Vintage Toronto Ads: Signaling Fall at the Eaton Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, September, 1985.

Fall officially arrives this week, a season that signals fresh starts. While some changes signal endings, such as leaves changing colour, events ranging from the first day of school to the launch of the new slate of television shows are opportunities to forge fresh paths. Shopping malls are no exception, as stores unveil their fall wardrobes in which consumers can strut their stuff at the office or on the town.

But is the interplay of fabrics at the top of every consumer’s mind?
The clearest signal that this ad sends out is its age. The colour scheme, the half-reversed headline with a skinny font, the tilted photo with neon background, and the contrasting moods of the model add up to a pure 1980s layout.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Two Takes on The Art Shoppe

Part One: The Surgeon General Warns That Choosing Office Furniture Will Make You Lose Your Colour

Originally published on Torontoist on August 28, 2007.

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Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.

Pity Mr. Businessman, so lacking in colour. He may have secured a lovely office set for his coworkers from a venerable North Toronto furniture supplier, but his grey demeanor led to his dismissal during a round of belt-tightening at A.T. & Love in 1980.

Note the pyramid, which plays into the “abstract mystery usually associated with office planning.” The Pyramid Power fad reached its height in Toronto during the Maple Leafs’ 1976 playoff run, when coach Red Kelly placed pyramids around the dressing room and under the bench. Kelly felt the pyramids would act as a confidence booster by distracting the team from the latest outbursts from irascible owner Harold Ballard.

During this period, a second location was maintained in Bermuda. One wonders how many luxury desk sets were lost in the Bermuda Triangle.

Part Two: The Art Shoppe 

Originally published on Torontoist on November 28, 2014.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977.

No matter how timeless a business may seem, change inevitably occurs. Take the case of high-end furniture store the Art Shoppe, which was a fixture of the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood from the Dirty Thirties until this month, when it moved to a new location in the Castlefield Design District and left its old site to be turned into condos.

People thought Leon Offman was crazy to open a luxury goods store in 1936. Toronto was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, which had crushed the high-end hopes of other retailers. Catering to the carriage trade, Offman’s store offered art deco and modernist designs inspired by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school.

In a 1956 Globe and Mail advertorial, Mary Walpole offered a glimpse into the shop’s early years:

From the smart façade, which we have always admired, right through the three floors, it is an exhibition of the finest names in the land of furniture and so artistically and tastefully displayed that you can sit back and relax and almost forget you are in a store … The floors are so spacious that the effect is beautifully uncluttered and it doesn’t take too much imagination to get the feel of things you like in your own house.

By the 1970s, the Art Shoppe’s scope had extended to designing and supplying furniture for international luxury hotels, Mount Sinai Hospital, Aeroquay One (at today’s Pearson Airport), and others. Much of the store’s business came from outside the country, as Canadians freshened up their home décor less often than did Americans. “The average American replaces his furniture every five years,” Leon’s son Allan told the Toronto Star in 1973. “In Canada it’s once every 20 years.”

The store’s advertising was in step with trends and passing fancies of the era, from popular 1920s-inspired fashions to “pyramid power,” which the Toronto Maple Leafs once used in an attempt to improve their playoff chances. Ads also promoted office designs tailored to the specs of high-powered executives (such as the man above, who could almost pass for former Toronto mayor David Miller).

The store itself, according to the Star, had the sombre atmosphere of a funeral parlour: “Men remove their hats, voices are hushed, and the salesmen are as discreet as funeral directors.” And outside, tour buses regularly stopped to give visitors a look at the window displays.

In the ’70s the store expanded, taking up the full frontage of Yonge Street between Soudan and Hillsdale avenues. A Country Style donut shop at the south end of the lot gave way to a $2.2-million, four-storey atrium completed in 1975. Controversy briefly arose when local residents protested plans for a parking lot to replace six homes.

Given the skyward expansion of the neighbourhood, it was almost inevitable that the site would be sold for residential development. Freed Developments purchased the property in 2012 and revealed plans the following year for 29- and 38-storey mixed-use towers. Community resident associations and city councillor Josh Matlow contested the plan, resulting in mediation, which shrank the towers to 12 and 28 stories.

Where window displays previously tantalized bypassers with visions of stylish home interiors, they currently entice potential home owners with contact information for the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos.

