A return visit today to a site we visited back in 2009. 711 Riverside Drive East, on the south east corner of Riverside Drive and Louis Avenue is an old building, that’s obvious to anyone driving past. I recently came across an old newspaper article from 1958, claiming that it might have been the city’s first two storey brick building… Like many stories in Windsor, they can be hard to substantiate, but it’s possible… All the same it’s an interesting read on an an interesting building. If it was indeed the first two storey brick building, then it’s another case of history hiding in plain sight.
From the Windsor Star – September 22, 1958
City’s 1st 2-Story?
Store’s a Real Old Brick
By TERRY O’CONNOR
Windsor’s first two-story brick commercial building, at 711 Riverside Dr. E., built when the street was still an Indian path, has been everything from a funeral parlor to a Chinese laundry in the course of growing old and a little historic.
R. H. Marentette. owner of the building since 1908, can’t recall the year it was built, but says it is “at least 150 years old.”
Originally it was a 10 by 24 foot general store. but when the “Indian path” was paved and became Sandwich St., an addition was made to extend the store to the streetline and give it a 60-foot depth. The mortar line, separating the old and new sections, is still clearly visible.
The laundry and funeral parlor are just two of the tenants who have come and gone over the years. There are other names that would bring back memories to Windsor’s old-time residents: Parent’s General Store, Bensette’s Jewelry Store, Colby’s Butcher Shop, Field’s Barber Shop, Rundle’s Liniment Co.. and the Murray Brass Foundry all have had their day in the weatherbeaten fortress.
When Mr. Marentette took it over he turned it into the city’s first vulcanizing shop and installed Windsor’s third gas pump. He ran the business for 25 years and recalls selling gas for 10 cents and 35 cents a gallon from the same pump.
“This place was built before they ever thought of cement,” Mr. Marentette said. The bricks in the 14-inch-thick walls were held together with a mixture of lime and sand, with solid white oak beams supporting the floors and ceiling.
Time and the elements have chipped and discolored most of the original brick, which now shows splotches of pink, brown, blue and white.
If it were human, the long. lean structure is at the stage where it could be described as gray-haired and ready for retirement. But far from “retiring.” the building is undergoing a face-lifting, while housing its first commercial tenant in 20 years. Since Mr. Marentette gave up his gas station to work at Ford of Canada in 1937 both floors of the building have served as a rooming house.
There was a touch of irony connected with his purchase of the building. “When I was about 12 years old.” he explained, “a chum and I used to hide behind that red barn over there and take shots with a sling-shot at whichever windows didn’t happen to be broken. Guess who had to replace all those windows?”
This week workmen are completing the job of replacing old mortar and window sills and removing projecting masonry. The first floor was renovated early this year, before the National Fumigating Co. moved in in April.
Mr. Marentette said that several times in the past he had decided to give up and offered the building for the token sale price of one dollar, but there were no takers. Now it appears that the “grand old man” of Windsor’s two-story establishments is just getting his second wind.