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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Arena Gardens (Mutual Street Arena) now demolished

City of Tor, Archives Arena- SC 646-  nd[1]

     Mutual Street Arena, City of Toronto Archives, SC 646

When I was a boy in the 1940s, my friends and I enjoyed roller skating on the sidewalks in our neighbourhood. We purchased our skates from a hardware store that also sold sports equipment such as toboggans and sleds. The roller skates clamped on to our shoes, a key employed to open and close the clamps to fit the size of our shoes. When we became teenagers, we considered ourselves quite grown up when our parents allowed us to journey on the streetcar to downtown Toronto to skate at the Mutual Street Arena. It was located at 78 Mutual Street, on the east side of the street, between Dundas Street East and Shuter Street. Compared to our neighbourhood sidewalks, the smooth floor of the arena was “roller-skating heaven.” We skated to music around the enormous rink-size floor, which contained ice during the hockey season. I remember that the arena was an impressive structure, although when I visited it in the 1950s, it was no longer in its prime.

In the 1880s, there was an outdoor a rink on the four-acres site on the west side of Mutual Street. In summer, the open space was a children’s playground, with an ornamental fountain. In the 1890s, the Toronto Directories reveal that it contained the Canadian Curling Rink. The Goad’s Atlas does not depict any building on the location, so it is assumed that it was an outdoor rink. In 1902, the Caledonian Skating Rink occupied the space, and Mr. J. Moore was the caretaker. One source states that this rink was housed in a large building, but the maps do not depict any structure. I was unable to resolve this discrepancy. The 1910 Goad’s map of the area simply shows the site as containing a “skating rink,” and again, no building is depicted.

In the early decades of the 20th century, the population of the city continued to expand. A larger auditorium was needed for special events and concerts, as Massey Hall was no longer of sufficient size. As a result, a group of investors, headed by Sir. Henry Pellatt of Casa Loma fame, formed the Toronto Arena Company. They purchased the site on Mutual Street, where the Caledonian Rink was located, and raised the funds to finance a building. To design the structure, the architect F. H. Herbert, from the firm of Ross and McFarland was hired. Herbert created a plain rectangular building with a symmetrical east facade with limited ornamentation. It was originally to be primarily an opera venue and special events space, but the plans were changed as the investors believed that it would be more profitable if it were combined with a hockey arena. The total cost of the building was $500,000, and when it was completed, it was the largest auditorium in Canada. The ice rink was 230’ by 95’, surrounded by seats that accommodated almost 8000 persons. Its name was to be the Arena Gardens of Toronto.

It opened on October 7, 1912, but the equipment to produce ice for the rinks had not yet been installed. However, but this did not detract from the excitement of its inauguration. Opera and comedy were the themes on opening night. Centre stage was taken my Marie Dressler, Arturo Tibaldi, and Albert Spalding. Also present was a star of New York’s Metropolitan Opera—Alice Neilson, supported by a 62-man orchestra. In late November of the same year, the ice plant commenced operating, one of the first in Canada to manufacture ice artificially. It was able of producing 60 tons of ice every 24 hours, resulting in the extra ice being sold for kitchen ice-boxes across the city.

The first hockey game in the arena was held in November of 1912, and the Toronto Arena Hockey Club was born. The team’s name was the Toronto Blue Shirts in 1912, its colours being blue and white. Many simply referred to it as the Toronto Team. In 1913, a huge rally was held in the arena for Sir Wilfrid Laurier, even though he had been defeated in the 1911 election.

In May of 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland sank in the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River. More passengers lost their lives in this tragedy than on the Titanic. It was Canada’s greatest maritime disaster. The funeral service for the victims that were members of The Salvation Army was held in the Arena Gardens, as it was the only building in the city able to accommodate the crowd of mourners. The funeral procession departed from the arena and proceeded north on Yonge Street to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, north of St. Clair Avenue.    

In 1919, the name of the hockey team playing in the arena was changed to the St. Patricks (St. Pats). On February 4, 1923, Norman Albert narrated the first radio broadcast of a  game. In 1921, a prohibition rally of 12,000 was accommodated in the Garden Arena. In 1925, the inaugural service of the newly formed United Church of Canada was held within it. For the 1926-1927 season, the St. Patricks name was changed to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1931, the Leaf franchise relocated to Maple Leaf Gardens at Carlton and Church Streets. The Arena Gardens was renamed Mutual Street Arena, and the building at Carlton and Church became known simply as, “The Gardens.”

After the Leafs departed, the arena on Mutual Street was used for boxing matches, boat shows, home shows, wrestling, and tennis. In 1942, Glenn Miller’s Band performed in the arena, and in 1949, Frank Sinatra crooned to enthralled crowds. In 1962, it was closed for a massive $3 million renovation. At this time, a restaurant and curling rink were added. When it reopened, it was renamed The Terrace, its main use now roller and ice skating.

In 1989, as property values increased in the core of the city, the owners of the arena sold the building and it was demolished.

