The photo for today’s post comes from a reader who shot the house above on a Kodachrome Slide back in the mid 1970s. He scanned it for us here using his digital camera.
The house was built in 1875 on the south west corner of Pitt & Mercer. Unique in that it was an octagon shaped house, it was unique to the city.
The house was home to the Lafontaine Fur company that was established in this house in 1903 by Leopold Lafontaine. When Leopold passed away in 1947, his son Joffre Lafontaine, took over the family business before closing it in 1970 due to poor health.
The City Hertiage form from 1978 read as follows:
Location: 395 Pitt St E (at Mercer)
Architect: unknown – attributed to an anonymous builder in New York City Builder: James K. Webster (a tailor financed in large part by Edward LaFountaine, bro. Of Leopold)
Present owner: Ellarene LaFontaine (Mrs. Joffre LaFontaine)
Completed: c. 1875
Architectural description and Evaluation: The house consists of 3 stories above ground, one below. It is of buff brick. The seventeen rooms (9 bedrooms) are contained within the 6-cornered structure. It is Victorian in design, with the main entrance facing the corner of the intersection of Pitt and Mercer Streets. The roof is mansard with some original metal shingles. The wooden cornice on the second storey is very elaborate with an exaggerated overhang. Dormer windows illuminate the third floor. The overall effect is one of elegance and concern about architectural detail.
Historical significance: The LaFontaine family figures prominently in Windsor’s history. Edward, the person who financed the house construction (which was presumably built by James K. Webster), had seen a house in New York City, and it inspired the design of the Windsor mansion. Edward never saw the house. He died in 1881. Following Webster’s bankruptcy the house became a rooming house run by Mrs. Lyons for Edward’s widow who resided in Toronto. Leopold came to Windsor c. 1900 from Guelph where he and his brother operated a fur business. He opened The Lafontaine Fur Co. Ltd in Windsor in 1903. He bought out his two brothers and, later, his mother who lived in Windsor with him in the house. Leopold LaFontaine is considered to be one of Windsor’s more colorful characters, having made a fortune, lost it, regained his equilibrium, and delved into a variety of interested activities, from taxidermy, to construction, to gambling of one sort or another. He died in 1947 at the age of 65. Joffre La Fontaine, named after a French military figure, continued in his father’s fur business until recent years when ill health necessitated his retirement. He died on February 23, 1978, the last of the three generations of the family to be identified with the old mansion.
Present condition: The basic above-ground structure appears sound, although the wood trim (i.e. porches, moldings, sills, etc.) is in a very poor state of preservation. Some question has been raised about the condition of the basement and foundation. In spite of a fire in the commercial block next door to the house a few years ago, the west face is in reasonably good condition. Some damage to the roof is evident. It appears that no effort has been made to repair or restore any part of the exterior.
In the early morning of Saturday, December 8, 1984, 35 years ago, an arsonist lit the vacant Lafontaine house on fire, and the 17 room mansion, went up in flames. The fire was lit in the basement, and consumed the entire house with the roof, and upper floors crashing down, leaving only a shell of the building by the morning. The house has been vacant at the time of the fire, having been used as an antique shop and a restaurant since 1981, when the last member of the Lafontaine Family stopped living in the house. It was listed for sale for $39,999 at the time of the fire. The house was designated as a hertaige home in 1982, but plans to renovate the home had fallen through.