrons, Ed purchased a few old warehouses that were located directly to the west of the theatre. One of those was the Reid Building which was right next door. Ed converted it to a restaurant and for decades, it was one of Toronto’s most famous called Ed’s Warehouse. Mr Mirvish also owned and operated the landmark discount store, Honest Ed’s.
The theatre is rumoured to be haunted by a few ghosts. In a 1997 production of Jolson: The Musical, the cast mentioned seeing an apparition of Al Jolson seated in the audience. When Mr Jolson was alive, he played the Royal Alex ten times.
In Dressing Room 14, some have heard screaming and strange sounds coming from behind its door. There have also been messages scribed across its mirror.
Years ago, a stagehand was working high above the theatre in the fly room. It’s said that he fell to his death after stumbling on a chain. Since then, some have heard the sounds of chains dragging near the area.
One of the theatre’s legendary ghosts is the beautiful lady wearing a long white gown. Several actors have reportedly seen her in the house left upper box while they were trodding the boards.
The Historic Royal Alex
The building became a National Historic Site of Canada in 1987, on its 80th birthday. To maintain the style and appearance of a 19th-century theatre, it cannot have an elevator.
Throughout the years, the Royal Alex has and over 4,000 shows performed on its stage featuring tens of thousands of actors, musicians and dancers. All this in front of more than 60 million audience members.
For a video tour and more details on the oldest continuously operating live theatre in North America, visit the Royal Alexandra Theatre website.