Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Montreal's Fleur de Lys Theare; Post Script

Wow.  I received quite a response for my last series of posts that I wasn't really expecting (but was definitely welcome).  This blog is still new and this was my first experience with crowd sourcing my research.  Normally when I begin one of my posts, I know at least a little bit about the topic I'm writing about, and have the basic facts straight.  In this case, I was missing the artist altogether.  Readers in Montreal found the story and ran with it, as the saying goes.  I still don't have a name, but I'm closer to the truth and have the on-line community to thank (read my previous post here and here and here).

Special thanks are due to Jim Forbes and Dominic Gascon.  Mr. Forbes commented on my post last week and identified himself as someone who worked on the building in the past.  He gave me quite a bit of useful information (more on that below).  Mr. Gascon is a current employee at Stereo Nightclub (the building's current tenant) and he posed my question to social media, generating dozens of comments and guesses in the process.  

Apparently the building is German in origin (not Canadian as I originally assumed).  According to Mr. Forbes, the mural was designed in Germany and meant to invoke Haida imagery.  The forms on the facade of the Fleur de Lys really don't capture the spirit of Haida art, but that can probably be expected from an artist working in another country, and not really fully aware of the iconography they're working with (or the region, Haida art originates in Western Canada).  I've got some good leads to go on, and once I can name a specific architectural firm or artist, I'll post an update (and perhaps be able to find another building designed by the same architect).
A true example of Haida art, much different than what appears on the Fleur de Lys

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to my search or just took a little time to think about something they might not have noticed in the past.  It is through you that the history of this building, as well as the history of Montreal, lives on.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Montreal's Fleur de Lys Theater, part 3

As I continue to search for the specific architect/artist who designed Montreal’s Fleur de Lys cinema, I continue to come up against dead ends.  Simple Google searches didn’t get me far, and I have only been able to find brief references through other sources.  I studied nearby architecture built around the same time, and that didn’t yield any results either.  I had been pointed in the direction of Montreal’s Place des Arts, but the architects who designed those various buildings didn’t seem like a stylistic match to the concrete frieze that decorates the Fleur de Lys.  I thought the next logical step would be to study the artists and sculptors whose work is displayed throughout the complex.  Perhaps that would lead to a solution.
"I will haunt you in your dreams" -Montreal's Fleur de Lys Cinema

I’ve sort of been doing this since this research began, really.  I couldn’t put an artist’s name to the Fleur de Lys decoration, so I tried researching artists who were working at the same time the cinema was built (the late 60s).  I might be able to find an artist working in the same style.  Because of the World’s Fair held in Montreal in 1967 (Expo 67) the city was overflowing with public art and monuments, and the task wouldn’t be easy.

I was able to find several artists who share stylistic elements with the frieze, but none seemed to be a good match.  Some of the artists I researched included:

Jordi Bonet

Bonet seemed promising for a while.  He produced large amounts of public art throughout Montreal (including a mural at the Place des Arts) and much of it takes the form of murals made out of various materials including concrete, ceramic, and metal.  But, his work doesn’t look exactly like what’s on the side of the Fleur de Lys.  Bonet’s work is often much more detailed and can tell a much more recognizable story (he created a lot of Christian-themed murals for churches).   I also discovered a fairly comprehensive list of Bonet’s work on the web, and the Fleur de Lys theater wasn’t part of it.  Strike one.
A Jordi Bonet mural

Charles Daudelin

Like Bonet, Daudelin also created several public art pieces that can be found all over Montreal (both artists created pieces for the city’s Metro system).  They were also both well-established artists in the late 60s.  A Daudelin sculpture is placed in the lobby of the Theatre Maisonneuve at the Place des Arts, and like much of Daudelin’s art it is composed of abstract forms that can vaguely resemble human or animal forms.  There seemed to be a slight connection to the Fleur de Lys mural, but just like with Bonet, the differences outweighed the similarities.  Daudelin was also fairly well established at the time, and I could find no documentation that listed the Fleur de Lys frieze as one of his artworks.  Strike two.
A free-standing Daudelin sculpture

 Sorel Etrog

Of all the artists I researched trying to find answers for this post, Etrog seemed to get me the closest.  His work is somewhat biomorphic, he was active in the 1960s, and would occasionally create murals or relief sculptures (although most of what I saw consisted of free-standing sculptures).  But, like with all the artists I researched, I was able to find no documentation linking Etrog to the sculpture in question.  Strike three (really something like strike 27 at this point – I have researched so many artists at this point I’ve lost count.  These three were just the closest matches I found).
Two figures by Etrog

So I must end this series of posts with a question mark.  I hate loose ends, but I’m afraid I must move on for the sake of my precious sanity.  I’ve wrapped my head around this thing dozens of different ways over the last few weeks and really feel I need to turn my attention to new things.  At least for now.  My research will continue, but in the background.  There are still some resources that I can turn to, and I'll post an update if I can ever find more specific information.  

At this point, one may ask why I even care.  The building and its decorated frieze obviously aren’t important enough to garner much attention, and thousands of people probably walk by everyday and don’t even bother looking up.  But it’s there just the same, and there are people who do care.  As an artist myself, I know how much time and energy goes into the creation of a work of art.  This piece was made by someone, and the last thing this artist wanted was to be forgotten.  

Next time, I (reluctantly) move on to a new topic.  It might be something you've never heard of.

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.