Uptown Theatre – Once a Grand Vaudeville & Movie Palace on Yonge St

1972 - The Uptown Theatre was once located at ‪764 Yonge St, just south of Bloor St
1972 – The Uptown Theatre was once located at ‪764 Yonge St, just south of Bloor St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Id 111)

The Uptown Theatre was once located at ‪764 Yonge St‬ (just south of Bloor St) in downtown Toronto.

Originally Loew’s Uptown Theatre

Opening in 1920 and first named Loew’s Uptown Theatre, the 2,800-seat movie/vaudeville palace was owned by American motion-picture theatre pioneer Marcus Loew. Mr Loew hired Thomas White Lamb, a Scottish-born American architect, to design the theatre. Mr Lamb was known as the “king of theatres” as he has hundreds to his credit in Canada and the US, including the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres.

The original interior was that of subtle luxury. There was a grand medallion-style dome above the auditorium, decorative arches, elaborate plasterwork, marble railings and classic columns.

1970 - The interior hallway of the renovated and restored Uptown Theatre (photo of photo taken at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 122, Series 881, File 128, Mandel Sprachman Architect)
1970 – The interior hallway of the renovated and restored Uptown Theatre (Mandel Sprachman Architect Fonds, photo taken at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 122, Series 881, File 128)

Opening night was September 20, 1920. Marcus Loew and his guests were met at Union Station by Mayor Tommy Church that morning. The Mayor accompanied the party to their luxurious King Edward Hotel accommodations. Many celebrities attended opening night, including stars from the theatre’s premiere movie, a silent film titled The Love Flower. There was also an orchestra for musical accompaniment.

A Fire & the Reopening

In the early 1960s, a fire damaged the beautiful theatre. In August 1962, the movie house reopened with great fanfare. Outside, Mayor Nathan Phillips was on hand, along with models and special lights. The remodelled theatre was modernized, and the seating capacity was decreased to 2,100 to provide more legroom to patrons.

The Uptown Renos

1969 - The exterior of the Uptown's Backstage Theatre entrance, looking northeast on Balmuto St
1969 – The exterior of the Uptown’s Backstage Theatre entrance, looking northeast on Balmuto St (Mandel Sprachman Architect Fonds, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 169, Item 1-2, by photographer Roger Jowett)

In 1969, the theatre owner, Nat Taylor, hired architects Mandel Sprachman and Marvin Giller to develop plans to subdivide the Uptown. Lively and colourful graphics were blended with the original luxurious design. The single-screen theatre was converted into a 5-screen venue. It was one of the world’s first multiplex.

The balcony was transformed into an auditorium, and with its sloped seating, it became one of the first instances of stadium-style seating. Three of the five auditoriums were accessible from Yonge St, while the other two at the Uptown Backstage were accessed from Balumto St. The mini theatres at the Backstage each had less than 200 seats. The exterior entrance to the Backstage featured boldly coloured graphics and rows of bulbs.

The Closure & Collapse

In 2001, Famous Players was ordered to make accessibility updates to the Uptown and Backstage, as well as the Eglinton theatre. Due to the high costs of the renovations, the company decided to close the theatres. The Uptown had been a significant venue for the Toronto International Film Festival.

In 2003, the Uptown and Backstage theatres were closed, and most of the landmark was demolished that same year. The demolition collapsed the roof of a neighbouring academy. Tragically, a young man died, and several children were injured.

Today, only the entrance of the Uptown Theatre exists. It received heritage status in 2016 and is currently a Rogers store. Where most of the theatre stood, it’s now The Uptown Residences, a 48-storey condo.

Did You Know?

  • Toronto-born film producer Nat Taylor and his business partner Garth Drabinsky created the Cineplex Odeon Corporation in 1979. The company purchased Famous Players in Canada in 2005, doubling the size of the company to over 160 theatres.
  • Mandel Sprachman is the son of Abe Sprachman, who was part of the prominent architect firm Kaplan & Sprachman. The duo designed many theatres in Toronto (including the Eglinton, Bloordale and Allenby) and throughout Canada from the mid-1920s to 1960.

