Toronto

Honest Ed's sign to hang on facade of Ed Mirvish Theatre

Toronto residents who worried that the iconic Honest Ed’s sign will be lost to the city’s landscape forever can take heart. A portion of the sign will be saved and added to the exterior of the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Plan must first be approved by the city before Mirvish Productions can move forward

This artist's rendering shows what the Honest Ed's sign will look like if the city approves a plan to install it on the Victoria Street entrance of the Ed Mirvish Theatre. (Mirvish Productions)

Toronto residents who worried that the iconic Honest Ed's sign will be lost to the city's landscape forever can take heart. A portion of the sign will be saved and added to the exterior of the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Mirvish Productions made the announcement Wednesday morning.

In an interview with CBC Toronto, David Mirvish said the prospective cost of moving the sign is worth preserving a piece of his family's history.

David Mirvish says he thinks his father would 'get a kick' out of moving the sign to its proposed new home. (CBC)

"I thought it was more than sentiment, perhaps, in the end," Mirvish said. "It helps to explain why we named a theatre after my father. It really was the store that made all the things we do today possible.

"To be able to look up there and remember that every time we go into the Ed Mirvish Theatre — and to have an explanation for people who will grow up in a time when they've never heard of Honest Ed's — that someone's able to come with very little assets and start a small store and have it grow into a business that does business all over the world now."

The company explained that the final iteration of the sign that was on the exterior of the store when it closed on Dec. 31 was actually an amalgam of more than a dozen different signs (in addition to 23,000 light bulbs).

It's one of the most recognizable parts of the sign, the one the company describes as done "in the style of early Las Vegas," that will be preserved and moved.

The sign, which measures nine metres tall by 18 wide, will be moved from the building exterior at Bloor and Markham streets to a warehouse, where it will be restored. Meanwhile, a new steel support structure will be added to the Ed Mirvish Theatre's Victoria Street entrance, before the sign is installed.

Mirvish says he thinks his father would "get a kick" out of moving the sign to its proposed new home, and that if he could be there when the sign was installed, there would be plenty of pomp and circumstance. 

"I think he'd want to have 40 clowns dressed up playing trombones," Mirvish said.

'Natural opportunity'

The plan is a joint agreement between David Mirvish and the Westbank Corporation, the new owners of the Honest Ed's building.

John Karastamatis, communications director for Mirvish Productions, said a decision had to be made now because the building is set to be demolished in May ahead of the site's redevelopment.

He added that because of its size, there are few places that the sign can be hung. 

But David Mirvish wrestled with the decision for some time, Karastamatis said, because his father had rejected his son's proposal years ago of naming what became the Princess of Wales Theatre after him.

"Here, there is a natural opportunity because the building is named after the man who made his name and his fortune by starting Honest Ed's," he said.

It really was the store that made all the things we do today possible.- David Mirvish

If, when the sign is removed, it can't be restored, a decision will be made about whether to construct a replica, Karastamatis said.

The city will have to approve the move before the sign can be installed at the theatre, which has had many names, including the Canon, Pantages and the Imperial. If the plan is a go, the company will then reveal a timeline for the restoration and unveiling.

Sam the Record man sign announcement coming 'this year'

The fate of the Honest Ed's sign brings up questions about another iconic retail sign that was supposed to be preserved for public display.

The Sam the Record Man sign that was taken down from the shop's former flagship on Yonge Street just north of Dundas was supposed to be put on display by Ryerson University.

Following public consultations, the university decided back in 2014 to mount it on the facade of 277 Victoria St., viewable from Yonge-Dundas Square.

Ryerson brass are "still working to select a vendor," communications director Michael Forbes told CBC Toronto on Wednesday. 

"We will be making an announcement this year, for sure," he said.

A new village

The fate of the site that's been home to Honest Ed's for 68 years has been a hot topic of debate in the city, with calls to preserve the building as a heritage site and concerns about the fate of the bright orange sign.

Last month, the developer, Westbank, submitted revisions to the plan for the site. The new batch of revisions included plans to save more heritage buildings and to develop a larger public park.

At this point, 23 of the 27 listed heritage buildings on the site, which is bordered by Bathurst Street, Markham Street, Bloor Street and Lennox Street and also includes some parts of the west side of Markham Street, will be saved. The park is set to be 1,150 square metres. 

Vancouver architect Gregory Henriquez, who is leading the design team, told Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's Metro Morning last month that the plan is to "build a series of smaller buildings that together form a new village" rather than "one large mega-complex, which is what you see a lot of in Toronto."

In all, the proposal is to build 47 buildings, some of which will be mid and high-rise. Once completed, it will have 804 residential units and 15,000 square metres of non-residential space.

With files from Makda Ghebreslassie and Kate McGillivray

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