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Sprachman, Abraham (1896–1971) and Mandel (1925–2002)

SPRACHMAN, ABRAHAM (1896–1971) and MANDEL (1925–2002), Canadian theatrical and institutional architects. Abraham Sprachman was born in Honczarow, near the Carpathian mountains between Lvov and Chernovitz. His family settled in Toronto when Abe was a youngster. While he was studying bookkeeping in secondary school, a school inspector noticed his artistic talents and transferred him to a program in architecture. In about 1919 he opened his first architectural office in his bedroom. When a degree in architecture became required in 1935, he was retroactively made a member of the Ontario Association of Architects and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. Sprachman lived and worked in an almost exclusively Yiddish world, and most of his clients were Jews. With architectural opportunities for Jews limited in Canada, he first designed homes for Jewish clients referred to him by a friend building an accounting firm. Just as the Depression began, one of these clients gave him his first theatrical commission, the Circle Theatre. Theater architecture was something of an architectural extension of the largely Jewish movie business in which Jewish producers in Hollywood created the films that Jewish entrepreneurs exhibited in small neighborhood theaters, affectionately known as the "Nabes." Sprachman and a partner, Harold Kaplan, built many substantial neighborhood movie houses in Canada for the Famous Players, Loew's, 20th Century, and Premier Operating chains. Their most significant theaters were in the Art Deco style: the Vogue in Vancouver (1941) and the Eglinton in Toronto (1936), which was honored with the Governor General's medal. As his list of theater designs grew, American architects came to Toronto to study Sprachman's work.

Although theaters were their most prominent contribution to the Canadian streetscape, Kaplan and Sprachman also designed a number of Jewish community buildings including Jewish community centers in Toronto and Hamilton, the Toronto Mt. Sinai Hospital, the Baycrest Home for the Aged in Toronto, and several synagogues in Toronto and across western Canada.

Abe's son, Mandel, also became an architect known for his theater designs, albeit in a much changed Canada. Mandel was a child of the movies. He had spent his childhood in his father's movie theaters and at building sites doodling at the drawing board. In 1951 he translated his love of theater and screenwriting into a degree in architecture from the University of Toronto. After graduating, Mandel worked in Sweden, then in his father's office before opening his own firm in 1958. Like his father, Mandel designed movie houses that reflected the tastes of his times. Among his innovations were the first multiplexes, incorporating several screening rooms in one building and using televisions in the lobbies to promote the films.

Mandel was a striking man, known for his bowties and lapel pansies. Like his father, Mandel designed a number of striking synagogues in Ontario. His crowning achievement was his successful struggle to restore the 1913 Elgin Wintergarden Theatre in Toronto. One of the few remaining "double-decker" or stacked Edwardian theaters in the world, the Elgin Wintergarden had been the flagship of the Loew's chain of vaudeville theaters. Under Mandel's direction, it was painstakingly restored with added backstage and lobby areas. It reopened in 1989 and was soon a Toronto landmark.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.