Last week, at a bar at Yonge and St. Clair, partygoers celebrated the official unveiling of an eight-storey mural by the British street artist known as Phlegm (yes, Phlegm). Painted on the side of an office building, it shows a human figure in a sitting curl, its body formed of scenes from the city: churches, parks, office buildings, the CN Tower, the Royal Ontario Museum.
It’s pretty edgy for dear old Yonge and St. Clair, a staid quarter between Rosedale and Forest Hill, where the demographic skews old, white and prosperous. But change is coming to Yonge and St. Clair. The mural is tied up with a push by Slate Asset Management to bring some buzz back to an intersection long past its heyday.
That effort springs from a remarkable real estate coup. Starting in 2013 and wrapping up earlier this year, the company snapped up buildings on all four corners. Slate’s Lucas Manuel says that, as far he can determine, it is the only real estate firm in North America to own four corners of a major urban intersection. Now Slate is spending millions to rejuvenate both the buildings and the streetscape.
It’s about time. When I was growing up nearby, on the other side of the St. Clair bridge, Yonge and St. Clair was a busy place with a newspaper vendor calling out from the sidewalk, a Tamblyn’s drugstore on one corner and a United Cigar Store on another. A classic bakery sold butter tarts and a Laura Secord’s sold chocolates. The vast Hollywood Theatre showed the latest movies. Dining out meant Fran’s or Swiss Chalet, where you could buy deliciously soggy French fries from the kitchen counter in the back.
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