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Save the LaFontaine House!

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--April 18, 2011.

The LaFontaine House.

larger_lafontaine.house_.jpgMany, no, most of the country’s most reputable historians have underlined the importance to French and English-Canadian and North American, if not World History, of the life and works of the man who built and occupied this house during all of his public life. Architectural writers have contributed many articles about those aspects of the building that also make it of prime importance in the history of the city.

One makes mention only in passing, that all political shades of opinion in the province and the country, and all but one of the city’s newspapers has written strong editorials over the years to the effect that the building should be preserved and restored.

Most importantly, several federal authorities (for this is primarily going to be a Canadian Historic Site, whatever happens) have said that if the city purchases the house, they will do their duty, whatever that entails, from erecting a plaque to restoring and operating both it, a visitors’ centre on or off the site and its environment, as has happened with all the other homes of Canadian Prime Ministers.

Buy the Lafontaine House (Development Rights) Now!

The rumoured sale of the Overdale block gives the city and or the province an opportunity to buy the condo rights represented by the LaFontaine House. Its’ graffiti-covered exterior walls and roof still remain, witness to the Great Canadian who once guided the country to nationhood there. What still stands will allow the authentic restoration of the building, as have been restored, as national monuments, all the other homes of Canadian Prime Ministers. That this house and its occupant is not already so honoured is due to the inordinately high value of the price demanded by its owners for a traditional purchase of the house and enough land around it to set it off properly, a substantial fraction (maybe 15 percent) of the worth of the whole city block, some fifty million dollars.

But the block is already planned and zoned for hundreds of apartment condo and commercial units. So the LaFontaine House, as it stands, a gutted shell, is legally just another unbuilt condominium on the whole site. The truth is that one need not, and should not buy outright, any of the land on the block to obtain the house. One need only purchase the condo rights of the fraction, that the house’s future floor area (about 4,800 square feet) represents, as a part of the total floor area, allowed by the zoning on the whole block (about 1,000,000 square feet). That is one half of one percent of the 50 million dollar value of the land, about $250,000, affordable, even for a civic minded private angel or angels.

As large gardens are also part of the zoning of the block, the ultimate owner of the house, the city or the province should also undertake to design and to maintain, in perpetuity, the site landscaping to benefit the house and its integration with future buildings. This undertaking toward the owners of the block would be worth even more money to the developer and future residents. It would be an offer that would be too generous to refuse.

Modern problems demand innovative solutions. Not another day should go by while this opportunity, long available, remains. And should the owners refuse, expropriation of these rights should be undertaken. And if a judge says that condo rights cannot be expropriated, the National Assembly should get busy and amend the applicable Laws appropriately.

Michael Fish, architect
Montreal