Abandoned Matinees IV: The Allenby Cinema (Toronto)

October 19, 2010 | By

Torontoist just published a short piece on the Allenby Cinema (formerly the Roxy), recently transformed from a shuttered rep cinema by Greenwood and Danforth to a convenience store adjoining a gas station. The cinema’s marquee has been ‘preserved’ due to its historical significance, and Tim Horton’s is said to move into the street front section, so the building will have a new life.

This is the weirdo compromise that’s typical in Toronto: a façade or marquee is designated as historical, and it’s somehow retained while the rest of the building is altered for its new purpose.

On the one had, it can be regarded as a way for developers to weasel out of preserving the entire building, doing a kind of ‘There! See? We kept part of it out of respect! Now shut up let us run our business’ stance. At Danforth and Broadview sits a massive Shoppers Drug Mart, and if you look closely at the western edge, those arches are all that’s left of the original building – a funeral home.

Now, some may have been creeped out had the drug store been integrated into the original frame of a place where cadavers were tweaked and displayed and mourned before being boxed up or incinerated, but is there really any value in these token gestures at preservation?

Do the arches, or the Allenby’s marquee really make people stop and feel fuzzy that a piece of local history lives on, albeit repurposed? Would the current venues have been better served by simply starting from scratch and junking the old hulls and ornamentations in favour of a wholly new building that graphically tells people ‘Here is a gas Station. Fill up now!’?

Hard to tell, because while the Allenby looked like hell in its shuttered state from outside (see end of this page), it didn’t look that great in its final days either, spray-painted with movie iconography like the inside of someone’s van, as a poster commented on that site. (As is the case with many of these old ‘nabes, few historical photos exist of the building’s original exterior and interior layout during its heyday, except maybe this lobby shot, far down the page.)

The Allenby cinema boasted an early outfitting of optical Dolby sound and big screen picture, and yet, as happens to many neighbourhood venues, after its central attraction – the Rocky Horror Picture Show – withered from a major cult phenom into a fringe attraction, it closed.

The only amusement one can find in reading about a doomed theatre is some of the ideas that owners, consortiums, and preliminary buyers had for a building that once showed movies. Dance halls. Antique car showroom. Beer hall. Youth center. Mixed arts venue. Whatever. In T.O., some of the surviving cinema shells became carpet stores, dollar stores, book shops, computer surplus shops, while others were altogether demolished.

The question that runs through my mind is whether the Allenby could’ve succeeded as a rep cinema in light of the TIFF Bell Lightbox and Toronto Underground Cinema opening this year, as well as the re-opening of the Carlton. Single screen cinemas like the Bloor and the Royal survive, as well as the Revue, literally saved by the community.

I hope 5 years from now each and every one of the above (and those I missed in the above, hastily drawn tally) are still vibrantly alive, and have adapted through careful programming, local events, etc.

Maybe the ‘nabes will also serve as large venues for digital broadcasts of sports or arts events.

If it became the de facto standard to outfit a theatre with film and digital projection, as well as a 3D add-on, one would think networks and film distributors and studios might find the environment of a cinema could hold digital screenings of a huge diversity of programs.

I would’ve paid to see the finale of Lost in a cinema with digital sound and picture minus ad breaks, and maybe if the CBC’s plans to air hockey in 3D twice this season are still on the go, fans might consider going to cinemas for a HD-3D broadcast (minus the beer).

This is a travesty, whereas maintaining cinemas for some kind of public event isn’t. I’m glad the Eglington lives on, but it kills me that its original purpose will never happen again.




Mark R. Hasan, Editor



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