This is what Lee’s Palace looked like when it first opened, nearly 100 years ago. It was the spring of 1919 — the first few months after the end of the First World War. It was a silent movie theatre back then, the Allen’s Bloor Theatre, part of one of Canada’s very earliest cinema chains. The Allen brothers had started with one “theatorium” in Brantford and spread all over the country — they had a whole string of theatres in Toronto, including one on the Danforth which is now the Danforth Music Hall and another in Parkdale which is now home to the Queen West Antique Centre.
The same guy designed all of the Allen cinemas in T.O.: theatre architect C. Howard Crane, who was about to become one of Detroit’s greatest architects. He designed some of Motown’s most famous buildings during the booming years of the 1920s, when the city was being built in Art Deco splendour thanks to the dawn of automobile. He’s responsible for the Fox Theatre, the Opera House, the Orchestra Hall, the Fillmore, the United Artists Theatre, the old Red Wings stadium… The list goes on. Plus, he designed other masterpieces in places like Columbus (the LeVeque Tower) and St. Louis (another Fox Theatre) and London (Earls Court).
The Allen’s Theatre chain would eventually be swallowed up by the Famous Players monopoly (who also owned the cinema across the street, which we now call the Bloor). The Lee’s Palace building would carry on as a movie threatre until the 1950s before it was finally shut down. For the next three decades, it would be home to a series of nightclubs and restaurants — including the burlesque show of the Blue Orchid — and at one point, according to the Lee’s website, a bank.
It was in 1985 that it finally became the Lee’s Palace that we know today. The first two acts were Handsome Ned and Blue Rodeo. Since then, it has played host to some of the greatest bands from Toronto and around the world, including the first local appearances by Nirvana, Blur, Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins.
A version of this post originally appeared on the The Toronto Dreams Project Historical Ephemera Blog. You can find more sources and other related stories there.
Images: the Lee’s Palace building in 1919.