Com­mit­tee rec­om­mends sav­ing Iona build­ing

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - BRIAN CROSS bcross@post­media.com

The for­mer home of one of Wind­sor’s most his­toric 20th cen­tury fig­ures should be des­ig­nated a her­itage prop­erty, a com­mit­tee of coun­cil rec­om­mended on Tues­day, throw­ing a wrench into the Univer­sity of Wind­sor’s plan to de­mol­ish it.

Now called Iona Col­lege, the struc­ture is di­lap­i­dated, with rot­ting wood and buck­ling as­bestos-filled stucco walls, univer­sity of­fi­cials told mem­bers of coun­cil’s planning, her­itage and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment stand­ing com­mit­tee — ar­gu­ing the cost to ren­o­vate is well be­yond what the univer­sity is pre­pared to spend.

In­stead, the univer­sity wants to tear down the large Sun­set Av­enue house, built in 1924 and pro­cured a year ago from the United Church.

In a 5-2 recorded vote, the com­mit­tee wants the city clerk to start the des­ig­na­tion process, which would halt de­mo­li­tion plans. The rec­om­men­da­tion still has to be en­dorsed by city coun­cil.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Lynn Baker toured the house Tues­day and con­cluded: “I have seen worse get bet­ter.”

She cited Amher­st­burg’s plan to re­vi­tal­ize the once-crum­bling his­toric Belle Vue House and the ren­o­va­tion of the Low-Martin Man­sion in Walk­erville. Baker said what’s been lost in the univer­sity de­mo­li­tion bid is the house’s con­nec­tion to Wind­sor’s his­tory.

Orig­i­nally oc­cu­pied by prom­i­nent lum­ber mer­chant John C. Stu­art, its most fa­mous res­i­dent (1951 to 1969) was Judge Bruce J.S. Macdon­ald, Canada’s chief war crimes pros­e­cu­tor at the Nurem­berg Tri­als. He was also the first City of Wind­sor so­lic­i­tor, help­ing to forge the amal­ga­ma­tion of Wind­sor, Sand­wich, East Wind­sor and Walk­erville in 1935. Dur­ing the war, he rose to lieu­tenant-colonel and was com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the Es­sex Scot­tish Reg­i­ment dur­ing the in­va­sion of Nor­mandy.

Af­ter the war, he be­came a Crown at­tor­ney and tack­led the for­mi­da­ble task of clean­ing up the city’s cor­rupt po­lice force. He be­came a judge in 1961, liv­ing on a street that be­came known as Judge’s Row. City her­itage plan­ner John Cal­houn said the house has some “out­stand­ing” her­itage fea­tures, re­fer­ring par­tic­u­larly to the peo­ple like Macdon­ald who lived there.

But res­i­dents who at­tended the meet­ing Tues­day sup­ported de­mo­li­tion. “It’s fairly clear to every­one here who’s seen the pho­to­graphs (in­cluded in the re­port), the house and grounds have been se­ri­ously ne­glected while in Iona’s pos­ses­sion and that’s been over 40 years,” said long­time neigh­bour Donna Ap­pel.

She said she be­lieves the univer­sity’s so­lu­tion — to tear down Iona Col­lege and re­plac­ing it with a par­kette where a plaque would make note of the site’s Judge’s Row his­tory — would be suit­able, rather than keep­ing a di­lap­i­dated struc­ture with no pur­pose. “I think it’s a lost cause,” she said. Chris As­mar, a res­i­dent in the area for 37 years, said neigh­bours are con­cerned that if it is des­ig­nated and the univer­sity can’t de­mol­ish it, it will be sold off. And the neigh­bour­hood would end up with a pri­vate land­lord rent­ing out rooms to stu­dents, with the po­ten­tial for fur­ther ne­glect and de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the build­ing.

“We don’t want to deal with this,” he said. “If any­thing, it takes away from the neigh­bour­hood.”

Af­ter the vote, univer­sity spokesman John Cole­man said while of­fi­cials are dis­ap­pointed with the re­sult, the next step will be to con­vince the ma­jor­ity of coun­cil­lors to side with the univer­sity.

The univer­sity has a track record of valu­ing her­itage prop­er­ties, vice-pres­i­dent San­dra Aversa said. She cited the for­mer down­town Ar­mouries ($40 mil­lion) and Wind­sor Star build­ing ($32 mil­lion) and the $700,000 ren­o­va­tion of an old house at 2629 River­side Dr. E.

Fix­ing up Iona Col­lege to univer­sity stan­dards would cost much more than $700,000, she sug­gested. “It’s a dol­lar amount that ex­ceeds what the univer­sity wants to spend on that build­ing,” said Aversa, who said the in­tent was al­ways to de­mol­ish and keep the land for fu­ture use.

Com­mit­tee mem­ber Andrew Foot said what dis­turbs him is the un­cer­tainty 20 or 30 years down the road.

“I worry that al­low­ing this de­mo­li­tion is go­ing to lead to fur­ther de­mo­li­tions through­out the neigh­bour­hood,” he said, ex­plain­ing that he’s con­cerned the univer­sity will con­tinue buy­ing houses and de­mol­ish­ing them un­til it has enough land to con­struct a big new build­ing. “Be­fore you know it, you’re go­ing to have the neigh­bour­hood hol­lowed out.”

NICK BRANCACCIO

Iona Col­lege, at 208 Sun­set Ave., was rec­om­mended for her­itage des­ig­na­tion by a city com­mit­tee Tues­day, which would block the Univer­sity of Wind­sor’s plans to de­mol­ish it.

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