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Sam the Record Man sign probably gone for good

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 30, 2013

toronto sam the record manThe iconic neon Sam the Record Man sign will likely never cast its rays on Yonge Street again. Ryerson University, which bought and demolished the famous Yonge Street record store to make way for its new Student Learning Centre, promised to re-hang the sign in 2008, but now the city is preparing to let the university off the hook.

A revised heritage proposal, which still needs the approval of city council, requires Ryerson to keep the sign in storage for up to two years while "other preservation opportunities are explored." The change also mandates alternative "commemorative actions" by the university in the form of a granite or bronze interpretive plaque to be sunk into the sidewalk just north of Gould Street.

toronto sam the record manRyerson has been stalling on returning the two-storey sign to the street - Yonge or Gould - for more than five years, citing cost, design, and safety concerns. A report by custom signage experts Gregory Signs & Engraving Ltd. said mercury could leak from the sign in the event of a fire. A shortage of qualified neon sign professionals, a problem that also disrupted restoration of the El Macambo sign, further stymied progress.

To further complicate the issue, the architects responsible for the Student Learning Centre noted the giant records clashed with the modern design of the new building. "[Snohetta and Zeidler Partnership Architects] cited resource and energy concerns, conflict with the design of the new building and the distraction within the interior of the building caused by the signs' flashing lights," the report says.

toronto sam the record manThe sign was built in 1961 to mark Sam Sniderman's flagship record store. The company grew from a stand in the Sniderman family's radio store to a much-loved nationwide chain - "140 locations, coast to coast." Today only one store remains, tucked in a corner of the Quinte Mall in Belleville, Ont.

Heritage staff say they're "disappointed" the signs won't been restored to their original location but are "satisfied" Ryerson explored all possible avenues.

Is this the end of the Sam the Record Man sign? Where could the city put the giant neon signs if not at Yonge and Gould? Are you upset Ryerson reneged on their original agreement?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Image: City of Toronto, spotmaticfanatic/blogTO Flickr pool.



Christopher King / August 30, 2013 at 08:59 am
I'm extremely upset that Ryerson ia trying to renege on their agreement with the City, and I've already wrote to my Councilor expressing my disagreement and the hope that the City will develop a backbone
Imola Ilyes / August 30, 2013 at 09:03 am
I loved Sam the Record Man too, but Yonge Street has changed in many good ways. The Ryerson student building will make a beautiful, distinctive addition to Yonge Street. It's frankly the kind of building we need more of in this city. And the sign just doesn't fit in with its design. I hope another spot is found for it elsewhere.
nick d / August 30, 2013 at 09:33 am
Are you kidding me? No, seriously-- are you KIDDING ME???
who effing cares about the Sam the Record Man sign anymore?
It's 2013 > the business failed > the owners sold the land to Ryerson, a deserving institution trying to better itself and the surrounding urban environment we all make use of > the architects/designers/planners have a clean vision of what they want to achieve > the City of Toronto's Heritage Department likely held their approvals and permits ransom for an archaic, unsightly, clearly hazardous remnant of a once successful BUSINESS?? Frankly I'm surprised people haven't tried to preserve the now-defunct vinyl Blockbuster Video marquis-- this is truly capitalism and bureaucracy at its worst!

My advice: MOVE ON! Stop ascribing value to "things"!

Maintaining our heritage is one thing, but not at the expense of our current and future well being as a city!
Well done Ryerson! I look forward to your continued growth and investment in city building.
LB / August 30, 2013 at 09:37 am
What exactly would have been the purpose of putting the signs back up?

They were there strictly as advertising for a RECORD store.

