THE WALKER POWER BUILDING HISTORY BRIEF
The Walker Power Building is an early 20th century industrial building developed by the sons of Hiram Walker under the Walker Sons firm name in the years between 1910 and 1913. Walker Sons was a company under the same control as Hiram Walker & Sons Limited, Walkerville Land & Building Co. and Walkerville Light & Power Co. among others. The building was constructed to meet the demand for industrial space during a time where the Town of Walkerville was experiencing rapid industrial growth. The Town of Walkerville was founded by Hiram Walker and incorporated in 1890. In the early 1900’s, Walkerville was a model town with a mature and cultured air despite being relatively young. Within 20 years of it’s existence, Walkerville was a busy industrial settlement which was thought to be one of the most beautiful in the whole Dominion of Canada. The Town was built and grew around the Distillery of Hiram Walker & Sons Limited located on the busy Detroit River waterway. In it’s early years, Walkerville enjoyed advanced civic conditions such as paved roads, landscaped boulevards, sewers, street lighting, water works and gas services while neighbouring towns were using dirt roads. The success of Walkerville as a town and community was directly related to the immense success of Hiram Walker and his distillery.
Construction of the Walker Power Building began in 1910 and was ready for occupancy on September 1st, 1911. The building was constructed by contractor Wells & Gray of Toronto who was building an addition to the Ford Motor Co. factory in Ford City in the same year. The original building was located on Devonshire Road north of the Pere Marquette Train Station and south of Sandwich Street ( now Riverside Drive). The original Peabody Overall Co. Building built in 1910 was located west of the building and the Peabody Bridge was located to the north-west. The Walker Power Building is sometimes referred to as the Peabody Building although this is a common mistake. The Peabody Building was a separate structure that abutted the Walker Power Building on the West side. The Peabody Building and Bridge was bombed in 1915 by German Sympathizers from Detroit because the Peabody Overall Co. had large contracts to manufacture uniforms for the British Army. The Peabody Building was demolished in 1985 by the City of Windsor. Throughout most of the buildings life, train tracks were located on the north and south sides of the building. Tracks belonging to the Canadian National railway were located north of the building until the 1990’s and after the demolition of the Peabody bridge in 1992. Tracks belonging to the Pere Marquette Railway were located south of the building until the demolition of the Pere Marquette/Walkerville train station in 1957. One set of track was located so close to the building that cargo could be loaded or unloaded directly to rail cars from the second and third floors of the building at the hoist beams.
The original building was a three storey reinforced concrete structure with a 7,000 sq.ft. footprint. The building was designed based on the multi-storey industrial building design work of the renowned Detroit Architect Albert Kahn. Kahn was actively employed by the Walkers in the early 1900’s although Kahn was not the architect for the building.
The project architect is believed to have been a Mr. J.E. Kinsey of Detroit. With the development of the Kahn Truss Bar by Albert Kahn’s brother Julius, Albert Kahn designed the first multi-storey reinforced concrete industrial building for the Packard Motor Car Co. in Detroit, Michigan in 1905. This building was known as Packard Plant #10 and was the basis for Kahn’s future industrial building design work. The building was revolutionary because reinforced concrete allowed larger spans compared to wood construction, concrete buildings had an inherent fire resistance and large sash windows around the perimeter allowed an abundance of natural light and were used for ventilation. A major feature of the Kahn design was the ridged frame reinforced concrete structure which is visible on the outside of the building and the brick infill below the windows sills. During the same period, the first high rise reinforced concrete building was constructed in the United States in 1904. With the development of twisted square rebar by Ernest L. Ransome, the sixteen storey Ingalls building in Cincinnati, Ohio was made possible despite heavy scepticism.
The first tenants in the building were the Walkerville Light & Power Co. (owned by the Walkers) and the Dominion Malleable Range Co. on the first floor; R.F. Agnew Electrical Welding Machine Company and the Dominion Malleable Range Co. on the second floor; and Sparks Washington Co., Perforate Hones Co. and E.W. Jeffress Company on the third floor. One by one the floors were leased and in 1912 it was decided to construct an addition on the west side of the original building. The new addition would be four storey’s high with a footprint of 8,000 sq.ft. and would include a large freight elevator. The construction of the addition was reinforced concrete although a different design than the original building. The original building utilized cast-in-place concrete girders and beams with one-way reinforced slabs spanning between beams. The rebar used in the original building was twisted square smooth bar similar to that invented by Ransome. The addition utilized a two-way flat slab design with decorative capitals on the columns which was a relatively new design method at the time. The rebar used was smooth square bar. The contractor for the addition was again Wells & Gray of Toronto and the project architect was Mr. J.E. Kinsey of Detroit. Construction of the addition was completed in early 1913 and immediately following the completion, an addition was added to the Peabody Building tight up against the Walker Power Building addition giving the impression of one large building. New tenants to the Walker Power Building in 1913 were the Wilt Twist Drill Company and the Heinz Electrical Co. of Milwaukee.
In the early years, the Walker Power building was versatile in accommodating multiple industrial and manufacturing tenants including office space and warehousing. The building was ideal for new companies that either didn’t want a large space or didn’t want to occupy it’s own building until they became established including many American companies starting business in Canada. The building was also ideal for larger companies that needed additional space as overflow.