Vintage Toronto Ads: Friends in the City

Originally published on Torontoist on November 13, 2007.

Vintage Ad #405: Meet My Friends in Toronto

Saturday Night, April 1978. Click on image for larger version.

Wouldn’t your friends appreciate it more if you were present for dinner? Unless you are rewarding them, do you trust your friends and clients enough not to blow your credit limit in a swanky establishment such as this restaurant?

Toronto was one of several Canadian cities featured in this late 1970s American Express campaign. All of the ads feature models who look too eager to serve cardmembers. It’s hard to tell whether the wide-eyed chef is as hammy as the pork products he uses, delighted the waitress is leaning on him and not the wine steward, or if the pressures of the kitchen have reached the point where he is plotting the demise of his fellow staffers.

Several classic 1970s restaurant decor elements are on display. The Tiffany lamp by the bar. Amber glassware. Furniture and panelling in hues of brown and orange. There are still a few venues around town where these elements remain in a non-ironic manner, which can be quite comforting.
We are curious if this actually was shot in Toronto or is merely a set in a New York photo studio.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Vintage Ad #298: Meet My Friends in Vancouver, But Only if You Use American Express Vancouver version of the campaign, Saturday Night, May 1978.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Burlesque, Yonge Style

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2007.

Vintage Ad #387: Starvin' Marvin's

Source: Toronto Life, August 1971.

There used to be a sign above a video arcade that proclaimed “Yonge Street is Fun Street.” Back in the 1960s and 1970s, much of that fun was to be had at the many bars and clubs that lined the street south of Gerrard––Le Coq D’Or, Steele’s Tavern, Friar’s Tavern, Zanzibar Tavern and so on. Depending on the venue, you could listen to music, dance the night away or catch a striptease. Today’s advertiser combined all three.

By the early 1970s, the morality rules regulating the exotic dance industry weakened as old-style burlesque houses gave way to modern strip joints. Among the rules that had been in effect as recently as the mid-1960s:

  • No touching of curtains, walls or proscenium.
  • No lying down on the stage or runway.
  • No bumping of props.
  • No body movements that could suggest a simulated sex act to the audience.
  • No running of any article of clothing between the legs.

Starvin’ Marvin’s appears to have combined the old and the new by the time of this ad––comedians continued to perform between dancers who bared more. By mid-decade the last of the old-style houses, the Victory on Spadina, had called it a day.

The stylized portrayal of the dancers fits the artwork of the era, even if one figure is quite politically incorrect. Based on figures published in the Toronto Star years later, the average dancer earned around $450 a week.

331 Yonge was also home to the Hawk’s Nest, a teen-oriented spinoff of its next-door neighbour, Le Coq D’Or. The club was named after Ronnie Hawkins, who had a hand in its operation. Hawkins used Le Coq D’Or as his base for most of the 1960s, with his backing bands a school for many Canadian musicians, notably The Band.

Painting a portrait of Yonge Street during the Christmas holidays in 1977, Globe and Mail columnist Dick Beddoes lamented the recent closing of Starvin’ Marvin’s:

Raunchy old Starvin Marvin’s, where ladies used to undress on cue and Ronnie Hawkins used to romp, is gone, replaced, f’r hevvin’s sake, by a wholesale house that offers radios, skis, hockey sticks, chain saws and can-openers. All that is left of Starvin’ Marvin’s, in fact, is a sign advising, KEEP COOL – WE’RE AIR CONDITIONED. As the year declines toward a melancholy end, many hunger for imagery, the warm glow if fire, a reassuring star of hope. Starvin’ Marvin is dead on crass old bawdy Yonge, but God is fairly alive.

Additional material from Crisis at the Victory Burlesk by Robert Fulford (1968) and The Globe and Mail, December 19, 1977.

Scenes of Toronto: Fall 2007

Part One: Pumpkin Watch

Originally published on Torontoist on October 29, 2007.

Torontoist firmly believes in the old adage that one can never have too many photographs of pumpkins. Whether they are ornately carved, falling from a 32nd floor window or baked into a luscious pie, we are always on the prowl at this time of the year for interesting shots of glorious gourds.

Unfortunately, many of the city’s pumpkins come to a tragic end. Take the smashed specimen above, found sitting atop a phone at Duncan and Queen on Sunday afternoon.

Our guess is that Saturday-night revelers in Clubland found this innocent gourd and decided to have fun with it. Perhaps they drop-kicked the pumpkin, with a portion landing on the phone. Perhaps they were stricken with a sudden case of the munchies. Perhaps in its final minutes the pumpkin attempted to call 911 for help, until it realized that it had no opposable digits.

Part Two: A Crack in the Infrastructure

Originally published on Torontoist on November 8, 2007.