It serves no use for Ryerson whatsoever to put them up.
milo / August 30, 2013 at 09:54 am
that sign was iconic as bedbugs - a memoir of the old and shitty Yonge Street.

if we re-hang the sign maybe we should bring back the seedy hookers too.
Jacob / August 30, 2013 at 09:59 am
I have no special concern for the Sam signs, but I don't particularly care about Ryerson's big lump of glass, either. At least the Sam sign has some style and sense of history.
Rick / August 30, 2013 at 10:00 am
It's annoying that Ryerson could just back out of their deal but, at this point, it doesn't make much sense to put the sign back up, in my opinion.

Dundas Square would be a great place for the Sam's sign and eventually the Honest Ed's sign.
J / August 30, 2013 at 10:02 am
If you make a deal with the city, you should follow through with it. It sets a really bad precedent for all heritage negotiations otherwise.

If the existing sign is too defunk to get back in working order, they should recreate it - use LED's if need be. The same thing happens when developers tear down historic buildings - they either keep the keep the historic façade, or rebuild it from scratch.
jay / August 30, 2013 at 10:06 am
I agree with the commentators who note Ryerson's bad faith. What's the point of contractual agreements otherwise? Personally, I liked the old Yonge Street and like what still survives of it.
the lemur / August 30, 2013 at 10:23 am
If Ryerson can't (be forced to) preserve the sign, it should be made to give it to someone who can.
blerg / August 30, 2013 at 10:25 am
Malcolm / August 30, 2013 at 10:29 am
Forcing Ryerson to preserve the Sam's sign was a boneheaded move to begin with. I miss the old Yonge Street as much as anyone but there comes a time to move the fuck on already.
John / August 30, 2013 at 10:33 am
Who cares if it comes back, I don't.
Rich / August 30, 2013 at 10:43 am
Good! The thing was hideous!
Matt / August 30, 2013 at 10:47 am
It would be cool if there were a site where old signs could be on display in the city. In Vegas they have a sign 'graveyard' where all the cool old vegas signs are on display, kind of a cool tourist attraction.
kdiddy / August 30, 2013 at 10:53 am
Ya, screw that sign!

Death to anything with historical value or cultural significance.

Let's burn down Fort York.
Theo / August 30, 2013 at 11:03 am
Maybe there needs to be another location for what they do in Guild Park in Scarborough, except with the tacky signs of Toronto's past. I would recommend the alleyways before Keele street along Bloor on the subway line ... though maybe not as there is some really awesome graffiti there as well.
BobbyC / August 30, 2013 at 11:10 am
Where to put the sign?

Oh my, if only there was somewhere in the neighbourhood that boasted it was Toronto's Times' Square, where the neon lights shine day and night.

Seriously, it belongs on one of the buildings around the Yonge Dundas Square. It does not have to be lit, but can be illuminated. Same as the old Honest Ed's sign.

Some company can surely step forward and pay for it and slap their logo on it and reap some good press. It should not fall to Ryerson to pay for it or preserve it, but someone can surely afford to do so.

The only thing this freaking city does well is throw away its history. It is a shell of tall buildings and potholes.
George / August 30, 2013 at 11:14 am
A good first step in cleaning up this seedy area.
bleep replying to a comment from kdiddy / August 30, 2013 at 11:16 am
That's an appropriate comparison, clearly.

The sign is neither of "historical value" or "cultural significance". It's a piece of crap.
Jim / August 30, 2013 at 11:16 am
"My advice: MOVE ON! Stop ascribing value to 'things'!"

Nick, really? We've only done this throughout human history. We ascribe meaning and value to things. Clearly, to some people, the Sam's sign means something, and it matters to them.

