When entering the building located at 407 Saint-Pierre Street, it’s hard not to be captivated by its refined avant-garde design. But before it became a cutting edge space dedicated to art in all its forms, the heritage building that houses Phi Centre underwent many transformations over the years. This post highlights the key moments in its history.
The story of the Phi Centre actually involves two adjacent buildings, located at the corner of Saint-Paul West and Saint-Pierre, in Old Montreal.
1861: John Ogilvy acquired a piece of vacant land and started building a warehouse. A wholesaler of dry goods, Ogilvy used this warehouse, located at 325 Saint-Paul Street West, for two decades.
1862: John Pratt & Cie bought the neighbouring lot to build a warehouse store. 315 Saint-Paul West had several different occupants over the next two decades, including manufacturers and wholesalers of shoes, boots, and hats.
Early 1880s: The two buildings belonged to fur manufacturers and wholesalers.
1901: A major fire destroyed both buildings. After the disaster, Silverman, Boulter & Company, then the owner and occupant of the warehouse at 325 Saint-Paul West, bought the adjacent building and enlarged it. The company retained ownership of both properties for over thirty years.
1934: The two buildings met different fates when 315 Saint-Paul West was bought by another fur manufacturer, Shapiro, Havey & Company. As for the adjoining building, it was placed into liquidation and remained vacant for several years.
1940: 325 Saint-Paul West was bought by Croydon Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of waterproof clothing.
1963: Croydon Manufacturing Company acquired 315 Saint-Paul West to enlarge its workspace. Once again, the two buildings shared a common purpose.
1966: The Holland Glass Trading Company, an importer of crystal and household furnishings, bought both warehouse stores. The company occupied the premises until 2002. Afterwards, both buildings were left abandoned for several years.
2008: Both properties were acquired by Phoebe Greenberg. Her goal was to construct a smart building, which could adapt to the evolution of new media and support the visions of artists in all fields.
To elaborate the program of this new multidisciplinary space, she enlisted the help of Annie Lebel and Stéphane Pratte from in situ atelier d’architecture. At first, the project imposed a number of major architectural constraints. Since the properties were classified as heritage buildings, it was important to restore the external envelope to its original state, but Phoebe Greenberg also wanted it to be energy efficient. The space also seemed relatively small to accommodate the entire program that was envisioned for it. What’s more, the buildings’ structure—a combination of wood and cast iron columns—posed some challenges with regard to sound transmission between the future recording studios and performance spaces. The architects’ proposed solution was to create modular spaces, which would maximize the versatility of the centre while ensuring its continuity, given the fact that its uses would evolve over time.
The same year, Phoebe Greenberg asked filmmaker Denis Villeneuve to produce a short film documenting the demolition of the buildings in a creative way. The result was Next Floor, a work of fiction that earned many awards, including Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival’s Semaine de la Critique.