Thursday, February 6, 2014

Montreal's Fleur de Lys Theater, part 2

The search sort of narrows (maybe)

As I find myself writing more of these multi-post essays, I can see that research is something that grows and changes and can be both exhilarating and frustrating.  Easy answers are boring, and the hunt is what truly fascinates me, even if it leads to multiple dead ends.  The search for the origins of the Fleur de Lys theater have really tested my researching abilities, and has required me to use every source at my disposal, from internet searches, books and magazines, as well as personal recollections.  I still haven’t come to any conclusions but I have learned more and focused my search over the past week.

Here it is again, in all it's weird glory

After finishing my last post, I continued searching for information on the theater.  I came across a journal database I hadn’t used yet and was pleasantly surprised to find some information.  My search led me to a magazine called BoxOffice that has several decades of past issues available for viewing on their website.  BoxOffice is a trade magazine, so it doesn’t have many stories about theater architecture, but I was able to get some concrete facts about when the theater opened and who ran it.  The Fleur de Lys opened on April 1, 1967 (a Saturday) and was run by Michel Custom.  I had come across Custom’s name in association with the theater before, and as I expected he was the theater’s original owner, not the designer.  The theater was described as follows:

"The modern house has widely spaced seats, wall-to-wall carpeting, and a wide screen.  A feature film and a documentary will be shown at the Fleur de Lys, said Custom, with an expected run of four weeks for each program."  (BoxOffice Magazine, April 3, 1967, p. 56)

The first film screened there was “Tendre Voyou“.  This was welcome information for sure and really gave me some insight into how the building operated when it first opened, but the search for who designed the theater, as well as the sculpted mural outside, would have to continue.

I realized that a different approach might need to be taken, so I focused on Stereo Nightclub, the current tenant.  Perhaps by studying the recent history of the building I could get a glimpse into the past.  Stereo had been a victim of a pretty bad fire a few years ago, and much of the interior had to be rebuilt.  The interior photos (waning- for some reason there's a photo of a topless woman included in the interior photos) found on Stereo’s website show the clear involvement of a designer, so a description of the rehab might be helpful.  When old buildings are renovated, it’s common for the firm to list who the original architect was.  Hopefully this would be the case here.

I dug around a little bit, Googling terms like “Stereo Nightclub re-design” and “Stereo Nightclub interior design” and was rewarded with some information fairly quickly.  The firm who worked on Stereo won a design award for their work on the club.  Great, now were getting somewhere.  The design firm was named In Camera Design, so all I should have to do is Google “In Camera Design” and I should be able to access their website (all designers have websites, don’t they?).  I searched for “In Camera Design” and was immediately made aware of the fact that “In Camera” has many more meanings than I thought.  In Camera is the legal term for “In Private”, so countless legal sites came up.  In camera effects are special effects carried out right when a picture is taken (not done in Photoshop) so dozens of photography websites came up.  Add to this all of the advertisements for camera stores that also came up, and I ended up with a lot of information that didn’t help at all.  I can find no reference to In Camera Design other than the press release written by the board that gave out the award.  They don’t appear to have a website, and I can find no reference to other designs they’ve done.  Yet another dead end.

Not ready to give up yet, I contacted Stereo directly.  I sent them an e-mail asking if anyone there knew who the architect of the building was.  I received a very quick response that somewhat re-focused my search.  The person who wrote me back didn’t have a name, but said that the same person designed the Montreal Place des Arts.  This could be it.  I finally felt that I was close to getting some concrete information.

The Place des Arts?

Well, not so fast.  Of course it couldn’t be that easy.  The Place des Arts is a large complex of theaters and performing arts venues, like New York’s Lincoln Center, and I quickly found that it wasn’t all designed by the same person, or at the same time.  It wouldn’t be cut-and-dried, perhaps, but looking here for information was promising.  The complex houses theaters, and is right down the street from the Fleur de Lys.  Of the many building on the site, two of the buildings were of interest to me almost immediately:  The Salle Wilfred-Pelletier and the Theatre Maisonneuve.  The Salle Wilfred-Pelletier was designed in 1964 by the architecture partnership Arcop.  That name had come up in some of my previous research, so seeing it again gave me a little hope that I was on the right track.  But, after doing some research I couldn’t really find much visual affinity between their buildings and the Fleur de Lys.  They also maintain a pretty comprehensive website that lists many projects going all the way back to the 1960s and doesn’t list the Fleur de Lys as something they designed.

Theatre Maisonneuve

The Theatre Maisonneuve seemed a little more promising.  It's brutalist, like the Fleur de Lys, and most of the exterior is unadorned (also like the Fleur de Lys).  It opened in 1967, the same date as the opening of the Fleur de Lys (almost the exact date, actually- the Maisonneuve was opened on April 30th, not even a month after the opening of the Fleur de Lys).  There were some things that didn’t fit, though.  There is no exterior decoration on the Maisonneuve, and it’s made of cast concrete (not brick like the Fleur de Lys).  It was a lead, though, and I hadn’t had one of those in a while.  

The architectural firm who designed the theater was David-Barott-Boulva, a firm that also acted as associate architects for Montreal’s iconic Habitat ‘67.  They also designed Montreal’s Dow Planetarium.  All of these buildings (Habitat, the Planetarium, the Maisonneuve) have similarities to each other, but none of them really look like the Fleur de Lys.  Also, the firm was probably pretty busy working on Habitat ’67 (a very high profile commission) at the time of the construction of the Fleur de Lys.  Considering the attention and notoriety Habitat would garner, would they have taken the time to design a little single-screen cinema?  Perhaps not.  My search had led me through pretty major segments of Montreal’s architectural history, but I wasn’t much closer to the answers I was looking for.  Maybe there was something I was overlooking.  Maybe the Place des Arts and the Fleur de Lys didn’t have an architect in common, but a sculptor.  My search would continue.

Next post, I'll have to wrap things up, answers or not.  At this point I can't promise a neat and tidy ending.

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