TORONTO’s Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres, 189 Yonge Street at Queen, are the last “double decker” or stacked Edwardian theatres in the world. The Winter Garden is on top; the Elgin underneath. Both were designed by Thomas W. Lamb, as a flagship for Marcus Loew’s American vaudeville chain.
The 1500 seat Elgin opened first – on December 15, 1913 as Loew’s Yonge Street vaudeville theatre, with royal boxes, gilt, mirrors and plaster detailing. With the passing of vaudeville, it became a cinema – Loew’s Downtown – later rechristened the Elgin.
The Winter Garden, opening on February 16, 1914, was modeled after 19th century ‘roof garden’ theatres. Its trompe l’oeil pastoral paintings, a ceiling garden of coloured-glass lanterns, vines and beech boughs make for a memorable night at the theatre.
With the decline of vaudeville and the rise of motion pictures, the Winter Garden Theatre closed on June 16, 1928. For fifty years it became a ‘ghost’ – sitting dark and empty. The Winter Garden came to life twice during that half century – once for a midnight preview of a Vincent Price movie, and as a set for CBC television’s ‘White Oaks of Jalna’ series.
<ABOVE – the Elgin, 1913, photo – Hill Peppard/City of Toronto Archives>
<ABOVE – the Winter Garden, 1914, photo – Hill Peppard/City of Toronto Archives>
Miraculously, in 1982, both theatres were granted national historic status. A government sponsored state-of-the-art renovation brought all the magic and glory back. The Winter Garden was no longer a “ghost”.
Tours are often available.
<PHOTO – Box Office, David J./wikimedia>