It also matters if Ryerson is allowed to renege on a signed agreement to preserve a piece of the city's heritage - regardless of what some people think of it. It obviously meant enough to enough people that a deal was forged in the first place. It sets a bad precedent, at the very least.
DL replying to a comment from Jim / August 30, 2013 at 11:30 am
It's a crappy electronic sign that was meant to advertise a record store. Should we have kept all the cigarette ads that said "Doctors prefer DuMaurier's"?
nick d replying to a comment from Jim / August 30, 2013 at 11:34 am
If you've ever dealt with the heritage department at city hall you'll know there's very little 'reason' behind any of their decisions-- assuming they get back to you at all.
It's all based on their 'interpretation', and their 'interpretation' is usually designed to help ensure their continued existence. Clearly the heritage department has done a great job in advocating the preservation of certain building, while completely ignoring others-- we are a slave to their whims! Retaining the facade of a building is tantamount to a slap in the face of history! 'Facadism' is NOT preservation! What good would replacing the sign do? What actual heritage are we talking about? It still boils down to consumerism: buy buy buy. Buy vinyl records. No, buy plastic cassettes. No, now buy laminated laser discs ans CDs.... we've moved on! Next we'll be erecting monuments to cloud computing....

As for ascribing meaning to 'things', sure we've been doing it for ages, but those 'things' usually had meaning for actual people! why not commemorate Sam's pioneering spirit by naming a wing after him in the new Ryerson building?

Personally I think the granite and bronze sidewalk inlay is a totally appropriate and elegant solution that helps immortalize the importance of the site.
hank / August 30, 2013 at 11:59 am
The City of Toronto -from Brothers Ford on down- is like one of those companies we've all worked for where they don't give a rat's ass about what you want or need but if you finally get fed up and quit they have your company email account deleted before you hit the sidewalk.

There is no one in charge, no one looking ahead, let alone trying to figure out what should be preserved from the past.
DON k replying to a comment from milo / August 30, 2013 at 12:31 pm
ThisGuy / August 30, 2013 at 12:32 pm
Would the AGO be interested in keeping this sign in their permanent collection? OCAD U? The Toronto Archives?
TDotRome / August 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm
If you don't think the SAM sign has historical significance, they you don't know what history means. Judging it ugly doesn't make it insignificant.

But, I don't know why it has to back up on Yonge. What about inside the building? In the giant foyer? Or facing Victoria Street near the skating pond. It's not like those are visually interesting spots.
Jim replying to a comment from DL / August 30, 2013 at 12:40 pm
We get it. You don't like the sign. The fact remains, however, that for many people, it obviously meant more than just a sign to sell records. It signifies more, whether you personally like it or not.
Joey / August 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm
This is bullshit. The city should sue Ryerson for breach of contract. If Ryerson didn't want to deal with putting the sign back up, then they shouldn't have: a) bought the land and b) made a promise to put the sign back up. Simple.
d / August 30, 2013 at 01:29 pm
Boo to Ryerson for breaking a contract, but the sign is more reflective of an era, rather than being beautiful. Some enterprising company sohuld incorporate it with the Honest Ed sign, somewhere ... on the CNE grounds or ... something? But I agree, it doesn't need to go back on Yonge Street.
Gabe / August 30, 2013 at 01:30 pm
Why doesn't the Mirvish Family use it for the mega condo they're building? Ohh it would clash with it, that's why. Closed Sams, Close Honest Ed's, onwards and upwards. Trash this sign.
jer / August 30, 2013 at 01:54 pm
Just make them pay a fine of $500,000 and be done with it.

They probably never planned to hang this sign again from the start and just said they would (maybe in co-operation with the City even) to appease people complaining about the demolition/change
Tim Stevens / August 30, 2013 at 02:04 pm
I hate this city.

*Moves back to Sarnia*
Johnny replying to a comment from kdiddy / August 30, 2013 at 02:18 pm
KDIDDY, best comment ever.

I miss the sign, but I grew up here and used to use it as a landmark for where to meet friends.

It would look cool in dundas square.

I hate that this city is becoming a big grey condo farm with no personality.
Khristopher / August 30, 2013 at 02:29 pm
Is there a way to put it in the sidewalk and cover it with glass or acrylic? That could look really awesome instead of the lame sidewalk version they're going ahead with.
nardl blarn / August 30, 2013 at 02:56 pm
wait, so the architects say the sign won't really fit into the design of the new builing, even though they initially agreed to incorporate the sign into the design of the new building somehow?
Nick Love / August 30, 2013 at 05:51 pm
It sucks that we probably won't see those glowing records out on young street. And it really sucks that Ryerson pulled a dick move.

