Uptown Theatre Collapses
December 8, 2003 11:58 AM   Subscribe

At least one person is dead when Toronto theatre The Uptown (a frequent haunt of my childhood) collapses. The 2000 seat Uptown was built in 1920 and closed in September of this year, right after the Toronto International Film Festival, which regularly used the theatre for its screenings. Ignoring a Cinema Treasures' petition, and heartfelt articles from local media, Famous Players, the theatre's owners, decided to sell the building to a condo developer after losing a two year battle with The Ontario Human Rights Commission, who were insisting that the venue be made wheelchair-friendly. Oddly, as I was walking past the site last night, I considered contacting the demolition company about what was being done with the theatre's sign when it finally came down.
posted by dobbs (12 comments total)
I think, due to the film fest, that the Uptown must be one of the theatres that has had the most international visitors in it--especially for Canada. I'm wondering if MeFites (local and not) have any fond memories of the theatre that they'd like to share? I spoke with some of my favorite film people there (Michael Moore, Robert Rodriquez, Michael Haneke, Quentin Tarantino, Steve Buscemi, Jean Luc Godard...) I really miss the place. Very sad that this tragedy will be the last time the theatre makes headlines.
posted by dobbs at 12:08 PM on December 8, 2003

That building greeted me upon emerging from Bloor/Yonge station on my way home from work; I'd always meant to hit it with a camera, and document some of its nifty exterior staircases and such. It'll be odd not having the ancient behemoth hiding amongst the shops.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2003

I loved the Uptown, it was one of the few remaining big, old-type theatres, and since I don't live in Toronto just now, I was surprised and saddened to hear of it being torn down (although I was still in Toronto when the OHRC started this campaign, which sounded the death knell for nearly all of Toronto's grand old theatres, including the Eglinton, unless they've managed to figure out how to make it wheelchair-accessible without going bankrupt) - there are a lot of newer, wheelchair-accessible theatres in Toronto, so I'm not quite sure why landmarks like the Uptown and the Eglinton have to be demolished. I have many fond memories of midnight movies in the Uptown 1 theatre, sitting way down in the first few rows (in the front row, you could put your feet up on that sloping stage-thing and be super-comfortable without disturbing anyone), and there were butt-rumbling subwoofers underneath the seats behind the first few rows. I saw the director's cut of Blade Runner there for the first time, along with any number of other films, including festival films like Metropolis. The other two screens downstairs were less good: smaller screens, stickier floors. Thanks for posting this dobbs, it brought back some good memories (although I'm very sad that people were hurt in this accident, of course).
posted by biscotti at 12:23 PM on December 8, 2003

I'm certainly sorry to see the Uptown go - and even sorrier that even the (ill-advised) demolition of the place was botched.

I've got the usual grab bag of great Film Festival memories: seeing Dario Argento speak before the Midnight-Madness debut of The Stendhal Syndrome and seeing Stacy Peralta speak after the Midnight-Madness debut of Dogtown and Z-Boys, attending a soul-cleansing screening of Amelie as the 2001 Festival resumed 72 hours after 9/11, etc.

By far my favourite Uptown memory, though, was of seeing a plain old blockbuster there on a hot summer Saturday night - Independence Day, to be exact. It was just a perfect illustration of the way the Uptown was not only a great theatre but a great crowd.

Many people - including several I was attending with - began to quietly heckle and mock the film in the first hour. This built, the heckles growing ever bolder, until President Bill Pullman's big rallying speech. Pullman hammily orates "Independence Day is no longer just an American holiday, it's a world holiday" or somesuch jingoistic nonsense - and literally half the capacity audience at the Uptown erupts into a rousing, ironic chant of "USA! USA! USA!" before dissolving into belly laughs. The remainder of the film was heckled constantly, to continued laughter.

The audience that night - as on many nights at the Uptown - turned a giant gilded turd of a Hollywood film into a raucous party. It's among the most fun times I've ever had going to the movies.

So long, old chum.
posted by gompa at 1:20 PM on December 8, 2003

Oops, looks like the FPP TIFF link is dead even though I checked it. Weird.

