Thursday, August 13, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 568 bloor street west

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on March 5, 2013.

Alhambra theatre, September 1960. City of Toronto Archives, Series 372, Subseries 100, Item 263. 
When was the last time you were handed a ceremonial program at the opening of a new mainstream movie theatre? Attendees at the debut of the Alhambra on November 17, 1919 received a 14-page booklet extolling the virtues of the new theatre, along with a glimpse at upcoming attractions. The owners hoped that patrons would enjoy “the first of many pleasant evenings of relaxation to be spent in this perfectly appointed Temple of Silent Art.”

Excerpt from opening night program for the Alhambra theatre, November 17, 1919.

A final inspection was held half-an-hour before the doors opened to the public. Besides looking for last-minute flaws, the tour provided an opportunity to show off the Alhambra’s amenities to the press, including a glass dome and concealed lighting for the house orchestra. The program noted that the Alhambra was designed without stairs, as “the gradual rise of the floors has done away, in every instance, with the danger of tripping and falling.”

Outside, police maintained order among the growing crowd until they flowed through the front door at 7:30 p.m. The audience was treated to a live soprano, a newsreel, a travelogue about Paris, and several selections from the orchestra before the curtain rose on the debut feature, Why Smith Left Home.

With just over 1,000 seats, the Alhambra served as one of Bloor and Bathurst’s main first-run houses for half-a-century. A major renovation in 1949 included a new marquee, a repositioned box office, and installation of a candy bar. There were occasional incidents: Management had to deal with a firebug who set three blazes over the course of an evening in August 1946. The night’s program carried on without a hitch, and the only losses were a wicker chair in the mezzanine and a set of drapes in the ladies room.

A horror classic shown late in the Alhambra's existence, circa 1968. Ad courtesy Eric Veillette. 
In 1969, the Alhambra changed its name to the Baronet. Like other aging theatres around the city, its programming drifted toward soft-core porn. The theatre was renamed again in 1972, adopting the name Eve after it joined a chain of cross-country X-rated cinemas. Its ownership, however, appeared to remain in the hands of long-time proprietor Famous Players. While one spokesperson claimed that Famous Players had nothing to do with the operation of the Eve, another noted that employees remained on the theatre giant’s payroll to prevent any disruption of their pensions and health benefits.

Toronto Star, September 30, 1972.
Though early ads promised “a cinema devoted to exploring new areas of thought and emotional stimulation,” the Globe and Mail observed that “nobody, other than the manager, appears proud of the Eve.” The paper noted that much of the Eve’s early fare was devoted to sadism, which was “apparently all right as long as sex is suggested more often than is depicted.” The Eve soon gained a sibling to the east when the Famous Players-owned Capri (now the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema) changed its name to Eden and utilized a similar logo.

After the Eve showed its last skin flick in 1986, the theatre was demolished. Its replacement shifted the site’s focus from hot chicks to hot chicken, thanks to the Swiss Chalet that operated there for years. Though the main street-level space, last occupied by the Rovers pub, is for lease, current tenants of 568 Bloor St. W. include a realtor and Cash Converters branch.

Additional material from the January 20, 1973 edition of the Globe and Mail, the April 3, 1986 edition of the Toronto Star, and the November 18, 1919 edition of the Toronto World. Special thanks to Eric Veillette for research assistance.

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