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Mutual Street Recording Studio Razed

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The partially razed remains of McClear/Digital.


Except for twisted lengths of rusting I-beams and small piles of broken concrete, not much else remains of the single-story structure that once stood at 225 Mutual Street. Before being razed in early August, this was the location of a once-venerable recording studio. Visiting the site a few weeks after its demolition, workers in hardhats were tidying debris. Asked if they were aware of the significance of the demolished structure, a workman responded with an indifferent shrug.


The history of 225 Mutual Street is a microcosm of Toronto’s music and recording industry. In 1947, when radio consisted primarily of live broadcasts, 1050 CHUM, still in its infancy, set up a live studio in what was then known as the Fulpart Building. In a few years, 1050 CHUM would relocate to its iconic 1331 Yonge Street address, remaining there for the next half century. Soon after, RCA Records established a recording studio in the Mutual Street property.
Over the next fifty years, some of the biggest names in the industry would visit 225 Mutual Street to record. Rosemary Clooney recorded here, as did Mel Torme, Chubby Checker, Wilson Picket, James Brown, Steve Winwood, and Mark Knopfler.
Canadian content was well-represented, too. Gordon Lightfoot, Ann Murray, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Rush all made records here. The studio also provided recordings for numerous CBC television programs.
While still under the ownership of RCA, the studio played an important role in the production of numerous recordings for the Canadian Talent Library Trust. This non-profit initiative, operating from 1962 until 1985, was an early effort to promote Canadian music abroad.
In 1979, McClear Place Studios purchased the studio space from RCA. In the intervening years, McClear Place merged with several similar companies. When McClear Place bought the firm Pathe Film Post Production Studios in 1990, they were rebranded McClear Pathe. Benefiting from Toronto’s lucrative film and post-production market, McClear Pathe focused primarily on the production of soundtrack recordings, including Aretha Franklin and B.B. King’s recording for the film, Blues Brother 2000.
In an ever-evolving market, McClear Pathe purchased Digital Music+Post in 1999. The resulting studio was known as McClear/Digital. For three years beginning in 2002, Aaron McCourt worked as an assistant engineer at McClear/Digital. Today, he considers himself fortunate to have had the opportunity to hone his skills at what was then the only remaining large-scale, privately owned recording studio in the city.

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225 Mutual Street being prepared for demolition.


McCourt explained in an email, “During my time there, I assisted on everything from forty piece orchestras, records for TV, film and albums, to rock bands, horn sections, and large choirs.” In praise of his former boss (and McClear/Digital owner) Bob Richards, McCourt said Richards encouraged assistants to invite musicians into the studio after hours in an effort to improve their technical skills.
“The building,” McCourt lamented, “had an amazing history which you could almost feel in the rooms.”
Advancing technology, coupled with the proliferation of home studios, saw the necessity for large-scale studio space evaporated. In 2005, McClear/Digital was placed in bankruptcy. By October of the same year, its assets had been auctioned off.
For five years, the facility sat vacant until the nearby Best Western Primrose Hotel purchased it.
The building was razed in order to provide future parking space for hotel guests.
Photos by Aaron McCourt.
Thanks to reader Andre Quenneville for the tip.

Comments

  • Dry Brain

    Parking!? What the hell? They tore down a building for parking? Downtown? Holy crap. That building wasn’t much to look at, so I’m not terribly sad that it’s gone (though its historical importance is obvious) but a parking lot? What’s so difficult about an underground parkade? Holy crap. I can’t believe the city let them get away with that.
    Wait. Yes I can.

  • http://undefined JonathanS

    Booooo. Also, I might be wrong, but one of the few studios in Canada that could house a full orchestra.

  • http://bit.ly/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    That zoning rules for Mutual Street permit construction of private parking space on a lot in 2010 is a sober disappointment.

  • http://undefined dowlingm

    Zoning map:
    http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/2010/law1156-Schedule-A/law1156-zoning-south-maps05.pdf (map 51H-21, bottom, centre)
    Seems to be zoned “commercial residential” – don’t know how that equates to parking but I guess it does!

  • http://bit.ly/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    You prodded me to look a little closer:
    The plot in question is found on the adjacent 51H-11 (p. 21). 225 Mutual Street is labelled in yellow, just south of two pink lots. The code “R (d2.0)” indicates the lot is zoned for residential use (i.e., residential dwellings) with a “floor space index” (or “floor area ratio“) of 2.0. I don’t know what the “(x82)” represents.
    It basically means that if the whole lot were used for the building (it can’t be, because you still need sidewalks and easements), the building height would be two storeys. What’s more likely is that an FSI of 2.0 would produce a 3-4-storey structure, possibly semi-detached, with either walk-up townhouses (not unusual for the neighbourhood) or a narrow mid-rise condo. The residential (R) zoning by-law also allows, with certain conditions, shared accommodations (e.g., senior housing, shelter) or, if special conditions are met, retail, community centre, or library (see Volume I, page 34 of the 2010 Zoning By-law, Schedule “A”).
    For Best Western or any developer wanting to appropriate that lot for something other than what it is zoned for — like a parking lot — they would have to file for a zoning exemption request that would likely go before the OMB before a such change of zoning could be allowed.
    Whether a parking lot will go up may also be depend on when the developer filed for the zoning permit application. If they filed before the 2010 draft of the zoning by-law, and the old map had zoned the lot in a way which would make street-level parking a permissible use, then they might be able to win approval by the OMB.
    Beyond that, it’s hard to say.

  • http://undefined Loozrboy

    I was wondering what they were going to put in here. Sad to see the answer is even more disappointing than “another condo”.

  • http://undefined fantasygoat

    It’s almost funny how the story of many old buildings in Toronto have ended with “only to be replaced with a parking lot.”

  • http://undefined jem

    That would be (main story) Anne Murray with an E, and (commenter lethbridge) Joni Mitchell with an N. Isn’t the Primrose mostly student residence housing? How much parking space could it possibly need?

  • http://bit.ly/accozzaglia accozzaglia

    Thank you for saying something on those CanCon misspellings. It was something (the Anne Murray, at least) I noticed, but felt like I’d already been too pedantic with all the zoning language.
    Should the Primrose (which yes, the private, unaffiliated student residence and Best Western are one in the same) seriously expect to wedge in a parking lot on that residentially zoned space, they will be facing huge obstacles which, well, will probably evaporate once Rob Ford is ushered into office with barely more than a third of the voting electorate (constituting probably about an eighth of all Torontonians).