Sign experts slam Ryerson’s excuses

Sam the Record closed in 2007 and the sign is now in storage.

Sam the Record closed in 2007 and the sign is now in storage.

Toronto and East York community council was debating the fate of the iconic Sam The Record Man sign Tuesday, in the midst of contradictory information about how much it would cost to safely reinstall it.

The iconic sign, created by brothers Sam and Jack Markle, was installed over 40 years ago and was taken down after the record store closed in 2007. It was Ryerson’s job to reinstall the sign on campus.

But, in a proposal submitted to the city of Toronto in August, the university said it wouldn’t reinstall the sign due to potential for mercury poisoning, a decrease in the number of qualified neon signage professionals, high maintenance costs and energy needs.

Reports cite the potential cost of reinstalling the famed sign at $250,000.

“I don’t know where they got that number from,” said Jack Markle, vice-president of The Brothers Markle Inc. He said a quarter-million dollars is an “astronomical” estimate and would like the opportunity to evaluate the cost himself.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said the cost was not a factor in the school’s decision to abandon its initial agreement with the city to reinstall the sign on the new Student Learning Centre building at Yonge and Gould Streets.

Snohetta Design and Zeidler Partnership Architects, the designers of the new school building, determined there was no suitable location on its exterior for Sam’s sign.

Zeidler also concluded the alternative plan to install the sign on the library wasn’t feasible because it’s too far away from the record store’s location and the sign could cause damage to the building.

“That makes no sense,” said Coun. Josh Matlow. “If they knew they had an agreement to replace the Sam’s sign they should have designed their structure in a way that accommodated placing the sign back up.”

In lieu of the sign’s restoration, the school has proposed to insert an image of the storefront sign, made from either honed black and flamed granite or honed black granite and bronze, in the sidewalk and a heritage plaque to accompany it. The school will also develop a website commemorating the sign.

But Markle doesn’t believe the school’s reasons for cancelling the plan. He dismissed the assertion that the neon tubes pose a threat of mercury poisoning. He said very few tubes were broken since the time the records were installed and no one suffered injuries as a result of mercury leaking.

“They are not environmental threats,” said Grant Farrall of Hope Neon Custom Signs in Toronto.

Farrall said some coloured tubes contain mercury, much like fluorescent lamps, but the amount of mercury in a neon tube is minute.

“It’s not really going to have an effect on anything (if it leaks).”

Markle has signed an online petition started by a city employee to have the sign reinstalled. As of Sept. 9, the petition garnered over 1,000 signatures.

Levy stressed that Ryerson’s decision to abandon the remounting plans doesn’t mean the giant neon records will never glow again.

“The case is the city will take the leadership in looking for an alternative location.”

With files from Chantale Dahmer

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