MOD Developments recently unveiled a record-shaped black granite disc at the Massey Tower in Toronto to honour the legacy of the iconic jazz club the Colonial Tavern, a nod to the city’s rich music history.
“The disc is a palpable reminder of Massey Tower’s roots and will allow passersby the opportunity to observe and remember part of Yonge Street’s amazing music history,” stated Gary Switzer, CEO of MOD Developments, in an email to the Daily Commercial News.
“The return of the disc to Massey Tower is a perfect denouement, if you will. It’s a small, but a significant glimpse into our city’s past and it weaves together both the present and the future.”
Recognizing the Colonial Tavern was important in the city’s music and entertainment scene, a record-shaped black granite disc was commissioned in 1996 inscribed with the names of 175 music greats who played at the famed club including jazz legends Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson.
“The booming jazz joint was a place that brimmed with excitement and was the sonic backdrop to Yonge and Queen during its pinnacle from 1947 until the late 1970s,” said Switzer. “It was then purchased by the City of Toronto and subsequently torn down in 1987. It was later turned into a parkette flanking the historic 1905 Canadian Bank of Commerce building.”
Originally, the monument was located in the parkette where the tavern once stood, however, when the city sold the site along with the Bank of Commerce building to Parasuco Jeans in 1999, the disc went to a city works yard, Switzer explained. About two years ago, Switzer was speaking to a friend who works at the City of Toronto who said the disc was still in storage at the yard.
“We were thrilled (and rather surprised) to hear that it still existed and after discussing with my partner, Noorez Lalani, we knew that we absolutely had to incorporate it into the streetscaping in some way,” Switzer said. “I contacted Mark Garner, from the Downtown Yonge BIA, who helped make it happen. We thought it would be a wonderful complement to the restoration work we did to the heritage bank building and would allow for the remembrance that the Colonial Tavern deserves. Admittedly, it took a lot of work to pull off, but it was totally worth it.”
The disc will serve as a permanent landmark outside of the new 60-storey condominium building.
“Where Massey Hall will once again soon be a thriving venue, the Colonial Tavern exists only as a fleeting memory for those that lived during its heyday and whose story will now be told on walking tours down Yonge Street,” said Switzer. “An elegant two-storey retail glass pavilion has been erected on the Colonial site which, once occupied, (whether by a restaurant, or perhaps even a music venue) will bring back the kind of ineffable energy that once existed there.”
The Massey Tower underwent a $140 million revitalization, the most significant renovation in its 125-year history. It was made possible by MOD Development’s donation of the land fronting on Victoria Street in 2012.
Massey Hall was built in 1894. The hall closed in July 2018 to begin the revitalization project. The project includes the full restoration of the exterior and interior of the building, including 100 original stained-glass windows and a new seven-storey tower addition that will feature a live-music stage and performance studio.
The project team also includes Hariri Pontarini Architects, ERA Architects (heritage architects), Janet Rosenberg Studio (landscape architects) and Cecconi Simone (interiors).
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