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“The Show Place of Toronto”

For the week of Monday April 14, 2008

On April 15, 1936, Toronto’s Eglinton Theatre was opened. People from across Toronto lined up for hours to get a glimpse of the gala opening and the premiere of the first film, King of Burlesque, starring Jack Oakie.

The Eglinton Theatre, opening night, 1936
© Eglinton Grand, www.eglintongrand.ca
The mastermind behind the Eglinton Theatre was Italian immigrant, Agostino Arrigo Sr., who arrived in Canada from Sicily at the age of 15. Arrigo saw the potential in developing the currently bare Eglinton corridor into a profitable commercial area and saved his money by working for his uncle to achieve his dream. Part of Arrigo’s vision included a stand-alone movie theatre that would combine the elegance of a live theatre with cinema and bring entertainment to the suburbs of Toronto.

In 1932, Famous Players agreed to help finance the theatre and Kaplan & Sprachman, a well-known architectural firm was chosen to design and build it in 1934. The theatre was built in full Art Deco style involving synthetic materials, aerodynamic lines, and the use of lighting as a design feature. The interior used of vibrant colours, zigzag lines, plush fabrics, neon lighting, massive chandeliers, and etched glass murals. 

Inside the theatre
© Eglinton Grand, www.eglintongrand.ca

The experience at the Eglinton Theatre was more than just going to see a movie. The theatre was at one point considered the flagship of the national Famous Players chain and was a key example of the new world of Art Deco architecture emerging at the time. Newspapers praised the extravagant design as the “Show Place of Toronto.” In 1937, the theatre won the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada bronze medal for its excellence in Art Deco design.

The Eglinton continued to thrive until the 1990s when the theatre began losing business to competition from the new multiplexes. Famous Players announced in December 2001 plans to close the theatre due to the decline in business and on April 1, 2002, the Eglinton Theatre closed.

The Eglinton Theatre in more recent times
© Hans Boldt, 2005
In 2003, the theatre was bought and converted into a special events venue. The original Art Deco elegance has largely been maintained; the exterior marquee even announces the names of those getting married as if they were starring in the current feature film.

In 1993, the Eglinton Theatre was designated a National Historic Site for representing the best example of Art Deco styling in Canadian theatre design.

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