              Arena_Gardens_Map[1]

                                       Site of the Mutual Street Arena.

Commons Wikipedia  Board_of_Trade_banquet_to_Rt_Hon_RL_Borden,_KC_LLD_(Arena_Gardens),_Toronto,_September_23,_1912_(HS85-10-25998)[1]

Board of Trade banquet for the Hon. R. L. Borden on September 23, 1912. Photo, Commons Wikipedia.

Wikipedia  1913- Sir_Wilfrid_Laurier's_reception_at_Liberal_meeting,_Arena_Gardens[1]

                Political rally in the arena for Sir Wilfrid Laurier in 1913.

May 1914- Heritage Centre

Funeral Service for the victims of the Empress of Ireland in the arena in 1914, held under the auspices of the Salvation Army. Photo, Salvation Army’s George Scott Railton Heritage Centre.

heritage toronto  oldfront[1]

Undated photo of the east facade of the arena on Mutual Street. View gazes south on Mutual Street.

btw, 1940 and 1960,  f1257_s1057_it0964[1]

Interior of the arena between the years 1940 and 1960. Photo Toronto Archives, S1257, S 1057, item 0964. 

btw, 1940-1960  f1257_s1057_it0965[1]

The arena between the years 1940 and 1960. City of Toronto Archives, F1257, S 1057, Item 0965.

Tor. Sun, March 16, 2013  Milke Filey  1297389943990_ORIGINAL[1]

Photo of the arena in the 1920s, accompanying an article by Mike Filey in the Toronto Sun on March 15, 2013. View gazes north on Mutual Street.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

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Toronto’s Cyclorama (demolished) on Front Street

f0124_fl0003_id0058[1]

In the foreground is the building that once housed Toronto’s Cyclorama, on Front Street West. The photo was taken c. 1975, the year prior to its demolition. The Walker House (Hotel) is to the east (left) of the Cyclorama and the Swiss Bear Restaurant (with the pointed roof) is between the two structures. Both of these have also been demolished. In the distance (far left) is today’s Union Station. Toronto Archives, F0124, fl. 0003, id. 0057. 

When I was a teenager in the 1950s, Front Street as depicted in the above photo was very familiar to me. I drove or walked past this section of the street many times, but knew very little about the history of the rather strange looking parking garage that was circular in shape. My father had told me that it had once contained some sort of enormous painting, which encircled its interior. However, he knew nothing more about the structure. It was built long before he arrived in the city in 1921, and he had never been inside it.

I did not pursue the matter any further, as being a teenager I was busy with other things. In my mind, it remained simply an odd-shaped parking garage that was quite ugly, and thus I did not take much notice when I heard that it was being demolished. However, when researching the cyclorama for this post, I discovered that it was once an important part of Toronto’s entertainment scene.

Cycloramas were popular in the final decades of the nineteenth century as they presented dramatic scenes in blazing colours. Photography was in its infancy and there were no coloured photographs other than those that were hand-tinted. The only way of depicting colourful scenery or important events was by creating paintings with oils or watercolours. As a result, in the 1880s, in Europe and North America, large buildings were constructed to display huge 360 degree canvases. They wrapped around the interior of the structures and viewers stood on stages in the centre of the paintings or on walkways. Erected for public entertainment, these buildings were named cycloramas because they were cylindrical in shape.

Toronto’s Cyclorama was typically round in appearance, similar to others world-wide. However, it actually possessed 16 flat sides, the resulting hexadecagon looking like an enormous circle. It was a combination of an art gallery and an amusement arcade. Around the interior of the brick building, which was the equivalent of three storeys in height, in which multiple canvases were connected to create a 400-foot continuous scene. The painting was 50 feet high, the dome above it coloured to resemble the sky. Created by an Austrian artist, August Lohr, the perspective was increased to simulate a 3D effect. Erected by the Toronto Art Exhibition Company Ltd., the building’s architects were Kennedy and Holland. It was located on the south side of Front Street West, between York and Simcoe Streets. The old Union Station (now demolished), was immediately to the south of it.

When Toronto’s cyclorama opened on September 13, 1887, it was a colourful and amazing sight for 19th-century visitors. The first presentation was a panoramic view of the Battle of Sedan, one of the bloodiest battles of the Franco Prussian War of the 1870s. In front of the the scene were real and manufactured artefacts (weapons, uniforms , a real horse that was stuffed, a cannon, etc.). To add realism, at peak viewing times costumed actors portrayed soldiers, sound effects were added, and sometimes smoke to simulate the after effects of cannon fire. Visitors paid 25 cents to enter the building, and viewed the art work from a walkway that allowed them to move around the entire circle. The concept was a great success.

In 1889, the Battle of Gettysburg was shown at the cyclorama. Then, the Battle of Waterloo was the subject, and next, Jerusalem on the Day of the Crucifixion. Historic and religious themes were the favourites of cycloramas in Europe as well as in North America. 

