Empress Theatre (Montreal)
|The Empress Theatre|
|Alternative names||Cinema V|
|Architectural style||Egyptian Revival architecture|
|Location||Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|Address||5560 Sherbrooke Street West|
|Current tenants||None (abandoned)|
|Owner||City of Montreal|
|Design and construction|
|Other designers||Emmanuel Briffa|
The Empress Theatre (also known as Cinema V), is an abandoned Egyptian-revival style theatre located on Sherbrooke Street West in the N.D.G. district of Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It has been closed since 1992.
Built in 1927 and designed by Joseph-Alcide Chaussé, with interiors by Emmanuel Briffa, it is the only theatre in Canada designed in the Egyptian style (inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb). Opened as the Empress Theatre, the building was a vaudeville theatre for burlesque and first-run films. In 1962 it was a dinner theatre called the Royal Follies. In 1968 it became a two-tiered art-movie cinema known as Cinema V and Salle Hermes. In 1974 it was briefly named The Home of the Blue Movies and in 1975 it became simply Cinema V, a repertory cinema. In 1988 it was acquired by Famous Players and showed first-run films. In 1992 a fire caused damage to the theater resulting in its permanent closure. In 1999, after several years of abandonment, the city of Montreal took ownership of the building.
The abandoned building is slowly deteriorating and its perimeter fenced off. In 2005 community organizers opened a small one room office on the ground floor (left corner of building; location of a former health food store) as a headquarters for the building's restoration. The office was permanently closed by the city in December 2011, leaving the building vacant and continuing to deteriorate. In the years since, vandals have broken windows (now bordered up) and covered the exterior with graffiti.
In November 2009, after several unsuccessful attempts to revive the theater over the years, Geordie Productions , Black Theatre Workshop, McGill Music Conservatory and the City of Montreal announced plans to restore the building. The estimated cost was $11.8 million. The theatre was to be used for performance and visual arts and included a cafe/art gallery and a 246-person concert hall. It was to be home to Geordie Productions and Black Theatre Workshop, and the McGill Conservatory had planned to use the theatre for its music program.
In August 2010 the provincial government pulled funding and announced ownership would be returned to the city of Montreal by November. Residents of NDG formed Renaissance Empress, a group dedicated to preserving the theatre and transforming it into a cultural centre, and delayed the move. On August 15, 2011 the city seized ownership, effectively canceling the project.
In January 2012, the borough of N.D.G. announced any non-profit group with a new plan for the building present it by May 11, 2012. The city stated it would not provide any funding for the building.
On September 5, 2012, the borough voted to accept Cinema NDG's proposal. Their plan was to open a movie theater with four screening rooms and set aside 20% of the building for commercial use. Restoration of the building was estimated at $12 million. Cinema NDG was given until December 31, 2013 to find financial backing, but failed to meet the deadline; two extensions were granted during 2014 and 2015 but Cinema NDG failed to meet these as well. On November 2, 2015 the city voted to grant a third and final extension, for June 30, 2016, but yet again Cinema NDG failed to meet the deadline, forfeiting the project.
In late September 2016, in hope of a new start, Cinema NDG submitted a revised and scaled back plan to the city, bringing the estimate cost down to $9.5 million. However the city did not show willingness to accept a new plan, and furthermore stated under no circumstance would it transfer ownership of the building unless Cinema NDG could prove it had secured 100% of the funding.
Meanwhile, other cinemas continued to close in Montreal and throughout North America, including the cinema and performing arts centre Excentris in November 2015.
In October 2017, a new citizens formed group was announced: Friends of the Empress. Expressing an interest in reopening the theater, the group called for more transparency and public consultations for the project. It also proposed a pop-up sidewalk stand to solicit the opinions of residents. These efforts were thwarted by the "Cinema NDG" group, which accused the Friends of the Empress group of playing politics for trying to make the process more democratic. A week later, without any consultation with local stakeholders, the French film company MK2 signed a letter of intent to partner with Cinema NDG (now known as Empress Theater Foundation) to run an 880-seat cinema out of the building, with 5 rooms, a restaurant, a bar and a coffee shop. However no financial details had been set, nor had the city made any new agreement. Efforts by the Friends of the Empress to obtain information about the contract were denied by local councillors.
In August 2018, it had been reported MK2 cut ties with the Empress Theater Foundation and withdrew from its agreement. This has left the project to revitalize the theater, yet again, to fall apart and ultimately fail. At present the building remains in a dangerous state of decay and now at serious risk of facing demolition.
- "Cinema V". Montreal Images. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- LEMIRE, ROBERT. "Chaussé, Joseph-Alcide". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica-Dominion. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- CA (2009-03-17). "Empress Cultural Centre waiting for funding so construction can begin — Cultural activities — Arts — The Chronicle". Themonitor.ca. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
- O'Hanley, Stephanie (March 3, 2005). "Cinema V gets new lease on life". Hour magazine. Montreal: Communications Voir inc. Archived from the original on 17 July 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2009.
- "CTV Montreal — Hopes for Empress spotlight to shine again — CTV News". Montreal.ctv.ca. 2009-11-22. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
- O'Hanley, Stephanie (February 14, 2008). "Cinema V building to become new cultural centre". Hour magazine. Montreal: Communications Voir inc. Archived from the original on 19 March 2008. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
- Heffez, Alanah (2008-09-09). "Photo du Jour – Empress Theatre " Spacing Montreal". Spacingmontreal.ca. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
- ANNE SUTHERLAND, The Gazette : (2010-08-17). "City of Montreal taking back the Empress". Global Toronto. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
- Radio-Canada Info (3 June 2014). "La renaissance du cinéma Empress?" – via YouTube.
- "Cinema V revival back on track as borough extends fundraising deadline". 3 November 2015.
- "Citizens take another shot at saving the Empress Theatre".
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