Not on the auction block yet. Paletta Mansion is going to be given a new business model to stop the financial bleeding.

By Staff

It`s still there –and we`re still losing money on the place. There have been responses to the document the city put out asking for Expressions of Interest on the Paletta Mansion site off Lakeshore Road in the eastern part of the city.

The arrangement the city had for the operation of the site, a location for small conferences and weddings, was less than an ideal situation for the city.  On a closer look at the financial reports, the city found that Geraldo’s, at the LaSalle Pavilion, was making a profit but that Paletta was losing money.  However, because of the way the financial reports were put out the loss of one operation was buried in the numbers.  With those numbers now shown separately, the city realized that something had to be done at Paletta, and that resulted in advertisements asking for expressions of interest on what to do with the place.

It took time and a lot of money to get the property back to its original sate. It is now one of the most impressive examples of its era - and it's losing money every month.

Dating back to 1806 the land was owned by Canadian legend Laura Secord. The British Government in a lottery awarded her the land. Secord later sold the property and may not have even visited the site.  It is not clear what the lottery was and if it had any connection with Laura Secord`s heroic trek through woods at Queenstown to warn the British of an impending American plan to attack at Beaver Dam.  With the warning the British were able to repel the attack.  Laura Secord never actually did anything with the property, she may never have even visited the site.

Between the years of 1810 through 1912 the land changed hands many times until in 1912 two men bought it by the names of Cyrus Albert Birge and William Delos Flatt.  Birge was a  renowned industrialist, who played a large role in the industrial development of Hamilton as it moved to becoming a major North American steel producing city.  Birge’s company, Canadian Screw Company, was one of the five merged in 1910 to form steel giant Stelco.

Cyrus had a daughter named Edythe Merriam Birge. It was Edythe that built the house somewhere between 1929 and 1931, after her father had passed on.  That would have been in the middle of the Depression when all kinds of labour would have been available and building supplies on the market at very advantageous process.  This suggests there was a very sizable Birge estate.

It was Paletta family money that made it possible for the city to purchase the property and renovate it to its original state.

Edythe married a man by the name of James John MacKay and together they had a daughter who they named Dorothy. James died in 1959 and not to long after in 1960 Edythe also passed on leaving the house and the grounds to their daughter Dorothy who married a man by the name of John Wallace McNichol. This is why it was known for many years as the McNichol Estate.

Burlington and Hamilton had a strong connection dating back to the early 1900’s, when Burlington was the summer destination for many affluent citizens of Hamilton. Birge and his friends used the property to hunt on.  It wasn`t until Birge`s estate passed into the hands of his daughter that any development was done on the property.  The daughter Dorothy made up for lost time by building a sprawling four storey mansion.

The MacKay’s originally used the estate as their summer home. It stands on an exquisite 14 acre lakefront property rightly called “the jewel in the crown” of the Burlington waterfront.  .  Dorothy passed away in 1987 and her children sold the property to the city 1990.

By that time the property was in a sad state of disrepair and was boarded up.

There was a time when the mansion had to be boarded up while waiting for renovations to be made to a site that was much in need of repairs.

It took a number of years for the city to figure out what they wanted to do with the property – the purchase at the time was to keep it out of the hands of developers.  At one point it looked as if the city was going to put together an agreement with the Niagara Institute, which at that time was in the business of offering corporate executive development courses to senior executives.  The city wasn`t able to conclude an agreement.  With the property deteriorating the city turned to a wealthy benefactor Pat Paletta who wrote what is believed to be a $2 million cheque that paid for the costs of the renovations with the provison that the name Paletta be put on the property.

The city clearly didn`t have the financial smarts the Paletta`s have and is now looking for someone willing to take on the location and make it a paying proposition.

The site  is the only truly historic property left in Burlington and owned by the city to which the public has access.  The bird watching people maintain that Paletta is one of the best sites in the city.

As nice as it is – no one has yet been able to find a niche for the place.  The park has four heritage buildings (the Mansion, the Orientation Centre and Loft, the Art and Environment Study Centre, and the Dollhouse) on the property.

The property’s mansion ranks among the finest representations of great estate homes designed and built in Burlington in the two decades between 1912 and 1932, and was the last of its kind and quality to be built in Burlington.

The sun room at the rear of the building was in terrible shape - it took significant private money to get the building to where it was in its prime. Renovations were completed in 2000.

The 10 acre Discovery Trail features a flood plain that is one of the only natural areas of its kind remaining along the Halton shoreline of Lake Ontario. The wetland area on the park attracts migratory birds because of the protection, cover and food supply provided.

The gatehouse has been magnificently restored as The Art and Environment Study Centre. The centre boasts a welcome centre, a community gallery space and a studio loft. Currently, selected prints of world renowned environmental artist Robert Bateman are on display. The loft, an open concept studio space, provides a classroom venue for an array of program activities.

The property began to get very run down and with no one using it – plywood was placed over the windows and rot began to set in.  Restoration on the mansion began in April 2000.

The site features three other buildings: a gatehouse built circa 1912 which has been redesigned to serve as a small art studio and display area; a dollhouse, the only known heritage children’s playhouse in Burlington; and one of the last remaining stables in urban Burlington. The two-storey barn and stable has been converted into an educational loft. Youth camps, art classes and environmental workshops will be held here.

Preserving the natural habitat and landscape was a top priority for the city and the residents in the immediate community.  Shoreacres Creek runs through the 14-acre property, featuring a flood plain that is one of the only natural areas of its kind remaining along the Halton shoreline of Lake Ontario.

As rich as the pedigree of the property is – the city decided it couldn’t just let the place continue to lose money and provide little value to the taxpayers who foot the bill for the property.  The property needs a new mission and a new vision – the city is now going through the expressions of interest to see just what might be possible.

Director of Parks and Recreation Chris Glenn said at a recent council committee meeting that no one proposal offered a solution, but that amongst the proposals there appeared to be enough to cobble together a purpose for the site that would stop the financial hemorrhaging.

Burlington now has two historical sites to deal with: The Paletta Mansion and the Freeman Station.  There is every possibility that the Paletta gift has some codicils in it that prevent the city from doing anything they want with the site.

Perhaps the city will find itself having to develop a program for preserving and maintaining historic sites in the city.  At a public meeting, scheduled for November 19th at Mainway Arena, the city will attempt to answer the very real and noisy concerns of property owners who don`t want the historic site designations that have been placed on their houses.

Why does Burlington have this aversion to recognizing its history?


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