ART DECO REVIVAL

By Alan Hustak on May 28, 2009

Montreal isn’t the first city that comes to mind when you think of Art Deco, so Peter Sheridan, wasn’t sure what to expect when he arrived here  from Australia for the 10th World Congress on Art Deco. Sheridan, a Sydney, Australia, dentist who collects art deco radios is one of about 200 enthusiasts from 30 Art Deco societies around the world attending the week-long convention that opened Sunday. The get together was organized by Sandra Cohen-Rose, who 15 years ago wrote a book on the subject, Northern Deco; Art Deco in Montreal. ArtDeco refers to the elegant sleek architectural design that surfaced in the 1920s which is distinguished by understated geometrical shapes and sophisticated, shiny decorative elements. Sheridan wasn’t disappointed with what he found here. ‘‘Every city has some element of Art Deco, but the interesting thing about Montreal is the combination of the French and North American influence,” he said. “The French Art deco was for the artisan, who created something unique for the individual, whereas the American style was for the consumer, created for a mass market. The style, however, is eternal. You can see elements of it in every hotel, because what you get is an amazing functional style. It works for buildings, trains, automobiles, and domestic appliances.” 

art-deco-logo.jpgSome of the best of examples of Art Deco buildings in Montreal were built and designed by Ernest Cormier, including the handsome Court of Appeal building on Notre Dame St. and the Université de Montreal tower which punctuates the city skyline like an exclamation point. There is also the superb Aldred Building on Place D’Armes that went up in 1929 faced entirely in limestone except for decorative aluminum spandrels. It’s design was influenced by New York’s zoning bylaws which required the higher floors of a highrise to be set back from the street like a wedding cake. The finest and most important examples of art deco in the city are the 9th floor restaurant in the old Eaton department store, and former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s house on Pine Avenue. It was once Cormier’s home and is now owned by Trudeau’s son, Alexandre. Ironically, both are off limits to convention delegates. ‘’We would dearly have loved to get into both, but unfortunately, we can’t get into either,” Said Cohen Rose. “But there are so many other outstanding examples to see in and around Montreal, I don’t think visitors will go away disappointed.”

The swank party with a retro vibe was appropriately held Sunday at City Hall in the Hall of Honour  - the city’s first example of an art deco interior which  was  added when city hall was rebuilt after the fire in 1922. The room was featured as 1930’s night club in the recent movie, The Aviator. 

New York of course is considered the capital of art deco.  Polly Guerin, a member of the Art Deco Society of New York, and the host of Pollytalk from New York on the Big Apple New Network, is among the delegates. Guerin  grew up in Montreal and remembers dining at Eaton’s 9 floor restaurant as a child. She has remained enthusiastic about the style ever since. “It is a way of living, it is so advanced for its time,’ she says. “You can live with it today and feel like you are a modern person. It’s a minimalist kind of way of living with beautiful furnishings and surroundings.”

 Art Deco design preservationist, Matti Herrera Bower, today the first Hispanic mayor of Miami Beach, was the co-chair of the first Art-Deco Congress in 1991.  The city has its own art deco district which was declared a historic site in 1979.  She says the international meetings are designed to promote and preserve the style.  “We have grown, and gone from place to place spreading the word, she said.  ‘’All over the world they have this type of architecture, and we should celebrate it, and bring the world together to appreciate this universal form of art.” 

 

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