I posted the following a couple of years ago in honour of this comedy:
Posted 17 August 2014 - 12:47 PM
Do you remember that scene in Silver Streak? The one in which Gene Wilder disguises himself as a black man in order to allude authorities, while Richard Pryor desperately tries to show him how to act “hip black.” It’s an hilarious moment because Wilder is so ludicrously over-the-top that he appears more drug-induced deranged than anything else. My favourite scene in the film.
Well, it was filmed in Toronto’s Union Station washroom in 1976. And as the years passed and I felt the call of nature at that train depot I would walk (sometimes limp) past the other washrooms in the building and go to the upper level of Union Station – to the Silver Streak washroom.
And as I used those gracefully aging facilities there, I would happily look around and think yep – it’s still all here and looking EXACTLY the same as it did in the film. Oh, they may have changed a washer or two over the years , but, essentially, it was the same old washbasins, the same smeary mirrors, the same open air urinals that Wilder and Pryor worked beside and (I liked to think) once used.
I regarded that washroom as Union Station’s shrine to a great moment in screen comedy.
I recall one time I was in the washroom and mentioned its historical significance to another patron there washing his hands at the time. He recalled Wilder in grease-smeared (or whatever it was) blackface, too, and smiled in his realization of the hallowed grounds upon which he stood and splashed.
Some years later I mentioned it to another person while we were both in there doing our thing. He had never heard of Silver Streak and, therefore, looked duly unimpressed. “Cultural boor,” I looked down my nose at him, “We’re in a urinary shrine right now.”
Anyway, a couple of years ago the City of Toronto hired a contractor to start huge multi-million dollar renovations on Union Station. When it’s all completed (possibly two years from now) there’s supposed to be a major shoppers’ mecca there, I believe, in addition to being the city’s central transportation terminal.
As a result of this parts of Union Station have been cut off from view as workmen are sighted everywhere, along with the sounds of drills and hammers and what not.
Naturally, my great concern was for the Silver Streak Washroom. I, if no one else around here, have my priorities. The first time I was at Union after construction had begun I naturally rushed to the washroom, even though I didn’t really need to avail myself of its chambers. Thank goodness it was still there. The place where Wilder shucked and jived! I was happy, feeling great relief (though perhaps not the quite same kind that I normally experienced there).
A few months later when I returned, however, the Silver Streak Washroom had been cut off from view. Massive boards were erected where Wilder and Pryor once performed. Since they are now modernizing everything at Union Station’s other washrooms (motion activated taps and urinals, sparkling new tile floors you could eat off, mirrors where you can actually see yourself) I know that the Silver Streak Washroom is no more.
The last time I was in Toronto and at Union Station I took a sad stroll near where Wilder had jived and Pryor had grimaced in response to that jive. Still boarded off, still no sign of any kind of washroom even returning there. For all I know that spot will now become the location of a fancy dress shop or drug store. Oh, THE SHAME!
A construction worker passed by me as I looked at the spot . “Have you NO respect for film history,” I thought. Okay, I’m rational enough in the midst of my mourning to know that he’s not personally responsible. He is, however, symbolic of the inevitability of change.
So it’s gone, folks. And I’m sorry if I added to the burden of your day by sharing this tragic news with those who, like I, love that scene in Silver Streak.
The Silver Streak Washroom - may it R(estroom)IP.