Crack

Spray-painted markings for infrastructure projects are a common sight in the urban landscape. A myriad of numbers and arrows painted on lawns and sidewalks form a special language for technical crews to follow, usually to locate buried pipes and wires.

Sometimes they point out the obvious.

Torontoist is relieved that we no will no longer trip over breaks in the pavement without warning whenever we walk through Rosedale. Mothers everywhere are grateful that fewer broken backs may stem from this crack.

We tip our hat to the utility crew (or prankster) responsible.

Marking discovered on Sherbourne Street near Elm Avenue. 

Part Three: The Coziest Coffee Shop in Town

Originally published on Torontoist on November 30, 2007.

Coffee Shop Inside

Torontoist likes its java joints in all shapes and sizes. Whether it’s a mom-and-pop lunch counter that has fired up the pots since Confederation, multinational chains, or the latest in fairly traded barista artistry, Toronto is home to a wide variety of places where one can find an honest cup of joe and a comfortable place to sit.

Our latest discovery may be the city’s coziest coffee counter. Located on College west of Bathurst, it is not recommended for the claustrophobic. Space inside may be at a premium, but the weathered sign indicates that sitting in a position reminiscent of an elementary school fire drill barely hinders one’s enjoyment of a freshly ground drink.

BEHIND THE SCENES

For a time, I wrote these little vignettes based on photos I took while strolling around the city. They were quick to prepare, and allowed me to be silly. I’ll group them by season as I come across them in the vaults.

One other thing you may notice if you click the link to the original sidewalk crack story: the story is credited to Kevin Plummer. Due to a glitch which occurred during one of Torontoist’s revamps, posts from November 2007 are not necessarily credited to the people who actually wrote them. There are at least three bearing my name which I didn’t write, covering ballet, a Slash biography, and holiday skating in Nathan Phillips Square. On the other hand, three installments of “Vintage Toronto Ads” wound up under Kevin’s name. Here’s a post from that period that is definitely one of Kevin’s: a proto-Historicist on William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion of 1837.

Off the Grid (Ghost City): 346 Spadina Avenue

Part One: Ghost City

Originally published on The Grid on September 12, 2012.  This was my first piece under the “Ghost City” banner, which the publication had used periodically for similar pieces. “Ghost City” lasted as a weekly column through June 2013, though the title was occasionally brought out of mothballs by other writers. 

When the Gold Diamond restaurant opened this summer, it inherited a building teeming with ghosts: Paranormal spirits are reputed to have inspired the lion statues out front and once required the services of an exorcist. Symbolic ghosts have also left their mark through the legacies of a Jewish-community landmark and a series of Chinese eateries.

Dress-making strike, crowd at Labor Lyceum, 346 Spadina Avenue, February 25, 1931. City of Toronto Archives, Globe and Mail fonds, Fonds 1266, Item 23262.

Originally occupied by residences, the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and St. Andrews Street was purchased by the Toronto Labor Lyceum during the 1920s. Founded in 1913, the organization promoted trade unionism among the city’s growing Jewish community, and offered a home for garment-industry organizations like the Internatonal Ladies Garment Workers Union. As longtime union activist and politician J.B. Salsberg observed, “no single institution and no single building on Spadina—the main street of Jewish Toronto—was more important in the refashioning of the Jewish immigrant into an actively involved Canadian Jew than was the Labor Lyceum.” Beyond union meetings, the building met the community’s cultural and social needs by providing a venue for concerts, a beer parlour, dances, lectures, and hanging out.

tely 40-05-14 goldman obit

Obituary for Emma Goldman, the Telegram, May 14, 1940.

Anarchist Emma Goldman spoke many times at the Labor Lyceum while intermittently residing in Toronto during the 1920s and 1930s. Her talks ranged from lecturing about drama to raising money for the defence fund of condemned American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. While Goldman respected the city’s appreciation for the arts, her criticisms of the influence of the Anglican and Catholic churches did not make her a fan of the “Toronto the Good” mentality. When she died in May 1940, her friends told the Star that the funeral service would “not be a religious one but will be rather just a gathering of friends.” While her body lay in state at the Labor Lyceum, she was remembered “as a woman who had put ideals above suffering.”

cjn 71-12-24 lyceum to become chinese restaurant

Source: Canadian Jewish News, December 24, 1971.

