Staples store once showroom for classic car
Pierce-Arrow dealership attracted clientele of the highest class
To some people, it’s just another Staples store. To others, it’s an old CBCTV studio.
But the fancy building at1140 Yonge St. began life as a Pierce-Arrow showroom, where Toronto’s rich and famous came to buy their cars in the 1930s.
Built in Buffalo since 1901, the Pierce-Arrow became one of the most prestigious cars on the market in the 1920s. Hollywood stars, business tycoons, royal families and even then-president Woodrow Wilson all loved to be seen in their Pierce-Arrows.
In 1929, the car cost $4,000 to $8,500, at a time when new Chevrolets cost $750 to $980 and Fords cost $435 to $650.
That’s when Harry Givan, the man who owned the only Pierce-Arrow dealership in Toronto, decided to build an opulent new showroom on Yonge St. just south of Marlborough Ave.
Some people still remember the building’s history, says Staples spokeswoman Val Outmezguine. A couple of times per year, someone will walk into the store and talk about its past.
“Staples was aware of the history of the building, but location and demographics were the main attractions,” Outmezguine says. “The unique architecture of the building is an added bonus.”
When it opened in January 1930, a Toronto Star headline announced, “Costly Showroom for Motor Cars Stands Completed.”
“Striking a new note in Toronto’s uptown structures, a new $100,000 automobile showroom and garage has been completed for H.E. Givan, Ltd.,” read the Star’s report.
“The design, by Messrs. Sparling, Martin and Forbes, architects and engineers, is carried out in true Byzantine style and a clever use of carved figure-heads, masks and gargoyles have been embodied in the orna- mental scheme.”
The building featured huge windows with arches facing both Yonge and Marlborough. A used-car showroom and service facilities were at the back. Offices were on a mezzanine level.
Givan had been in the car business almost a decade when he decided to build the posh showroom.
“He was an extremely hard-working and honourable man,” says his only grandson, Gregory Colucci.
Although he was born after Givan died in 1951, Colucci inherited his grandfather’s love of buildings — he’s a Toronto architect.
Givan was born in1890 in Moncton, N.B., where he worked as a mechanic at his brother’s Pierce-Arrow dealership. He was a pilot during the First World War.
He moved to Toronto in 1921 and opened his own Pierce-Arrow dealership at 120 King St. E. He later moved the business to 684 Yonge St. before building the new showroom.
Unfortunately, it opened just months after the stock market crash of October 1929.
Sales of luxury cars fell and, by1932, Pierce-Arrow production plummeted to just 2,152 cars, down from 10,000 in 1929.
To compensate, Givan began selling lowered-priced Studebakers in 1933. As the Depression deepened, PierceArrow sales continued to decline and the automaker went out of business in May 1938.
Givan continued to sell Studebakers and used cars from his gorgeous showroom for a few years, before moving in 1942 to 921 Yonge St., where he was still selling Studebakers as late as 1946. He died at the age of 60 in 1951.
After Givan moved out of 1140 Yonge St., RCA Victor used the building for radio sales and service. A string of other companies rented the building during the 1940s, and then it sat vacant for awhile.
The CBC bought the building in 1954 and converted it into its main TV studio, home to such iconic shows as Flashback, Front Page Challenge, Juliette, The Tommy Hunter Show and Wayne and Shus- ter. Former CBC host Alex Barris discussed those days in his 1969 book The Pierce-Arrow Showroom Is Leaking: An Insider’s View of the CBC. “In its desperate need for more studio space back in the early 1950s, (the CBC) took over this barn and converted it into a TV studio,” he wrote. “This is something like trying to turn Maple Leaf Gardens into Buckingham Palace without spending too much money. “Somewhere in the upper reaches of its dark heaven, the ghost of a vintage Pierce-Arrow klaxon hovers, waiting to laugh derisively at us for vainly thinking we could turn the auto palace into a studio. I have heard it now and then, mocking us.” CBC moved out after it opened its new centre downtown in 1993. Staples bought it a few years later. “The space is great for us and we enjoy the fact that it’s a heritage site,” says Outmezguine. “There’s no plaque or historic pictures regarding the building, but the original mirrors from the automo- bile showroom still hang in the ceiling space.”
The former showroom is now listed as a Heritage Property by the City of Toronto.