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I drove by in recent weeks, looking up from the expressway below. I only had a quick glimpse, but what I managed to see—or rather what I did not see, shocked me! Behind the front wall was absolutely nothing, just empty space. The entire building has been demolished to the ground, nothing is left.
That the front facade (couple of inches) and the marquee sign were preserved are meaningless. It’s just a hallow gesture, a false mask, to (partial) obscure the ugly modern condo building going up behind it. The important part worth saving was the intricate and jaw dropping art deco from nearly century ago on the the walls and ceiling inside. Was any of it saved? This being Montreal, I think the likely answer is no.
Also worth mention, the lettering on the marquee sign was modified for petty political reasons years after the theater closed. So not even that is original. Yet another beautiful landmark in Montreal…destroyed. Sigh.
Well, the latest news (as of August 2018) is MK2 has cut ties and canceled its agreement with the Empress Theater Foundation. This has essentially scuttled the project, it is now dead in the water. Again.
In the meantime the building has reached a critical point in terms of deterioration, the longer it sits abandoned to the elements, the more difficult and expensive it will become to renovate (at some point it just becomes a lost cause). My fear is its in danger of facing demolition.
MK2 is a potentially interesting development, but it’s hard to be optimistic with so many failed attempts by so many others in the past 25 years. As I’ve said in the past, talk is one thing…action is quite another.
I won’t even raise an eyebrow until/unless I see construction start. We’ll have to wait and see.
Update for 2017: Just as I predicted. Several deadline extensions were granted over the years (three in fact!), and each one of them missed. The city’s absolute final deadline was June 30, 2016, and when it was missed, it essentially nullified the whole project.
Cinema NDG did come back in September 2016 with a scaled back revision (knocking $2.5 million off the estimate total), but the city has shown no interest.
It’s now September 2017 and the theater restoration project is dead in the water. The only change is the building’s exterior is now covered in graffiti.
So as it stands, The Empress has now sat abandoned for 25 years. Yep, a quarter century of all talk and no action. I suspect it will be demolished, or at best, only the facade preserved for a condo project.
Update for 2016-17: In late March 2016, vandals started a serious fire that caused major damage to the roof. The theater has been completely boarded and abandoned since.
In May 2017, the city tentatively sold the building to a condo developer, with a request they preserve the theater’s marquee sign and building facade. Nothing about saving the interior or art-deco was said (i.e. the part worth saving!). Of course there’s no guarantee any of it will be saved, it could just be outright demolished.
As of September 2017, the Snowdon theater still sits abandoned and deteriorating.
Update as of June 2014: All tenants of the building have been permanently evicted due to unsound roof conditions (leaking and rapidly deteriorating). The city of Montreal has bordered it up and refusing to carry out any repairs.
Likely it will suffer the same fate as other Montreal theaters bordered up and left to the elements. Disturbing as there is a literal treasure of art-deco on the walls and ceiling of the original theater still intact (for now).
Well here I am again, a year later, to the day. The December 2013 deadline for financing was missed and now been pushed back to October 2014. My best guess is it will be extended repeatedly throughout the next year or two until Cinema NDG finally forfeits their plans entirely.
Still no activity at the site as of June 2014. It remains boarded up, abandoned and deteriorating. Talk is one thing, action is another.
Now 2 and half years later…
In December 2011 the building was seized by the city of Montreal, with the ground floor office space emptied and vacated. The building now sits completely abandoned, again. The only activity these days is graffiti artists routinely vandalizing it with spray paint.
An organization called Cinema NDG has proposed a $12 million dollar project that would re-open a 4 screen movie theatre in the building but we won’t know if this will go through until December 2013. Until something actually happens, it’s just more empty promises and talk…
Update: ticket price increases to $2.85 (taxes included). Still inexpensive, but really astray from original concept of movies for a dollar.
Unfortunately this is yet another example of more talk and ideas, but no action. Perhaps “day dreaming” is a better word for these latest plans, the only mention of it is in Metro (a free tabloid-like French paper) but nothing in the Montreal Gazette or local TV news stations such as CTV News. When the mainstream media outlets ignore the story, that is not a good sign.
