The Royal, originally Pylon Theatre, is located at 608 College St (east of Clinton St on the north side) in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Toronto.
The Pylon Theatre & Ray Lewis
Built in 1938/39, architect Benjamin Swartz designed The Pylon Theatre for Ray Lewis. The Art Moderne style structure features a yellow-brick facade and initially had over 700 seats. Ms Lewis named it the Pylon after an airport’s beacon light so that her theatre would be “the guide to good entertainment.”
A good friend of hers was the famous British actress Anna Neagle. During the construction of The Pylon, Ms Neagle made a guest appearance and left her shoe prints and signature in the floor of the theatre. The Pylon’s opening night gala on October 26, 1939, featured the comedy-drama “This Man Is News” starring Barry Barnes, Alistar Sims and Valerie Hobson.
Born Rae Levinsky to a Jewish family in 1883, Ray Lewis was a pioneer in the Canadian film industry. Along with building The Pylon Theatre, Ms Lewis was the editor and publisher of the “Canadian Moving Picture Digest,” a trade journal for the country’s film exhibitors, from the late 1910s until her passing in 1954. Ray Lewis, whose married name was Mrs Joshua Smith, was also a writer and poet and an influential entrepreneur in Toronto theatre in a time when it was rare for a woman to own and operate a company.
In 1948, the theatre added a candy stand and, in the 1950s, began showing Italian films. After four decades in operation, the Pylon closed in the early 1980s.
Golden Princess Theatre
From 1983 to 1992, the Toronto Yellow Pages show the theatre reopened as the Golden Princess and screened Chinese films.
The Royal Theatre
In the late 1990s, the owners of Festival Cinemas, which operated second-run movie houses in Toronto, including the Fox, Revue, Bloor, Paradise and the Kingsway, were contacted by residents in the Little Italy neighbourhood. They let the theatre chain know there were plans to tear down the College St theatre and replace it with a parking lot. So, Festival Cinemas purchased the building, spent $200,000 on renovations, reduced the number of seats to 500 (to give more leg room), and renamed it The Royal. Opening night was on December 6, 1997.
In 2005, the theatre building received heritage status from the City of Toronto.
The Royal Today
In June 2006, three of the five Festival Cinemas Group theatres closed, which included The Royal. A month later, the neighbourhood landmark was sold for $2.2 million. Its new owner, Theatre D Digital, restored the theatre at the cost of about $1 million to make it look as it did when it first opened in 1939. During the restoration, actress Anna Neagle’s footprints were discovered underneath terrazzo flooring. Along with fitting the auditorium with a state-of-the-art digital sound-mixing board, four digital editing suites were also added to the theatre. The Royal reopened in December of 2006.
Today, the completely renovated Royal Theatre is a multi-function facility. The 400-seat venue has been host to comedy shows, film festivals, concerts and more.