100 Years of The Danforth Music Hall

August 15, 2019 | Beau

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The Danforth Music Hall is celebrating its 100th birthday this weekend, making it (along with Massey Hall, The Horseshoe and Grossman's Tavern) one of Toronto's oldest buildings still operating as an actual concert venue. Originally known as Allen's Vaudeville Theatre, it was one of the last old-style vaudeville houses to be built in the city; a popular neighbourhood pub located nearby is named after it.


Danforth Music Hall 1919
Allen's Danforth Theatre, as it appeared when it opened in 1919.


Danforth Music Hall
An interior shot of the theatre. If you look closely you can see that the curtains are branded with "Asbestos," which at the time was commonly used in the manufacture of theatre and other safety curtains.


Over the decades the Hall has gone through a number of different incarnations. It was purchased by Famous Players in 1923 when the Allen's chain of theatres went out of business, renamed The Century Theatre and served as both a live theatre and music hall for several decades.


Patrick Macnee
Actor Patrick Macnee stands in front of the Century Theatre marquee promoting his appearance in the play Sleuth 

After Famous Players moved out, the new tenants operated it as a Greek-language theatre named The Titania before rechristening it The Danforth Music Hall (in an attempt to evoke comparisons to New York City's world-famous Radio City Music Hall) and booking more live music acts, including famous late-'70s punk and new-wave acts like The Police, The Ramones and The Clash, although audiences had to sit down to attend the shows because it was still a seated venue.


Motorhead's Lemmy (1981). Not really a sit-down kind of show!
Suzanne Vega
Suzanne Vega (1993)
Michel Lemieux
Michel Lemieux (1986)

However, by the 1990s the Hall was primarily operating as a repertory movie theatre and closed down in 2004. In 2006 new tenants moved in, made some much-needed renovations and revived it as a live venue for both theatre and music. Internationally-famous Canadian acts like The Tragically Hip, Tegan and Sara and Arcade Fire played the Hall before the operators were evicted for unpaid rent in 2010, and then yet another group of new tenants leased the place, improved the acoustics and removed the seats, which allowed for a wider range of shows across different genres. Now it's marking its 100th anniversary with a couple of concerts this weekend featuring Wolf Parade and The New Pornographers, its place in the local music scene well-established, with everyone from Rihanna to author Neil Gaiman having graced the stage since its most recent reboot.

Over the years I've been lucky enough to see a bunch of great shows at the Danforth Music Hall, including concerts by Sarah Harmer, Primal Scream, Kamasi Washington and Big Sugar (whose tribute show for their late bassist Garry Lowe featured guest appearances from a veritable Who's Who of Canadian music legends), and I've got Stereolab tickets for their show coming up in October. What are some of the most memorable shows you've seen there?