However, as the 20th century approached, technology continued to advance and magic lantern shows (slides) began to reproduce authentic scenes of nature, cities, and even important events. These were followed by silent movies that were often filmed on real locations. Attendance at cycloramas throughout the world slowly declined.

Toronto’s cyclorama was seized by the City of Toronto about the year 1898, for non-payment of $2095 in taxes. It remained empty for many years, and was in danger of being demolished. Finally, in 1927, it was purchased by the Petrie Machinery Company for a showroom and factory. A few years later, it was remodelled to create a parking garage for the nearby Royal York Hotel, which opened in June, 1929. The conversion of the cyclorama into a garage presented many engineering problems. In the 1940s, the cyclorama became a showroom for Elgin Motors, and finally, a parking garage for Avis Car Rentals. 

In 1976, the cyclorama was purchased, and along with the Walker House Hotel, was demolished to erect Citigroup Place. Today, when I drive southbound on York Street to reach the Gardiner Expressway, at Front Street I often think of the old Walker House and Toronto’s Cyclorama.

Map of 121 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5J

                         Site of Toronto’s Cyclorama.

skritchblogspot.com  Petriecyclorama-emporium1906[1]

Postcard from 1906, depicting the cyclorama when it was the Petrie Machinery Emporium. The view is from Front Street, the old Union Station erected in 1873, to the west of it. All these buildings have been demolished. Image from skritch.blogspot.com

Fonds 1244, Item 1099

The cyclorama in 1922, when it was the Petrie Machinery Company showroom and factory. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 1099.

Dec. 6, 1926  f1548_s0393_it20964[1]

The dome of the cyclorama on December 6, 1923. Toronto Archives, F1548, S0393, Item 20964.

1926,  f1580_it0017[1]

This photo was taken on June 3, 1926. It gazes toward the northwest, the three towers of the Union Station, erected in 1873, on the left-hand side. The taller tower to the north of the three towers is the section of the station on Front Street. The south and east sides of the cyclorama are visible, as well as the Walker House beside it, on the east side. The bridge crossing over the railway tracks is on York Street. Toronto Archives, F1580, Item 0017.

f1231_it0100[1]

This panoramic view gazes at the south (rear) and east sides of the cyclorama, the Walker House to the east of it. York Street is between the Walker House and Union Station, which opened in 1927. Front Street is on the north side of the buildings. The Queen’s Hotel, where the Royal York Hotel is today, is across from Union Station. The clock tower of the Old City Hall is in the upper left-hand corner. Photo was taken c.1927, and is from the collection of the Toronto Archives, F1231, Item 0100 (1).

201216-cyclorama-splitfrom BlogTo  [1]

Split image depicting the cyclorama in the 1940s (left) and a sketch of the cyclorama in the late-19th century. Image from www.BlogTo.com  

pinterest.com  57d71de398cd8e5a3b93f277b5d4866e[1]

Undated photo of the interior of the cyclorama, when floors had been built inside it to convert it into a parking garage. Image from pinterest.com.

1953, pictures-r-3686[1]

View of the north (front) side of the cyclorama on Front Street in 1953, the Walker House to the east of it. Toronto Public Library r-3686.

Walker House - view from York St below University Ave – January 7, 1975

The south side of the cyclorama and the Walker House (foreground) on January 7, 1975. View gazes west on Station Street from York Street. Toronto Archives, F1526, Fl 0051, Item 0001 

DSCN0384

The site where the cyclorama and the Walker House were located, on Front Street to the west of York Street. Photo taken in March 2016.

A link to discover more about the old Walker House Hotel to the east of the cyclorama:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/12/walker-house-hotel-demolished-front-and-york-streets/ 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[1]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released in June 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or contact the publisher directly by the link shown below:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Walker House Hotel (demolished) – Front and York Streets

York and Front--1954.  pictures-r-4959[1]

The Walker House (hotel) on the southwest corner of Front and York Streets in 1954, Toronto Public Library r- 4958

Although I was never inside the old Walker House on Front Street, I remember it quite well. in the 1950s, when I first received a driving license, I passed by it many times while driving south on University Avenue, en route to the newly constructed Gardiner Expressway. In that decade, the Walker House was highly popular as it contained several well-known restaurants – Rathskeller, the Franz Josef Room, and on the west side of the hotel, the Swiss Bear. The latter was in a building that resembled a Swiss chalet. On weekdays, these restaurants were frequented by businessmen, as the hotel was not far from the financial district.

I had only one personal contact with the hotel, and it was merely with an artefact from it. After the hotel was demolished, its wooden bar was sold, removed, and installed in Crispins Restaurant at Church and Gerrard Street East, in a bar at the rear of the eatery. I remember being shown the bar. It was about 30 feet long, built of dark-stained wood. It possessed a rich mahogany-like sheen, but it was likely crafted from native wood such as oak or cherry. It would have been impressive in its original location.