Uptown Theatre Photos

1936 - Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor St W
1936 – Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor St W (photo of a photo taken at City of Toronto Archives)
1924 - The Uptown Theatre's page boys and ushers
1924 – The Uptown Theatre’s page boys and ushers (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1266, Item 13195)
1970/72 - A view of the Uptown Theatre and Yonge St, looking south from Bloor St
1970/72 – A view of the Uptown Theatre and Yonge St, looking south from Bloor St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 312, Item 48)
1970 - The interior hallway of the renovated and restored Uptown Theatre (photo of photo taken at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 122, Series 881, File 128, Mandel Sprachman Architect)
1970 – The interior hallway of the renovated and restored Uptown Theatre (Mandel Sprachman Architect Fonds, photo of photo taken at City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 122, Series 881, File 128)
1971 - Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor St
1971 – Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Id 109)
1972 - The Uptown Theatre was once located at ‪764 Yonge St, just south of Bloor St
1972 – The Uptown Theatre was once located at ‪764 Yonge St, just south of Bloor St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Id 111)
1975 - Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor S
1975 – Uptown Theatre once at ‪764 Yonge St, west side south of Bloor St (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1526, File 2, Item 11)
1997 - A view of the Uptown Theatre and Yonge St, looking northwest from Hayden St
1997 – A view of the Uptown Theatre and Yonge St, looking northwest from Hayden St (City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 514, Item 36)
2021 - A grotesque from the former Uptown Theatre at 764 Yonge St
2021 – A grotesque from the former Uptown Theatre at 764 Yonge St
1969 - The exterior of the Uptown's Backstage Theatre entrance, looking northeast on Balmuto St
1969 – The exterior of the Uptown’s Backstage Theatre entrance, looking northeast on Balmuto St (Mandel Sprachman Architect Fonds, City of Toronto Archives, Series 881, File 169, Item 1-2, by photographer Roger Jowett)
1972 - Looking southeast towards the corner of Bloor St W and Balmuto St. Notice the Uptown and Backstage Theatre in the background
1972 – Looking southeast towards the corner of Bloor St W and Balmuto St. Notice the Uptown and Backstage Theatre in the background (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 2032, Series 841, File 66, Item 23)
2020 - Once the entrance to the Uptown Theatre, now Rogers Store at 764 Yonge St, looking northwest
2020 – Once the entrance to the Uptown Theatre, now Rogers Store at 764 Yonge St, looking northwest
2021 - Once the entrance to the Uptown Theatre, now Rogers Store at 764 Yonge St (The One condo tower is being constructed north of the building)
2021 – Once the entrance to the Uptown Theatre, now Rogers Store at 764 Yonge St (The One condo tower is being constructed north of the building)
2022 - Artwork by Toronto-based visual artist Michael Jeremy Brown on a utility box at Jarvis St and Carlton St, commemorating the former Uptown Theatre
2022 – Artwork by Toronto-based visual artist Michael Jeremy Brown on a utility box at Jarvis St and Carlton St, commemorating the former Uptown Theatre
2021 - The Uptown Residences on Balmuto St, where the Uptown & Backstage Theatres once stood
2021 – The Uptown Residences on Balmuto St, where the Uptown & Backstage Theatres once stood
2022 - Plaque featuring Marcus Loew (1870-1927), founder of Loew Theatres, which included the Uptown Theatre and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre
2022 – Plaque featuring Marcus Loew (1870-1927), founder of Loew Theatres, which included the Uptown Theatre and the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre
1920's - A billboard for the Uptown Theatre advertising a production of Jack Arthur's Annual Christmas Pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor
1920’s – A billboard for the Uptown Theatre advertising a production of Jack Arthur’s Annual Christmas Pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 2723)
1920/24 - A billboard for the Uptown Theatre advertising a production of Mrs Temple's Telegram by the Vaughan Glaser Players
1920/24 – A billboard for the Uptown Theatre advertising a production of Mrs Temple’s Telegram by the Vaughan Glaser Players (City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1488, Series 1230, Item 1964)
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