ARTICLES

MONTREAL’S IMPECCABLE HOME FOR THE WELL-TO-DO

A 34-year-old genuine antique called The Chateau is a private world of apartment-dwellers who are so distinguished they rarely even speak to each other

KEN JOHNSTONE July 16 1960
ARTICLES

MONTREAL’S IMPECCABLE HOME FOR THE WELL-TO-DO

A 34-year-old genuine antique called The Chateau is a private world of apartment-dwellers who are so distinguished they rarely even speak to each other

KEN JOHNSTONE July 16 1960

MONTREAL’S IMPECCABLE HOME FOR THE WELL-TO-DO

A 34-year-old genuine antique called The Chateau is a private world of apartment-dwellers who are so distinguished they rarely even speak to each other

KEN JOHNSTONE

FROM THE NORTHWEST corner of Sherbrooke and Mountain streets, in central Montreal, an eleven-story latter-day chateau rises like a Walt Disney whim.

It has walls faced with buff Tyndale fossilized limestone imported from Winnipeg, doorways rich in ornamentation, battlements adorned with leering gargoyles.

It is known, in circles that make it their business to know such things, as The Chateau.

Its builders describe it as “in the style of Françoise I” (circa 1540). In fact, it is in the style of Montreal architects Ross and Macdonald with H. L. Fetherstonhaugh (circa 1926).

But what it lacks in antiquity it makes up in hauteur, and 131 pleased families call it home. Two uniformed doormen, chosen for their bulk and loyalty, guard the vaulted archways leading from Sherbrooke into the courtyard. A third mans the main entrance.

Passing children, peering upward at, in turn, the doorman’s embonpoint, the CONTINUED ON PAGE 31

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Montreal’s impeccable home for the well-to-do

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Gothicistic façade and the turrets above the coppery roofs, have been known to ask their parents: “Is that where Queen Elizabeth lives?”

It's a natural mistake. After all, the Queen’s representative. Governor - General Vanier, lived there until moving last fall to the viceregal residence in Ottawa, and past and present tenants of The Chateau include names like Lady Allan (widow' of shipping and banking magnate Sir Montagu Allan), military communications expert Brigadier Sir Frederick Carson, Lord Allenby's confidant Sir Henry Gray, an eminent surgeon, former Quebec lieutenant-governor Narcisse Perodeau, the Desmond (steamship) Clarkes, the A. L. (soap) Gregoires, the Donald (CNR) Gordons, the Berthold (fuel) Mongeaus, the Leo (mining) Timmins, and sundry members of the (beer) Molson, (department store) Morgan. (jewelry) Birks and (department store) Dupuis families. As manager J. G. Du Val told me when I asked him to identify his clients of distinction. "All our tenants are distinguished.”

In 1926, when The Chateau was built, an elegant brochure printed with all the u’s like v's blandly announced it as “Montreal's largest and most exclusive apartment house,” and in 1928, when its owner, the late Senator P. R. DuTremblay, floated a since-retired fourmillion-dollar bond issue through Royal Securities, that corporation summed up The Chateau: "From the standpoint of accommodation, exterior and interior finish and architectural design, the building is considered to be the finest apartment block in Canada.” There may be bigger apartment blocks around today, and there are certainly more modern ones, but none of them has the cachet of The Chateau.

The first time I visited The Chateau was a dozen years ago; it was an aftertheatre party given by Roy Wolvin following an opening of the annual McGill Red and White Revue, which Wolvin had directed and largely written. Wolvin, a talented songwriter and composer, lived then as now at The Chateau with his widowed mother. I will never forget that initial feeling of subdued awe, similar to my emotion on my first visit to the Tower of London, as I was greeted by a deferential doorman — my wife and I came in evening attire — and then proceeded dowm the long, vaulted, discreetly lit corridor to the lift. There a venerable liftman ushered us into the handsomely paneled cubicle and sped us silently up half a dozen floors to our friend's apartment.

This friendship proved most useful, recently, when I began probing the mysteries of The Chateau, skice Du Val, the manager, regretted that he would be too busy to see me. All I learned from him over the phone was that (a) all his tenants are distinguished, (b) he was having union trouble, (c) he didn't w'ant his name mentioned in any article, and (d) he wanted to see the article before it was published.