The Walker House was completed in 1873, the same year that the Grand Trunk Railway opened its station on the Esplanade, between York and Simcoe Streets. The Esplanade was constructed on landfill, created by dumping soil and rubble into the harbour south of Front Street. The Walker House was a short distance to the northeast of the station, constructed to accommodate travellers that arrived in the city by train. In 1873, the hotel advertised that guests would be met at the station and their luggage transported directly to the hotel’s lobby. In 1879, the hostelry hosted guests that arrived to attend Toronto’s first permanent Industrial Exhibition, a precursor of today’s Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). 

The Walker House was also constructed on landfill, the slope of York Street on its east side, indicating the lake’s original shoreline. However, even when the hotel was erected, the lake had already been pushed further south. On the hotel’s west side there was an alley, and next to it was the Cyclorama. The hotel was well known for having comfortable rooms during the summer months, as it received the cool breezes from the harbour.

The four-story Walker House was rectangular in shape, its northeast corner angled so that its entrance faced both Front and York Streets. In 1892, the doorway was relocated to the north side, at 121 Front Street East. The rooms contained numerous large rectangular windows that provided excellent interior lighting and a view of the harbour. The top of the windows were Roman arches, typical of many 19th-century buildings. The windows and their surrounds provided texture on the otherwise unornamented brick facades, the cornice at the roofline also unadorned. The simple rectangular shape of the building allowed corridors on the floors to be straight, with exit stairways at each end. This lessened the possibility of guests being trapped, if a fire occurred.   

When the hotel opened in 1873, the proprietor was David Walker, who had worked for many years at the Americana Hotel at Yonge and Front Streets. Originally, the Walker House contained 125 rooms, which rented for $2 a day. The hotel was enlarged several times, and eventually a fifth storey added. The establishment was immensely popular, since not only was it near the train station, it was close to the luxury shops on King Street, and the provincial legislative buildings at Front and Simcoe Streets.

The hotel was renown in the latter part of the 19th century for its fine dining room, which seated 170 people. Its New Year’s Eve banquets and Christmas-day dinners were always booked well in advance. The Walker House competed for patrons with the prestigious Queen’s Hotel, further east on the north side of Front Street, where the Royal York is today located, and the Rossin House at King and York. The Walker House was one of the first hostelries to install an elevator and electric call buttons to allow guests to connect with the front office. 

However, during the 1970s, the land near the financial district was among the most coveted real estate in Toronto. Sites were continually being sought by developers to erect low-rise and mid-rise structures. The Walker House became was a casualty of this building boom. It was sold and demolished in 1976, another Toronto landmark from my youth disappearing.

A 19-storey office tower was erected on the site – Citigroup Place – completed in 1983. 

A link to discover more about the cyclorama, to the west of the Walker House:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/18/torontos-cyclorama-demolished-on-front-street/

Map of 121 Front St W, Toronto, ON M5J

Location of the Walker House at Front and York Streets. The site is today a considerable distance from the lake.

               Jan 2, 1888, TRL.  cihm_32339_0004[1]

Menu of the Walker House on January 2, 1888. In the sketch, the hotel has only four storeys. From the collection of the Toronto Public Library.

TRL, sketch 1890, south down York Street  pictures-r-2417[1]

Watercolour of 1890, which depicts the Walker House on the right-hand side. The building on the left is the proposed CPR Railway Station, which was never built. The Union Station of today was eventually erected on the site. In the watercolour, the shoreline of the lake is not far from the hotel. The trains on the tracks south of the Esplanade are visible in the far background. Collection of the Toronto Public Library, r-2417. 

                1910, 20101116-GoadUnion[1]

Map of 1910 showing the Walker House on the southwest corner of Front and York Streets. The Union Station in the lower left-hand side of the map is not the train station of today, but the one that opened in 1873. The year the map was published, a grand entrance had been added to it on its north side, on Front Street. The round structure on the west side of the Walker House is the Cyclorama.  There is no University Avenue on the map, as it was not extended south of Queen Street until the 1930s. Map from the Goad’s Atlas of 1910, Toronto Reference Library.

Postcard 1910, TPR. pcr-2214[1]

Postcard depicting the Walker House in 1910, after the fifth storey was added. Toronto Public Library, r-2214. 

1924- pictures-r-4357[1]

View gazing west on Front Street from Bay Street in 1924. The new Union Station of today was not yet open to the public. It officially opened in 1927. The Queen’s Hotel is the white building in the upper right-hand corner of the photo. The Walker House is to the west of Union Station, at York at Front Streets. Toronto Public Library, r- 4357.

201111-west-bay-royal-york-1928-f1244_it10085[1]

Gazing west on Front Street from near Yonge Street in 1928. Union Station is now open, but only partially functioning. The Royal York has replaced the Queen’s Hotel, but is not yet open for guests. The Walker House is visible in the distance on the west side of the new Union Station. The tower behind the Walker House is part of the old train station of 1873, the section with the tower on Front Street erected in 1910. Toronto Archives, F1244, Item 10085.

