'1ST CLASS CHEF REQUIRED," stated the June, 1955, classified ad. Offering "top wages for the right man," the position must have been filled quickly, since it disappeared the next day. In July, the same establishment needed "soda fountain help" and then, by August, a waitress position that offered "good hours and wages" was advertised.
The restaurant at 2800 Kingston Rd. must have been a hopping place a half-century ago.
Today, behind the still-jaunty sign along Scarborough's notorious Kingston Road motel strip, there is no top chef working the 60-seat "semi-open kitchen" at the Avon Motel and, even if there were, I suspect finding bums to fill those seats would be a daunting task. Which is why the restaurant portion of the building houses a travel agency today: better to be somewhere else than here.
Is there life here, or something closer to life-support? A recent walk to survey the remaining half-dozen postwar motels near Brimley Road proved inconclusive. Across the street, rooms at the Hav-a-Nap were being cleaned, which means they had been dirtied that day; there were a few cars parked in front of the Americana, but the one American plate was outnumbered by the three from Ontario; shirtless, mullet-haired men with angry expressions far outnumbered genuine tourists, too.
Similarly, the handful of West Hill motels a few kilometres to the east near Morningside Avenue offered little in the way of surprises.
What is surprising is that these places continue to operate at all. The Ontario-Quebec equivalent of Route 66, Highway 2 hasn't been the city's lifeline to Kingston or Montreal since the 401 rendered it redundant some time in the 1960s. (It's tough to pinpoint the exact year, since construction started on the new superhighway in 1947 but took more than two decades to complete). Although these motels were likely still patronized by station-wagon-busting Brady Bunches in the 1970s, by the 1980s it wasn't uncommon to read about homicide, prostitution and drugs behind the buzzing vacancy signs. By the 1990s, the city was renting out dozens of rooms in various establishments to shelter more than 300 homeless families; while this may have kept owners in the black, it cemented the area's reputation.
But as I walked in the sunshine, I thought it important to look beyond this and note the architectural details, since they'll probably be gone before long. There are the two yellow prongs that hold aloft the yellow and white squares reading "MOTEL" at the Avon; the longer prong tapers to a sharp point and appears to be lancing the smaller "AVON." The slanted roofs of the Hav-a-Nap - which mimic the topography of the land as the little building climbs uphill - have always caught my eye, as have the alternating yellow and red doors and big sans serif font at the Americana. The Old English font and understated architectural qualities of the Royal Motel ("color tv. & radio" only $34.54 a night!) are a nice counterpoint to the wilder, folded-plate roofline of the Andrews Motel and the Maple Leaf's big neon beacon in West Hill.
I thought, too, of my real-estate section colleague John Bentley Mays, who took a similar walk along Etobicoke's Lake Shore Boulevard motel strip almost 20 years ago for his Citysites column - which ended up in his wonderful Emerald City: Toronto Visited - armed with the knowledge that a zoning decision would transform the area from seedy to sexy by way of condo towers. He ogled the "streamlined, luxury liner" curves of what I believe to be the Cruise Motel and waxed poetic about the "fast, sleek, daring, hedonistic" architecture of the "Great Automobile Age." Always a realist, he predicted that when the bulldozers came (and indeed they did) no one would "shed a tear."
After reading a March, 2009, City of Toronto Kingston Road Initiative - Action Report regarding the stretch of Kingston Road between Victoria Park Avenue and Port Union Road, I'm certain the last Scarborough motel will check out some time around 2025. While not targeting them specifically, the report does identify the "majority" of Kingston Road as falling under the Official Plan, which will create a "city of beauty" where "re-urbanization is anticipated and encouraged to create new housing."
Can anyone else smell new condominiums?
While I often write glowingly of mid-century modern architecture, I can see past my rose-coloured glasses enough to know that few eyes will well up when the Hav-a-Nap goes to its eternal sleep in a landfill. (Director Bruce McDonald, who used it in his 1991 film Highway 61 , may weep).
But since the report makes such a fuss about the street's storied history and promises to make it "a well-signed showplace to feature its history and community amenities," may I suggest the following: How about we save a few of the old motel signs and gather them up in a new public park? Electrified once again, they'll remind us that "amenities" along here once meant massaging beds, colour TV, kitchenettes, heated pools and air conditioning.
That way, if the first-class chef, waitress or soda jerk decide to take a walk down memory lane, there'll be something to help them remember.