SOS—Save Our Sam's
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SOS—Save Our Sam’s

Photo by Eyeline-Imagery in the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
In less than two weeks, all of Sam the Record Man’s contents are going up for sale at auction. Yesterday, we confirmed with Benaco Sales Ltd., the auctioneers for the property, that the most coveted and contentious part of the building—its entire front façade, including the iconic “THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT” records and “SAM” logos (minus the red backdrop, which is unmovable)—would indeed be part of the sale. But that’s not the end of the story.
The Save the Sam’s Sign!!! Facebook group, which is fast approaching 20,000 members, is, understandably, freaking out (as is the other Facebook group devoted to the same end, with about 10,000 members). Posted to the Save the Sam’s Sign group’s page is an e-mail from Heritage Toronto, written by Rod Kelly. It reads, in part, as follows:

Upon hearing that there was an interest in having the [neon signs on the front of the Sam the Record Man store] designated as being of heritage significance, Heritage Toronto immediately contacted Heritage Preservation Services, the City of Toronto department responsible for the Inventory of Heritage Properties, requesting that the issue be reviewed and what future steps could be taken to have the signs designated.
Within hours Heritage Toronto was told that the City of Toronto would be going forward to designate the sign. The designation will describe the sign, location and require that should the site be redeveloped the sign will be reinstalled, same location and be lighted at night. Heritage Toronto has committed to continue to work with Heritage Preservation Services to advance the plan and congratulates them for their swift and positive response.
The process for designation under the Ontario Heritage Act is essential to be sure that all aspects of the subject matter are assessed thoroughly and detailed in any recommendation to designate the site or structure.

Heritage Toronto’s website confirms the information, and today we spoke on the phone with Rod Kelly from Heritage Toronto, who also reiterated the information provided so far.
While the city (specifically, Heritage Preservation Services) intends to designate the signs as historical under the Ontario Heritage Act, and thus keep them intact, illuminated lights and all, it’s not so simple—especially in light of the fast-approaching auction. Kelly told us today that there is a possibility that the family could still sell the façade if they wanted to, in spite of historical designation. It’s not a sure thing: if the city designates the signs as historical soon enough, it is possible for the government to overrule the family—possible, not definite. But time is running out.
Here on Torontoist, if the signs do end up at auction, we’ve been tossing around the idea of mobilizing our readership and Torontonians as a whole to donate money and place a substantial bid on the sign on their behalf, but we’d rather it not have to come to that—instead, the best thing would be for the city to preserve the signs, intact, as-is, as they are now in the process of trying to do. What will happen next and how quickly it will happen is anyone’s guess, but we’ll try to keep you in the loop, especially if we get involved ourselves. At this point, it seems that the family’s word will be the final one. We’re hoping that they make the right decision.
UPDATE (June 16, 1:45 p.m.): The Star reports that Ryerson is interested in the property but is (like all of us) waiting on word from the family.
UPDATE (June 19, 5:30 p.m.): Eye‘s Dale Duncan writes that “Kyle Rae said this morning that his preservation panel will be bringing forward a motion [at this week’s City Council] regarding the Sam the Record Man sign. The panel was late writing it up, so it’s uncertain what it will entail just yet, but Rae told the council: “it’s important that this get heard this session.”
UPDATE (June 20, 1:30 p.m.): Today’s sitting of Council is hearing the motion to historically designate the Sam’s sign (the last item on the agenda), which was moved by Councillor Rae and seconded by Councillor McConnell.
UPDATE (June 22, 1:30 p.m.): Still waiting on the Council to discuss the motion (it was being held by Councillor Mike Del Grande, for some reason), but in the interim here’s a copy of the motion to be put forward [PDF], which states, in part, as follows:

The intention of this Motion is to designate the property at 347 and 349 Yonge Street to protect Sam the Record Man sign, in recognition of its cultural heritage value. The sign is threatened due to the imminent closure of the store and subsequent auctioning of the sign on June 27, 2007. Heritage Preservation Services staff feel this is a significant landmark in the downtown and should be protected through designation.
The entire sign on the front (west) façade and above the entryway at both 347 and 349 Yonge are identified for designation. This includes the iconic large spinning disc neon signs with their red backgrounds, the “SAM” signs atop it and the backlit sign beneath. The smaller spinning disc neon signs on the adjacent façade at 341 Yonge are not identified for designation.
In addition to the opinion of professional staff, there is a great deal of public and media interest
in the protection of the sign. The sign will be sent to auction before the next City Council
meeting if this matter is not addressed in an urgent fashion.

UPDATE (June 23, 11:00 a.m.): Yay! Both CTV and The Star are reporting that the signs have been saved by the City, with The Star (whose article was written most recently) reporting that the entire building has been designated a heritage building. According to Kyle Rae, “[the City will] sit down with the owner or future owners as the property is being sold, and we hope to be able to maintain the two discs and `Sam’ signs on the rooftop as part of the ongoing history of Yonge Street.”