Q4. What and where were the five theatres in Leslieville during the height of Vaudeville? Some still exist today. (P16)
A Streetscape Worthy of Hollywood
The Queen Street storefronts may have changed in terms of the kinds of shops, but the streetscape can easily take us back to a bygone era. This was proven when Hollywood film director, Ron Howard, wanted a Victoria storefront scene for Cinderella Man. Local movie location scouts suggested Queen Street East and it was chosen as the site transformed into “depressionera New York City of the 1930s.” Although the street signs, store names and contents had to be changed, the streetscape needed little alteration except the removal of modern overhead wires and street lights.
Entertainment Full of Life – Now and Then
The Opera House at 735 Queen Street East, is one of the few theatres left in Toronto built as a Vaudeville Theatre. The inspector who visited the theatre in 1939, found a number of unusual articles stored in the dressing rooms: light fixtures, an old couch, pieces of linoleum, cardboard cartons, a meat chopper, two boilers for hot dogs, and a roll top desk in pieces. With the advent of movies, of course, most of the Vaudeville houses were torn down or converted to movie theatres.
The Opera House first changed to La Plaza Theatre in the 1930s, but by the 1960s was operating as a movie theatre. It was informally known as the Acropolis in the late 1950s, although it was never licensed under that name. It was closed in 1958 and today it is used for as a concert hall for various live shows but look in the top back balcony and you can spot some old movie projectors.
Unlike the Opera House, the Joy/Rex at 1130 Queen Street East was built in 1943 for movies. As children, those who remember it, recall seeing movies there like Abbott and Costello, The Marx Brothers, Buck Rodgers, Tarzan and John Wayne films (to name only a few.) Apparently children used to be able to get into the movies by bringing a milk bottle, which had a 5 cent deposit.
The Rex was renamed The Joy Theatre in the 1950s, then went through various uses, including a strip club. Today it is Stratenger's Bar and Restaurant.
Other theatres in the area included the Melba Theatre, Queen Steet East at Ashdale, opened in 1922; and the Teck Theatre, 700 Queen Street East at Broadway, which was only opened for two years from 1932-1933.
Originally known as the Morin House Tavern at 1225 Queen Street East when it was opened in 1870, one can only imagine the stories that could be told from the thousands of customers over the years! The 19th century brick building was originally used as a restaurant and pub, with an inn on the second floor with rooms to rent. When the owner, Richard Stone, sold the building in 1912, it was renamed The Duke. The Duke in question was the sometimes mocked Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany (son of George III), known by many in the child's rhyme as the "Grand Old Duke of York". The City of Toronto listed the site as "architectural historical" in 1983. The Duke of York was recently renovated and amplified for sound – one wonders if the Duke is rolling or rocking in his grave.
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