Lower Main May be Razed…Again

Lower Saint-Laurent

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.

épicerie importations Main

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.

Peters bar

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.

Frites Dorés

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.

Panhelion and Las Vegas

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.

café Cleopatre

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)


  1. While I am hardly as anti development as some of the people who seem to frequent this site, I would really hate to see some of these business’ go. Does Main still sell Marlboros under the counter?

    Ideally I would love for this part of town to go back to the slums I remember. Prostitutes and all:)

  2. Une télé-série se déroulant au musée Éden au début du siècle est en tournage ces jours-ci. C’est dans le genre glauque et sanglant.

  3. Espérons qu’ils vot préserver ces super facades ! Ce coin de la ville a besoin d’un face lift mais je me demande ce qu’il restera du red light historique…de nouveaux bar-cabarets devraient s’y installer.

  4. I don’t think any of these buildings and the businesses that inhabit them should go or be forced out. This is one of the most interesting stretches of The Main that we have left. Certainly a few of them need some work, though! I’d like to see some level of the government perhaps fund their restoration. Tax credit?? The main is a national historic site -anyone know if that has any weight in any of this??

  5. You didn’t go chat up the anarcho-punks running Les Katacombes to find out what their plans are?

  6. It kinda boggles my mind why an entrepreneur hasn’t bought up the shell of the building next to the Monument National, rehabbed it, and marketed it for a resto or bar. I mean, considering the venue next door. I am sure any investor who purchased the building could get some kind of aid from the government for restoration.

  7. Very interesting writeup as always. But frankly the sooner this place gets purged the better it’s an embarrassment to the city, and the 3 stories limit sounds ridiculous its at the bottom of a hill the limit should be at least 5-6 stories

  8. Sad not to see more news about this on this site, given the consultations are starting this week!

    In my opinion any demolition permit issued, even if they specify preserving the facades, would be another victory for landlords who skirt heritage and zoning laws by purposefully leaving their properties vacant and-or in disrepair. All those saying things like “but that block is half empty and run down, get rid of it” are playing right into the hands of that sort of scumbag. The only reason the buildings on that block are either vacant or in disrepair is because the main landlord has been trying to get around heritage laws and demolish the whole block for decades.

    For anyone interested, I wrote a long article in 2002 about that corner, available online here w/ illustrations of that block by Jean-Pierre Chansigaud:

    A related piece by another writer, of interest to people curious about the nightlife in that area’s heyday, is available here:

  9. All these designs including the new ones by developers look ugly and could give anyone a headache. Take a 222. No thanks. I’m already on agreenox.

    In fact that’s the name I have for eliminating the problem here…the communist municipal government.
    We could do alot better with some intelligent design. I think a competition is a better first step than taking this totalitarian fart bolchevik futurian annihalation approach. Bring in a civic party of design experts, I’m the first one to volunteer, and lets have the MONTREAL community have a say in this rehabilitation project.

  10. I am very happy to see those places on Internet, what a souvenir … Peters bar (Panhellinion) was one of my favorite between 1970 and 1990, a real “ruff and tuff” place I can say, customer then know the greek owner as Kristo, I remember very well the old waiters Jacques, Raymond and Yvon. Most of the clients was gay but there was also many bikers, pushers, shylocks, male and female prostitutes, mafia guys like the famous Dubois Brother’s and sometimes tourists because this picturesque place was know all over the world. Everybody there was happy all together, rich and poor without distinction, and have a lot of fun up to 3 AM … Beside, the “café Cleopatre” use to present travesty show, on the other side of the main street, there was the Rialto a similar bar, pass Ste-Catherine street, there was the “taverne de Montréal”, below Dorchester, today René-Lévesque, the Saguenay and the Lodeo in the Chinatown (A story say the name was Rodeo but the chinese owner can’t prononce it right so he call it Lodeo …). On Ste-Catherine not far, there was de Bellevue and Plateau Tavern, the Monarch, “La grande discothèque” that become “Les Foufounes Électriques”. At the end of those hot night, most people of this jungle go to one of the restaurants arround eat some good hot-dogs and french frieds, Montreal Pool Room use to make the best of the world, the mayor of Montreal then, Jean Drapeau, use to send somebody there to bring him some for lunch … There was also the “Welcome Cafe” in the Chinatown, at the corner of Clark and Lagauchetière, alway full off people after the bar’s last call, it was full off cockroachs but noboday care about that because they was all drunk and a big and delicious bowl of rice with brown sauce and beef cost only 50 cents then, it was a very cheap restaurant. All those places was sometime dangerous but not so much because I visit them thousand of times and I am still alive … Ha Ha ! There is no places like that anymore in Montreal, in the ’80 was the last good days of the “red light”, for me, this town become very sad and dull since, now, I live very far in the country and I rarely go back there, I stop drinking about 15 years ago but I have no regret of my pass life on the main street, just fantastic souvenirs …

    P.S. Sorry for my poor english writing, it is not my first language …

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