1945,  f1257_s1057_it0542[1]

The Walker House in 1945. The view gazes directly at the northeast corner of the rectangular-shaped building. York Street is on the east side of the hotel. The building to the south of the hotel, on its south side, is on Station Street. It remains today and is included in the Skywalk that connects the new Union Station (1927) with the CN Tower. Toronto Archives, F1247, S 1057, Item 054.

f0124_fl0003_id0056[1]

Undated photo of the Walker House. Next to the hotel (west side) is the round facade of the Cyclorama, which was also demolished in 1976. Between the hotel and the Cyclorama is the pointed roof of the Swiss Bear Restaurant. View gazes west on Front Street from York Street. The slope on York Street is where the original shoreline was located, prior to landfill being dumped into the harbour. Toronto Archives, F0124, Fl 0003, Id. 0056.

                    DSCN0383

The 19-storey Citigroup Place at Front and York Streets in 2016, where the Walker House once stood.

DSCN0384

The Citigroup Place tower, and visible to the south of it, the building from the old Union Station, now part of the Skywalk. 

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

Tags: , ,

Developers’ appeals to the OMB ruin neighbourhoods

Developer’s appeals to the OMB are usually disastrous for neighbourhoods and heritage buildings. This concerns me greatly, as I have now placed over 800 posts on this blog that explore Toronto’s historic neighbourhoods and heritage sites. My intent has been to increase awareness of our city’s past, so that more of the buildings of yesteryear, and communities where they are located, will be preserved for future generations.

I realize that not every older building can be maintained, and some are clearly not worthy of preservation. However, though we have improved in our approach to saving historic structures, much more is required. Many developers still pay too much homage to financial gain at the expense of the neighbourhoods where they build. Even in Heritage Districts, the city allows structures that are clearly too tall for the narrow streets where they are located. If the city refuses the extra height, developers appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).

A proposal has been submitted to the City of Toronto to erect a 13-storey building on the southeast corner of Camden and Brant Streets in the King-Spadina Heritage Conservation District. The developers assert that they have considered the impact of their project on the neighbourhood, as they also live in the district. However, unless they live on Brant or Camden Streets, they are not directly affected. They do not agree that the traffic their hotel would generate is simply too much for the two narrow roadways to absorb.

A thirteen-story hotel does not belong on 19th-century streets such as Brant or Camden. All the problems that residents fear relate to the building’s height — the more floors, the more rooms, therefore the more traffic, greater noise, and the increased shadow effect on the surrounding buildings and St. Andrew’s Playground. I doubt if either of the developers would allow a project of this height to be built next door to them. Would they really welcome a structure that would place their dwellings in shadow for most of the day for at least five months of the year? Would they endanger their families by allowing traffic to increase to a point where emergency vehicles could be seriously delayed?

May I be allowed to give a personal example. On Tuesday, March 31st, we were to be picked up by Wheel Trans for an appointment. The vehicle was late in arriving, as the driver was unable to proceed westward on Camden Street due to the illegally parked cars. The driver reversed, went south on Spadina to King, and turned north on Brant. It required five minutes to journey up Brant. Due to the illegally parked cars, the northbound Wheel Trans was forced to wait for southbound cars. Needless to say, we were late for the appointment.

What if we had called an ambulance, the police, or the fire department? Minutes lost can cause the loss of a life! The traffic on Camden and Brant Streets is already beyond capacity, and the Ace Hotel has not been built.

I fear that the City of Toronto has a conflict of interest in this development. The city wants the hotel to be erected. This is understandable as Ace Hotel is a prestigious brand and the tax dollars it would generate would be enormous. In this instance, what is good for the city is not good for the neighbourhood, yet it is the city that will decide on the height of the building—a conflict of interest. Which member of our city council would agree to allow a building of this height to be erected next to their home?

The developers of the Ace Hotel state that they have carefully assessed the financial viability of their project, and concluded that they are unable to reduce its height. Does this mean that the eight-story Hotel Victoria on Yonge Street operates at a loss? This hotel is the type that would more readily fit into the Brant/Camden neighbourhood, and be an asset. It is a boutique hotel, with no rooftop bar and of a size that would be better suited to narrow streets such as Camden and Brant.

I believe that the Ace Hotel as planned is architecturally attractive, but its 13-storey height will create a dangerous amount of traffic. It will also decrease the public’s enjoyment of St. Andrew’s Playground, which will be over-shadowed by the building. The City of Toronto owes the residents of the area more support to reduce the number of floors. I realize that if the city enforces the bylaws and refuses the extra storeys, the developers would likely appeal to the OMB.

According to recent articles in the press, developers are the largest contributors to all three of the provincial political parties. Perhaps this explains why no government has ever abolished the OMB. It is an unelected body that favours the developers when making decisions. This is very unfair and undemocratic. As long as developers are able to appeal to the OMB, neighbourhoods will suffer and heritage buildings will be demolished. 

Map of 51 Camden St, Toronto, ON M5V 1V2

Site of the Ace Hotel, on the east side of St. Andrew’s Playground, where the hotel will cast shadows.

