Royal Alexandra Theatre – A Jewel Box of Beaux-Arts Architecture

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2022 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2022 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre

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 McIntosh Lyle. Funding for the theatre came from a group led by Cawthra Mulock, who was called “Toronto’s youngest millionaire.” The “Edwardian jewel box” interior features rich walnut and cherry woods, marble, crystal chandeliers, gilded and elaborate plasterwork, and fine silks and velvet.

The theatre was Toronto’s first steel-framed structure, allowing for no internal columns and a cantilevered balcony and gallery. The Royal Alexandra Theatre was the first “air-conditioned” playhouse in Canada. When first built, ice was kept in a huge pit below the auditorium to cool the building. The Royal Alex was one of North America’s original “fireproof” theatres.

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,” and 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

1950 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1950 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 349)

King Edward VII granted the theatre a royal title 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 competed 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 complete 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 located directly to the west of the theatre. One of those was the Reid Building which was right next door. Ed converted it into a restaurant; 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.

Haunted Tales

The theatre is rumoured to be haunted by a few ghosts. In a 1997 Jolson: The Musical production, 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 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 North America’s oldest continuously operating live theatre, visit the Royal Alexandra Theatre website.

Royal Alexandra Theatre Photos

2022 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2022 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1950 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1950 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1128, Series 380, Item 349)
2020 - The Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
2020 – The Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
1912- Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1912- Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre (Toronto Public Library PC_3768)
2022 - Looking north from King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2022 – Looking north from King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
April 2023 - Looking towards the northeast corner of King St W and Ed Mirvish Way (Duncan St) in Toronto's Entertainment District. The photo shows the entire length of the west side of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Also, notice the "Atwell Fleming Printing Co Printers and Bookbinders" ghost sign on the heritage building at 11 Duncan St on the left
April 2023 – Looking towards the northeast corner of King St W and Ed Mirvish Way (Duncan St) in Toronto’s Entertainment District. The photo shows the entire length of the west side of the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Also, notice the “Atwell Fleming Printing Co Printers and Bookbinders” ghost sign on the heritage building at 11 Duncan St on the left
April 2023 - Looking northeast towards the entire length of the west side of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto's Entertainment District. The excavated site in the foreground was home to the 1904-built Reid Building. From the mid-1960s until the late 1990s the Reid Building housed Ed's Warehouse. Today, the site is being prepared for the construction of a 73-storey, mixed-use tower
April 2023 – Looking northeast towards the entire length of the west side of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto’s Entertainment District. The excavated site in the foreground was home to the 1904-built Reid Building. From the mid-1960s until the late 1990s the Reid Building housed Ed’s Warehouse. Today, the site is being prepared for the construction of a 73-storey, mixed-use tower
1982- Looking northwest along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Ed’s Warehouse
1982- Looking northwest along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Ed’s Warehouse (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 530, Item 17)
1982 - A night view looking northwest along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Ed’s Warehouse
1982 – A night view looking northwest along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre and Ed’s Warehouse (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 43, Item 13)
2020 - A window at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2020 – A window at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2020 - Cartouche and inscription at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2020 – Cartouche and inscription at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1983-84 - Royal Alexandra Theatre at 260 King St West, north side west of Simcoe St
1983-84 – Royal Alexandra Theatre at 260 King St West, north side west of Simcoe St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 427, Item 6)
1910 - Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1910 – Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre (Toronto Public Library PC_3769)
2021 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2021 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1982 - A night view of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
1982 – A night view of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
1980 - Paul Lynde poster at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northeast
1980 – Paul Lynde poster at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northeast
1964 - Dusk at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
1964 – Dusk at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking northwest
1929 - Line up for a matinee at the entrance of the Royal Alexandra Theatre at 260 King St W in Toronto's Entertainment District
1929 – Line up for a matinee at the entrance of the Royal Alexandra Theatre at 260 King St W in Toronto’s Entertainment District (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 15694)
1930 - Soldiers at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1930 – Soldiers at the Royal Alexandra Theatre
2022 - Looking northwest towards the Royal Alex at 260 King St W
2022 – Looking northwest towards the Royal Alex at 260 King St W
1911- Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre
1911- Postcard of the Royal Alexandra Theatre (Toronto Public Library PC_3814)
2023 - Looking northeast along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto's Entertainment District
2023 – Looking northeast along King St W towards the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto’s Entertainment District
2020 - The Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking north
2020 – The Royal Alexandra Theatre, looking north
1907 - Royal Alexandra Theatre
1907 – Royal Alexandra Theatre (Toronto Public Library CTP-ROYALE1907-374)
2021 - Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
2021 – Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada
2021 - Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque
2021 – Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque
2021 - Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque for John M Lyle, architect
2021 – Royal Alexandra Theatre heritage plaque for John M Lyle, architect
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