Toronto Then and Now: Westwood Theatres - The Intrepid

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Toronto Then and Now: Westwood Theatres

Then
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Now
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010.

Despite being a hideous suburban monstrosity with almost no redeeming architectural qualities, Westwood Theatres, a now abandoned Etobicoke cinema, resonates with a lot of people, including yours truly. Before Queensway Cinemas opened at Islington Avenue and The Queensway, Westwood, while not the only game in town, was one of the most convenient, and perhaps the cheapest place to see first-run releases in Etobicoke.

Then
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Now
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010. Behold, the mighty condos of Etobicoke!

Westwood opened in 1952 beside the equally monstrous six points interchange (the point where Kipling Avenue, Bloor Street West, and Dundas Street meet) and closed in 1998. The last film I had the pleasure of seeing there—for three dollars—was the 1996 masterpiece, Mars Attacks!.

According to srcushing, a Cinema Treasures commenter who claims to be the theatre's last manager, the final two features shown before the theatre closed were Titanic and Wild Things. (Neither of which seem particularly appropriate.)

"The Westwood had lots of life left," he continues. "[I]t was a discount theatre with first run films. I was selling out shows up until the end."

More recently, the site was used to film scenes for the unbearably shitty Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004). In the film, the roof of the theatre is destroyed by a zombie wielding a rocket launcher, and according to numerous accounts, the "D" in the Westwood sign was damaged during filming. (Dozens of other Toronto locations, including City Hall, also appear in the movie, and are subsequently nuked at the end.)

Westwood Theatre Resident Evil ApocalypseWestwood Theatre Resident Evil ApocalypseWestwood Theatres gets attacked by zombies in Resident Evil: Apocalypse. (Note the American spelling of "theater.")

Speaking of zombies and destruction, the Ontario government plans to demolish Westwood and build a courthouse on the site.

In response, local residents have started a Facebook group to save the theatre's most prominent image: the giant orange and neon green "Westwood" sign.

Bill Brioux, a former Toronto Sun columnist and the man behind the campaign, argues the following in his blog:

For any of us who grew up in that ‘hood, the Westwood letters are as indelible as the Hollywood sign and speak to the same magic, allure and escape movies have to offer. The letters should be saved for their historical value as a symbol of mid-century pop culture. Hard to see them remaining on that site if it is indeed a courthouse...Anyone up for a lost cause?
Any campaign to save the sign would have to move quickly, as construction is slated to begin within the next year, and the government hopes to have the courthouse complete by 2013.

Then
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 1974Westwood Theatres, 1974.

Now
Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Westwood Theatres, 2010.

Right now, the windows to the theatre are all boarded-up, but you can still peak through and see the completely stripped-down lobby. According to Brioux, all the theatres' trappings have long since been removed and some of the newer seats were moved to Runnymede Theatre, which closed shortly after Westwood.

Westwood Theatres Etobicoke Toronto 2010Someone still calls Westwood Theatres home.

The other two long time tenants, the Etobicoke Driving school and a karate dojo, have both moved, leaving the building completely empty. Though I suspect someone may be living in the theatre, as I saw several empty beer bottles and a shopping cart in the lobby, and what looks to be the home of some kind of animal behind the building.

As much as I'd like to save Westwood for nostalgia purposes, I think it's time for the building to go. Although the historian in me loathes seeing anything knocked down, there isn't much about Westwood that's worth preserving (even the sign), and the city desperately needs a new courthouse. In this case, memories and photos will have to do.

The 1974 photos of Westwood Theatres come from the City of Toronto Archives. The 2010 photos are by Stephen M.

18 comments:

Kendall said...

I remember going to that theater all the time!
I think I saw Aladdin there when I was a kid.

Rob said...

My friend and I were walking by the building this weekend because he had never seen it. As we walked by, I noticed the door was open and so we may or may not have stepped in to the main lobby, and shouted hello. When no one answered, we may or may not have then took a little walk around only do discover that all the doors were open around the whole building. We didn't see any cars in the parking lot and we didn't see anyone around the building, but after a few minutes of (possible) exploration, we felt like the need to leave as it felt like someone was there.

Duke Nukem said...

I also saw Aladdin there as a kid when it opened. Probably my first movie ever.

Rob, I took the same tour. Very eerie.. Children's toys everywhere, and a wheelchair sitting in the middle of a theatre room.

tree_803 said...

I went there and took a look around too. There were children's toys like Duke said, and also some paintings. All the lights were on on the first floor, but nobody was there. I didn't dare go to the basement though, in case there's a crazy axe-murderer living there.

rosie lim said...

When time goes by, there are a lot of improvement of the place too. Like this theatre, there is a lot of changes.

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stacey green said...

There is an improvement of this theatre. When I was a kid I like to watch a play on the theatre. Thanks for sharing this.

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