University Theatre

The University Theatre was for several decades one of the premier movie cinemas in Toronto, Canada. It was located on Bloor Street just west of Yonge Street in an area that was once home to a number of cinemas, most notably the Uptown Theatre, and was a centre for the Toronto International Film Festival. At the time of its closing it was the largest movie house in Canada.

The University Theatre opened in 1949, and aimed to be the premier cinema in the city. It was a single screen theatre that sat some 1300 people. The first film shown was Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc. The cinema would host many of the most important films, and for major productions would use reserved seating where patrons would buy specific seats well ahead of time. The cinema also helped introduce new technologies to Toronto such as CinemaScope and 70 mm film.

In 1981 owner Famous Players announced plans to demolish the theatre. One screen cinemas were no longer economic in the era of the multiplex. For several years a campaign was waged by film aficionados and heritage groups to keep the cinema open. Among those who voiced their opposition to its closing was mayor Art Eggleton and local city councillor Ron Kanter. This delayed its closing, but did not prevent it. It shuttered soon after the 1986 film festival, where it hosted the gala opening screening of The Decline of the American Empire. It was also agreed that the unique facade of the building would be preserved. Thus when the theatre was torn down the front wall was left standing, with a scaffolding at the rear supporting it. Sadly, the facade was allowed to deteriorate over the years and when the redevelopment of the property began, it was deemed necessary to pull down the facade. What is seen today is in reality, only a reproduction (albeit a picturesque and very accurate reproduction) of the original facade.

One of the prime reasons for its demise was that the property owners though they could get far more value from the land at one of the most exclusive sites in Toronto. However, soon after the theatre was demolished, the 1980s property boom collapsed. The abandoned facade, meant to be a temporary measure, was left in place for well over a decade. With the revival of the property market in the late 1990s developments were again proposed for the site. The first plan called for a new nine screen cinema to be topped with a 26 floor condominium. However, the cinema plans were abandoned and the building was constructed with retail along Bloor Street. Today the rebuilt facade of the University serves as the entrance to a Pottery Barn outlet.

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