Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lee's Palace Before It Was Lee's Palace

So that's what Lee's Palace looked like when it first opened, nearly 100 years ago. It was the spring of 1919 — the first few months after the end of the First World War. It was a silent movie theatre back then, the Allen's Bloor Theatre, part of one of Canada's very earliest cinema chains. The Allen brothers had started with one "theatorium" in Brantford and spread all over the country — they had a whole string of theatres in Toronto, including one on the Danforth which we now call the Danforth Music Hall.

The same guy designed all of the Allen cinemas in T.O.: theatre architect C. Howard Crane, who was about to become one of Detroit's greatest architects during that city's golden age. He designed some of Motown's most famous buildings during those booming years of the 1920s, when the city was being built in Art Deco splendour thanks to the dawn of automobile. He's responsible for the Fox Theatre, the Opera House, the Orchestra Hall, the Fillmore, the United Artists Theatre, the old Red Wings stadium... The list goes on. Plus other masterpieces in places like Columbus (the LeVeque Tower) and St. Louis (another Fox Theatre) and London (Earls Court).

The Allen's Theatre chain would eventually be swallowed up by the Famous Players monopoly (who also owned the cinema across the street, which we now call the Bloor). It would carry on as a movie threatre until the 1950s before it was finally shut down. For the next three decades, it would be home to a series of nightclubs and restaurants — including the burlesque show of the Blue Orchid — and, according to the Lee's website, at one point a bank.

It was in 1985 that it finally became the Lee's Palace that we know today. The first two acts were Handsome Ned and Blue Rodeo. Since then, it's played host to some of the most awesome bands from Toronto and around the world — including the first local appearances by Nirvana, Blur, Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins.

Oh and Sex Bomb-omb. Lee's Palace is where Scott Pilgrim defeated the third of the Evil Exes.

Allen's Bloor Theatre, 1921

Allen's Bloor Theatre, 1919

A bunch of this info comes via Silent Toronto, which has plenty more about the Allen's Bloor Theatre and Toronto's cinematic history here.

Another one of the surviving Allen's Theatres is on the west end of Parkdale, now home to the Queen West Antique Centre.

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