Montreal has found a buyer for the Snowdon Theatre, a once-stylish venue that became a sad relic — a magnet for vandals and arsonists.
The sale — for $1.6 million, $200,000 less than the city paid for it in 2004 — is conditional on the new owner preserving the historic facade of the building, on Décarie Blvd., just north of Queen-Mary Rd. The interior, however, has been too badly damaged by a 2016 fire to be salvaged, the city said.
Known for its art-deco design, elegant interior and distinctive sign over Décarie Blvd., the landmark opened in 1937, hailed in one newspaper at the time as “the first completely air-conditioned theatre in Canada.” It became famous for presenting British films, with patrons reserving seats in advance.
By the time it closed in 1982, business had dwindled. The manager at the time complained “kids would rather see a picture downtown,” where “they can get together after the show for a soft drink, play the video games in the arcades on Ste-Catherine St.”
In the mid-1980s, the interior was subdivided and converted into commercial space in a $2.5-million renovation. In 1989, the city of Montreal started renting part of the building for a non-profit gymnastics club.
In 2004, the city bought the building for $1.8 million, and continued renting it to gymnasts until they left in 2013 because the roof was in poor shape.
Since then, vandals have defaced the boarded-up facade with graffiti, though for years some of the graceful interior remained intact. That changed in 2016, when a fire caused major damage. Three teenagers were charged with arson.
By that time, Montreal had already put it up for sale. On Wednesday, the city’s executive committee approved the sale to a numbered company whose owner is listed as Viviana Raichman. She could not be reached for comment.
Under conditions of the sale, the new owner must preserve the facade’s black and white stripes, as well as the iconic Théâtre Snowdon sign and the canopy that projects over the sidewalk on Décarie.
Much of the building is expected to be turned into housing. It is unclear if the first floor will be commercial space.
Snowdon city councillor Marvin Rotrand said the sale is good news.
“It’ll revive and protect the building and improve the ambiance on that part of Décarie,” he said. “We really need residential construction near heavy transit infrastructure. Snowdon métro is five minutes walk from there.”
Rotrand said he “didn’t want to end up with a situation like on Sherbrooke St. where the former Cinema V has been closed for over 25 years.”
That decrepit building — opened as the Empress Theatre in 1927 — was gutted by a 1992 fire. It is owned by the city of Montreal. In October, former Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor Russell Copeman said he still had hopes for a plan to revive the theatre but he noted the building was deteriorating.
“I think we’ve got probably one more winter left and after that the structural integrity of the building gets to a point where if something doesn’t get done, something dramatic will have to happen,” Copeman said at the time.
— Andy Riga, Montreal (@andyriga) February 3, 2018
The Snowdon Theatre was built by the United Amusement Corp. movie house chain, founded in 1908 by Greek immigrant George Nicholas Ganetakos. The company built several theatres, including the Rivoli on St-Denis St. and the Seville on Ste-Catherine St.
The Snowdon was the work of Scottish-born architect Daniel John Crighton and Maltese decorator Emmanuel Briffa, both of whom worked on several other Montreal theatres.
Crighton’s theatres included the Monkland and the Regent on Parc Ave. Briffa worked on dozens of theatres across Canada, including the Empress, the Rialto on Parc and Outremont on Bernard Ave.