When scaffolding went up after the building was sold in 1971, locals figured the wrecking ball would follow to the increasingly shabby-looking site. Instead, new owner Yen Pin Chen, a Taiwanese restaurateur, spent $1 million over the next four years refurbishing the building into a restaurant complex he hoped would become the focus of the new Chinatown emerging along Spadina. Décor included walls filled with handcrafted detailing and a ceramic reproduction of Beijing’s Nine-Dragon Wall that had been in Chen’s family for two decades. Outside, observed the Globe and Mail, “two bronze-coloured lions crouch and stare imperiously from the front door into the window of the Jewish hard-goods jobber across the avenue. The façade glows with the colour of sunrise over Shanghai, that imperial shade of yellow once reserved for emperors.”

gm 1975-08-02 yen pin palace Source: Globe and Mail, August 2, 1975. Click on image for larger version.

Despite being the largest Chinese restaurant in the city, Yen Pin Place was an expensive bust. The luxurious décor was offset by bland food that the Globe and Mail’s Joanne Kates figured “would be perfect for a convention of 1,000 dentists from Des Moines.” After it closed in 1978, Yen Pin Place was succeeded by a string of eateries that Kates described as “each more outrageously pretentious and gastronomically mediocre than the last, and all of them doomed to failure.” The flops included Genghis Khan (a Mongolian BBQ), Paul’s Palace Deep Sea Shantung (once the city’s premier Szechuan restaurant, it had served better food elsewhere), and the President.

ts 86-01-24 hsin kunag review

Source: Toronto Star, January 24, 1986. Click on image for larger version.

In 1985, the building was purchased by the Hong Kong-based Hsin Kuang restaurant chain, whose name still graces its facade. The Star enjoyed the warm towels that bookended every meal and the dim-sum offerings, but found the flavours of the rest of the menu lacked character. Hsin Kuang gave way to Bright Pearl in 1997, which carried on serving dim sum until a landlord dispute led to its closing in 2010.

That Bright Pearl lasted for 13 years supports the superstitions and accounts of ghost sightings associated with 346 Spadina. The presence of the paranormal has been blamed on everything from an onsite mortuary to the billboards forming a “V” pointing at the entrance that channelled evil spirits. Ghosts are said to haunt the washrooms, even after an exorcist was sent in. Feng-shui masters have been consulted in design elements such as the placement of the “foo dog” lions to provide a healthier aura.

Additional material from Spadina Avenue by Rosemary Donegan (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985); the December 24, 1971 edition of the Canadian Jewish News; the August 2, 1975, November 15, 1976, and April 4, 1981 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 14, 1940, May 15, 1940, February 19, 1983, January 24, 1986, and August 31, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.

Part Two: Vintage Toronto Ads – A Place for Food, Spirits, and Movements

Originally published on Torontoist on October 23, 2007.

Yen Pin Place

Source: Toronto Life, December 1975.

Mid-1970s diners expected a certain level of ostentation when eating at finer Chinese cuisine establishments. Decor was touted as much, if not more, than what went into one’s mouth. The atmosphere diners were promised at today’s featured restaurant hints at a feast for the senses.

Except that the foo dogs were not mere decoration…

The history of 346 Spadina Avenue reflects the neighbourhood’s ethnic shifts. During the mid-20th century it was home to the Labour Lyceum, a centre for Jewish labour movement activity. After her death in May 1940, anarchist/activist Emma Goldman was placed in state in the building until the go-ahead was given by the United States government to bury her in Chicago. The lyceum later moved east to Cecil Street.

The site has long been regarded as haunted, which may explain the presence of the foo dogs guarding the building. One set of restaurant owners called in an exorcist, who noted that the billboards across street pointed like an arrow, directing bad spirits into the building. Apparitions favoured the washrooms, catching patrons at the weakest moment of their meal.

UPDATE

As of 2017, the main restaurant space sits vacant. In 2013, Heritage Toronto installed a plaque commemorating the Labor Lyceum.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Town that Sold Itself

Originally published on Torontoist on October 16, 2007.

Vintage Ad #380: Not Selling You On Meadowvale

Source: Toronto Life, June 1975.

Developers had to do very little to attract new homeowners into the rapidly expanding, brand-spankin’ new city of Mississauga in the 1970s. Open spaces, parkland, recreational venues, shopping plazas, and day care spaces were among the tidbits thrown to those looking at suburban creature comforts.

Most of all, new homeowners wanted easy access to rustic jug milk stores.

This development may have touted itself as “excitingly different,” but parting from the norm could only be taken so far. Item #12 makes it clear that eccentricity would not be tolerated in Meadowvale, thanks to tough rules. Discrimination against certain colours nearly led to a lawsuit from the GTA Regional Association of Purple Edifiers.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Little Tramp Likes Spaghetti

Originally published on Torontoist on October 2, 2007.

2007_10_02osf.jpg

Source: Toronto Life, September 1972.

If you were a child passing through Toronto since the early 1970s, there’s a good chance you may have eaten at The Old Spaghetti Factory. Kitschy antique decor, the pots of whipped garlic butter that arrived with the loaf of bread and a family-friendly atmosphere have kept the crowds coming for nearly four decades.

