Walker's Whisky Palace
from issue #16,
would be difficult to imagine traveling along the Old Walkerville
section of Riverside Drive without seeing the Hiram Walker main
office building. Since 1894, it has remained a constant in an ever-changing
landscape. The building is one of the last remaining fragments of
the old Hiram Walker Empire.
cliche "if walls could talk" certainly applies to this
grand old building. Hiram Walker himself worked here, as did his
sons and grandsons. The building witnessed the transfer of the company
from the Walker family to the Hatch syndicate in 1927 and again
in 1989 when Allied Domecq purchased the company. Employees and
world dignitaries walked through its doors. It was decorated for
King George VI and Queen Mary when they passed through in 1939.
giant elm trees, which stood in front of the office for almost 100
years are gone. Traffic, which evolved from horse and buggy to a
few automobiles, is now a steady stream of cars.
office was constructed to house the many interests of the Walker
empire, including the distilling business, farming, real estate,
the Lake Erie and Detroit River Railroad, the Mettawas Hotel in
Kingsville and other small enterprises.
a building of this era, it had the usual features
a kitchen and dining room with a side entrance for staff,
but it also boasted a barbershop and an exercise room.
the west wing was added in 1920, a swimming pool was constructed
in the basement and living quarters were built on the second floor.
Harry Hatch, who purchased the Company from the Walkers in 1926,
was still headquartered in Toronto and on his frequent trips to
the distillery, was able to use the accommodations available in
the building rather than stay in hotels. The pool was available
to employees and their families until about 1945 when it was closed
and floored over to create much needed file space.
building is an outstanding example of Italian Renaissance architecture.
The street façade was modeled after the Pandolfini Palace
in Florence, Italy, and other features, external and internal, were
copied from a variety of European palaces and grand houses.
to conventional wisdom, the building was not designed by Albert
Kahn, but by the firm of Mason & Rice, who were one of the top
architects in Detroit. The designs of the internal office and some
of the exterior features were, however, detailed by Albert Kahn,
who was an apprentice in the Mason and Rice office. Kahn was to
become one of the greats in American architecture. He continued
to design buildings in the Walkerville area for many years after
he completed the Walker office buildings (see issue #3 or visit
our web archives).
office is constructed of a sandstone base, with Roman brick and
terra cotta trim. The building has a partial steel frame, which
was imported from Germany. Construction lasted two years mainly
because the Ontario Terra Cotta and Brick Company, suppliers of
the brick were unable to deliver their goods on time. This was no
doubt difficult for the contractor, N. Reaume, who eventually, in
frustration, substituted carved stone pieces in place of the terra
cotta that was never shipped. The street elevation, which most of
us see, boasts a pair of ornate hammered bronze gates, now black
with age and a pair of lamps copied from the Strozzi Palace in Florence.
interior remains a delight, basically untouched since construction.
Dark red Vermont marble steps, Numidian marble columns with capitals
copied from the Zorzi Palace in Venice, marble from Egypt and yellow
Mexican onyx are just some of the interior features that greet the
eye. Most of the wood is oak, with individual offices finished in
mahogany, walnut or gumwood. The Globe Furniture Company of Walkerville
was responsible for the interior. All interior woodwork cost a grand
total of $16,000. The architect made a special trip to the Chicago
Worlds Fair in 1894 to purchase furniture and accessories
to be used in some offices.
German who had immigrated to Detroit, Julius Melchers, did the intricate
carving found throughout the interior of the building. Melchers
was considered one of the best woodcarvers of his time. Before construction
began, Melchers had also created a model of the building and models
of some of the details that the architect had designed.
office was officially opened on September 1894 with a gala party.
More than 600 guests were invited; a caterer from Chicago provided
the music. Festivities went on into the night, with employees taking
part after the days work was done.
the building was completed it received a considerable amount of
media attention. An article in the Amherstburg Echo compared the
building to the Bank of England. The Empire, a Toronto newspaper,
dedicated a four-page section to the office, calling it a "Commercial
Palace."The Detroit Free Press had an equally impressive write
up with artists sketches of office interiors.
1990 the building underwent an extensive $1.2
million restoration. It was washed to remove almost a century
of dirt and terra cotta was brought in from England to replace pieces
Hiram Walker main office building stands not only as a monument
to classical architecture but to a company that for almost 150 years
has had and continues to have a positive presence in Windsor.
Jahn is the keeper of the Hiram Walker & Sons archives.
read his previous article on Canadian Club whisky in Issue #14,
to Who Was Hiram Walker...