Since I last commented, temporary metal fencing has been placed around most of the building. Either to protect it from vandalism or the danger that pieces of it may fall to the ground as it further decays. Something similar was don with theSeville theatre in its final few years.
Well, here I am, reporting back in on the progress of The Empress exactly 4 years later. And what progress has there been? sadly, none whatsoever. Excluding the small office on the ground floor, and a failed attempt at repairing the roof, the theater has sat abandoned, neglected and crumbling all these years. The roof has been leaking and undoubtedly caused further deterioration of the building.
There’s been much talk, promises and announcements made in terms of finally reopening the theater, but nothing concrete has happened. The latest news is the Quebec government is refusing to grant ANY funding (it is after all, serving the English community), casting serious doubt about the future of this project. There are currently reports the board of directors are planning on giving up on the project entirely/killing it, and allow the city to re-claim ownership of the building in November.
My prediction is this theater will suffer the same fate as the soon-to-be demolished Seville theater in the coming years, or at best, be converted into private condo housing. It would be nice to be wrong but I’m not optimistic.
Addendum to above: This afternoon the doors to the main building were opened when I happened to be passing by (no renovations are being done or even planned, but some volunteers were there clearing out some debris). I had a peek into what was once the theatre lobby…
Much to my disappointment it has been entirely gutted, presumably from damage from the fire in ‘92. The walls, floors and stairs are just bare concrete with exposed pipes and wiring on the ceiling. There was a strong dank and musty smell, even several feet away on the street. Chances are they’ll need to treat the building for mold contamination if it ever does reopen. I chatted briely with the head organizer and she confirmed most of the theatre has been stripped and gutted to the bare brick, although there are still some original seats in the upper balacony area and vintage moldings and architecture still intact in places—not all is lost.
One interesting thing I saw in the lobby. Look at the photograph link above, taken in 1989—I saw part of the original markee sign sitting there, specifically the white disc with red print that says “Cinema V: Salle 1”. Might make a nice collectable to someone out there heh. Incidentally the bricked up windows you see in the photograph (just above the markee) have been since restored. The bricks are gone and glass windows have been put back. Unfortunately the girl I spoke with didn’t seem optimistic about an opening anytime soon.
The city of Montreal purchased the building in 1999. There are plans a foot to renovate and reopen the building as community center for stage plays, musical performances and other events.
Currently a non-profit organization called the “Empress Cultural Centre” is in charge of the project. They have three phases planned (currently phase one is complete: reopening the ground floor office as a headquarters for the project) but the other two are on hold while they try to secure the funding needed—$8.3 million dollars.
I spoke to the organizers last month, they estimate it’ll be at least two years before the building is reopen (and personally I think that’s being optimistic, without funding it’ll remain closed indefinitely). No plans to turn it back into a film theatre, it’d be live performances mostly. In the meantime there’s no much there, it still sits closed up and and empty, apart from the small ground floor office.
The theatre has 1,000 seats (350 in first screening room, 650 in second, with a performance stage in the latter) and has seen little to no renovation since first opening. The sound system however, has been upgraded to DTS Surround since becoming the Dollar Cinema. The theatre is located within the Decarie Square Mall, what can catatogorized as a dead mall.
1977, Opened as “Odeon Decarie Square” under ownership of Cineplex Odeon. The name later changed to “Cinema Decarie Square”. First run films were shown.
1997, became a second-run film theatre. Proved unpopular.
2000, Reopened as a repertory theatre for Indian Language films.
2002, closed again.
2004, Reopened as “Dollar Cinema”, by new owner Bernie Gurberg. Initially with a mix of repertory and second-run films, then only second-run films. Theme is ticket admission and all concessions cost only $1 (plus tax).
On August 3rd, 2006, Cinema Du Parc permanently closed and now sits vacant and unused. Although an effort is being made to sell the theatre it is doubtful it will ever reopen (being inside an indoor mall, I suspect it’ll eventually be gutted and turned into more shops, a restaurant or such).
With its closure, Montreal is now a city without any repertory theatres.