Please buy this theatre

The Rialto, a Park Avenue landmark for three quarters of a century, is up for sale. Saturday’s Gazette reported that Elias Kalogeras, who has owned the theatre since 1983, wants out:

Kalogeras is the owner of a defunct theatre in a city laden with once proud theatrical gems – The York, Seville, Cinema V, Van Horne, Snowdon, Monkland – that no one seems to know how to manage in a manner that won’t hemhorrage money for owners or taxpayers.

The 60-year-old former shipping magnate tried to turn [the Rialto] into a shopping centre, repertory theatre, multiplex theatre, discotheque, steakhouse and reception hall. Nothing’s worked.

He was widely criticized for making drastic changes without getting the proper permits, notably in the late ’90s when he ripped out all 1,250 seats and levelled the floor to convert it into a nightclub.

But if it weren’t for him, and the $3 million of his own money he says he’s invested in renovations, not to mention the $100,000 a year in expenses he pays (municipal taxes $52,000; insurance $20,000; heating a space with 72-foot-high ceilings $30,000), there wouldn’t even be a Rialto, he says.

Witness the York Theatre at Ste. Catherine and Guy, long torn down to make way for a Concordia University building. Or the nearby Seville, now a gutted, cavernous home for pigeons.

Cinema V has lain mostly dormant since the movie screen went dark in 1992. Volunteers have fought to turn it into a cultural centre since 1999.

Kalogeras is trapped, he says, by governments that have designated the space a heritage site and won’t let him to alter it in order to make it profitable, but won’t buy it off him, either.

“If they want to keep it the way they want it, please come and take it,” he says. “Give me my money and I’ll go away and do something else less stressful.

Instead, the city levies fines for making changes, most recently to the interior doors, which he changed from aluminum to wood. He has $12,000 worth to fight, even though his changes more accurately reflect the building’s history.

“I’m stuck, I’m stuck,” he says. “I say to you I’m stuck.”

The city “has no projects” for the Rialto, city hall spokesperson Bernard Larin said Thursday. Asked if the city would consider buying it, Larin laughed. “Do you want to buy it?” he replied.

You’ve got to feel for the guy. Montreal is littered with grand old theatres and, despite Kalogeras’ botched nightclub renovations, the Rialto is in far better shape than most of them. NDG’s Cinema V remains abandoned despite a nearly decade-long effort by neighbourhood residents to turn it into a cultural centre; the Seville has decayed to the extent that only its façade remains, and just barely; Loew’s and other Ste. Catherine St. cinemas have been gutted; the Imperial has been nicely renovated, but is only used for film festivals and special events; and other neighbourhood theatres have been converted into concert venues, churches and bingo halls.

Why does Montreal, a city with such dynamic film, art and music scenes, have such trouble finding use for its old theatres?

Top photo: The Rialto in 1936 and 2006, by greynotgrey
Bottom photo: The Rialto in 1989, by Gerry DeLuca

2 comments

  1. Aloha

    I am an expatriate Montrealer who has lived in Lahaina Maui for the last 35 years. Physically and socially I could not think of any other 2 cities more diverse.
    I was born a few blocks down from the Rialto in 47 and this article warms my heart.
    I happened on your site by following the trail from UrbanPhoto and applaud spacingmobtreal.ca for featuring Christopher DeWolf.

    Bobby

  2. Also, the city turned down his proposal, with a major theater chain, to turn it into a 4-screen movie house — something which would anchor the block, be popular in a neighborhood of young people, create a lot of foot traffic, helping local businesses. I suppose the city turned it down because it is ignorant of how to approve historical renovation projects which do not rhyme with “condos”.

    The previous commenter mentions his heart being warmed, by nostalgia for a beautiful building from his childhood thirty-five years ago. But if you leave near the building now, as I do, it conjures dread. With a discouraged and financially broken owner, a city unwilling to compromise with commerce to preserve its past, we are looking the future home of 1000 pigeons, a dilapidated urban zombie craning over its neighbors, much like the Mortimer B. Davis does at Mont-Royal and Jeanne Mance (and which is now being partitioned into — wait for it — condos).

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