For more details about the Ace Hotel project, see the blog of the Garment District Neighbourhood Association (GDNA)  www.gdnatoronto.org

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[1]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

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Fond Memories of Sam the Record Man

                View of Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street – June 23, 1971

Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in 1971, Toronto Archives, F1526, fl 0003, Item 0025

My earliest memories of purchasing records from Sam Sniderman’s store date from 1958-1959. I lived in the west end of the city, but was working in the British American Oil Company building at Bay and College Streets. I was collecting 78 rpm recordings of brass bands, particularly those in Great Britain. Sam’s was one of the few shops that stocked these disks, as they were not exactly mainstream merchandise. On my way home from work, I sometimes boarded a westbound College Street streetcar and travelled to Sam’s store at 714 College Street, three blocks east of Ossington Avenue. The store was rather jumbled and slightly run down, but the record collection was fantastic.

The store on College Street that I visited was named, “Sniderman Radio Sales and Service.” It had been established by Sam Sniderman’s father in 1929. In 1937, Sam began selling records in his father’s store. After long-playing vinyl disks were introduced in 1948, record sales expanded greatly, and by the late 1950s, Sam’s store had one of the largest collections of recordings in the world. Its main competitor was A&A Records on Yonge Street. Sam Sniderman realized that to truly be able to compete with A&A, he required a downtown location. As a result, in 1959, he rented space on the ground floor of Yolles Furniture Store at 291 Yonge Street, on the west side of the street, south of Dundas Street. However, he did not remain on the site very long.

In 1961, Sam relocated his business to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The signage on the front of the store displayed an huge thermometer and barometer, the colour red dominating the display. Sam’s was in the heart of the movie theatre district, where foot-traffic was constant all day and continued into the late evening hours. People who attended the large theatres such as the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and those who visited the smaller Biltmore, Savoy or Downtown Theatres, often dropped into Sam’s or A&A’s before journeying home. The shops remained open until midnight, the late-evening hours being the busiest. In 1967, annual sales at Sam’s topped $2 million, the equivalent of about $15 million today.

The year 1969 was an historic year in the history of the store, and is one of the reasons that Sam’s is so well remembered today. Wishing to attract more attention to his enterprise, he hired the best-known sign company in the city – Brothers Markle. It created the iconic sign that became a favourite of many Torontonians. Requiring two months to complete, the neon vinyl sign resembled a huge record disk, approximately 7 metres by 5 metres. The neon tubes flashed on and off, creating the effect that the record was spinning on a turntable. When Sam took over the building to the north of his store, the signage was extended to include another flashing record disk. This brought the total size of the sign to 15 metres by 10 metres. It was visible to everyone who nightly strolled “the strip,” as that section of Yonge Street was known.  The brightly-lit sign became an integral part of the scene.

During the 1970s and 1980s the record business was flooded with sales, and Sam’s rode the crest of the wave. The store’s brand was franchised throughout Canada; at the height of the popularity of LP records, there were 130 outlets. Sam encouraged vocal artists to perform in his store on Yonge Street, and through these events he promoted the careers of artists such as Stompin’ Tom Connors, Gordon Lightfoot, Anne Murray, Guess Who, and Joni Mitchell. Sam continually expanded, occupying the bank building on the corner on the northeast corner of Yonge and Gould, to the south of his store.

However, during the 1990s, sales began to diminish. Sam’s went bankrupt in 2001, but was resurrected in 2002 by his two sons—Bobby and Jason. However, they were unsuccessful in restoring the business as even CD sales were dropping due to the internet. The store permanently closed in in February 2007.

Ryerson University purchased Sam’s and A&A, along with others buildings in the same block. They were demolished to create the Ryerson Student Learning Centre, with the understanding that the iconic Sam’s sign would be resurrected and placed on the new building, since it was designated an historic artefact under the Ontario Heritage Act. It was never installed, as the university claimed that the sign did not suit the modern style of their new structure. However, I sometimes wonder if the condition in the purchase agreement was truly impressed on the architect. It now appears that the university is planning to place the sign above a city-owned building that overlooks Yonge/Dundas Square. Viewed from atop a tall building, its impact would be non-existent, especially with the enormous number of signs that overlook Dundas Square.

Sam died in September 2012 at age 94. He made a wonderful contribution to the life of Toronto and is fondly remembered for much more than the neon sign he left behind.

Sources: news.library.Ryerson.ca—www.globeandmail.ca—torontoist.com—www.thestar.com

Canada Archives e010991186-v8[1]  Can.  Ar. Stompin' Tom Connors e010981574-v8[1]

A cut-out showing Sam Sniderman (Canada Archives, 01099186-v8) and Sam with Stompin’ Tom Connors (Canada Archives, 0110981574-v8)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

View looking south at the east side of Yonge Street. The Edison Hotel is visible on the southeast corner of Yonge and Gould Streets. It was demolished after its north facade collapsed into the street. Toronto Archives, F124, fl 0003, id 0197.

mid 1980s s1465_fl0020_id0023[1]

Sam’s in the 1980s, when it was one door south of A&A’s. It did not yet occupy Thriftt’s, which separated the two stores. View gazes east from Elm Street toward the east side of Yonge Street. Toronto Archives, F1465, fl0020, id 0023

Dec. 30, 2007, Urban Toronto, Edward Skira,  [1]

Sam the Record Man on December 30, 2007, after it closed for the final time. A&A’s had already disappeared. Photo from Urban Toronto, by Edward Skira.

