I guess it’s been a lot longer than I thought since I’ve been to Toronto: I accidentally found out today that the iconic, animated neon signs of Sam the Record Man can no longer be found on Yonge street: the store closed in 2007, and the signs lit for the last time in 2008.
My next thought was: “What happened to those signs?” Thinking they may have suffered a fate similar to Ann Arbor’s recently-defunct neon landmark, I did some googling and found the following at Wikipedia:
On May 30, 2007, supporters started a Facebook group to save the store’s neon spinning record signs titled “Save the Sam’s Sign!!!”; the group, and its attached online petition, garnered more than 18,000 members. On June 14, 2007, it was announced that the sign, and the contents of the store would be auctioned-off by Benaco Sales on June 27. However, on June 22, 2007, the Toronto city council voted in favour of designating the entire property as a heritage site, protecting the entire building, including the landmark signs. The entire building was designated because the Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs.
On January 18, 2008, Ryerson University officially acquired the property for future expansion of its nearby campus.
On October 4 , the iconic neon signs were lit for the last time as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche festivities. The removal of the signage commenced shortly after the final lighting, and by mid March 2009 the building had been partially demolished.
Further searching reveals that Ryerson University was expected to put the sign back up at some point, but no one seems to be in any hurry to do that:
In 2008, a local newspaper reported that the signs, “gently removed and documented like artifacts from an archaeological excavation”… will be “refurbished and put into the new building.”
Ryerson appears to have changed its mind since then. Wednesday as he unveiled the design of Ryerson’s new $112 million student learning centre on the Sam’s site, the school’s president, Sheldon Levy, told me that, “when we took down the records, we had negotiated with the city that they can appear on one of the buildings. They are going up high on the existing library,” he said, pointing to Jorgensen Hall, which is next to the new centre. But Craig Dykers, the architect at Snohetta, the Norwegian firm that won a competition to design the new building, had a different answer when I asked him about the Sam’s records.
“We know that it’s a protected piece and we should find a home for it,” he said. “Ryerson is going to form a committee to find a home.” Janet Mowat, a spokeswoman for Ryerson, said that the signs are resting off campus, in a warehouse “somewhere in the GTA.”
Time will tell where Sam’s Records will end up, but for now, here’s a video of the last lighting of the original sign: