R.I.P. York Theatre 1938-2001

From Vol. 2 No. 4, 2003
by Louis Rastelli

The York Theatre on Ste. Catherine St. near Guy, abandoned since the late 80’s, has been demolished. The refreshingly open area surrounding it will also soon disappear, with the entire block slated to be built over with 12 stories of steel and glass. Concordia University, the building’s owners, said they would’ve loved to save it but claimed that it was impossible. However, the ‘streamline art-deco’ style it was designed in would have been easy to restore, had someone tried to. Yet even if it was in pristine condition, they couldn’t possibly have fit their 12 stories of new buildings in and around it. This is a classic case of letting a heritage building rot until you can finally get permission to destroy it. As they say, if there’s a will, there’s a way, but Concordia’s will was to ignore the city around them and plop a glass box on the site. We spoke to someone who squatted the abandoned York in the early 90’s.

It was definitely a cool building, because it had so much space in it. There was a huge basement, with moist plaster on the floor, it would go splootch splootch when you’d walk on it. There were puddles all over, and you couldn’t see anything down there.
Then there was the whole theatre area, complete with draw curtains, big ropes and stuff, all the wires from the theatre part hanging. There were storefronts too, a few empty stores at the front of the building.

There was a little courtyard in the middle of the place, which served the hotel part of it. Everyone who lived there lived in their own hotel room. There were just endless hallways of rooms in that place. Four floors of rooms in fact, over the theatre and storefronts. Plus the rooftop.

There were a few mattresses here and there in the rooms, and some garbage-grade furniture– nothing you’d want to carry home. There were a lot of old film reels there, not much salvageable film though, most of it was strewn about. There were some empty film canisters around too. There was a lot of garbage in that place, a lot of garbage.

By the end of it, when I left, tons of people were living in there. Gradually, everything just got kinda worn out, piss and beer had been spilled everywhere and stuff. I still have a photo of me pushing a friend down a hallway in a shopping cart. Actually, this artist guy ended up doing a photo shoot of us in that building. It was basically ours at the time.

One time, this guy Brian took a shit in a soap dish and threw it at a limo passing by on Ste. Catherine St. Lots of memories, lots of memories– mostly vague ones, but still. It was a nice building. It’s too bad it’s gone.