Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre, Canada
Situated in Toronto, The Elgin (formally known as Loew’s Yonge Street Theatre until 1978) and Winter Garden Theatre was built in 1913 by Marcus Loew and designed by Thomas Lamb. This venue is the world’s last operating double-decker or stacked Edwardian theatre (The Winter Garden Theatre was built seven stories above the Elgin Theatre). It was built to be the flagship in the famous Loews chain of vaudeville theatres and was used to show vaudeville and silent films in tandem. Downstairs is the Elgin Theatre, which is a sumptuous affair with royal boxes and elegant gilded plaster details decorated in red and gold. Upstairs is the magical Winter Garden Theatre, whose name comes from the flowers, vines and trees hand-painted on the walls and thousands of beech boughs and simulated gardens hanging from the ceiling. There are even the occasional painted lampposts, lanterns and tree trunks.
Unfortunately, The Winter Garden Theatre closed in 1928 due to the decline of vaudeville’s popularity and the advent of talking pictures and soon fell into disrepair. During the 60+ years that the theatre was boarded up it became Toronto’s ‘ghost theatre’, while The Elgin Theatre became a premiere movie palace. The venue was purchased in 1981 by The Ontario Heritage Trust, which also included what is believed to be the world’s largest collection of vaudeville scenery. In 1982 the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre became a Designated National Historic Site and between 1984 – 1989 both theatres were restored, adding new lobbies, lounges and a backstage pavilion. The Elgin Theatre reopened on the 14th of March, 1985 with a two-year run of ‘Cats’. The 15th of December, 1989 marked the grand re-opening of The Historic Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre and in 1990 movies returned to the Elgin Theatre with the Toronto Film Festival. At this time the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre had 1,563 and 981 seats respectively.
In 1995 a new marquee was installed, which was reminiscent of the 1913 original and uses 1,240 light bulbs. In 2018 the leaf ceiling of The Winter Garden Theatre was replaced with a new canopy of leaves. This project saw 21,800 new branches installed on the ceiling to maintain the magic of the original garden setting.
Today the theatre is a multi-purpose venue: they host a variety of musicals, operas, dramas, concerts and screenings for TIFF. They also host corporate events and receptions and have even been used as a filming and photo shoot location.