Biscotti, to my knowledge The Eglinton is still closed but is set to reopen as a special events venue. Same goes for the fantastic York, which was probably the theatre I've been to most as an adult, though it lacked the Eglinton and Uptown's character. As a kid, my uncle was a projectionist at The University, which I believe was the largest theatre in the province. That theatre was grand! I remember skipping school and going to check out films (Apocalpyse Now, Star Wars...) in the middle of the day and David would sit me ("Here! Trust me.") in the best place, which as far as he was concerned was "half as far back as the screen is wide, middle aisle, right hand seat." To this day it's where I sit when I go to any theatre, which means I often have to get there 30 mins earlier than most folks if I know it's a popular picture.

I often saw films at midnight, the night before they opened, when the staff of the theatre would gather with their friends and family and check the print before opening to the public. Amazing memories.

You're right about the stage at the Uptown. It was truly unique. I always imagined that it was used as for vaudeville way back when. it's the only theatre I've ever been in where people would literally race each (up a large flight of steps) to get a seat in the front row.

I've taken plenty of flack due to my anger about making venues wheelchair accessible. I sympathize with those wishing to experience the places but can't, but it always saddens (and often disgusts) me when places are closed or shut down as a result. The OHRC, in this case, insists that its decision was irrelevant and that FP was doing this for financial reasons. The University was closed because FP thought the real estate was too valuable. Today, the facade of the theatre still stands on Bloor Street... as the front of a Willams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn/Condo.
posted by dobbs at 1:25 PM on December 8, 2003

dobbs, I have fond memories of the University too - seeing all three Star Wars films in an afternoon (I think it was all three, anyway), and Aliens on opening night. I know the facade is still there, it's kind of weird, you used to be able to look through and see what was left of the interior, open to the sky. And of course, the long-gone Imperial Six, across from the Eaton's Centre, where I saw Star Trek: The Motion Picture as a kiddie, and both the Hollywood and the Hyland at Yonge & St. Clair, which I used to frequent up until just a couple of years ago, both of which are gone now.

gompa, you are so right about the crowds at the Uptown - I remember a midnight showing of Full Metal Jacket, which was about the only time I ever recall almost the entire audience getting the ironic humour in it.
posted by biscotti at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2003


the facade of the theatre still stands on Bloor Street... as the front of a Willams-Sonoma/Pottery Barn/Condo.

that's better than than be completely demolished. my favorite building is being rehabbed as a hard rock hotel. i'm horrified, for fear of what will happen to the amazing elevator lobbies, but at least it remains as burham intended from the outside.

hard rock has torn down the building next door and are replacing it with a bar/dance club annex that's a soulless mockery of a fishbowl of a building. at least that building was just a boring econo-block with a featureless facade.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:24 PM on December 8, 2003

I definately agree with Dobbs about this one, Wheelchair accessibility should only be forcibly imposed on a building if doing so wouldn't ruin the purpose of the building. Especially if it's a historic one. This theatre was lost because of the tyranny of a very small minority.
posted by Spacelegoman at 3:22 PM on December 8, 2003

don't get mad, get even.
posted by quonsar at 3:34 PM on December 8, 2003

I wondered why the street was so severely closed off.

I loved that theatre. It's only a few blocks from my place, but I loved the size of the place. I was horribly disappointed to hear it was being closed and torn down because it would cost too much to make it wheelchair accessible. Or so they say. We don't really, really know the real reason now, do we? Maybe the theatre was losing money, the taxes were too high, who knows. Let's not blame OHRC or those in wheelchairs for the demolition.

I hate it when they tear down old buildings in this city.

Most memorable event in that theatre? I was in my twenty's, on a date. I brought sparkling wine and real glasses. Lights went down, no ads back then!, credits start coming up, shortly after the movie [who knows or remembers that] started, I pop the cork. I didn't pry it and let it fly by any means, I just twisted the cork off and had a handle on it. The telltale sound though is recognizable. The people in front of us, got up and moved. Yep, we drank the bottle, clinked glasses *cheers* and had a wonderful date.

Waaaaah, no more Uptown.
posted by alicesshoe at 4:20 PM on December 8, 2003

I used to say that Toronto (and Vancouver) had great old community type theatres and that Boston was a wasteland in comparison. Apparently Washington Street in the South End (of Roxbury back then) had numerous old glorious theatres. Sad to see my hometown getting rid of it. Saw many TIFF films there, as well as the premier of Basketball Diaries with Jim Carrol in attendance, Nightmare Before Christmas... the list goes on. sigh.

No more. A great in the half round.
posted by grimley at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2003

My heart bleeds. I love the Uptown. WAH.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:59 PM on December 8, 2003

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