NewsPhoto Du JourWindsor

Walkerville’s Shame No More?

Last night City Council (for the most part) took a great stand for the built heritage of our city, in voting to accept the “forced” designation of the Harry Low/Paul Martin Sr. house on Ontario Street in Walkerville.

Despite all the bullshit arguments put forward by a friend of the property owner that designation would impact the property value negatively, council with the exception of Kenny Junior, and one other councilor I couldn’t make out (maybe someone caught who else voted no – they were seated beside Junior) voted to preserve the property for the future. As the owner of a designated property, I can personally attest to the fact that positives of designation far outweigh any possible negatives. The biggest problem with designation is the misconceptions that exist with the general public.

The common misconseption is that you can’t change a lightbulb or a light switch witout permission. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The only restrictions that will be placed on the property are the items that are listed in the By-Law. Essentially they are the architecturally unique features to the building. ( they are listed in italics below). What that basically means is that those elements identified as being crucial elements to the architectural makeup of the home cannot be removed without permission of the Heritage Committee:

Property: 2021 Ontario Street (Plan 684, Lots 103, 104, & 105 and Westerly 14’ 8” of Lot 102)

Statement of Significance/Reasons for Designation

Description of Historic Place

The Low-Martin house at 2021 Ontario Street, situated diagonally on the southeast corner of Devonshire Road in the heart of the former Town of Walkerville, is a famous landmark in Windsor. It was built in 1928 for Harry Low, a tool-maker who became a well-known rumrunner during Prohibition. It later became the home of renowned Canadian politician Paul Martin Sr. Both the main house and the rear garage/servant’s quarters are in the Cotswold-style, built of rusticated stone with an unusual, undulating roof with contours similar to thatch.

Heritage Value

Historic Value

The Low-Martin house was built in 1928 for Harry Low, a toolmaker who became one of the giants of the rum-running trade during Prohibition. The house was originally called “Devonshire Lodge” and these words are embedded in the front walkway. It cost Harry Low nearly $130,000 to build in 1928. Ultimately, the Depression and legal problems lost Low his house on Ontario Street in the early 1930s, and Low died in relative obscurity in Windsor in 1955.

In 1961 renowned Canadian politician Paul Martin Sr. and his wife Nell bought the house. Paul Martin has been referred to as “Windsor’s most famous son” and has made his mark in local and Canadian history – representing Windsor from 1935 to 1968, serving as High Commissioner to Great Britain in the 1970s, and helping establish many of Canada’s social programs. Paul Martin Jr. followed his father’s footsteps into politics, serving as Canada’s Finance Minister before becoming Prime Minister on December 8, 2003.

Architectural Value

It is likely that builder George Lawton designed and built the 4,000 square-foot main house and a 1,700 square foot servant’s quarters/garage to the rear in consultation with the original owner, Harry Low. The Low-Martin house is a 2-½ storey rusticated stone English Cottage or “Cotswold” style house – the only one of this style in the city and perhaps in all of Essex County. It is sited diagonally on the lot facing the corner of Ontario and Devonshire Rd. Its convex façade is composed of numerous bays with elements such as jerkin-headed gables, a conical roof over the rounded bay, a recessed balconette over the arched recessed entrance, leaded glass, and oriel windows.

The roof is characterized by shingles that “roll” over the eaves. The undulating roof originally consisted of four layers of wafer thin wooden shingles imported from England laid over a complex wooden framework. In the 1960s John Braithwaite, roofer, used asphalt shingles in layers to emulate the rolled appearance.

A garage/servant’s apartment in the same style, with access from Argyle Road, is located east of the house. A garden wall and winding stone path leading to the main entrance complement the main structures.

The interior boasts a magnificent spiral oak staircase between the first and second floors, “drip” plaster ceilings, oak parquet floors, walnut wall panels, and a cloister with 20 foot ceilings and 16 feet of windows of beveled leaded glass.

Contextual Value

The Low-Martin house is one of Windsor’s most important, beautiful and recognized homes – a heritage landmark in the former Town of Walkerville – one of the last remaining nineteenth century garden/company towns left in the world. Walkerville (amalgamated with Windsor in 1935) was founded by Detroit distiller Hiram Walker in 1858 and the Walker family supported and guided the town’s development for seven decades. The town developed from north (Detroit River) to south (largely Ottawa Street), and the Low-Martin house (constructed in 1928) is one of the finest estate homes built during Walkerville’s later stages of development.

Character Defining Elements

Items that contribute to the historical value of the Low-Martin house include:

• Its association with toolmaker turned infamous “rumrunner” Harry Low who had the estate, known as Devonshire Lodge, built in 1928.

• Its association with renowned politician, the Right Honorable Paul Martin and his wife Nell (parents of former Prime Minister Paul Martin Jr.) who owned the house for some 34 years (1961-1995).

• It association with well know Liberal party politicians who were guests to the house – including Prime Ministers Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau.

Exterior features that contribute to the architectural value of the Low-Martin house (main house and rear garage/servant’s quarters) include:

• Its association with well-known local builder, George Lawton, who built the house and likely designed it in consultation with Low.

• Its rare English “Cotswold” Cottage style – the only known house of this style in Windsor.

• Its estate status with crescent-shaped main house and garage/servant’s quarters behind.

• Its original landscape elements – the rear garden wall and winding stone path.

• Its overall quality construction of rusticated stone with limestone trim, decorative wooden elements, and copper eaves/downspouts.

• Its undulating roof that emulates thatch (originally clad in wafer-thin wooden shingles) featuring the conical roof over the rounded bay and jerkin-headed gables.

• Its architectural embellishments such as asymmetrical bays, recessed balconette over the arched recessed entranceway, and oriel windows with leaded beveled glass.

• Its recessed arched stone main entrance with ornate arched wooden door.

• Its leaded beveled glass windows of varied sizes/uses with the prominent non-figurative design being an upper triangle, central tri-pane design over a bottom bi-pane motif.

• Its small paned wooden windows, primarily in 4/4 design where leaded glass is not used.

Characteristics that contribute to the contextual value of the Low-Martin house include:

• Its status as a landmark home in the former Town of Walkerville – one of the last remaining nineteenth century garden/company towns left in the world.

• Its status as one of the last remaining estate properties in Walkerville – consisting of a main house and garage/servant’s quarters.

• Its site configuration that results in unobstructed views of the prominent main house spanning the SE corner of Devonshire Road and Ontario Street, with garage/servant’s quarters behind.

The fact that the house needs $100,000+ worth of roof repairs is far more detrimental to the resale of the property than any designation by-law placed on the property.

Kudos to Councilor Brister for taking the lead on this issue and to Greg Heil, Chair of the Heritage Committee for siting patiently for 4 hours to be available to answer questions from the mayor and from council.

Great job council (not too often, you’ll hear that from me)!

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