Life, the city | Living in the old Snowdon Theater

While the Imperial is threatened with closure, our journalist sets off in the footsteps of old cinemas. Today, the Snowdon Theater condos.




“There are 62 condos on 6 floors and 6 remain for sale,” says real estate broker Dimitra Hamilos. The project began in 2019 and construction was completed in 2022.”

We told you about the abandoned Empress. From the former Château Cinema, converted into a place of worship and a trapeze school. Other large old theaters where thousands of Montrealers saw films were destroyed, such as the Loews in the city center, where the residential tower of the Mansfield project will be erected. That of the former Snowdon Theater no longer exists, but its facade has been preserved, so that the original vocation of 5227 Décarie Boulevard is not forgotten.

PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

On the ground floor, there is a piano store and commercial premises for sale.

The Snowdon Theater presented one last film in 1982 before becoming a shopping center, then a gymnastics center, and being bought by the City in 2004. After a fire in 2016, the building in poor condition was almost destroyed , but the City sold it a year later.

There was a condition for the transaction to be concluded with the buyer: the conservation of the Art Deco liner-style facade (streamline).

Side note: we spoke to two people who saw the abandoned Snowdon Theater before it went up in flames. The first is Jarold Dumouchel, Urbex photographer (fascinated by abandoned places). “Arriving in a place that hasn’t been used for a long time is like opening a page of history,” says the man who agreed to provide us with a photo dating from 2015.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY JAROLD DUMOUCHEL

More photos of the old Snowdon Theater can be seen on photographer Jarold Dumouchel’s website.

We also contacted Jérôme Labrecque, son of filmmaker Jean-Claude Labrecque, passionate about the work of Emmanuel Briffa (who decorated more than 150 cinemas in North America, including the Snowdon Theater, the Empress and the Cinéma Château) . The photographer is sad to see that his traces (“feasts for the eyes”) are disappearing. For him, the case of the Snowdon Theater is part of a “heritage preservation movement” of “façadism” which he describes as “lazy”.

Groups like Héritage Montréal would also have liked the interior to be preserved, but it was too expensive to save the Snowdon Theater as it was, the City justified when it was sold.

Fortunately, the reception wall of the condo lobby today highlights a vestige of Emmanuel Briffa, with a text which recalls the origin of the place.

PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

Real estate broker Dimitra Hamilos in front of the work of Emmanuel Briffa

A challenge

The former Snowdon Theater had been vacant for more than five years when the ADHOC firm won the private competition to give new life to the former cinema palace which is part of Montreal’s imagination.

Before the work, the architect and technical director of the project François Martineau had the opportunity to visit the vandalized and burned places. It was winter and there was downright ice on the floor, he says.

PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

The architect François Martineau

The building was in very poor condition. It was a big challenge to convert it.

François Martineau, architect and technical director of the project

An extension of three glazed floors was added, giving a contemporary touch to the premises while preserving the original identity of the building. Slots also allowed the addition of windows to the existing volume. “It was the result of a lot of research on the Art Deco style,” assures François Martineau.

  • The Snowdon Theater before the works, in 2019

    PHOTO HUGO-SÉBASTIEN AUBERT, LA PRESSE ARCHIVES

    The Snowdon Theater before the works, in 2019

  • After the work, in 2023

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    After the work, in 2023

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The architect emphasizes that period photos were able to “reappear” missing elements of the facade. As for the massive sign, it had to be dismantled and the letters reproduced. “The big structure remained there, but all the panels and the covering were restored or rebuilt at the factory. »

“In our opinion, the final result is harmonious,” says the one who argues that we can “evolve” the built heritage.

  • The view from the shared roof terrace

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    The view from the shared roof terrace

  • Architect François Martineau highlights the great diversity of housing.  There are studios and three-bedroom condos with sizes ranging from 376 to 1,295 square feet.

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    Architect François Martineau highlights the great diversity of housing. There are studios and three-bedroom condos with sizes ranging from 376 to 1,295 square feet.

  • This two-bedroom condo is on sale for 2,000 (plus taxes).

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    This two-bedroom condo is on sale for $412,000 (plus taxes).

  • The view of the Saint-Joseph oratory from one of the apartments

    PHOTO ALAIN ROBERGE, THE PRESS

    The view of the Saint-Joseph oratory from one of the apartments

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Other transformed cinemas

The original architect of the Snowdon Theatre, Daniel John Crighton, drew up plans for several other cinemas in Montreal which are now taking on a new life, including the Regent (now a Renaud-Bray on Avenue du Parc), the Papineau (which became a climbing center after having been an Énergie Cardio center and a bingo hall), the Rivoli (now a Pharmaprix) and the Monkland (whose building is today occupied in particular by a Première Moisson bakery).

The Ouimetoscope, considered the first permanent movie theater in Montreal and Canada (at 1204, rue Sainte-Catherine Est), has also been converted into condominiums. “There is a plaque and that’s it,” laments Pierre Pageau, author of the book Cinemas in Quebec: 1896-2008.

The retired professor emeritus of cinema points out that the first two films shown at the Snowdon Theater on February 26, 1937 were One In A Million with the famous skater Sonja Henie and 15 Maiden Lane. “The room was designed according to the new acoustic requirements inherent to talking cinema,” he explains.

The owner company United Amusements praised its modernism and even its air conditioning. The Snowdon Theater was near a tram line, and the Décarie highway did not exist.

Another era!

Next week: When the Denise-Pelletier Theater was the Granada


reference: www.lapresse.ca

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