Until its demolition in 2003 the Uptown Theatre was a historic movie theatre located steps from the city’s central intersection of Yonge and Bloor. While the main entrance was located on Yonge street like many of the theatres built during that time (i.e. Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre), the main building actually fronted onto a side street, which meant for us while we were living just down the street a quick walk home. But at the time of its construction Toronto didn’t extend much further north of Queen Street, and as a result was a rather fitting name. Originally opened as the Lowe’s Uptown Theatre in 1920 as a venue for both films and vaudeville, the theatre became home to noted choreographers like Leon Leonidoff who spent several years at the Uptown developing the style he would later go on to train Radio City Music Hall’s famous Rockettes in. While built for a different chain than that of her sister theatre the Pantages, the acclaimed theatre designer Thomas W. Lamb opened the two buildings less than a month apart, employing similar designs for their respective Yonge Street entrances and auditoriums.
Despite a quick restoration after the fire in 1960 much of the original ornate plasterwork that adorned the theatre was lost, no doubt making owner Nat Taylor’s decision in September 1969 to close the theatre and renovate the building again an easy one. This time the Uptown was divided into five theatres, making it one of the world’s first multiplexes. Opening later that year for Christmas, the rebuilt facility now contained the iconic Uptown 1 that would later go on to become the principle venue for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was one of the earliest instances of an all stadium-seating auditorium in a cinema. Divided by a partition on what was the original main floor, Uptown 2 and 3 were installed, while the Uptown Backstage 1 and 2 were built in the original stage house, only accessible through a separate entrance on the adjoining side street of Balmuto.
In the mid ‘70s the theatre would change hands and join the Famous Players family going on to become one of Toronto’s favorite places to see films, being one of the last old-style large-audience big-screen theatres still operating in the downtown. And over the ‘80s as many of the Yonge and Bloor area movie theatres were closed, the Uptown increasingly became the theatre of choice, regularly playing midnight shows on the weekends. Unfortunately the inability to grandfather the building under new regulations in 2001 that mandated wheelchair access, and Famous Players finding the estimated $700’000 renovation costs too pricey for their bottom line, announced their intention to close the Uptown after the 2003 TIFF.
Sadly during its demolition that December a large section of the building collapsed as an operator accidentally cut a vital steel support that allowed the wall to buckle under the weight of the roof. This fell onto the neighboring Yorkville English Academy injuring fourteen, and killing Augusto Mejia Solia, a 27 year-old Costa Rican student at the school.