5220 boul. Saint-Laurent

5220 Saint-Laurent Blvd., January 2018. (photo: Justin Bur)

Lux was an all-night commercial complex – a bar, restaurant, bookstore and tobacco shop all in one. When it opened in the summer of 1984, it quickly became one of the favourite hang-outs of cool Montreal night life. Its owner, Dr. Jean-Marie Labrousse, one of the co-owners of famed restaurant L’Express, commissioned architect Luc Laporte (1942–2012) to design the spaces. A resident of Saint-Louis Square, he also created several other remarkable projects in the Plateau: the Arthur Quentin kitchenware shop and L’Express restaurant on Saint-Denis, Pine Avenue’s Laloux restaurant as well as the restaurant of the Institut de tourisme et d’hôtellerie du Québec.

“Le Lux was a technical masterpiece of steelwork. A veritable ocean liner, with its elliptical flights of stairs and balustrades reminiscent of ship rails, this miniature commercial complex allowed night-owls to go as far as their dreams took them,” wrote journalist Patrice-Hans Perrier in his blog, Les carnets d’un promeneur. The large steel superstructure rising up through three storeys of the building terminated in a glass dome surrounded by mirrors which, during the day, multiplied the sun’s rays.

Lux transformed a building constructed in 1914, which once housed a furniture store on the ground floor and several garment factories above. A Jewish parochial school and a synagogue also briefly occupied the upstairs. But with the departure of most of the Jewish community to west end suburbs, this part of Saint-Laurent Blvd. was abandoned in the 1970s, many of the properties boarded up and empty. The building’s new use in 1984 launched a signal to a group of promoters who named the sector “le village du milieu”. They opened numerous bars, design boutiques and restaurants around Lux. This neglected and dusty part of the Main became a real destination, which also led to a rediscovery of Mile End by Montrealers as well as tourists. As La Presse columnist Pierre Foglia explained (January 10, 1987): “Everyone agrees that it was Lux that launched Saint-Laurent Street between Laurier and Saint Viateur. It also set the vibe. An East Side New York vibe. A nowhere fucké, an old unused factory. Black, grey and white. We’ll get sick of it, for sure. But till then, it’s a change from the pastels of Saint-Denis Street.”

However, this metamorphosis didn’t make everyone happy. Several residents of nearby streets mobilized, in particular under the impetus of the Mile End citizens’ committee. They opposed the multiplication of chic stores, fearing another “disastrous” transformation, their view of the then-recent makeovers of Prince-Arthur Street and Duluth Avenue. Jean Doré, elected mayor in 1986, and his Montreal Citizens’ Movement (MCM or in French, RCM), partially agreed to the residents’ demands, imposing a moratorium on permits for new bars on Saint-Laurent Blvd. north of Mont-Royal.

But it was mainly the recession of the early 1990s that put an end to the developers’ dreams. After a few challenging years, Lux closed its doors for good in March 1996. At the end of that decade, several Montreal newspapers reverted to describing the area as a blighted zone where everything had been abandoned. In fact, at that very time, high-tech companies such as the France-based multinational, Ubisoft, were taking over the deserted spaces of the garment factories in the neighbourhood. Their arrival brought thousands of young workers who kick-started yet another of Saint-Laurent Boulevard’s nine lives. Fly Studio, a film and multimedia production house, occupied the Lux building between 1998 and 2021.

On 7 June 2022, the Museum of Jewish Montreal announced that it would be the building’s new occupant.

Research and writing: Yves Desjardins and Bernard Vallée.
English translation: Joshua Wolfe
Revision: Justin Bur

Dictionnaire historique du Plateau Mont-RoyalExcerpted from the Dictionnaire historique du Plateau Mont-Royal (Écosociété, 2017) with the kind permission of the publisher