Thrown back on my own resources, I skulked about The Chateau like a spy,

Chateau’s planners didn’t foresee the day when a tenant would be found driving his own car

overworking my slim contacts to piece together this report. Here's what 1 learned:

At the outset The Chateau was designed to provide a "private home" atmosphere for people accustomed to servants. All but the smallest bachelor apartments on the ground floot contain servants’ quarters beyond the kitchen. There are six passenger lifts (as the Chateau insists on calling elevators), and each lilt serves only two apartments on each floor, so that, with care, a resident may never see his neighbors at all. The Chateau staff includes carpenters, plumbers, painters. electricians, gardeners, cleaners, stationary engineers, two shifts of porters and three shifts of lift operators, all under the command of Du Val. Many of these people live on the premises in the lower depths, which are connected by subterranean passages like those of an ancient castle. Du Val declined to reveal the number of his stall, though he did list the categories.

F rom the beginning, occupancy of T he Chateau was complete with a selection of 131 carefully screened tenants, and many of them are still there. Some of those who departed did so via the freight elevator, for no funeral services aie ever held at The Chateau. Just a single birth, that of one Robert Ostiguy, took place in The Chateau s first year. Since then there have been no other births that Chateau occupants can remember, nor are small children ever seen in the austere and glooms corridors except as visitors. But a modest maiden may tiptoe in to visit an aged aunt, or a whistling incorrigible may defy the frown

of a towering doorman to send an echo bouncing down those vaulted halls.

On social evenings, however, The Chateau sparkles with well-bred gaiety as parties of men in top hats and tails or glittering ceremonial military garb, and women gleaming in jewels and floating in furs, leave the courtyard in endless procession for the Charity Ball or the St. Andrew's Ball. (Sometimes on such occasions a bemedaled military man is momentarily disconcerted by the surpassing array of ribbons and medals sported by the liftman on Lift A.)

T he beams are padded

The late Senator DuTremblay, an astute penny-pinching little man who amassed a fortune while he was head of Montreal's largest daily. La Presse, spared no expense when he built The Chateau. He was after the carriage trade, both French and English. He owned two other elegant apartments, the Drummond and the Drummond Court, but neither came close to T he Chateau's air of aristocratic arrogance. still visible in the manner of the doormen when they are confronted by cars below the rank of Rolls or Imperial.

Senator DuT remblay and his wife. The Chateau's present owner, busied themselves with endless detail. Madame DuTremblay. who lives in a three-story tower atop the west wing, made sure there would be enormous closet space in each apartment. A new and ingenious method of padding the beams between floors helped establish noise-proof apartments. For some years the only disturb-

ance that troubled Chateau dwellers in the back apartments came from the occasional all-night jam sessions held at the nearby stable dwelling of music critic Eric McLean, but front Chateau dwellers with open windows still must shudder to the noise of the shattering impact of drunken Saturday night drivers hitting the concrete islands at the corner of Mountain and Sherbrooke streets.

Senator DuTremblay was proud of his achievement in The Chateau. When l.ord Allenby came to spend a few days with his good friend. Sir Henry Gray, DuTremblay commemorated the event by having the Allenby coat of arms carved on one of the stone walls in the east archway near the Gray apartment.

Those days, and the days when lieutenant-governor Narcisse Perodeau's military mounted bodyguard waited patiently for him in the courtyard, belong to another era. The bodyguards were the only invaders then allowed to park in the courtyard. Today chauffered limousines use it. fading silently away to private garages after delivering their precious burdens. But they must weave their way between the tenants' cars that have invaded the courtyard to the despair of the doorman. The parking situation is acute because The Chateau's planners never anticipated a tenant’s driving his own car.

Yet other amenities still gladden the hearts of Chateau residents. There is unlimited hot water and year-round heat in the apartments. But the building is so well insulated that frequently in winter residents turn off the heat in all but a few rooms. Similarly the thick walls ward off the summer heat so well that, out of

nine hundred windows, only ten have airconditioning units. The pile is well built, and major repair is rare, though sometimes the electric circuits balk at the load imposed by modern appliances unknown when The Chateau was built.

Another amenity is the magic name of The Chateau. A Montreal publisher told me that when he stayed at The Chateau during his college years, he once stole a potted palm from the nearby Drummond Court and carried it in triumph to the Ritz-Carlton. where he was caught mud-handed by the Montreal police and hustled into a patrol car. But when he gave his address as The Chateau he was hastily released upon payment of a small fee for wear and tear to the potted palm.

Then there is the Chateau service that goes beyond the call of duty. One respected resident goes on monthly spices, from which he emerges barely able to negotiate the ground-floor corridor leading to his lift. He usually passes out on a bench thoughtfully placed opposite the lift. Then the liftman, an elderly man with a weak back, rounds up three or four loyal helpers of similar vintage, and together they shepherd their charge gently into the lift and thence to his apartment. It is a touching sight, a neighbor says.

