204, Dundas still maintains the façade of what used to be the Capitol Theatre, formerly known as the Allen Theatre. Londoners remember the premiere Saturday nights of many classic films and the long queues that used to form all the way round the corner of Clarence. Many Londoners remember Saturday matinees when as children they would, unaccompanied, take the bus downtown and watch age-appropriate films with other children from throughout the city.
Prior to the building of the Allen, this site was occupied by the Hiscox Livery, specifically by the largest of the eight livery stables that could be found in the downtown around 1888. The Allen first opened on the night of February 23, 1920, and was designed, in the commercial style popular at the time, by the American architect Howard Crane. The 1920s were the beginning of the so-called "movie palace era," when top architects and builders created cinemas that elicited as much admiration for their construction as for the movies they showed. Several Hollywood stars of the day, such as Mabel Normand and Will Rogers, are said to have sent congratulatory telegrams on its opening night.
In its first years as the Allen, with some 1,200 seats, this theatre was the latest addition to London's glitzy downtown landscape, and the London Free Press heralded its opening with a full-page. The Capitol, as it was renamed by Famous Players Corporation when it took over control in the early 1920s, could boast the finest of organs in Ontario to accompany the silent features. Famous Players also oversaw the transition from a silent movies theatre to "talking pictures" in the late 1920s.
The 1920 "talking pictures" also started to contribute to the "society spectacle" that would become popular several decades later. Advertising, for instance, became increasingly spectacular and sensational. For example, in 1927 Carling Brewing and Malting Company offered $25, 000 to whoever could complete the first ever non-stop flight from London, Canada to London, England. Two veteran pilots, Captain Terence Tully and Lieutenant James Medcalf, took up the challenge. The Stinson monoplane, bought by Carling's in Detroit, never made it to England and disappeared in the Atlantic with Captain and Lieutenant on board.