Photos by mishkaoutofcontrol from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Except to its frequent clientele, Toronto’s legendary Matador Club is best known as the setting to Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time,” which laments a place that “got wrecked by the winds of change.”
The Matador’s been around since 1914. Built as a dance hall for WWI soldiers, it then became home to a bowling alley, and finally ended up as a quirky, late-night hangout with strong country music roots. Well-worn boots hang behind the stage and the ratty oak floor is scuffed and dented by a million heels. 79-year-old Matador matriarch Ann Dunn has retained decades of peculiar tales of fabled performances and celebrity visits, as well as odd little artifacts, like a lock of Basil Donovan’s (Blue Rodeo) hair pressed in a picture frame.
But the Matador is sitting on prime land at crowded College and Dovercourt, and the City wants it—not to preserve it, but to flatten it into a slab of pavement so twenty cars can park there. The City offered $800,000 to buy it. Ann and her daughter Charmaine declined. Fine, said the City, we’ll just take it.
Toronto is hardly known as a city bent on retaining its history. After all, what passes for “preservation” these days is leaving a single wall standing in a historically-designated structure, and then enveloping it by a totally dissimilar condo or office tower. Yet, City Council’s unanimous approval last month to allow the Toronto Parking Authority to expropriate the Matador is particularly offensive.
The City says that it needs the spots for YMCA customers across the street. The gym says that they’ve never requested extra parking, noting that they’re easily serviced by streetcar. Late-night traffic is also a significant problem since the neighbourhood intensifies after dark, yet cheap parking is only liable to bring more cars rather than relieve the current density. And even worse: all this for only twenty parking spots.
Past private land appropriations have seen the installation of City Hall, Dundas Square and Regent Park—developments deemed socially useful to the community at large. The Spadina Expressway expropriation plan was killed because residents didn’t want a pollution-clogged freeway cutting through tranquil neighbourhoods. Today, our love of the automobile continually trumps any new plans for alternative transportation or public pedestrian concourses, and this is why the City can wrench private land from a private citizen for such a preposterous reason.
The Dunns have said that they are ready to sell the place, but not for $800K and not to pave flat decades of charm and history. The structure is zoned for a three-storey development, and its noted reputation during wartime and to Toronto’s music scene is undeniable. k.d. lang shot videos there, and the club accommodated performances by Roy Rogers, Conway Twitty and Johnny Cash. Parts of Neko Case’s The Tigers Have Spoken album were recorded at the Matador.
And the Toronto Parking Authority‘s response to such a storied legacy? “We’ve identified that area as high demand [for parking],” said Gwyn Thomas, who was appointed president of the TPA on August 1 and is also the president of the Canadian Parking Association. He also parks for free in any of Toronto’s 20,000 Green P spots, half of which are in surface lots like the one slated for the Matador site.
Now, the TPA has been given the go-ahead to snatch the land whether the Dunns wish to surrender it or not, the price of which will be determined by a market value evaluation. For a city that hasn’t built many surface lots for decades, let alone for only twenty parking spaces, the interference is especially aggressive and callous.
Councillor Adam Giambrone claims there could be more palatable alternatives for the use of the Matador site, but he’s not aware of any other interest in the club’s acquisition. Which makes sense—nobody knew it was going away in the first place. Though Giambrone seems to be coming around in recent days, he didn’t oppose the TPA’s demolition plan and claims that the club had been a frequent source of noise complaints. Despite being chair of Toronto’s public transit system, Giambrone has also supported a push for rush-hour parking on Dundas West for commercial reasons, even though such a move would wreak havoc for streetcars.
This is more than just the obliteration of a storied landmark or the over-romanticizing of a dingy booze can—it’s about our officials and public agencies perpetually bending over to whore our city out to private and shortsighted interests with merely a passing wink to effective urban planning. Toronto, you ignorant slut.