The bridge, part 3: fire and resurrection

“We did boffo business.” Gregg Hagglund

The bridge took weeks to build and required a lot of wood, screws, plastics, paint, bulbs, wires, time and money. And after the three days of the con, the question was: Now what?

“There was no plan, and Elizabeth didn’t know where to store the bridge,” said builder Gregg Hagglund. “Charlie (McKee) suggested storing it in the large rear stairway of Bakka on Queen St., because when disassembled it was not too big.”

The set sat behind the books for a number of weeks before it was trucked over to the Automotive Building at the Canadian National Exhibition as a promotion for a Toronto game store called Mr. Gameways’ Ark.

Frank Goodman used a Kodak EK6 instant camera to snap photos of people sitting in the captain’s chair at the CNE. Elizabeth Pearse spent time there, in costume, as did many friends from the convention, including (below, left to right) Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch, Phill Stephens and Marcie MacDowell.  

The bridge set at the CNE. Photos by Frank Goodman
Left to right: an unidentified police officer, Phill Stephens, Carolyn Rabinovitch, Shelley TSivia Rabinovitch and Elizabeth Pearse, with Peter McGarvey (seated). Photo supplied by Peter McGarvey

The bridge returned to Gameways’ after the CNE closed for the season. The storied but troubled games store on Yonge Street at Charles in Toronto was stacked on three floors of a former post office, and it was home to the set for many years.

“I remember going to Gameways’ several times just to see it. We weren’t into gaming, we just went to see the bridge,” said Carolyn Clink.

The set at Gameways’. Photo by Frank Goodman

Six kids, all about 12-years-old, wrote a Star Trek episode and shot it on the set in September of 1977. I tried to locate those kids; I would have loved to post that film on this site. A Toronto Star article said one of them lived on Hillhurst Blvd. in Toronto (papers printed that type of information back then) and some sleuthing unearthed a shiva notice that gave me the street number. Unfortunately, the current residents have no connection to the family who lived there in the 1970s.

Gameways’ owner Peter Statner was fighting off bankruptcy by November of 1977. Weeks later, the store’s third floor suffered what The Toronto Star called a “disastrous fire…just before Christmas in 1977.” The fire hit at 1:30 AM and Goodman was called out of bed by Hagglund to take photos. Those images show the extensive damage done and even feature Statner sitting at a blackened console and smoking a pipe sometime later.

Goodman suggested to me that the fire was an insurance scam. Hagglund, who was by then a part owner of the store, dismissed that idea, stating instead that it was set by a disgruntled relative of the owner who was dealing with some personal issues.

The fire was not for insurance purposes. It damn-near broke Gameways’. There was an elevator shaft, with no elevator, and when they hit the fire with water, the water drained down the elevator shaft and to the toy floor. It had a slope to it, into our main storage room. A third of all of our products had come in for Christmas on the day before, and that was all sitting in cartons. This did not belong to us; we were a consignment store. So there was a huge legal fight.

As soon as the insurance company issued a cheque it went to the suppliers, not to us, so we lost all that Christmas profit. It was a really tough time.

After the fire

This is where, originally, the story got confusing — because by many accounts the set was seen and used well after it burned in that fire. People still visited it in the store and a group of students from Sheridan College shot a film at Gameways’ on the set in 1979. The following photos are used with the permission of David Moffat, one of those students.

Laurel L. Russwurm, who you can see in the first photo above and with whom I corresponded for this article, wrote an account of this film shoot on her site Science Fiction Movies:

I studied Media Arts at Sheridan College. In my first year, one of my classmates, Greg Dawe, decided to create a feature-length sync sound Super 8 science-fiction epic, “Star Trek: The Movie”…in large part as answer to the dreadful first feature film, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

I played the communications officer on the student production of Star Trek: The Movie, but it seems there were no more women regulars on our Enterprise bridge in 1979 than there had been in 1966, certainly none above the rank of Lieutenant.

A good bit of this epic movie was filmed on the life-sized reproduction USS Enterprise bridge (which I believe had been originally built for the 1976 Star Trek convention). In 1978, it lived upstairs at the now defunct Mr. Gameways’ Ark in downtown Toronto. I am not sure how he managed it, but somehow Greg convinced the Sheridan College technical theatre department to build him the navigation console (where Sulu and Chekov sat) which had not been part of the Star Trek set installation until then. That was the price our student filmmaker paid for use of this amazing set.

Unfortunately, the film was never finished, but I have to say…the experience of playing the communications officer on what was effectively the original-series set was something sublime.

