When fans of theater watch a performance and say, "that story really came to life," the sentiment tends to have a different meaning when it comes to the Elgin and Winter Theatres. While Winter Garden Theatre is one place, the seating is stacked, meaning the experience is like combining two theaters to create one grand, elaborate set of viewing platforms. However, this Edwardian theatre is famous for reasons other than its architecture: It's also a part botanical garden.
It's hard to separate the decor from the actual living life in the Winter Garden Theatre, as plant life hangs from the ceiling and adorns the walls above viewers lucky enough to watch a performance on this incredible stage. While theatres are usually decorated in elegant and elaborate ways, Winter Garden Theatre is the only one of its kind which is not only stacked but allows theatre-goers to be immersed in an experience that's unlike any other, making them feel as though they've waltzed into a magical garden rather than just an auditorium with a stage.
While the theatre is covered from wall to wall with actual plant life, it's also painted to create the effect of being inside an illuminated, rustic garden. The walls feature various floral scenes and depict gardens that seem to mirror the ceiling, which brings magic and realism together to create both mirage and reality. The Winter Garden Theatre is the last of its kind in the entire world, as theaters are not built via stacking anymore, and its history, as well as its atmosphere, is nothing short of pure artwork.
The History Of The Theatre
The theatre was built in 1913, making it over a century old, yet it still stands in all its magnificent glory in downtown Toronto today. Part of the magic of being in this theatre is the way in which it was built. In a highly intricate manner and also by means that is highly unusual for theater construction, Marcus Loew, owner of the theatre chain, had the original foundation for the theatre - the Winter Theatre - built at ground level. This architecture was classic and featured shades of red and gold, which were traditional for a theatre setting during the early 1900s. After that, ambition kicked in and Loew decided to create his dream for the Elgin Theatre a reality, procuring construction of secondary seating that would sit seven stories above the first.
To add more magic to the atmosphere of this secondary theatre, a floral theme was decided upon and thus the walls and ceiling were painted to reflect a magnificent garden. While it was beautiful, the effect wasn't quite complete until the decision to add real, dried flowers and leaves to the ceiling and walls were made, thus essentially bringing the theatre 'to life' in a sense. With these additions, the theatre was one of its kind in not just one way, but two: By its untraditional architecture as well as its adornment of real, dried flora and fauna. The stage was represented as the 'sky' and was completed with an illuminated moon, so that theater-goers could feel as though they were truly witnessing something great in under the stars, outside, while sitting in a charming garden. This decor was beautiful day and night, with both aspects equally represented.
Unfortunately, the theatre fell into disuse and would remain that way for many decades before coming back to life. Prior to the 1980s, the theatre was faced with the threat of demolition, and conservationists stepped in to revive and restore the Winter Garden Theatre. Thanks to their efforts as well as those of volunteers, the theatre still stands in Toronto today after a whopping $29 million dollars for the restoration work. The effort that went into restoring the theatre to its former glory was tremendous, requiring the complete cleaning of the original paint as well as the re-weaving of every dried plant that hung from the ceiling. For those who have had the genuine pleasure of seeing the theatre, however, they will claim that the efforts were worth it - as the theatre is still the last-standing Edwardian-style theatre in the world.
While the theatre has been restored to its former glory, tours are only offered on Mondays and Saturdays but are well worth it for those interested in hearing about its history in-person. In May, Toronto plays host to a 'Doors Open' festival, during which visitors are usually able to see the grand theatre for themselves with the admission fees waived. However, the best way to see the theatre is still the original way: By watching a show come to life on its stage.