Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Subway riders at Toronto’s College station are being treated to an unexpected glimpse of the past thanks to some construction work.
The original blue-green tiles and custom typeface that once covered the station have reemerged behind vacant advertising billboards for the first time in over 30 years.
Toronto’s subway debuted in 1954, with College among the first completed stops. During the construction process, an engineer from the Toronto Transit Commission chose a color scheme for the system’s stations: “Primrose (soft yellow), English Eggshell (blue-green), and Pearl Grey (off-white),” according to Spacing’s Chris Bateman. The three colors, Bateman explains, “were to be repeated in a cycle between Union and Eglinton stations.”
But the Vitrolite tiles turned out to be quite fragile. And with the material no longer manufactured by the ‘60s, it was a challenge to find replacement pieces. In 1982, the TTC had them replaced with a more durable material and replaced its iconic font—a cross between Futura and Johnston—with Univers at many downtown stations. A mottled brown tile has defined College station since.
Straphangers at College are enjoying the unexpected look into past while they can. One rider even used the dust on the old walls to spell out “VITROLITE RULES.”
For classic TTC vibes, your best bet is still Eglinton station, which never lost its Vitrolite walls and original TTC typeface. And for a more through trip back to the system’s earliest days, here’s a 1954 CBC News report on Canada’s first subway: