If Hugh Hefner can save the Hollywood sign, can somebody please save the Westwood sign?
The distinct Etobicoke landmark has sat atop the old Westwood Theater at the south-east spoke of the Six Points since the ‘50s. Growing up in the west end of Toronto, it was my neighbourhood movie house. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent watching Disney movies at the Westwood, which started out as a super wide, single screen venue before a large addition and a partition made it into a still pretty funky three screen venue. Most of us soon discovered that you could scoot through the centrally-located washrooms and sneak into one of the other theatres for a free second feature.
As megaplexes sprang up deeper into the 'burbs, the Westwood closed down a dozen years ago. Astonishingly, the red-bricked building still stands, gutted but defiant, neglected as city planners and area developers tried to figure out how to transform the entire Six Points strip.
The tall metal letters atop the flat roof used to look pretty cool with the orange letters lit with, I believe, a thin strip of green neon. After it closed as a movie house, the theatre was used as a location of the movie "Resident Alien: Apocalypse" (2006). You can see it in a scene where a redneck on the roof picks off zombies with his rife. The filmmakers left the theatre a little worse for wear, wrecking part of the eighth letter “D.”
Word is the city has earmarked the land for a new area courthouse. Construction has been rumoured for about a year.
What will become of the giant Westwood marquee letters? For any of us who grew up in that ‘hood, the Westwood letters are as indelible as the Hollywood sign and speak to the same magic, allure and escape movies have to offer. The letters should be saved for their historical value as a symbol of mid-century pop culture. Hard to see them remaining on that site if it is indeed a courthouse. They would look pretty cool, restored to their former neon glory, as part of the art park visible from the 401 as westbound commuters drive past Pearson airport. (There is a catchy “STILL LIFE” mural there now). That new Bell Light Box, opening this fall as home of the Toronto International Film Festival, would be another spectacular destination, especially if they were restored and displayed somewhere on the exterior of that movie lovers' showcase venue. The letters could even be scrambled to suit the occasion. During long festival line-ups, store one letter and the sign could spell out “WE STOOD.” Come to think of it, this would work along the 401 at rush hour, too. While waiting for a final display place, put them in storage and have them spell “DO WE STOW.”
I’m thinking this calls for a Facebook petition, a letter to Hugh Hefner, and, well, something before I drive down to the old ‘hood and find the sign and the theatre as erased and replaced as the high school that used to stand a stone’s throw across on Dundas West. Anyone up for a lost cause?