Just around the corner from the hustle and bustle of Jean Talon Market, where signs of spring are in the air, this ancestral home rests seemingly oblivious to the change of seasons - or the passage of years. The exterior, with its brick frontage, curved porch and columns, is not particularly remarkable from its neighbours on St. Denis Street. Only the small panels of etched glass on the double doors of the entrance offer a hint of the period detail that awaits inside: What makes this Victorian-style cottage remarkable is an interior that, for better or for worse, has remained untouched for almost a century.
"A time capsule," is how retired architect and urban planner Gabriel Deschambault, who consulted on the property before it went up for sale last month, put it when he first saw photos of the residence. "What struck me was that we were in the presence of a late-Victorian interior in its integrity, true to its era. It's as though the clock stopped in this house in the 1920s."
Indeed, the house was constructed between 1919 and 1921 by Emile Ponton, in the heart of what is now the Petite Patrie neighbourhood. Ponton was a contractor and put his own workmen to the test with this home for his wife, Marie-Anne Carreau, and their seven children. Kept in the family, it remains a testament to the craftsmanship and architectural trends of the turn of the past century. The expanses of oak floors, for instance, have never been sanded, much less varnished - they were simply coated with beeswax. The intricate wall coverings are darkly arresting, notably in the dining room, which features a hand-painted landscape mural above a textured covering called Lincrusta that resembles tooled leather. Downstairs, monsieur had his own boudoir; typical of Victorian houses, it was a private corner for smoking and reading the paper. In his adjoining office, with its secret closet under the stairs, hangs a painting that shows a hunter being mauled by bears, and on the built-in cabinetry is a black telephone - rotary dial, of course - with a receiver that weighs about three pounds. In madame's boudoir upstairs, the boxy, Arts and Crafts-style sofa wouldn't be out of place in a Frank Lloyd Wright residence.
It's the antithesis of today's aesthetics, which favour large airy rooms, simple lines and light - although the windows, once the threadbare curtains are pulled back, do reveal themselves to be of decent size. That it is, in some ways, a fairly humble construction - lots in the area are typically about 25 feet wide - makes the decorative details all the more remarkable. The hardware in the doors is all copper, the handles are crystal, and even the brass hinges are etched with elaborate designs. The crystal for the chandeliers was imported from Czech manufacturers and mounted on silver fixtures by a Montreal firm. Back in the day, it would have been sent out for cleaning once a year. But it has been a long time since the house has shone in its original glory.
These days, it looks more like a beautiful but admittedly spooky movie set. The four-bedroom house, with basement and garage, has an asking price of $715,000, and is awaiting an equally unusual buyer.
"Ideally it would be someone who is interested in a period piece, and who would be able to restore it," Lucie Brosseau, a relative who is overseeing the sale, says.
Deschambault, who works with Plateau Mont Royal historical society, would also like to see the building preserved.
"Personally, as an architect, if the interior disappeared it would be a loss," he commented. "It's a glimpse into how people, particularly francophones of the middle or upper-middle class, lived in the era."
If there's so much for the history buff to revel in, it's because so little was altered. Two Ponton children, a reclusive brother taken care of by an elderly sister until her death at 92, lived on the property until 2010. They were distinctly hands-off about maintenance.
To wit, the master bedroom, which belonged to the parents, has not been slept in since 1948. Brosseau said that going through the closets was akin to an archeological dig, unearthing corsets, top hats, newspapers and Jovette romance magazine going back six decades.
The story that emerges is Quebec's answer to Grey Gardens, a decrepit U.S. mansion inhabited by truly eccentric characters; comparisons to New York's famous hoarders, the Collyer brothers, also come to mind - albeit with a Montreal twist.
In several rooms, the outlines of the crucifixes that once adorned the walls are still visible; the family has strong ties to the Catholic Church, counting the saint Frère André and Delia Tétrault, founder of the Soeurs missionnaires de l'Immaculée-Conception, among their relations.
The downside of this unusual history is that basic repairs were not always seen to, with water damage from the ice storm particularly evident. Although heating was upgraded, the electrical system is original - lights are push-button operated - as is the plumbing.
The bathroom, of which there is only one upstairs, is nothing short of grisly. The kitchen wouldn't recognize a modern amenity if it saw one.
Brosseau said the house would require at least $200,000 of work, including structural repairs, to get it up to speed.
Not to mention the Ghostbusters fee.
In a district where property values have been steadily rising, with new condo developments and duplex-cottage conversions on many side streets, this is not your typical real estate listing.
For agent Marc Asselin of Profusion, selling an ancestral home like this one is a challenge. Just staging the photos took more than five hours, he noted, but they do grab the attention - he has fielded calls from as far away as Boston.
"I let people know there's a lot of work to be done on the house," he says. "But I've never seen anything like it."
More information on this property can be obtained from Marc Asselin at Profusion Immobilier Inc., 1361 Greene Ave in Westmount, 514-935-3337 (pro fusionimmo.ca).