April 5, 2012
Those dreaming of sun-baked summer afternoons at the poolside rooftop terrace of the Hotel de la Montagne could be in for disappointment. You might soon have to find somewhere else to sip cocktails while ogling babes and a stunning downtown skyline. If developers get their way, the 30-year-old landmark hotel could soon be razed to the ground.
Developers presented the plan at Tuesday's Ville-Marie borough council meeting, the first of three monthly meetings where it will be discussed. The $140 million project would see the hotel and parking space replaced by 110 hotel rooms, 120 condo or apartment dwellings, more shopping, underground parking and two extra storeys on Ogilvy’s.
The plan is subject to various bureaucratic hurdles, including a public consultation on April 18, and possibly more depending on whether a sufficient number of people sign a registry, a complex process that borough spokeswoman Anik de Repentigny described to OpenFile Montreal in minute detail.
At the tender age of 30, the Hotel de la Montagne is one of the city's youngest downtown landmarks. The slightly eccentric hotel, which includes an underground tunnel to the Thursday's nightclub on Crescent, was designed by Herman “Sonny” Lindy, now in his mid-70s and currently cracking golf balls in Florida, according to his son Andrew.
Andrew said his father was raised in upstate New York in relative poverty before setting up a small scrap metal operation that gave him enough equity to get a toehold into the Montreal real estate market. His first restaurant, George’s, was a place to see-and-be-seen in the 70s and paved the way to his next venture, Thursday’s, on Crescent.
When a bank agreed to finance his hotel proposal, Lindy apparently visualized a posh European-style décor, starting with the centrepiece black marble art deco dragonfly fountain.
Andrew Lindy says his father painstakingly combed through European markets for the perfect pieces including two large crystal chandeliers. Subsequent management have since souped it up with a hodge-podge of other pieces that some might describe as Rococo.
Although now known as a primo hotspot for boozed-up Grand Prix mania, the earlier years saw the hotel attract a glitzy high-profile crowd, including Robert DeNiro, George Segal, Ringo Starr, Woody Harrelson and Pierce Brosnan.
“It’s a landmark place,” said Andrew Lindy. “It was like a boutique hotel before those existed in Old Montreal. My dad would come home and party with people like Lee Majors and Paulie from the Rocky movies. They’d all hang out.”
Lindy brought in Bernard Ragueneau as a partner, and he eventually took over the hotel as the duo split ways in the 80s but remain good friends.
Talk of the hotel expanding started when Ragueneau received permission to build a 22-storey annex in 2004, a zoning decision denounced by some heritage experts at the time. (Montreal Gazette June 4, 2004, A3)
But after years of foot-dragging, this new plan might move ahead far more quickly, according to Heritage Montreal chief Dinu Bumbaru, who was tuned into the hallway chatter at Tuesday's borough meeting.
Bumbaru doesn’t get misty-eyed with sentimental notions of trying to save the hotel. Instead he makes the oft-heard complaint that the planned project will dwarf adjacent Golden Square Mile mansions and bring more traffic to the already-congested de la Montagne St.*
Bumbaru worries that the additional floors at historic Ogilvy's might also undermine the downtown department store gem.
But he says that the location of the project, in the heart of an historic district and nearby the Mount Stephen House means that the province will get the final say, regardless of what the city green-lights.
“Negotiations would have to take place and it’d be interesting to see if the City of Montreal handles this in a transparent manner. They don’t mention that many of these sites are under provincial oversight,” says Bumbaru.
The project is spearheaded by the Toronto-based Weston family of Loblaw's fame, which bought Ogilvy's under its Selfridges banner from a Quebec-real estate consortium last year.
Selfriges representative Jean-Sebastien Lamoureux said that it’s too early to offer any other details of the plan but said that developer Devimco would play a role and that it would also include the development of some buildings on the east side of Crescent, just north of Ste-Catherine.
* CORRECTION April 10, 2012: An earlier version of this article stated Montreal's de la Montagne St. was named after Bishop Mountain. In fact the origin of the name Mountain St. is "one of Montreal’s great street debates," according to Dominic Duford, a toponymy expert for the city of Montreal. Duford told OpenFile the street name seems to have predated the arrival of Bishop Mountain. "A map from 1761 shows a trail near where the street is today named the Chemin des Sauvages de la montagne,” Duford said. OpenFile Montreal regrets the error and thanks commenter brydem for pointing it out.