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Holman Theatre (Gaiety Theatre)


By: Dick Nieuwendyk – Mtltimes.ca


Holman Theatre - 1921
Holman Theatre – 1921

The building at the northeast corner of Sainte-Catherine and Aylmer was built in 1869 by Montreal architect John William Hopkins as the residence for Dr. John Reddy. Born in Athlone, Ireland, Dr. Reddy came to Canada in 1851 where he received his licence to practice in Quebec and became a physician at the Montreal General Hospital. (the former Reddy Memorial Hospital was named after his son Herbert Lionel Reddy). Dr. Reddy died in 1884, and in 1890 the building became a hall for Montreal Auxiliary Bible Society for a few years. After being renovated in 1909 by architects Crighton and Mitchell, the building became the Gaiety Theatre.

The Gaiety advertised movies well in advance. It plastered posters on the front of the house, and covered the town with handbills and posters. In 1911 the Gaiety cleared a $300 profit after a three day run of Edwin Thanhouser’s first release of a two-reel production of Romeo and Juliet.


Former Gaiety, London, Holman, The Ciné 539 in 2015 (Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)
Former Gaiety, London, Holman, The Ciné 539 in 2015
(Photo: Dick Nieuwendyk)

In 1912 the Gaiety was renamed the London Theatre, after a new Gayety Theater, a burlesque venue, opened further east on St. Catherine street. The London advertised itself as being “the best nickelodeon – a family resort of the highest class”. In 1917, its proprietor, Sam Holman, changed the name to the Holman Theatre, and contracted Montreal architect Joseph Raoul Gariepy to rebuild the facade of the building to the design as we still see it today. Gariepy introduced a large arch to the facade on Ste. Catherine Street, and put a large, semi-circular window over the main entrance, a common movie-house feature of the time. This let the sunlight in during the day, and let out an alluring sparkle at night. Part of the wall along Aylmer St. is still the original greystone construction of John Reddy’s residence.


In 1921, it became the “System”, and for fifty years, it carried the reputation of being a cheap movie house. It played triple-features for a dime during the Great Depression, and patrons risked – it was said – coming home with fleas.


Photo-3Renamed again, in 1974 it became the Ciné 539, showing x-rated movies. In 1992 the facade was restored and the theatre became a video and movie store in the front with the Ciné 539 in the back of the building. The building still wears Gariepy’s façade, although the big round window has long since been bricked in. In 2000, the Cine 539, the last downtown porn theatre closed down, and is now a store.


The building is located at 539 St. Catherine west
Source: Cinema Treasures / Can. Dictionary of Architects / MTLURB

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