Saturday, January 29, 2011

More Montreal Disappearing:

Another day, another crumbling Montreal mansion.

Last week, it was the Redpath Mansion on du Musée Ave.

Next up: Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine House.

The building, once home to the pre-Confederation prime minister, has been deteriorating for decades and is on Heritage Montreal's endangered-landmarks list.

The organization's description: "Constructed in the 1830s, this house, despite certain modifications, is a rare example of the Neo-Classical greystone mansions built in the St. Antoine ward in that era. Its setback from the surrounding streets is a reminder of its original setting on landscaped grounds."

The shuttered house is on Overdale Ave., a couple of blocks west of the Bell Centre, in the shadow of the Guaranteed Pure Milk Bottle.

Ashley Clarkson, a Concordia University public history student, is one of the organizers of a Feb. 23 protest to raise awareness about the building.

"I think the biggest problem with the building is the lack of public knowledge," Clarkson told Metropolitan News in an email.

"So we will be there giving out pamphlets and questionnaires and hopefully raising awareness and possibly giving the building more recognition from the city.  We are trying to get the building as much attention as possible so maybe something will be done with it."

Below is a 2008 Gazette story about the building, by Alan Hustak. The article was part of a "landmarks in limbo" series.

The graffiti-splattered greystone mansion with broken windows sits on Overdale Ave. at the edge of a huge parking lot just north of the Lucien L'Allier métro station on a large tract of land that has been vacant for more than 20 years.

The three-storey house was once the residence of Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine, who, along with Robert Baldwin, served as prime minister of the British colonial government of the United Canadas.

Lafontaine lived in it for 15 years until he died in 1864.

Even before squatters abandoned the house eight years ago, heritage activists waged a campaign to restore the property as a museum or an interpretive centre of pre-confederation history.

The most recent development proposal was to convert the house into three luxury condo units, but so far nothing has come of it.

Problem is, the consortium that owns the property isn't eager to have the building designated a historic site.

According to the city, repeated requests to repair the broken windows, which have exposed the second floor to the elements, have repeatedly been ignored. According to Ville Marie borough spokesperson Jacques- Alain Lavallée, the owner has been served with notice to stabilize the building.

"Someone has to get out with a picket sign and say, 'What's happening here is a disaster,' " said architect Michael Fish, who has led the fight to preserve the building since the early 1980s. "Internal damage has been inflicted on this building and its neighbourhood slowly, quietly, over the past 30 years. The owners have no intention of developing anything. They bought the land for speculation, without buildings, tenants and any responsibilities; they have nothing to do but watch it increase in value."

The plight of the building came to public attention in 1985, when the Drapeau administration refused to allow a number of Victorian buildings on the site to be demolished.

Successor Jean Doré permitted buildings to be torn down.

Senator Serge Joyal, a former federal cabinet minister, has thrown his support behind the effort to save the house.

"We are not just looking to save the four walls," he said. "Integrating the walls into a development that might house condos or offices isn't what we are looking for. We want to see the site restored and turned into a public property."

What Should Be Done?

Preserve it: The mansion is one of the few that exists from before confederation, a tangible link to that period of history when Montreal was the capital of the United Province of Canada. When a mob burned the Parliament buildings in Montreal in 1849, Lafontaine's house was also looted in the riots that followed.

Forget it: Years have ravaged the mansion, and although the footprint of John Ostell's original design is there, not much of the original historic building remains. Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine is already memorialized in Montreal with a major park and an expressway tunnel named in his honour.


Les F said...

I wonder 'who' makes these desicions or rather 'who does not make a descision' to keep part of history,some of these buildings really do have historic significance: I am aware that not everything can be saved,but surley some common sense should be given to perserving some things.
The Seville tTheater was allowed to actually 'rot' away until it was deemed dangerous & has to be torn down,it was owned by Seagram (yea like they don't have any do-re-mi to fix the thing) and so the owners of these properties do an end run around the laws & allow things to fall into disrepair..that in itself should be watched by the city & hold property owners of somewhat historic buildings accountable................many cities do try to protect what they have & most do a reasonable job of it too. Montreal doesn't seem to care ???
Cheers !! HF&RV

Les F said...

MONTREAL - The Ville Marie borough council has decided not to allow the construction of a seven-storey condominium project at the site of the crumbling Redpath Mansion on du Musee Ave.

In its verdict, the council cited concerns from the public and interested parties - particularly the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - that the project would obstruct views of Mount Royal and otherwise devalue the neighbourhood.

The council, headed by Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay, who is also the borough mayor, relayed its decision to the developer Friday.

Well some reconsidering done ,at least they (politicians) are at least backtracking a little ,something they should have thought out in the first place,but better late than never,Squeeky Wheel theory I suppose,because generally the wrecking ball works first ,then a collective "Oooooppps" from the powers that be,& a maybe we should have thought of that..
Cheers !! HF&RV