This grand structure at 3975 Riverside Dr. East in Windsor is the reason for the latest battle in heritage preservation on the Windsor side of the river.
The home which has served as the convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph since 1953 was put up for sale. The building, with ties to the early days of the automotive industry sits on a massive lot fronting Riverside Dr and the Detroit River. As one could imagine the developer’s mouths were watering over this one.
A company belonging to Chuck Mady – Windsor’s greatest preservationistâ„¢ put an offer in on the property. Their plans included demolition of the structure and the building of a mid-rise “assisted” living residence on the property. Chuck Mady as you might recall was responsible for the Glengarda fiasco, as well getting a demolition permit issued for the Capitol Theatre so he could build a parking lot there, before 11th hour intervention saved the Capitol. Sadly Glengarda despite being a designated historical site in the City of Windsor was demolished at Mady’s hands, a fate he dreamed of for the Joyce house.
The house was built in 1926 by George Masson of the firm of Sheppard and Masson (S&M also designed many notable buildings in the city from John Campbell public school to Windsor City Hall), for industrialist Frank Henderson Joyce. Joyce was once of the executives in the Gotfredson Truck Company of Canada.
Frank Henderson Joyce, born and educated in Windsor (b. 1872 – d. Grand Rapids, MI 1956). At 16 he joined the firm of Armstrong & Graham in Detroit, a leading harness manufacturer, he rose to sales manager.
He partnered with Ben Gotfredson in forming the American Auto Trimming Company, with plants in Detroit, Walkerville (Windsor) & Cleveland. AATC painted auto bodies and supplied the trim and ornamental parts. In 1926, Joyce partnered with Hugh Chalmers of Chalmers Motor Cars to form the Joyce Manufacturing Company in Detroit. He headed this firm while retaining an interest in the Windsor branch of Gotfredson Ltd.
There was a five car garage was built in the early 1920’s and was attached to the current house at the time of its construction in 1926. Today the garage is home to the Sister’s Chapel.
The house was sold in 1937 to Thomas E. Walsh, an advertising agency owner. Walsh’s firm was the first to produce advertisements for Chrysler when they first came to Canada. It was sold again in 1944 to the Western Ontario Broadcasting Corporation (Now CKLW), who reportedly wanted to move the radio station to the property, but faced objections from neighbors. The WOBC then leased the property to John Bankhead (uncle of actress Tallulah Bankhead). Bankhead was the United States Vice Council in Windsor. In 1951 WOBC sold the property to Paul Tetzloff who sold it to the Sisters of St. Joseph one year later in 1952.
The Sisters hired John Boyde of the firm of Pennington & Boyde to remodel the house and to build a dormitory wing to the rear of the property. The iron fence surrounding the property was installed in 1953, and is from the House of Providence in London, ON.
In an unprecedented move in November 2006, Windsor City Council set precedent and used their powers under the Ontario Heritage Act and stopped demolition of the property, by issuing an Intention to Designate the property. While far from over, and subject to appeals, this is the first time the City of Windsor has intervened and “forced” designation on an unreceptive property owner, thereby preserving a heritage building.
According to the word on the street, there was a second unsuccessful bidder for the property who wanted to keep it standing and use it as is, also rumor has it that the Mady Development Corporation has now declined their purchase option on the property.
Let’s hope so, and kudos to Windsor City Council for having the stones to step up to the plate and help preserve the built heritage and history of Windsor. Better late than never!