In the streets that run on to each other between Rue Saint-Jean and Sainte-Geneviève, at the north end of the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood, a host of architectural details break the dense monotony of the buildings. Windows catch the eye, each cornice and carriage entrance is more original than the last, and façades come in bright colours, while inner courtyards cling to closely guarded secrets.
Windows to the soul
Windows belonging to homes in the old Saint-Jean district say much about the people who built them. Elegant stone lintels accentuate some, while others boast delicate wooden frames, and still others have nothing but a discreet brick trim to set them off. Light is at a premium in these narrow streets lined with tall buildings and bay windows have been added to over 150 buildings. These bring in more light and give free rein to curious locals who have been known to pull up a chair beside them and keep watch on their neighbours’ comings and goings.
A representative sample of these various types of windows can be found between 485 and 550 Rue Saint-Olivier. At No. 485–497 very elaborate wooden frames surround the windows of this two-storey home. And at No. 538–550 broad curved stone lintels set off the double windows and the doors to an elegant apartment block. Meanwhile, the plainest of bay windows, the oriel, can be found at 490–496 and 530, while an original corner oriel spans two floors of No. 500. Lastly, two more traditional oriels decorate the outside of 503–507 and 510.
Bay windows of even more original shapes and sizes set apart 619–635 and 694 on Rue Saint-Olivier. The first set, which features a round rather than a flat base runs right up to the cornice, while the second corner window carries on up into a turret with a bull’s-eye window typical of the Château style.
The cornices that decorate the flat or mansard roofs of many buildings in the old Saint-Jean district add a touch of glamour to often modest buildings. Many examples can be found between 500 and 572 on Saint-Olivier. The plainest of cornices adorns No. 519, while another cornice, this time more original and ornate, sits proudly atop No. 560–572, in spite of the building’s very sober façade. With curved or square mouldings, diverse shapes and multiple layers, such cornices allowed owners to show off personal preferences and personality at very little cost.
Carriage entrances and inner courtyards
The streets of the Saint-Jean district are generally flanked by an unbroken line of homes, with no alleyways in between. Carriage entrances therefore became a vital feature at a time when horse-drawn carriages needed to reach the stables of the inner courtyards. Some of these entrances were used by two homes and ran along the dividing wall, a feature of the area that can still be seen at 455–471 on Rue Lavigueur.
Today inner courtyards are used differently, of course. Many were cleared out and cleaned up in the 1970s. Some were completely rethought and, more often than not, brightened up with plants. In many cases the courtyards hidden away behind homes have become places to relax and unwind, making up for the dearth of parks and greenery in the neighbourhood.
The very well preserved homes at 455–471 Rue Lavigueur demonstrate another attractive feature of this part of town, a feature that has been scattered throughout the area for many years, namely the bright colours that cover so many brick façades.
At No. 804–810 on Rue Richelieu and No. 210 on Saint-Jean, to choose just two examples, sheet metal turrets were put up to imply that some were living in the lap of luxury in this working-class neighbourhood. Architect Elzéar Charest, who lived at 804–810 Richelieu, was a leading proponent of this type of decoration that can still be seen in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood to this day.