1670A Victoria Park Avenue, Toronto, ON

Long live the King of Zing: You started life as Zingburger, and you lorded over the weeds of your parking lot fiefdom for a half-century before you became the uninspired “Chicken & Rib Shack.” On behalf of all North Yorkers and Scarboroughites—since your border-straddling location meant you diplomatically doled out the greasy goodies to both former boroughs—we’d like to say farewell. We first heard of your demise when one of our moms (who lives a little closer than we do), sent this quick email missive: “Zingburger is coming down—thought you should know. Love, mom.” That was in the summer of 2007.

We won’t miss the actual burger: Heck, it was just two patties with the cheese slice fired in the middle for rapid melting—but we will miss the zingy architecture. A zig-zaggy glass-and-steel crown of a building, from its cozy, mini-jukebox-equipped booths we could gaze up at the undulating, folded-plate ceiling—with original sparkly paint and pin-holed light fixtures—or through the massive windows to see if it had stopped raining. When it opened in the mid-1960s it must have been a drive-in, since it looked to be designed for roller-skating waitress-accessibility, but when we first discovered it in the 1980s it was simply an alternative to Steak Queen up the street. While we ate at “the Queen” more often, memories of Zingburger are more vivid because it was an example of California “Googie” architecture.

So what the heck is Googie? It’s actually all about the sign, but not in the traditional sense of the word. The postwar era’s obsession with the automobile meant that the buildings themselves became signs for fear of being lost in the whizzing panorama of images through the windshield. In other words, a swoopy lantern-like building got noticed; in California, the attention-getting kings were architects Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, designers of just about every Jetsons-esque coffee shop and drive-in except, ironically, the one that gave the style its name, Googie’s on Sunset Blvd (John Lautner, 1949) next to the famous Schwab’s Drug Store in Los Angeles.

But in Toronto? While there was no Armet & Davis in Toronto, the style arrived via chains like Big Boy and, to a lesser extent, via television sets showing the space age architecture of Disney’s “Tomorrowland.” That a few local burger-preneurs asked their architects to come up with something similar is no surprise. What is surprising, to us anyway, is that no love is lost when one of these funny little buildings bites the big one. Will Orillia’s famous Sundial—another round Googiriffic diner that’s been sitting empty under lock-and-key for years—be next to fall? Maybe folks aren’t fond of Googie architecture because it’s not our own; maybe that’s the problem with the modernist movement in general—how can a style, born simultaneously in dozens of cities all over the world, stir our locally-obsessed hearts? Or maybe it’s yet another reminder that architecture isn’t very important to most people.

Architect Lloyd Alter writes on Treehugger.com: “It isn’t just historically notable buildings that should be preserved; perfectly boring and ordinary buildings from past eras make up the texture of our cities, and most have the bones to support renovations into modern, energy efficient and useful structures. Yet depreciation for tax purposes and high property taxes often encourage owners to demolish rather than preserve.” We don’t know for sure, but we suspect it was something just like Mr. Alter suggests that caused our little zing-thing to fall.

The King of Zingland is dead, and we shall miss its regal parking lot presence.


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Anonymous said...

My dear late parents bought a 1956 bungalow around the corner from the Zingburger in 1968.Even as a kid, way before I went into art and design, I loved it and sensed it was special. I went in often for coffee on the way to my first job at Coles bookstore. The ambience was like that Saturday Night Live Greek diner skit with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd.Food there was nothing special. Nevertheless, I always picture it when I walk across that sad little strip mall parking lot. Was it sold for scrap? Could it have been saved?
Only a few folks like Now magazine and yourself mourned its demise. Thanks for the memories, maybe I'll make a painting of it.

Surge Cess said...

Wow! I used to eat a Zingburger back in the 90's when I lived on Victoria Park and Lawrence. Great place, I definitely still miss it. Steak Queen was also a good spot, it's too bad they are both gone now.

PW said...

I remember the Zingburger restaurant when my family would go there in the early 1970s. I loved the food, and still think about the place to this day. The outside look of the place reminded me of the Mister Donut at Parkway Plaza. It was round and located on a sort of "island" that jutted out into the parking lot. You can see a picture of it (from a distance) in the Toronto Archives showing the intersection of Victoria Park and Ellesmere.

Too many great buildings have disappeared and too few photos are around to show what they were.