Another sight, equally fascinating, is offered by the procession and variety of dogs emerging from The Chateau. Singly, in pairs and in convoys they make regular daily sorties into Sherbrooke Street, accompanied by owners or maids or chauffeurs or sometimes by staff members not otherwise engaged. Probably

the most remarkable of these beasts was Algy. an Irish setter owned by lawyer Bronson Culver. Promptly at eight every morning, the Culver maid would ring for the lift, and when the liftman opened his door at the Culver floor he would find Algy waiting. Gravely. Algy would enter the lift and the liftman would open his door again at the ground level. Algy would depart to make a careful inspection of the best garbage pails in the vicinity, usually arriving around noon at the back door of the Ritz-Catlton for a snack from the chef. Café Martin was his next call, and by five in the afternoon he would be back at The Chateau waiting for the liftman to take him up to his apartment. Algy survived this routine all his years, and died at thirteen.

Algy established a Chateau tradition of sorts, but the apartment block's bestinformed tenant, the venerable Mrs. R. li. MacDougall. dismisses all The Chateau's traditions with a snort. "It is too young to have any." she told me, "but I call it Eventide, for it is here tiiat many people come to settle when their children have grown up and left, and their home becomes too large for their needs." Then she made a comment I heard often at The Chateau: "1 don't see my neighbors and I don't want to."

The closest that Chateau residents approach togetherness is during sunny spring days when a procession of elderly lady residents makes its way out into the courtyard to enjoy the gardeners' display of tulips in the flower beds there. Naturally, there is no conversation between them, but they sit in their respective wheelchairs and rockers and count the tulips and note that the display gets scantier as the years go by. The Chateau's D wing is known to less-respectful tenants as Widow's Row, and its population is

living testimony of the cold statistic that women — specifically the wives of men who work hard to accumulate wealth — live longer than their mates.

I understood Mrs. MacDougall's point about the Chateau's being a haven for people who have closed their elegant homes to bring their prized possessions into an apartment life as close to home as possible when 1 revisited the Wolvin apartment. Paintings in handsome gilt frames covered the walls, and when I commented on the staggering array. Roy Wolvin told me: "You should have seen it in the beginning. I told my mother I would move out unless she removed another w hole row of paintings. "

Through Roy Wolvin 1 met Bronson and Audrey Culver. Bronson Culver's parents have lived in The Chateau for seventeen years. The Bronson Culver apartment, in the east wing, has eight rooms and is furnished in an admirable combination of contemporary, antique

and early Canadian pieces. Culver told me that once, as a student, he borrowed his father's car while his parents were away, and a fellow collegian enraged a Chateau janitor's wife by using the back terrace as a lavatory. Culver came out in the morning to find all four tires on the car tlat and ruined. “Nobody knew anything about it." he recalled, "and I had a hard time explaining that to my father."

Following the intercession of blonde and beautiful Audrey Culver. I was able to visit what is generally rated the largest and most beautifully furnished apartment in The Chateau, whose chatelaine is a stately white-haired woman named Mrs. Leo Timmins, ft is a spacious and gracious apartment, and from a dealer’s list of rare treasures Mrs. Timmins showed me. I learned that l was looking at such items as an eighteenth-century faded mahogany breakfront cabinet, a Rockingham tea and coffee service of 1740.

two delicate Hepplewhite painted elbow chairs, a pair of Chippendale gilt carved mirrors, a Sheraton wine cooler (holding flowers) — and at this point Mrs. Timmins thought that l had listed enough.

Just what it costs to have a Chateau address is a mystery. Apartment sizes range from bachelor two-roomed affairs with kitchen and bathroom to a thirteenroomed space like the Timmins apartment with its five bathrooms and extensive servants' quarters with three bedrooms. An informed guess is that some bachelor apartments are still being rented to old tenants for as little as a hundred dollars a month, and the top price is probably about sixteen hundred a month.

These figures are reasonably modest compared to the tariff exacted by some Montreal apartments and indicate that aristocracy at The Chateau, as elsewhere, is not necessarily established by mere money. But rental renewal negotiations between Mr. Du Val and his tenants are top secret and may be compared to the firm but diplomatic exchanges of a summit conference in which no quarter is given or asked. Mr. Du Val has one unanswerable argument when a tenant is unusually stubborn. He says: " There are twenty people waiting for your apartment."

Meanwhile The Chateau slowly and grudgingly reflects the times. 1 asked Audrey Culver whether the type of tenant at The Chateau was changing, and she told me in a shocked voice: "Why. yes! We’ve even got a beatnik here now!"

"How's that'.’" i asked.

"Well, she wears skin-tight slacks and does her hair in a pony-tail and drives a sports car," she explained.

It figured. ★