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The Sam the Record Man Sign is Almost Definitely Never Returning to Yonge Street

In 2008, Ryerson promised to restore famous neon sign, but now the City is in the process of letting the university off the hook.

The Sam's sign, in its heyday  Photo by Shane S , from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

The Sam’s sign, in its heyday. Photo by Shane S., from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Can you break a written agreement with the City and get away with it? Ryerson University is about to find out.

In 2008, when Ryerson bought the Sam the Record Man building at Yonge and Gould streets, the City was trying to get heritage designation for the property—which, after all, had been home to one of Toronto’s oldest and most distinctive music stores. Heritage designation would have put major legal obstacles in the way of Ryerson’s plan to demolish Sam’s and replace it with a new student learning centre.

In exchange for the City dropping its push for heritage protection, Ryerson signed an agreement saying that Sam the Record Man’s sign—an iconic, neon-traced pair of giant, spinning records—would be put back up somewhere on the university’s property, either on Yonge or Gould Street. The university had until summer 2011 to decide where to put the sign. It never did decide, and the spinning records remain in storage.

Now, the City is recommending that city council let Ryerson off the hook. A new proposal, set to go before Toronto and East York Community Council during its meeting on September 10, says the university should be allowed to renege on its promise. Ryerson would no longer be obligated to restore and reinstall the sign. Instead, it would have to commit to a commemorative strategy that would include installing a sidewalk insert with a picture of the sign (shown below, in an architectural rendering) and an “interpretive plaque.”

A commemorative sidewalk insert in front of Ryerson’s new Student Learning Centre. Image courtesy of the City.

Under the proposal, Ryerson would be required to continue storing the Sam’s sign for two more years, in case some other opportunity to restore it should present itself. The university would have to give the City 60 days’ notice before removing the sign from storage.

“While heritage staff are disappointed that Ryerson has been unable to find a feasible way to restore the original iconic signs to their historic context,” says the City staff report on the proposal, “we are now satisfied that the University has given serious consideration to the matter.”

In the past, Ryerson has been evasive about its intentions for the Sam’s sign, but the staff report makes mention of several logistical problems with putting it up on university property, including maintenance costs, structural risks, and the possibility of mercury spillage.

The sign is massive—the neon records are at least two storeys high—and so it’s hard to imagine it ever finding a loving home. It’s not as though it can be put into a display case somewhere.

Ryerson’s reprieve isn’t final yet, though: city council could still overturn this whole thing.

CORRECTION: August 29, 2013, 3:15 PM This post originally mistakenly referred to Toronto and East York Community Council as “Etobicoke and East York Community Council.”

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