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Willow Theatre

North York’s First Movie Theatre Opened on Yonge Street 1948

Willow theatre sold in 1987, demolished and replaced with condos, offices

North York’s first movie theatre – the Willow, opened June 18, 1948, at Yonge Street and Norton Avenue, between Sheppard and Finch avenues, in the Willowdale area – signified that the community was no longer a rural backwater.

The theatre had a distinctive yellow tiled marquee trimmed in red, plus an attached tall vertical sign that said in yellow vertical letters on a red background on each side, “W-I-L-L-O-W.” No one could miss it, which was the purpose, of course. It sat 300 people and had its own postcard.

Locals lined up around-the-block for its double features, usually second-runs.

In March 1957 stink-bombs were set off for three weeks during Friday evening shows until the police arrested a 17-year-old boy.

Stink-bombs were a common problem in Toronto-area theatres in this era.

There were also break-ins at the Willow to steal cigarettes in large quantities from the snack and cigarette counter.

In a 2012 blog, Richard Dowson, an usher in the winter of 1955-56, recalled:

Saturday matinėes were pure bedlam. No adults.

Popcorn was sold in small cardboard boxes. Fun was pushing in the end, making the box flat and throwing it like a Frisbee at the screen. This drove Mr. Allen (the owner) crazy! In addition kids put their feet on the seat in front and pushed, shaking whoever was in the seat, causing a fight at the most or damaging the seat at the least. This also drove Mr. Allen crazy!

My job included changing the marquee and carrying the big steel cans of film down and taking new ones upstairs. I was never allowed into the projection booth. Not sure if anyone was.

There was entertainment in Willowdale before television – it was called ‘going to the show at the Willow.’

When the theatre ran a steamy double bill of Peyton Place plus And God Created Woman with “sex kitten” Brigitte Bardot, the Legion of Decency complained, “This is not family entertainment.” Otherwise, the films were tame.

The Willow lasted longer than most neighborhood movie theatres but, with diminished attendance, was sold in 1987, demolished and a condominium and offices erected.

Written by Susan Goldenberg.

Originally published on April 25, 2018, on toronto.com.