Series 1465, File 48, Item 1

An aerial view gazing eastward, the east side on Yonge Street in the foreground, showing A&A Records and Sam the Record Man. Toronto Archives, S1465, Fl 0048, id 0001

site of A&A. west to Yonge, 2013

Gazing west toward Yonge Street at the former site of A&A and Sam’s, the construction of the Ryerson Student learning Centre in progress. The low-rise buildings in the background are on the west side of Yonge Street.

DSCN9146

The Ryerson Student Learning Centre on the east side of Yonge Street, north of Gould Street, in 2015. It is where A&A and Sam’s once stood. Personally, I believe that it is architecturally magnificent, but is not appropriate for this section of Yonge Street. It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.

Below is another viewpoint on the new Ryerson Student Learning Centre, written by Luis Fernandes.

Continuing to read your Toronto blog, I came upon your article on Sam the Record Man. At the end of the article as the Ryerson Student Learning Centre replaced the iconic buildings you say, “It overpowers the historic buildings in the neighbourhood and aesthetically does not fit into the area. In another location, this structure would be an architectural icon.”

I agree in principle with your sentiments. Some time in the future, the citizens of Toronto will regret demolishing those buildings.

However let me provide an alternative point of view to the situation– I have to mention that I have been working at Ryerson for 20 years, after having graduated with a degree– and what follows is insider information, so to speak.

Whenever anyone asked for directions to Ryerson, instead of telling them the street intersection it was on, the most accurate answer was to say, “It’s behind Sam the Record Man”– because everyone knew where Sam’s was. I often gave this direction when asked.

When Sheldon Levy become president of Ryerson, he found out about this “direction” and made it his mission to change this “2nd-class perception” of Ryerson’s place by giving the University a more prominent footprint on Yonge Street.

As a result, people no longer ask for directions to Ryerson anymore. It’s a shame that so much history had to be traded for this recognition. 

A link to a post about A&A Records: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/01/fond-memories-of-a-a-records-demolished/

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in May, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating histories.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly use the link:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: ,

Fond Memories of A and A Records (demolished|)

Fonds 124, Fl.0003, id.0197  A and A Records - Copy

In the 1950s, “A&A Records” and “Sam the Record Man,” two stores on Yonge Street, were an integral part of my teenage years. They were the largest and most important retail distributors of vinyl recordings in Toronto. They eventually franchised, allowing outlets to be opened across Canada under their corporate names. A&A and Sam’s were multi-million-dollar businesses in the days when 33 1/3 rpm (revolutions per minute) records were the most common recording format.

In my pre-teen years in the 1940s, music was recorded on 78 rpm disks, made of a brittle material of shellac resin. First introduced in 1898, they were played on wind-up gramophones. After electricity was introduced, record players replaced gramophones and though the sound quality improved in the decades ahead, 78s remained the standard format for recording music. A single song was on one side of the disk, and another on the reverse side, the total playing time being about 3-4 minutes.

In 1947, smaller size records (45 rpm) became available, which were sold in paper jackets. Though not as large as the 78s, they extended the playing time due to their smaller grooves. However, record sales exploded in 1948 when the industry introduced long-playing records (33 1/3 rpm), manufactured of vinyl plastic. These were sold in cardboard jackets. Many retail outlets opened to accommodate the demand for these long-playing records.

Before the internet was invented, in the dark distant decades of yesteryear, Toronto’s movies houses were the centres of entertainment. Located in almost every every community throughout the city, they were within walking distance of almost every households. In my pre-teen years, I faithfully attended movie matiness every Saturday afternoon and was thrilled by the heroes of the silver screen. When I entered my teen years, my parents finally allowed me to travel downtown to the great movie palaces of the city — Tivoli, Shea’s Hippodrome, Imperial, Odeon Carlton, and Loew’s Downtown (now the Elgin). When I wanted to see more than one feature film, for the same price as attending the larger theatres, I visited the Biltmore, Rio, Coronet (Savoy) or the Downtown. Most of the downtown theatres, whether a movie palace or a run-down dive, were within walking distance of Yonge and Dundas, so when I attended a theatre on Yonge Street, I always visited Sam the Record Man and A&A Records. They were located near the corner of Yonge and Gould Streets, which was only one block north of Dundas Street.