The Old Spaghetti Factory opened its first location in Portland, Oregon in 1969, a period when themed sit-down restaurant chains like Shakey’s (pizza and Dixieland jazz) began to pop up across the continent. Expansion came quickly, with the first Canadian location opening a year later in Vancouver. Toronto’s branch set up shop in August 1971, behind the recently-opened St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. At this time, nostalgia seems to have been the drawing card, even if Charlie Chaplin is more representative of the then-current 1920s revival than the Victorian era.

Another growing fad was the salad bar, though it’s debatable whether it led to healthier eating habits, a wider variety of toppings beyond the traditional bowl of iceberg or flat out gluttony. One wonders what qualified as “seasonal fresh makings” back then.

As for Chaplin, 1972 saw his return to the United States for the first time since being denied re-entry to the country twenty years earlier due to McCarthyist fears about his leftist political leanings. Chaplin visited Los Angeles in April to receive a honorary Oscar, resulting in the longest ovation in Academy Awards history. In his scrapbook My Life in Pictures, Chaplin noted that “I was touched by the gesture—but there was a certain irony about it somehow.”

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Chaplin’s acceptance of his honorary Oscar remains one of the most powerful moments in the history of the Academy Awards. One person who wasn’t happy to see him back in town was former friend and United Artists business partner (and Toronto native) Mary Pickford. According to the Star, Pickford called Chaplin a “stinker” and refused to let him anywhere near her home at Pickfair.

From the book Pickford: The Woman Who Made Hollywood by Eileen Whitfield (Toronto: Macfarlane Walter & Ross, 1997):

Pickford sulked. While the rest of the industry engaged in mass repentance, Mary’s streak of compassion had run dry. “He wasn’t grateful for his career,” she complained to a reporter. “It’s disgraceful that he never became a citizen.” Sinking lower: “I think they should ask his wives what they think of him.” (Chaplin married four times; of course, Pickford married almost as often.)

star 1971-09-18 old spaghetti factory review 1 star 1971-09-18 old spaghetti factory review 2

Review of The Old Spaghetti Factory, Star Week, September 18, 1971. 

A stop at The Old Spaghetti Factory on childhood trips to Toronto was a given. It was the perfect place to take kids: familiar food, the novelty of pots of garlic butter, and all the cool decor. Once in awhile, I’ll eat there out of nostalgia – the food isn’t the best Italian-American you can grab in the city (though old school red sauce cuisine isn’t one of Toronto’s culinary strengths), but it makes no bones about what it is and evokes plenty of happy memories.

Vintage Toronto Ads: One For the “Cripples”

Originally published on Torontoist on September 25, 2007.

Vintage Ad #372: For the Cripples

Source: Toronto Life, October 1972.

Merriam-Webster defines “telethon” as “a long television program usually to solicit funds especially for a charity.” Almost from the dawn of broadcast television on both sides of the border, time has been set aside to urge viewers to support a long list of causes.

This tradition began in 1949, when a 16-hour telethon to raise money for the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund to fight cancer brought in just over a million dollars in pledges from viewers in New York City. The first national appeal came three years later, when Bob Hope and Bing Crosby urged people to dig into their pockets to support the 1952 U.S. Olympic squad.

In today’s more sensitive climate, the title of this telethon would not pass muster, as it conjures images of pitiable children hemmed in by their mobility devices and prosthetic body parts. The presentation of those helped by pledges has improved since 1972, though pathos-laden images of children in wheelchairs will survive as long as Jerry Lewis draws breath. This ad resists going for pathos, focusing instead on its nearly-all-Canadian lineup of guest performers (the exceptions being Mia Farrow and western TV star/youth leadership philanthropist Hugh O’Brian, the latter’s name spelled incorrectly).

1972 was a busy year in the telethon world, with several new ideas tried out. South of the border, the Democratic Party booked eighteen hours of airtime on ABC in July to help pay off debts racked up during that year’s presidential race, an idea hatched by former Kentucky Fried Chicken head/future governor of Kentucky John Y. Brown Jr. While some money was raised, the party still lost to Richard Nixon in the fall.

That September, a 30-hour telethon for the Committee for an Independent Canada served as both a method to provide support for the promotion of Canadian culture and economic interests and a final technical test for Toronto’s newest television station, channel 79 aka City-TV. Among the featured acts: Pierre Berton reading The Shooting of Dan McGrew and journalist Patrick Watson demonstrating how to make pancakes from bullrush pollen. Items up for bid ranged from boxing gloves used by George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali to Mel Lastman’s original Bad Boy convict suit (an item that deserves to be immortalized in a museum).