Saturday 9 January 2010

The Windsor Blues

As you may know (if you live in Winnipeg) there are rumours that the venerable Windsor Hotel and blues bar will be torn down to create a parking lot -- a scenario that certainly seems plausible given the neglect of the current owners. A group has formed to save the Windsor, lead by local blues singer Kathy Kennedy. They have a Facebook group, and on-line petition, and were organizing a rally for Saturday afternoon.

Tearing down any occupied building for yet another parking lot would certainly be a blow to downtown, BUT ... there is good news! Kathy's latest update on Facebook states:

Sam Katz just called me and said that the city has no intentions of tearing down the Windsor or buying that property. So now we know this isn't true!
Right. Just like how Sam called me personally and stated that he had no intentions of caving in to the Friends of Upper Fort Garry, back when they wanted to kick an apartment developer out of town.

Here's where I am conflicted: I have gone to the Windsor from time to time and enjoy having another choice to catch some live music downtown, though if it were to disappear my life would go on. Actually, I wasn't even aware that it had deteriorated from a respectable, if divey, "Nothing but the blues" blues bar, to a "Nothing but the booze" strip joint that plays top 40 music, as some people say. Also, out of concern for downtown Winnipeg, I would hate to see a building torn down to expand a parking lot, and the loss of urban vitality that comes from losing a live music venue. Problem is, if the place really has turned into nothing more than a drunken bum factory, that's not much better than a parking lot.

The Save the Windsor group is attempting to accomplish it's goal by lobbying to have the hotel registered as a heritage building. Certainly there is a lot of history associated with the building, like that whole Charlie Chaplin thing, but is it really a heritage building? It is no architectural gem, nor is it in the middle of a cluster of period buildings that needs to be preserved. It is an ordinary, run-down building in an uninteresting part of downtown. However, it could be so much more. With the right owners in place I could envision that building being renovated into a boutique hotel with a clean and welcoming blues club attached to it. It is not the Windsor as it currently exists that I would regret losing; it is the potential of what the Windsor could be.

I was in the downtown area early Saturday afternoon, about 10 minutes before the official start time of the rally, and decided to stop by to check things out. No gathering had materialized yet. I saw three people wander out of the hotel door, one of whom obviously shops for his cigarettes on the sidewalk. There were two other people standing outside of the blues club doors who I thought might be there for the rally, but as it turns out they were just smoking a joint. On the inside it was business as usual with about 12 or so people sitting around drinking beer and giving me the eye as I walked around in my dressy wool coat. The place looks like a dive, it smells like a dive, and I did not feel particularly at home, although I never mind stopping for a beer in even the seediest of joints. But having a look around reminded me that my fond memories of drinking beer and watching bands at the Windsor have more to do with the bands that were playing and the friends that I was with, than with the building itself.

I neglected to post my usual Friday video this week, but here is a belated video of Big Dave McLean, who I once saw perform at the Windsor. Enjoy:


Anonymous said...

I think if the City blinks and gives heritage status to this structure they may want to give some public servants their walking papers at the same time.

What good is staff paid to take care of heritage buildings when anyhting goes.

Mind you, the City already blinked with Eatons and a few other buildings on Main so saving this non descript on some far fetched notion would make absolutely no difference to the core.

Wonder if they'll save Teasers if they ever threaten to level it.

Anonymous said...

On another note Cheren. I just looked at some apartment buildings which are about 100 years old. The report states the buildings have another 25 years before there lifespan is close to an end. And like it or not, their lifespan does come to a close.

Aside from the owners wanting top dollar, and the only way to recoup the investment is by converting to condo's, who the hell would buy a condo with a 25 year lifespan.( based on engineers report )

So the question is, who has the rights to a building that is basically a bad investment due to its lifespan, or a small vocal part of the public.

If i'm going to plunk down 500K to a mill in a building that requires another mill in renovations, don;'t you think i have some say.....regardless of what Shammy has to say.

I would have to say some buildings on main St , notably 457 Main and the Hamilton Building would have been torn down if it weren't for some pretty attractive longterm leases the City gave to the building owners.

At this time, I think 457 is basically empty but we keep paying, and Hamilton building isn't really worth the price based on the number of staff working out of there.

cherenkov said...

What have you heard about Teasers!?! Oh man ... I'd better start a petition!

Seriously though ... If you attach too many strings to an old building it will just end up abandoned, and that doesn't do much good. Significant buildings should be protected by Heritage status, but otherwise you have to let things work. Provide incentives like TIF to assist with restoration, but realize that sometimes you need to tear something down to get something better. Thanks for the comments, as always.

Anonymous said...

I'll be at Teasers this Friday night to sign it.

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