The endless displays of records at both stores were amazing. It was said that at its height, Sam’s had almost a million records in his store. Although this might have been an exaggeration, I can verify that the selection was enormous. There were multiple aisles, on either side of them, long rows of counters, with large boxes on them. This was where the records (in their jackets) were stored. Cardboard dividers, with labels protruding above the record jackets (covers), labelled the type of records in the section. They were grouped according to the vocalist, groups, type of music, band, classical, orchestra, country of origin, style of music etc. Recordings were available from all over the world.

As a teenager, I spent countless hours browsing through the various sections of these two shops. I was always amazed at the expertise of their staffs, as no matter what type of record you enquired about, they knew where to direct you. After you made your selection, you took your choice to the cashier at the front of the store. We always looked for bargains, since discounts of 10% to 20% were common on some items. The stores stayed open until midnight, and also remained open on Sundays, in violation of the Lord’s Day Act. The Boxing Day sales were famous, with hundreds of people lining up outside the stores before they opened.

I remember that I sometimes saw a musical at either the Imperial or Loew’s Downtown, and then, purchased the sound track recording at Sam’s or A&A’s. Sometimes, I had already bought the Broadway version of the musical, before the movie of the show had been filmed. Perhaps one or two of the cardboard record-jackets below of Broadway productions will create a few fond memories. They were all available at A&A’s and Sam’s.

DSCN9711  DSCN9712

DSCN9713  DSCN9715

DSCN9718  DSCN9719

A&A Records

In Toronto, Alice Kenner and her husband Mac owned a building at 351 Yonge Street. About the year 1945, with the assistance of Alice’s brother, Aaron, the store opened a book shop. They named it A&A Book Store, using the initial consonant of their first names. It was located on the east side of the street, opposite Elm Street. During the early-1950s, because of the increasing popularity of the new LP records, they added a record section. By the 1960s, record sales became the major portion of their business.

Their main competitor in the city was Sam Sniderman’s store on College Street. To compete with Sam, A&A Records offered special discounts on some recordings, door opening specials, and reduced prices on their Boxing Day sales. A&A carried many types of music, including popular, imported, and classical. The company eventually sold franchises that were located in cities across Canada.

In September 1961, Sam Sniderman (Sam the Record Man) relocated his store to 347 Yonge Street, two doors south of A&A Records. The two competitors were now almost side by side. This was convenient for customers, as they were able to browse the city’s two largest record shops in a single visit. In 1971, Alice and Mac sold their business. The company that bought it expanded the number of franchises and by 1990, there were 260 of them across the country. However, the company went bankrupt in 1993.

Sources: news.library.ryerson.ca/musiconyonge 

For a link to a post about “Sam the Record Man”:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/04/05/fond-memories-of-sam-the-record-man/

looking east on Elm, Dec. 16,  1952  s0372_ss0058_it2379[1]

Gazing east on Elm Street toward Yonge Street on December 16, 1952. A&A Records in visible on the east side of Yonge. Toronto Archives, S 0372, SS 0058, Item 2379.

Tor. Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 20, Item 15 1]

A similar view looking east on Elm Street. Barbarian’s Steak House is on the right-hand (south) side of Elm Street, where there are Canadian flags. For a link to the history of Barbarian’s, https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/09/10/torontos-architectural-gems1860s-houses-on-elm-streetbarbarians-steak-house/ Photo of Elm Street from the Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, S 1465, File 20, Item 15.

         TPL. 1967  ra35-2[1]

A&A Records at 351 Yonge Street in 1967, Toronto Public Library, ra 35-2

           F1526, File 3, It.25  rec[1]

A&A Records when Yonge Street was closed to traffic for a pedestrian Mall (likely the first Yonge Street mall, in 1972). Toronto Archives, F1526, File 3, Item 25.

Tor. Archives, S1465, File 618, It. 33  [1]

Undated photo (likely the 1980s) of A&A Records, photo from the Toronto Archives, S1465, File 618, Item 33

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

For more information about the topics explored on this blog:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/tayloronhistory-comcheck-it-out/

The publication entitled, “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” was written by the author of this blog. It explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It relates anecdotes and stories by the author and others who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

                          cid_E474E4F9-11FC-42C9-AAAD-1B66D852[2]

   To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

Book also available in Chapter/Indigo, the Bell Lightbox Book Shop, and by phoning University of Toronto Press, Distribution: 416-667-7791 (ISBN 978.1.62619.450.2)

                                 image_thumb6_thumb_thumb_thumb_thumb[2]    

Another book, published by Dundurn Press, containing 80 of Toronto’s former movie theatres will be released in June, 2016. It is entitled, “Toronto’s Movie Theatres of Yesteryear—Brought Back to Thrill You Again.” It contains over 125 archival photographs and relates interesting anecdotes about these grand old theatres and their fascinating history.

                        Toronto: Then and Now®

Another publication, “Toronto Then and Now,” published by Pavilion Press (London, England) explores 75 of the city’s heritage sites. This book will be released on June 1, 2016. For further information follow the link to Amazon.com  here  or to contact the publisher directly:

http://www.ipgbook.com/toronto–then-and-now—products-9781910904077.php?page_id=21.

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,