Additional material from the October 12, 1956, November 19, 1975, and September 13, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the April 12, 1973 and April 17, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Shoulders by the Grange

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, December 1984.

To borrow a line from an old Saturday Night Live parody of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s fashion sense, you may ask yourself “why such a big suit?”

Village by the Grange opened on McCaul St in the mid-1970s as a mixture of residential and retail spaces. Any secrets the complex held by the time this ad appeared were hidden in each model’s shoulder or loose jacket. The toll of those stuck in narrow passages or otherwise injured by wide clothes across Toronto during the mid-1980s is unknown (though if anyone wants to check the police accident records, your perseverance will be admired).

If you look at the Emy’s model from a certain angle, her outfit resembles a heart—raised curves at the top, narrowing to a point by the waistline. A subliminal suggestion that anyone would love to wear this, or an early hint for Valentine’s Day gift ideas?

BEHIND THE SCENES

Now that “Vintage Toronto Ads” was rolling along, I began buying cheap used copies of old magazines to widen my selection of source material. This was one of the first from a batch of mid-1980s issues of Toronto Life I found at a bookstore along Yonge Street (I want to say ABC, but don’t quote me on that). Dated fashion quickly became handy if I was in a hurry to write the column, or when the inspiration well ran dry. I might collect some future installments together, since I usually didn’t have a lot to say – the images told a better tale than I could. What more is there to say about the ridiculously puffed up shoulders on the Emy’s model?

There will be more about Village by the Grange – rebranded in recent years as Yorkville Village – in future posts.

Off the Grid (Ghost City): 2 Queen West

From 2012 to 2014 I contributed to The Grida weekly magazine/alt-paper which was known as eye for most of its existence. The publication folded in July 2014, with its web presence vanishing soon after.  As some articles had already vaporized when I finally got around to collecting them for my records, some reprints will be based on original drafts. This installment of my “Ghost City”column was originally published on December 11, 2012. As plans to revamp the building have been released, it seemed appropriate to exhume this piece.

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Yonge Street looking north from Queen Street, early 20th century. 2 Queen West is the Knox store on the left. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 495.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the intersection of Queen and Yonge was a battleground for clothiers and dry-goods merchants. While Eaton’s and Simpson’s wound up on the top of the heap, other merchants left their own marks, such as the building at the northwest corner named after men’s fashion provider Philip Jamieson.

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Toronto Star, October 20, 1900.

Jamieson was en route from his native Scotland to Australia in 1873 when he visited his brother-in-law, Bartholomew Spain, in Toronto. Instead of continuing onto the land down under, Jamieson partnered with Spain in a clothing store on the current site of Old City Hall. By 1877, the partnership had dissolved, and Jamieson moved east to the corner of Yonge and Queen. Disaster struck just after midnight on March 4, 1895, when fire destroyed the recently built Simpson’s store across the street to the south. The blaze jumped north across Queen Street, destroying Jamieson’s store and its neighbours, except for Eaton’s, which was saved by its sprinkler system and swift-thinking employees who lived nearby. Despite $150,000 in property losses, Jamieson temporarily moved a few doors north on Yonge and vowed in his ads that “a magnificent building” would rise from the ashes. Designed by architects Samuel Curry and Francis S. Baker, the Jamieson Building, whose original address was 180 Yonge St., included a rounded corner and plenty of plate-glass windows at street level to showcase Jamieson’s goods.

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Toronto World, February 6, 1909.

On April 30, 1897, the S.H. Knox Company opened its first Canadian five-and-dime store one door north. Owner Seymour Knox previously partnered with his cousin Frank Woolworth in the variety-store business south of the border, and continued to share suppliers when he set out on his own. Knox agreed to not build anywhere near the early Woolworth stores, making Toronto an attractive locale. (Knox’s heirs left their mark on the Buffalo area—Seymour II was involved with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, while Seymour III and his brother Northrup established the Sabres hockey franchise.) In January 1909, Jamieson retired and Knox expanded into the space. Jamieson planned to travel around the world, but died the following month. The Knox nameplate remained until the chain merged with Woolworth’s in 1912.

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The discounter’s long presence at one of Toronto’s top retail corners was aided by a stipulation landowner Naomi Bilton included when she sold the property to McMaster University (established by her father) for a dollar in 1917. Bilton had an undisclosed beef against the Eaton family and placed a condition that the property could never be sold to the Eaton’s or their related businesses. (Decades later, neither McMaster nor Woolworth’s showed any interest in selling the space to Cadillac Fairview during construction of the adjacent Eaton Centre.)

