A Montreal urbanist has launched a petition demanding that a major developer reopen an iconic, heritage listed art déco restaurant to the public.
Located on the ninth floor of the former Eaton store in downtown Montreal (on the corner of Ste-Catherine W and Robert-Bourassa), the restaurant L’Île de France closed in 1999 when department store Eaton’s went bankrupt, and the space has barely been used since.
Now, Gérald McNichols Tétrault is pushing for the developer Ivanhoé Cambridge to reopen the space to the public in some form. Ivanhoé Cambridge purchased the building in 2000, just after the Eaton’s bankruptcy — previously known as the Goodwin Building, it housed shopping mall Complexe Les Ailes on the lower floors until 2014. Since 2014 it has been in the process of merging with the neighbouring Eaton Centre mall (another Ivanhoé Cambridge building).
On the petition, McNichols Tétrault laments the fact that the architectural gem has been off-limits to the public since its 1999 closure. He draws attention to the fact that Ivanhoé Cambridge has been referring to the restaurant as a “salle événementielle” (event space), noting that it seems that the developer is trying to shift the room to strictly private usage, keeping it off-limits to the public. McNichols Tétrault points out that this is exactly what happened with another iconic former Eaton’s restaurant in Toronto — the Round Room restaurant, an art moderne masterpiece, is now known as the Carlu, and is primarily used for corporate events. (However, its owner is restaurant group Oliver & Bonacini, not Ivanhoé Cambridge.)
The former L’Île de France exists in a kind of limbo, where it has heritage status from a public body (the Ministry of Culture and Communications) , but is privately owned, meaning there isn’t really an obligation for Ivanhoé Cambridge to do anything with the space beyond maintaining and preserving it. The company has cited “responsibility towards [its] investors” as an excuse for not reopening the space, in the past
McNichols Tétrault is recommending that it be reopened as a restaurant — a reasonable idea, since it wouldn’t block the Ivanhoé Cambridge from making money off it, and more importantly, because that was the space’s original purpose. Of course, the company might be able to extract even more money by keeping it as an “exclusive” events space for high-flying corporate events, but given that this is a multi-billion dollar real estate company, the relative difference between a restaurant and private event space in terms of income would be insignificant.
This is an area of expertise for McNichols Tétrault, who was instrumental in restoring and reopening Little Burgundy’s Corona Theatre — but the chances of success seem slimmer here, since at the time of its renovation, the Corona was under the ownership of a non-profit organization.