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

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 & Wintergarden Theatres.

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

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 accommodations, the luxurious King Edward Hotel. 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 1960’s, 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 remodeled theatre was modernized, and seating capacity was decreased to 2,100 to provide more leg-room to patrons.

The Uptown Renos

In 1969, the owner of the theatre, Nat Taylor, hired architects Mandel Sprachman and Marvin Giller to develop plans to sub-divide the Uptown. Lively and colourful graphics were blended with the original luxurious design. The single-screen theatre was converted to 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 for the renovations, the company made the decision to close the theatres. The Uptown had been a major 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 the majority of the theatre stood, it’s now The Uptown Residences, a 48-storey condo.

Did You Know?

  • Toronto-born film producer Nat Taylor, along with 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 of Kaplan & Sprachman. The duo designed many theatres in Toronto (including the Eglinton, Bloordale and Allenby) and throughout Canada from the mid 1920’s to 1960.