A Bank Shows Its Good Side


Not too long ago, I noticed that construction workers were doing some renovation work at the Laurentian Bank on the corner of Park and Laurier in Montreal’s Mile End. It wasn’t until I took a closer look that I realized that they were in fact removing the building’s marble cladding, revealing a much older Beaux-Arts façade underneath. It was a complete surprise because, even though I knew the building was old, I never thought to consider what might be lurking underneath its plain exterior.

Montreal is rife with turn-of-the-century buildings whose cornices have been removed, balconies scrapped, brick replaced, all in some misguided postwar effort to make them look more “modern.” Some of the transformations were more permanent than others, ranging from a complete removal of the original façade to the addition of a crude corrugated steel mask.

Still, it’s hard to judge the aesthetic decisions of past generations too harshly. After all, we’re doing pretty much the same thing with many Modernist and Brutalist buildings from the 1950s, 60s and 70s: “updating” them to look a bit more “current.” In some cases, I think there are definite improvements, like when the ITHQ on St. Denis St. was transformed from one of Montreal’s most monstrous buildings into one of its most alluring.

But there are some mistakes, too. 5 Place Ville-Marie, a 1968 highrise with a prefab concrete façade, was covered last year in a blue glass envelope. It looks okay now, but what will Montrealers be saying in 50 years?

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Thursday October 18 2007at 02:10 am , filed under Architecture, Canada, Heritage and Preservation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

5 Responses to “A Bank Shows Its Good Side”

  • Walked by the bank in question this afternoon to discover that it will be greatly reduced as a space for a bank, and that the Beaux Arts part of the building will soon become an A. VanHoutte. Or at least that’s what it says on the hoarding surrounding the work site now.

    There’s got to be a message there: architectural features are considered cool by coffee shops, while the bank is reduced to an ATM? Who is making money from whom and how?


  • It’s a sign of the times: business like banking increasingly takes place online, not in the streets, which have been given over to leisurely pursuits like cafés.

    I believe that the Laurentian Bank has a partnership with A.L. Van Houtte. There’s another branch on Van Horne in Outremont that includes a café. I don’t necessarily think the Beaux-Arts façade is being revealed for the café; rather, it’s part of the bank’s overall strategy to upgrade its image. In this case, it means reasserting the old architectural authority of the bank, but in as non-threatening way as possible.

  • Take a look at the architect’s drawing on the hoarding: looks to me like the major space with bee the coffee place, with the bank reduced to ATM machines. But I could be wrong. As my economist husband is always saying, it’s an empirical question. Or some such.


  • Payton says:

    Unlike the older facades covered by ’60s or ’70s “modernizations,” modern facades like 5 PVM are rarely integral to the building’s structure. There was an interesting piece in Preservation magazine a few years ago about how Lever House, one of the iconic early glass boxes, had its facade replaced with a “better than new” original. After all, Modern architecture is supposed to look shiny and new into perpetuity.

    Some more background on the Lever House program:

  • kyndra rider says:

    i’m portuguese and like to go there one day