The property at 224 Queen Street West was taken over by Juxta Productions last summer to promote movies.
The property at 224 Queen Street West, at the corner of Queen and McCaul, appears at first glance to be an ordinary neighbourhood coffee shop. That is, until you look closer. Inside, the glass fridges are filled with bags of fake blood, newspapers blaring “China to stop all blood exports” headlines line the windowsill, and the drink list looks like a vampire’s favourite meal. Stepping back, there’s a sign reading “Capture Humans” with Uncle Sam pointing at the passing pedestrians. And above that, a gigantic billboard advertising the new vampire thriller, Daybreakers. This isn’t a coffee shop at all: it’s one giant promotion.
Juxta Productions, an outdoor-advertising sign studio located on Front Street, has been renting the space since the summer, and is responsible for the Daybreakers Blood Café. It combines an art installation on the inside with large advertisements that wrap around the outside.
Fake packs of blood are just one of many props used to promote the new Maple Productions flick Daybreakers.
Maple Pictures, the company behind Daybreakers, contacted Juxta after seeing the success of previous advertisements at the location for Sherlock Holmes, Whiteout, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
The installation is certainly a conversation piece, but part of it is also illegal. Rami Tabello of illegalsigns.ca, a organization dedicated to eradicating unlawful billboards around the city, said, “The signage is illegal because it violates the fire safety provisions on the Ontario Fire Code for obstructing windows required to be unobstructed under the code.” That means Juxta could face about one thousand dollars in fines right now, and that the number would increase when the new billboard bylaw that was passed by City Council on December 7, 2009, regulating and taxing outdoor advertising, comes into effect this April, said Tabello. Furthermore, the original Harry Potter display that adorned the property last summer was erected during the city workers’ strike, specifically to bypass normal licensing procedures.
But Patrick Little, executive producer of Juxta, says, “Why should I be fined for creating cultural jobs in the knowledge economy? Writers, designers, printers, scenic painters, set decorators, grips, actors, hair and makeup, wardrobe, projectionists and even a graffiti artist doing their own piece worked on those installations.” (The Toronto-based artists include Melissa Yang, who played the vampire, and also did everyone’s hair and makeup for their promotional day. Larry Saunders was the key scenic painter for the Daybreakers display, and Wen Xie was the ice sculptor for the Whiteout installation.)
Little also points out that they transformed the property from a “crack-house squat” into a respectable gateway attraction.
Vampire-themed menus and drink lists intrigue Queen West window shoppers.
But it doesn’t look like Juxta will be inhabiting the property for much longer. An application for a demolition permit was filed in 2008, and an application to build a new property is currently working its way through the planning process. Soon, fake blood and huge billboards will likely be replaced by a five-storey mixed use development that includes storefronts, parking, offices, and residences. Little adds, “Unfortunately, it is now the visual artists, like the film workers before them, who are at risk of losing their jobs due to the misguided and narrow-minded priorities of the current administration which has embraced condo development as the holy grail of city building.”
It’s prime real estate that a whole bunch of people are waiting to sink their teeth into.
All photos by Christopher Drost/Torontoist