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The Telegram, November 26, 1969.

A succession of short-term retailers filled the space after Woolworth’s departed in 1980. When new owners purchased the site in 1985, they hired architect Lloyd Alter to design the restoration of the aging building. Alter referenced archival photos to glimpse what was buried under a layer of metal added by Woolworth’s. “I wanted to peel back the cladding like unwrapping a present,” Alter recalled in a recent email. Engineer Peter Sheffield devised an iron column up the middle of the barely-holding-together structure, to which three layers of plywood were bonded on each floor. While portions of the old brick were exposed, new blue-green aluminum cladding was added.

The project experienced lengthy bureaucratic delays due to the owner’s decision to add a floor at the top for a fitness club (eventually the site of the Goodlife Fitness that vacated the building last year), which made it difficult to meet environmental load requirements. The frustration surrounding the project led Alter to change careers from architect to developer. As for how he could have handled it differently, Alter says that he “would have restored the prism glass and the whole ground plane to the way it was and figured out how to expose the iron-cast columns.” He would have treated the south section as “a real restoration,” while the north half might have been replaced with a new tower.

The Tower Records store that occupied the lower floors from 1995 to 2001 also experienced its share of frustrations. During its first Boxing Day, store managers asked Metro Toronto Police if they should open, given provincial regulations about closure that other retailers increasingly violated. “They laughed,” general manager Bob Zimmerman told Canadian Press, “and said, ‘We really can’t advise you, but you should probably take a look at your competition and do what they do.’” Tower angered Canadian publishers when they discovered the store broke federal guidelines by carrying American-distributed copies of Canadian books. Already edgy over rumours of American book chains eyeing the Canadian market, lawyers were dispatched and letters were written to the feds. Tower officials blamed a rushed store launch for the move, saying that they couldn’t find local wholesalers in time. The offending titles were pulled off the shelves and replaced with perfectly legal titles.

When Tower departed, its space was quickly snapped up by the Forzani Group, who used it as a flagship location for its Coast Mountain Sports chain. The store was later switched to Forzani’s Atmosphere banner.

Additional material from History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario Volume 1 (Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, 1885); Remembering Woolworth’s by Karen Plunkett-Howell (New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001); the March 4, 1895 and July 10, 1895 editions of the Globe; the February 1996 edition of Quill and Quire; and the March 4, 1895, February 9, 1909, February 10, 1977, January 3, 1986, September 26, 1987, and December 27, 1995 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Sheer Unisex

Originally published on Torontoist on June 19, 2007.

Vintage Ad #118 - Matching Pants

Source: Toronto Life, October 1969.

The late 1960s were a time of throwing off the shackles of traditional societal gender norms, including the rules surrounding who could wear lace pants. Unisex clothing popped up on runways mid-decade, reaching suburban malls by the time today’s ad appeared.

Opened in the winter of 1964, Yorkdale’s original anchors included Eaton’s (recently converted into the H&M/Old Navy wing), Simpson’s (now The Bay), Dominion (now Holt Renfrew) and Kresge’s (the five-and-dime progenitor of K-Mart). The mall was strategically located for accessibility to two major expressways, even if one (the Spadina, now Allen Road) was never fully built. Fairweather is still among the tenants, though its Big Steel Man division, which existed as its own chain in the 1970s and 1980s, vanished years ago.

Our models appear ready to toss off their pants quickly, but for different reasons—while she may be ready to discover free love, he looks shellshocked by the new style; too emotionally detached to enjoy any amour. Sheer nervousness, perhaps? A bad audition for a part in the Toronto production of Hair (mounted at the Royal Alex a few months later)?

As for those with less-than-svelte waistlines, they were sheer out-of-luck.

BEHIND THE SCENES

If memory serves, this was one of the first installments to gain traction around the interwebs, if only for the silliness of the image. I suspect the market for men’s see-through white lace pants was limited for any number reasons – personally, I’d feel like I was wearing a tablecloth.

Going through these early entries, I’m struck by how slight some of them are compared to what Vintage Ads evolved into (especially its second run, where the posts were effectively mini-Historicists). No wonder I could knock them out in a hurry at the time.