The big changes in store for the lower Main that we announced over a year ago are slowly becoming concrete.
In December, the Gazette reported that Angus Development Corp bought six buildings on the West side of Saint-Laurent for $6 million. Later this month, their plan for a 15-storey complex which would combine commercial space and office space, is going to public consultation.
A few independent owners – Café Cléopâtre, Main Importing Grocery Inc. and the Montreal Pool Room – have so far resisted selling their properties to the developer.
None-the-less, the city has drafted a permit which would allow Angus to demolish all the buildings between Ste-Catherine and the Monument National. However, the permit includes the provisions that the facade must be continuous with the Monument Nationale building and any construction over 3 stories must be set back by at least 9.5 meters. Nearly all the Victorian-era facades must be integrated into the new development (specifically street numbers 1186-1212 and 1224-1230).
Ironically, this exact site came under the axe of another major development project about 120 years ago. In the mid-1800ds, The municipal authorities decided to widen and reconstruct the boulevard, which was the main North-South axis in the city. In order to do so, all the buildings on the West side of the Main were demolished from Saint-Antoine all the way up to Roy (the city limit at that time). The buildings that currently occupy the Lower Main were the first wave of reconstruction, part of an ambitious attempt to create a prestigious urban boulevard at the heart of the city.
The following is a quick look at the 7 historic buildings that would be reduced to facades on Angus’ new “pôle vert” complex.
1186-1196 Saint-Laurent was built in 1889, along with it’s neighbour, the the Montreal Pool Room building. These buildings pre-date the Monument National (1893) and were some of the first constructions within the Saint-Laurent development project mentioned above. This building was originally a hotel with commerces at the ground level.
Épicerie Importations Main was established in 1924 and was the first Middle-Eastern grocery store in Montreal. According to a Gazette article published in March, the grocery’s owners are interested in selling but holding out for a better offer.
1198-1200 Saint-Laurent was commissioned and built in 1889, by J.A. Denis to house his paint and hardware shop in a prime location across the street from the Saint-Laurent Market (now Place de la Paix). Today it’s one of the few buildings on the strip that shows any signs of life, and also one of the few that is not in the hands of Angus Development Corp.
The Montreal Pool Room has occupied the ground floor since at least 1921 (according to city record) or 1912 if you want to go by the sign on the door. After snapping this picture, I stopped in for a hot dog and ended up in a lively conservation with an elderly man who encouraged me to get a job with the Journal de Montréal. According to the guy behind the grill, the owner was out of town, so I wasn’t able to question him about whether he was in negotiations with Angus.
1202-1204 Saint-Laurent was built in 1928, a generation after the other buildings on the block, but the greystone building material, windows and ornamentation were designed to fit with its southerly neighbour. It is now vacant and owned by the developer.
1206-1212 Saint-Laurent was built in 1891 in an Italian style. Its first occupant was the Éden Musée & Wonderland. The Musée included a 200-seat vaudeville theatre, the oldest theatre on the Main, where every hour spectators could be wowed by «représentations magnifiques et d’une nature chaste ».The displays also included 100 wax figures (among them, Queen Victoria, Pope Leon XIII and Sir John A MacDonald); war trophies, weapons, uniforms; and a “chamber of horrors” featuring the death by guillotine a french anarchist (acted out, I assume). This endlessly eclectic museum also had a room for scientific wonders such as the electric train.
Three years later, the Musée moved into the basement of the Monument National. Over the following century 1206 and 1212 was was home to Dreamland, Club Zlaba Praha, Princess Billard Hall, and Slovak & Social Sporting, among other curiously-named occupants, before winding up empty, with the exception of a casse-croûte on the ground floor (the heritage study has some quite creepy pictures of the abandoned upper floors). The building is owned by the developer and the Teixeira family, who ran Frites Dorées for 28 years, is looking for new digs.
1214-1220 Saint-Laurent was built in 1900 as a rooming house with 38 rooms and an interior courtyard. The original occupant was the Salvation Army hall, followed by an institution called “Roxy Funland” whose name leaves much to the imagination. Peter’s Panhellinion Restaurant opened in 1949 and closed only last year.
This building was bought by the developer last December but the greasy spoon remained open and some of the rooms on the second and third floors were occupied until April 30th when, according to the Gazette article, this building was evacuated due to fire regulations. This facade would not be preserved in the new development.
1222-1228 Saint-Laurent was built in 1891. The first occupant was a burlesque theatre and, in the ’50s and ’60s it was the site of the French Casino, which gets a mention by Michel Tremblay. The ground floor was damaged by a fire in 1965 and the facade got a further, rather unbeautiful makeover in 1976, which explains why it lacks the Victorian grandeur of its neighbours.
1230 Saint-Laurent, built in 1895, hosted a dozen different bars and restaurants before Café Cléopâtre, a legendary drag striptease showbar, opened 1969. In an interview with the Gazette in March, Café Cléopâtre owner Johnny Zoumboulakis said that, while he was pleased this block would have some new life, he had no intention of closing up shop and selling the building to the developer. Rather, he wished to continue the tradition of adult entertainment in the historic red-light district.
However, this lot (#2160653) is included in the City’s demolition permit.
Much of the information presented here was found in the ÉTUDE PATRIMONIALE DU QUADRILATÈRE SAINT-LAURENT (pdf) commissioned by the Angus Development Corp.
I haven’t had a chance to look over the Angus Development Corp plans yet but all the documentation is available on the OPCM website. A first information meeting will take place May 19th, 7pm, at the Hôtel Holiday Inn Select (99 avenue Viger, coin Saint-Urbain)