Sunday, June 01, 2008

Stereos and Observation Deck...Toronto is a buzzkill sometimes...

Last week Anita Behzad and I went around to a few galleries and historical buildings in Toronto's Open Door event. Open Door invites the public to visit unusual locations and architecture that isn't always open to the public. We saw a great show about the history of Canadian electronics Ccompany Clairtone featuring several models of the stereo seen above. I had no idea Canada had been a vanguard of electronics invention...and what a cool stereo this is...I want one!

Clairtone Sound Corporation Limited was a manufacturer of high-quality sound electronics and accessories based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Founded in 1958 by Canadian electronics engineer and businessman Peter Munk with furniture designer David Gilmour, the company established an international reputation for stereo and cabinetry design in the 1960s. It had failed little more than a decade later but in its heyday it made a notable contribution to the field of consumer electronics.
The company was traded publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange, but even as it was winning awards for its innovative designs, Clairtone was facing insurmountable financial troubles. In 1963 it earned a profit of $300,000 on sales of $10 million, and profits decreased the following year as marketing costs rose higher than sales.

THE ART of Clairtone: The Making of a Design Icon must surely be a publishing first: a beautiful coffee-table book about an ugly business failure.

That, however, is not exactly how its creators would describe it. Design Exchange of Toronto, which calls itself "Canada’s national centre for the promotion of design," claims that the Project G stereo, which Clairtone Sound Corporation produced, was "conceptually original, technically and functionally perfect, and aesthetically superior."

It was "the epitome of a design icon."

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the company that made such a contribution to design history, the exchange helped authors Nina Munk and Rachel Gotlieb, and graphic designer Barb Woolley, to put together The Art of Clairtone. It’s lavishly illustrated, shaped like a breadboard, and priced at 45 bucks.

The founders of Clairtone in 1958 were Peter Munk, 30, an Hungarian-born electrical engineer who made custom hi-fi sets for rich Torontonians, and David Gilmour, 26, an importer of Scandinavian glass, ceramics and flatware. They combined superior hi-fi equipment with modern Scandinavian furniture design, and their business took off like a rocket.

As early as January, 1961, Peter Munk boasted, "Everybody knew about Clairtone. The prime minister had one, and if the local truck driver didn’t have one, he wanted one."

Everybody knew about Clairtone and, in the words of my late friend, business journalist Alexander Ross, the immaculately tailored Munk and Gilmour were "everybody’s darlings." They were treated "as movie magazines treated Rock Hudson, with awe-struck approval." from Nova Scotia Chronicle Herald

Oscar Peterson said his music sounded as good on a Clairtone as it did in a live concert. Dizzy Gillespie and Hugh Hefner loved their Clairtones. "Listen to Sinatra on Clairtone stereo," one ad smoothly suggested. "Sinatra does."

The City Hall of Toronto, Ontario, Canada is one of the most distinctive landmarks of the city. Designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell and engineered by Hannskarl Bandel, the building opened in 1965. I took the following pics from the top of the roof of the building on the right with my cell phone.

We also went to the top of the "new" City Hall building observation deck. The deck was designed to be open for the public but for some reason (cutbacks?) it is only open once a year...that is ridiculous...I am writing a letter to City Hall to complain...NOW THAT is something I feel glad to have my tax dollars spent on...sheesh!

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