Montreal’s Ugliest Building

Hilton hotel atop Place Bonaventure, Montreal
Hilton hotel atop Place Bonaventure, Montreal

Came across an interesting conversation on Montreal City Weblog that started out about a bit of news that the Hilton Bonaventure is up for sale but ended up on the subject of some of our city’s ugliest buildings. The question was whether the entirety of Place Bonaventure was on the block or just the Hotel (and what the Hotel’s stake in the building was, by extension), and one commentator stated he’d prefer to see the building destroyed and replaced with a ‘proper European-styled train station, a worthy Southern Entrance to the city’ (I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist of it).

Ultimately it is just the hotel that is for sale. Of note, the Delta Centre-Ville (another building I have mixed feelings about) recently announced it is closing in October, putting some 350 people out of work. The University Street building, co-located with the Tour de la Bourse is to be converted into – get this – high-end student housing. I don’t know if the rotating restaurant on the upper floors is still operational, but I’m going to find out.

I can imagine a high-priced and slightly nauseating meal with a fantastic if intermittent view awaits…

The Hilton Bonaventure occupies the top floors of Place Bonaventure, a building designed from the inside-out that was originally conceived as an international trade centre and convention space. When opened in 1967 it boasted an immense convention hall, five floors of international wholesalers, two floors of retail shopping, a collection of international trade mission head offices and the aforementioned hotel. The building was heavily modified in 1998, losing its wholesale and retail shopping component as it was converted into office space. The exterior is in the brutalist style of poured, ribbed concrete, some of which has cracked and fallen off. Though an architecturally significant building, it’s far from a beauty. The rooftop hotel is perhaps the building’s best feature, involving a sumptuous interior aesthetic heavy on earth tones interacting with plenty of natural sunlight, bathing the hotel’s multiple levels while simultaneously exposing the well-cultivated rooftop garden and pool.

In any event, the discussion on Montreal City Weblog brought up general disinterest in Place Bonaventure’s looks, but commentators had other ideas about what they considered to be our city’s truly ugliest building.

Montreal Forum, circa 1996.
Montreal Forum, circa 1996.

Weblog curator Kate McDonnell’s pick is the Cineplex Pepsi AMC Forum Entertainment Complex Extravaganza (brought to you by Jonathan Wener at Canderel Realty). I won’t disgrace the pages of this blog by showing you what it looks like – just go take a waltz around Ste-Catherine’s and Atwater and when you start dry heaving you’ll know you’re looking at one of the worst architectural abominations to ever befall a self-respecting society. The above image is what the Forum looked like pre-conversion, probably shortly after the Habs moved to the Bell Centre (formerly the Molson Centre, formerly General Dynamics Land Systems Place). This would’ve been the Forum’s second or third makeover since it was first built in the 1920s, and as you can see, a strong local Modernist vibe with just a touch of the playful in the inter-lacing escalators deigned to look like crossed hockey sticks is pretty much all there is to it. Simple, straightforward, even a touch serious – a building that looked like the ‘most storied building in hockey history’.

But today – yea gods. Frankly I’m surprised we haven’t formed a mob to arson it all the way back to hell, where the current incarnation of the Montreal Forum aptly belongs.

From what I’ve heard Satan needs a multiplex on which to show nothing but Ishtar.

All that aside, I agree that the Forum is awfully ugly, but it’s not my choice for ugliest city-wide.

Other suggestions from the conversation included the Port Royal Apartments on Sherbrooke and the National Bank Building on Place d’Armes, though commentators seemed to agree this was mostly because they felt the building was out of place, and rendered ugly more by the context of its surroundings, or its imposition upon them, than anything else.

The Big O was mentioned, as was Concordia’s ice-cube tray styled Hall Building. La Cité was brought up as an ultimately failed project that disrupts a more cohesive human-scale neighbourhood, and so were some of McGill’s mid-1970s pavilions. Surprisingly, the Chateau Champlain wasn’t brought up, though I’ve heard many disparage it as nothing but a fanciful cheese-grater.

1200 McGill College - Centre Capitol
1200 McGill College – Centre Capitol

But after all that is said and done, I’m not convinced we’ve found Montreal’s ugliest building.

My personal choice is 1200 McGill College, the building above, a drab and dreary brown brick and smoked glass office tower of no particular architectural merit or patrimonial value that I personally believe is ugly by virtue of marring the beauty of the buildings around it, notably Place Ville Marie and just about everything else on McGill College. Worse still, it replaced what was once a grand theatre – the Capitol – with something that would ultimately become a large Roger’s call centre. Ick. However much corporate office real estate our city happens to have, we could all do without whatever this puny out-of-style building provides. Suffice it to say, I would gladly sell tickets to its implosion.

But in writing this article I remembered a building even more hideous and out of place than 1200 McGill College:

This monstrosity…

Avis Parking Garage on Dorchester Square - credit to Spacing Montreal
Avis Parking Garage on Dorchester Square – credit to Spacing Montreal

There is simply no excuse for a multi-level parking garage conceived in such ostentatiously poor taste to occupy such a prime piece of real estate as this, and so I can only infer that the proprietor is either making a killing in the parking game or, that the proprietor is waiting to try and get building height restrictions relaxed. It’d be a great spot for a tony condo complex, but given that it’s wedged between the iconic Sun Life and Dominion Square buildings it’s likely the lot has some significant zoning restrictions, making a tower – the only really viable residential model given the size of the plot – highly unlikely. I can’t imagine a tower on this spot would do anything but take away from the already hyper precise proportions of the square.

Personally, I think the spot would be ideal for a medium-sized venue, especially considering it’s adjacent to the preserved former Loews Theatre, currently occupied by the Mansfield Athletic Association. In better days the city might have the means to redevelop the former Loews into a new performance venue; a gym can go anywhere, an authentic turn of the century vaudeville-styled theatre is a precious commodity these days. Think about it – a medium-sized theatre and performance complex in the middle of a pre-existing entertainment and retail shopping district. I think that might work here.

Either way – boo on this parking lot.

And come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing just about every single modernist apartment tower built in the McGill and Concordia ghettoes in the 1960s and 1970s removed from the skyline as well.

But I leave it to you – what do you think is the single ugliest building in Montreal?

Feel free to send pics if you have them.

One thought on “Montreal’s Ugliest Building”

  1. From Peekay:

    How can you not mention Crystal de la montagne? That hideous piece of garbage stands at the center of Montreal! It will thankfully be dwarfed by all the towers going up around that area. My dream is for this atrocity to be banished forever to architectural hell. If this “building” somehow gets reduced to rubble I would gladly pee on the remains!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.