Tea at Tympani Lane Records

World Message of Peace

It is warm, the trees greening bright, in the first days of Summer at Tea at Tympani Lane Records. Soon the lilacs will be in bloom and down at the Atwater Market. I am about to have a Chapbook published with MCI Writers House, Aphrodite's Daughter: the history of the world Part 56. Poetry is writing . . .


“The old architecture of Montreal is quiet and beautiful, that’s the way we like it.”
- Rebecca Anne Banks (Poet, Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Writer, Artist, Philosopher, Counselor, Activist)

“isn’t it grand and champagne sunlight supernovas“
- Rebecca Anne Banks (Poet, Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Writer, Artist, Philosopher, Counselor, Activist)

The following are some thoughts on Save the Main and the importance of the preservation of historic buildings in Montreal . . .

The Red Light District in Montreal is famous for its entertainment, cabarets, bars and brothels in its heyday. In the 1920’s during prohibition people would come up from the States to drink and party. The Main has existed since the middle of the 19th century and was very popular between the 1920’s to the 1960’s. Some of the most fantastic Quebec entertainment history exists along this strip and in Montreal, the big cabarets of the Boulevard, the Commodore, the Hollywood, the Blue Sky, Paradise Cabaret, the Corner. The clubs of Montreal in its heyday were an economic, cultural and social phenomena, where renowned international artists came to perform the best of the jazz music and vaudeville era. Some of the most fantastic historic architecture of buildings exists in this block along St. Laurent Blvd. including the Café Cleopatra, beautiful spaces with their stories to tell. The club scene declined in the 1970’s with new police actions, the popular invention of the television and the arrival of rock n’ roll music that didn’t quite fit the cabaret style venues. (However, Montreal in Summer blooms with arts and music festivals, including the infringement Festival, the Jazz Festival amongst others.)

The Main (the red light district of Montreal) and most of Old Montreal was declared an historic site by Ministere des Affaires culturelles du Quebec in 1964. As an “historic site” the buildings have protection under law against being destroyed. In 2009 there was an expropriation of properties on the Main to make way for the Quartier des Spectacles, and particularly the Quadrilatère St-Laurent, a huge office tower for Hydro Quebec with a few restaurants and shops/boutiques at street level.

News of this action by the city/province and The Société de développement Angus (SDA) sparked local artists, heritage activists and people of the Main to protest. Activist Donovan King and friends hosted the “Death of Culture” protest, A Funeral for the Main.

“I’d like to take a break from the revolution for a moment to say goodbye to a few old friends: several historic buildings that were part of Montreal’s fabled Red Light District..”*

Of a Sunday (May 27th, 2012) about 40 mourners dressed in black congregated outside Café Cleopatra. The mock funeral included a black casket and pall bearers, a tuba player, a priest (activist and infringement Festival Montreal creator Donovan King), mourners (burlesque dancer Velma Candyass and others). The troupe of artists, heritage activists and Main business people gathered and walked around the entire block of the site to be demolished, with intonations and chants. At the back of the block the troupe stopped and last rites were performed, the mood was heavy in “the death of culture” protest. It was this group of activists who had been protesting for the last couple of years to save the historic buildings on Blvd. St. Laurent.

“Café Cléopâtre, a business located in a historic building with a strip club downstairs and an independent burlesque, drag, theatre and fetish performance space upstairs, refused to leave. Artists, heritage experts and people defending the rights of sex workers fought the PR battle while Cleo’s owner Johnny Zoumboulakis challenged the expropriation in court and won.” **

The protest was able to reverse the actions to demolish the historic buildings.

Just recently another huge development project (12 floors) has been proposed for the Main by The Societe de developpement Angus (SDA). Carre Saint-Laurent on the corner of rue St. Catherines and rue St. Laurent is a $160 million venture to include a food market like Atwater Market at street level, cultural organizations, commercial and residential space. The Quebec government to lease the office space for employees of Centre de commerce mondial.

“A market with small, independent vendors is a good idea and one that should occupy some of the space. But what about other nightlife to compliment Cleo? Maybe a live music venue or two? Another bar?

This area needs small businesses that are independently owned. Kind of like those that were there before the SDA decided to expropriate everyone. I’m all for residential space, but not condos as they are proposing for the St-Catherine side. This isn’t an area for condos, it’s an area for nightlife and could be a great place for those who thrive in that nightlife (such as independent artists who may not be able to afford condos) to live. Above all, this is not an area for government offices or tall buildings. There are other parts of town where such things fit, the lower Main isn’t one of them. The lower Main was, is and should always be about Montreal. It’s not about the Quebec state or upscale establishments, just look at how the 2-22, Yaccarini’s other project across the street, is failing. The lower Main needs to be redeveloped based on what the area is and has always been. That was happening on its own organically a few years ago, but then the SDA and the city put a stop to it. I think the best way to proceed is for someone to expropriate all the properties that the SDA seized a few years ago from the SDA and sell them at affordable rates to a bunch of independent business people who get the street-level, independent nightlife vibe and who can actually get things moving the right way. Clearly Christian Yaccarini and Pauline Marois don’t know what this area needs.”***

Historic buildings are important because they are beautiful architecture, the spaces individualistic and warm (as if suggesting a time before Industrialization, before mass manufacture, perhaps a more copacetic time governed by the Holy Spirit). These historic spaces also tell the story of the past, who walked here, who played here, the breath of life here.

Historic buildings need to be well kept so they do not rot. At some point, if neglected too long, it is not possible to bring them back into life as real spaces to live/work/play in just because they are too damaged. The beauty of these spaces should be preserved with good maintenance practice. An example of neglect of an historic building is the Redpath Mansion on 3457 Avenue du Musee, that will be torn down (it is now past repair). Another beautiful historic space in decline is the Sir Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine Mansion on 1395 Overdale Street. Historic mansions and large buildings are ripe places for restoration and could make great rental housing projects (in such a tight rental market) or any kind of housing, cultural project or even business project that preserves the beauty of the space. More should be done to preserve these beautiful cultural historic artefacts.

If worse comes to worse (and ideally it shouldn’t) but if an historic building must be torn down, it is a good idea to preserve a piece of façade of the building to stand alone or to be incorporated into the new building as a reminder and celebration of the historical significance of the space. The facade is like a monument or a statue that marks the place, commemorative and elegant, it breathes life into the new architecture by celebrating the old.

Get involved, Save the Main, "A qui la ville"/it's our town too.



* R.I.P. Culture: A Funeral for the Main by Jason C. McLean @ Forget the Box. www.forgetthebox.net.

** Here we go again: Another multi-million dollar building the lower Main doesn’t need. by Jason C. McLean @ Forget the Box. www.forgetthebox.net.

*** Here we go again: Another multi-million dollar building the lower Main doesn’t need. by Jason C. McLean @ Forget the Box. www.forgetthebox.net.

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