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Bernhardt Building: New Life in Walkerville

Story Elaine Weeks, photo Darren Kwok

Hurray! After years of standing vacant, the building at 1645 Wyandotte Street East, former home of the exclusive Walkerville furniture store, O'Neill-Bernhardt, is undergoing a long awaited facelift.

bernhardt.jpgWork began in late spring when a crew hired by purchasers Archon Architects and their partners, the owners of Woody's Outhouse and Dean Martini's, initiated the renovation process. City Hall does not possess any documentation as to exactly when the building was erected, although the owners put it at somewhere between 1917 and 1920.

It is known however, that this building was not the original Bernhardt building. That structure, formerly attached to the east side of the building undergoing renovation, was the old Bernhardt Furniture Store. The store expanded to include the adjacent building some time in the 60's or 70's and the old Bernhardt building was torn down in 1998 after having fallen into a state of disrepair.

At one time, the remaining building was owned by the W. Hampton Moving and Storage Company - the old painted sign was revealed when the brown aluminum siding, which covered all the original windows and brickwork on the upper floors was removed.

When the building enters its new life as the Walkerville Professional Building, late in November, plans include new offices on the third floor for Archon, designers of the renovations, who have outgrown their original location on Drouillard, offices will be on the second floor and retail space on the main.

The look of the finished project will be a marriage of old and new. The original, drafty windows will be replaced by large, insulated versions to create a funky warehouse look. An interplay of red brick and white concrete will accentuate the effect while a steel awning along the front and east side of the building, will provide shelter for pedestrians and lend a distinctively modern touch.

The interior will be open concept and very bright thanks to 15' ceilings and all those big windows. The site of the demolished building is being converted into 23 parking spaces.

The east wall presented a special challenge to the owners and construction crew since it was a party wall; the brick was just infill. Months of work have gone into rebuilding this side as a solid outside wall.

While it would have been marvelous if the new owners had chosen to restore the building to its original appearance, various factors convinced them to opt for a newer design. For example, attempting to duplicate the original brickwork that surrounded the old windows (sliced off when the siding was installed) would have been prohibitive due to today's labor costs. And, the exposure of the party wall, as a result of the demolition of the old Bernhardt Building, allowed the architects an opportunity to install windows where none ever existed.

What really matters of course, is that an old building that has spent its most recent years as an abandoned eye sore in Walkerville's shopping district, will not only get a second chance, but will add immeasurably to the continued revitalization of the area.

Kudos to the new owners and, good luck!

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