Russwurm places that film shoot in 1979, well after the 1977 fire reported by The Toronto Star and photographed by Goodman.

It turns out the bridge was grievously damaged but not destroyed. Grant Millard was one of those who laboured to retrieve the set from the flames. “A lot of time was spent sanding char off the wood and deciding, on a piece-by-piece basis, whether a strut or other component would be reused or replaced.”

Pearse rented a building adjacent to Clarkson Machinery and the blackened set was moved there for repairs, in the hope of getting it back into the store for the Christmas season.

The fire had burned “hot but quick,” according to Chris Meredith.

An assessment of the damage concluded that all the acrylics would have to be replaced and most of the plywood sanded and repainted, but that the structural members and lighting/wiring were largely intact. The bridge was rebuilt or refurbished on the bones of the old and re-christened the USS Phoenix, having risen from its own not-entirely-metaphorical ashes. It did though, ever after, smell faintly of smoke.

“You can see the edges of the risers were toast but why did the deck survive so well?” Hagglund said. “Because we had fireproof carpet on it.”

That other bridge

In my original version of this piece, I speculated that the bridge I saw in later years at Toronto Trek conventions was a different build, as it had grey and black panels on the consoles, walls and turbolift doors. These are visible in these photos sent to me by Christine Mak.

Not so, according to Meredith. That was basically the same set, and even before it was used at Toronto Trek cons it served as the backdrop for paid gigs.

The bridge set…was re-dressed with the grey panels, fronted with a proscenium arch and had a “transporter” added in place of the turbolift, so that “guests” could appear for their turn as presenters. The bridge, still called the USS Phoenix and sufficiently differentiated so as not to be “confused” with the copyrighted USS Enterprise by the increasingly litigious new owners of the Trek franchise, entered a new life as a travelling stage for trade shows and corporate conferences.

The transporter (or MoTraM, for Molecular Transfer Mechanism) relied on the stage magic of variable lighting and partially silvered one-way mirrors to create the illusion of someone materializing on stage for their performance. I was responsible for the lighting portion of the effect and travelled to London, Ontario for the inaugural booking. In the upper console position behind the captain’s chair, once occupied by Uhura’s comm station, was one of the early (expensive!) large flat-screen monitors for showing videos and other graphics of the products being presented.

These rentals, in part helping to pay off the TST ’76 debt, went on for a while, involving various friends of Gregg and Elizabeth in the setup, transport and teardown. The set, with Uhura’s station and the turbolift restored, eventually made its way to Toronto Trek III.

After Elizabeth Pearse’s death in 1990, it was acquired by parties associated with Toronto Trek, who upgraded the wiring, displays, and other bits to more modern standards, as it became a fixture at the Toronto Trek/Polaris cons for years after.

Here is a flyer from Toronto Trek III, with misspellings of “Gregg Hagglund” and “Phoenix.”

The fate of the Phoenix

After the restoration work in December of 1977, the bridge was reinstalled at Gameways’ on December 21, with just a few shopping days left before Christmas.

Hagglund in the big chair at Chattanooga in 1987

Hagglund then spent many years disassembling, moving, and assembling the components of the bridge set, in its many incarnations, for conventions and corporate events. It was, for a long time, a significant source of income for him.

The Phoenix was only at the store when it was not being used as a travelling exhibit. “We did a lot of rentals,” Hagglund said. “This was all under NDA because they wanted the Enterprise and they called it the Enterprise, but they could never say ‘Enterprise’ publicly” because of Paramount. Those were busy years, especially from 1984 to 1986. “We did boffo business.” It was during those roadshow years that the rushed work completed in 1976 got a positive review from someone who had known the real thing, Hagglund said.

A guy who worked on the set visited us at a show in Vegas. He said he had a piece of the original bridge set at home, the console upright frame from the Engineering station. It was a backup piece. He brought it in about four hours later and we were one inch smaller than the original. So, we were one inch smaller per station, across four stations; we were four inches off total.

Our consoles were almost exactly the right size.

The first corporate rental of the USS Phoenix, 1980.
Hagglund with Elizabeth Pearse and one of her grandchildren.
The Phoenix at the CNE in 1992.

After working with the set for more than a decade, the new owners ended their association with Hagglund. He is unsure today what became of the set he and Phill Stephens built.

Mr. Gameways’ Ark ultimately fell to bankruptcy in 1984 and held a clearance sale in February of that year.

Gameways’ bankruptcy sale, from the Toronto Public Library