Sam The Record Man was an iconic landmarks that should've been left up. I still think even though it might not go up on Younge street that it should be put in some sort of Museum (the ROM possibly) or be put up somewhere out in public.
juepucta / August 30, 2013 at 05:58 pm
Comission an artist to make some art with he neon spinning platters.
em / August 30, 2013 at 06:58 pm
The city should sue ryerson for breach of contract. This is silly.
Rob / August 30, 2013 at 07:42 pm
They should make it an Art Installation at Younge Dundas Square above the stage...
Dvdguy replying to a comment from nick d / August 30, 2013 at 07:45 pm
"but not at the expense of our current and future well being as a city!" Exactly how is Ryerson living up their contract in any way an "expense to our future well being as a city?"
George replying to a comment from em / August 30, 2013 at 08:34 pm
How exactly would the city sue for breach of contract over a request to alter the contract. Asking to alter it is not a breach. I'm not so sure you understand what is going on here.
Sean / August 30, 2013 at 08:50 pm
The STRM sign is an iconic piece of Toronto's history, just like the Honest Ed's building. If the sign doesn't make it back up on the Ryerson building, it should be on display close by - on Ryerson's dime. Ryerson violated an agreement that was meant to appease the city and the public. The city and public largely accepted the agreement based on the conditions.

Go ahead with the sidewalk commemoration, but keep the sign up somewhere accessible to the public. This sign means a lot of things to a lot of people.

I've never heard anyone speak adoringly or nostalgically about a condo or a Best Buy. This sign has character. It's history (Toronto's history) should continue to be told.
loop / August 30, 2013 at 10:57 pm
Madness. I think it would make a charming and bright jizz bucket.
Ron / August 31, 2013 at 12:22 am
Its just a sign PLEASE. If you put it up, in 10 years it wont work and our kids will think its trash and wont understand. LOOSE THE SIGN! R.I.P. SAM SIGN
Steven / August 31, 2013 at 01:08 am
Ryerson lied!
Jordan Kerim / August 31, 2013 at 04:53 am
I would urge Ryerson U to find an alternate home for the sign.

The sign *is* historic. Sam Sniderman is a man who made his mark in Canadian music history. If you look back to about thirty years ago during the new wave era and into the 1980s, there was actually some decent public funding of the arts including the CBC. It is truly a part of not only our Torontonian but also Canadian identity as well. There needs to be a geater reverence for the arts as well as to a time when it was Toronto the good.

We are so caught up on the high rise development boom that we are disreagrding historic artifacts for a quick financial gain. The sign truly is a work of art as much as when neon lighting was an art form at the time. There was the neon art piece for Yorkdale subway station when it opened, the neon lit sculpture at Beverley and Dundas at the AGO, and who can forget the big Sony electronics sign by the Gardiner near Strachn, anyone who grew up in this city back in the 1980s would remember those things.

The best thing to do for the sign would be to take select pieces of the sign and incorporate them into if possible a full size replica lit with energy efficient LED lighting; using select reused pieces and LED lights could also work for the Honest Ed's sign. Everything old becomes new once more.

