Sam's Sign is Still in the Dark
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Sam’s Sign is Still in the Dark

The future of Sam The Record Man signs gets dimmer by the day.

Sam Moving by Alfred Ng

Photo by {a href=""}alfred ng{/a}, from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

After years of planning, construction on Ryerson University’s $112 million student learning centre, located on the former site of the Sam The Record Man flagship store at 347 Yonge Street, began in May. Unfortunately, the iconic neon signage, synonymous with the location, has been left out of the design equation entirely.

Nonetheless, Ryerson remains obligated to display the heritage signs (there are actually two) somewhere on the premises when construction is complete in 2014. In the meantime, the iconic neon records gather dust in a warehouse.

How the university will eventually incorporate the mammoth, energy-sucking devices into its ultramodern new building remains to be seen.

Four years have passed since the Sam signs—which consisted of one set of two enormous, neon vinyl records, and another set of three less-enormous ones—last illuminated Yonge Street. Back then, before realizing they would cost approximately $250,000 to restore, Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University, made a show of removing the final neon tube.

He went so far as to harness himself into a scissor lift so he could perform the honour.

Back in 2007, before a single light bulb had been unscrewed, the signs received a reprieve when the city designated them with heritage status, which protected them from destruction with the force of law. Soon after, Ryerson entered a contract with the City. It required the university to incorporate the signs into the still yet-to-be-designed learning centre.

This never happened.

With the sign crated and shipped to a storage facility, the university changed its tune. By November of 2011, Levy was telling the Toronto Star, “There must be a better way to both use our money and to create the memory that people want.”

As things stand today, nobody seems to know what will end up happening. Michael Forbes, a Ryerson public affairs officer, told Torontoist recently that, “[The signs will] wait in storage until we come up with a final plan for what we’re going to do.”

In the meantime, Forbes said the university intends to recognize the Yonge Street strip’s contribution to the city’s historic music scene by creating a website on the subject. A music historian is writing content. Archival photographs are being gathered.

As for the other party in the contract, the City remains optimistic. Heritage Preservation Services is confident Ryerson will not renege on its commitment. Though staff have not recently been in discussion with Ryerson, Mary MacDonald, acting manager with Heritage Preservation Services, is confident the university will eventually meet its legal obligation.

Concerning the eventual placement of the signs, MacDonald said, “There is a location that is identified [in the agreement] and an alternative location.”

The agreement between the City and the university says Ryerson has the right to veto the City’s suggested locations. If this occurs, Ryerson is required to provide a third, City-approved location during the design phase of the student centre.

With the design phase apparently over, that’s no longer a viable option.

Citing safety concerns, the university declined Torontoist’s request to visit the facility where the sign is stored.

Heritage officials are taking Ryerson at their word. In the meantime, iconic pieces from Toronto’s past remain locked away.