Citizens take another shot at saving the Empress Theatre

The empty Empress Theatre in Nôtre-Dame-de-Grace is a remnant of the past, a lot like its inspiration — King Tut's tomb — but a group of citizens is working to bring the cultural gem back to its former glory.

Former theatre is a rare North American example of Egyptian revival architecture

The original Empress Theatre had an ornate interior and its Egyptian Revival style is rare in Canada and North America. (Wikicommons)

Montreal's empty Empress Theatre is a remnant of the past, a lot like its inspiration — King Tut's tomb — but a group of citizens is working to bring the cultural gem back to its former glory.

The old theatre, also known to locals as the former Cinema V, was taken over by the city in 1999 after a fired damaged the interior. 

For the past 24 years, despite several attempts to revitalize the space, it has remained closed to the public.

The theatre was closed to the public after a fire in 1992. (Submitted by the Empress Theatre Foundation)

The last proposal, driven by Élaine Ethier, expired at the end of June when her group failed to come up with enough funding.

So she and a group of local advocates went back to the drawing board and created a revised plan, which they submitted to the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough at the end of September.

The revitalization project has received the support of local actors and directors including Xavier Dolan and Jay Baruchel.

"On the outside what we're looking to do is really bring it back to its original state ... with the original marquee with the lotus at the top," said Kim Fuller, board president of the newly-formed Empress Theatre Foundation. 

Officially inaugurated in 1928, the Empress is decorated in the Egyptian Revival style. It was inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun's Tomb (also known as the tomb of King Tut). (Jaela Bernstien/CBC News)

The new plan for the revamped theatre includes a café and a mixed cultural space for community events. Other extras from the previous pitch, such as an addition to the back of the building, have been cut to save money.

That means the pricetag has dropped from $12 million down to roughly $9.5 million.

"It's a much more realistic project," said borough manager Stéphane Plante.

The borough won't make a formal deal until the foundation proves it has 100 per cent of the funding.

"We have to be careful not to give them an advantage that we wouldn't give to other citizens," Plante said.

The borough says it has had no other offers to buy or develop the building.

"If we had decided to turn the Empress Theatre into condos we could have done that a long time ago," Plante said. 

"What we want is to bring back the Empress."

The Empress Theatre was later converted into Cinema V. After a bad fire damaged much of the interior, the city took ownership in 1999. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC News)

Fuller and her team are asking for the borough, and locals, to be patient.

"This is a multimillion dollar project. It doesn't happen overnight," 

"What the community perhaps doesn't fully understand is that we're a purely volunteer-based, not-for-profit organization. So we don't have big corporate funding to push things and make it go faster."

The next step for the empress theatre foundation is to start fundraising.

As soon as they receive their charitable status, they'll be open for donations from the public-at-large as well as corporate donors. 

They'll also be seeking grants from multiple levels of government to help finance their project.


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