And for the cherry on top you could have interactive touchscreen led tv displays under them so that the people could learn more about their history and say perhaps have a nice community cafe under them where passerby could catch up on their email and perhaps on occasion have a dubstep/house dj jam/gathering and maybe, just maybe, some youngster will buy an lp from one of the small time djs, and the music, Torontonian made and Canadian made music, shall carry on deeper into the 21st century, and beyond... : )
junctionist replying to a comment from Imola Ilyes / August 31, 2013 at 10:58 am
Ryerson hasn't demonstrated they made any attempt to get their architects to incorporate the signs. If you just ignore something like that, don't expect it to fit in later when the architects produce the design for the building. It's Ryerson's responsibility to incorporate the signs. If anyone fails to perform their heritage duties, the city should do it for them and bill them. They'd look great in the building lobby or a public space near Yonge and Gould.
Cheapies / August 31, 2013 at 11:56 am
"That time most people paid for their music"
em replying to a comment from George / August 31, 2013 at 12:28 pm
@george, i think you think you know what's going on. But you really don't. At all.
Jeff / August 31, 2013 at 05:52 pm
Save the Sign!
Shawn replying to a comment from Jeff / August 31, 2013 at 10:07 pm
Online petitions and facebook groups mean Jack squat. Yes it shows that there are numbers behind the cause BUT they don't stand up to squat. If you care about this sign lets see you do more than create a facebook group in two minutes.

Why aren't you pounding the pavement going door to door getting actual signatures? Why aren't you protesting and spreading tghe word around the Ryerson campuss. Well that's a little too much work and I don't care about the sign that much.
Ploofy / September 1, 2013 at 11:40 am
I love this! Let's destroy every significant city memory as a sign of progress. And then let's watch the "meh" hipster millenials appropriate elements of our past into the architecture of their au current food forward drinking and MDMA holes and watch them call it new! Ryerson lied, they made NO attempts and the "artists" (laugh all you want until you try bending glass tubes on that scale and filling them with inert vibrantly coloured gas) the "brothers Markle" are alive, well and still WORKING!!! Did Ryerson call them? Did Blog TO? You know the answer. Oh, and btw, these guys did the computer controlling for the Honest Eds sign too and ran the Neon Gallery years ago...bad couple of weeks for men who should be applauded.
Nom replying to a comment from Ploofy / September 1, 2013 at 04:53 pm
Yay, Ploofy! Truth! This whole discussion makes me feel sick. Thanks for noting that some sort of effort and creativity went into the formation of the object. Ryerson is dickish for reneging. All the 12-year-olds arriving here with no sense of the city's history much less any other half-keen awareness of the past are dickish. Yes, Yonge St. was sometimes a shit hole, and that's why when you went down to Sam's or just walked by you could actually feel like part of a city with shit on it. Sometimes that was the best part of it. It was a city, for god's sake. Not now. Nobody shits in this city anymore. They live in dickish condos and text each other about texting. Signifying nothing, knowing nothing about the place they live in. For a lot of people, Sam's was a place you lived. It mattered. Now it doesn't because the kids don't get it. Kind of a shame.
Jamie / September 2, 2013 at 12:51 am
People its a retail sign! There are alot of memorable pop culture icons in the city, Nags Head North, The Barracuda, Concert Hall, tons of places that had signs too!!!
Scott M2 / September 2, 2013 at 11:51 am
Does the sign still exist? I could have sworn that I saw it years ago lying mangled in the pit where the new building is going up.
Tracy / September 2, 2013 at 02:42 pm
by the way, the two records were meant to look like boobs (a joke which nobody gets today) ...I guess that's why so many guys like the sign
Ploofy / September 3, 2013 at 12:57 pm
Ugh...not meant to look like boobs...the second sign was added over 15 years later when they expanded...yawn. As for the constant's JUST a retail sign...ugh and Saul Bass only did movie posters, Norman Rockwell did coke ads...does anyone care about anything anymore!!?
JC replying to a comment from DL / September 3, 2013 at 10:47 pm
where can i get the "doctors prefer dumauriers"? id love that piece!
Brett / September 4, 2013 at 09:30 am
Sign the petition against Ryerson! Councillor Paula Fletcher is the one to pressure:
Alex / September 5, 2013 at 10:25 am
I don't care much about the sign, but letting Ryerson buy a prime retail space on Yonge street to make a private student's centre was stupid. People love Yonge because it's public, if we keep selling off pieces of it to private interests then we won't have a downtown worth going to anymore.
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