Have you ever wanted to own a bowling alley, a bar or a banquet hall? All three could be yours, if you can spare $1.4 million.
The former home of the Polish Fraternal Aid Society of St. John Cantius, at the southeast corner of Mountain Avenue and Arlington Street, is up for sale for the second time in four years. The roughly 20,000-square-foot building stretches across two addresses, at 768 and 770 Mountain Ave.
The original half of the structure, which includes a banquet hall with a raised stage on the main floor and beverage rooms and a commercial kitchen below, was built in 1936.
"The building is masonry construction, the exterior walls are eight inch block and four inches of brick, and the building itself was erected by hand by (the Polish society’s) original members, which we think is just incredible," said real estate broker Teddy Czarnecki of Royal LePage Top Producers, who’s handling the sale with colleague Brad Minsky.
"Buildings of this type are deemed rare and are very valued. It’s in excellent condition, it’s obviously very well-maintained."
The building’s newer half, which was added in 1955, includes a licensed bar and restaurant area on the main floor that’s currently home to the Port Cafe and Lounge. A retro eight-lane bowling alley occupies the lower level.
The banquet hall in the original building has not been used since October 2017, when the Polish Fraternal Aid Society of St. John Cantius came back to the space to celebrate its 100th anniversary. The society put the building on the market in 2016, when it was bought by the Bergagnini family, owners of Red Lake Construction and Roma Masonry.
"We haven’t been utilizing it to its full potential, which is one of the reasons why we decided to put it up for sale," said Carmela Bergagnini, one of the owners. "Because there’s so much you can do with that property."
When her family bought the building, Bergagnini said, they had considered converting it into apartments and building upwards.
"And then we ended up with another opportunity two months later, and we ended up spending the last two years building a brand-new condo complex, and building schools... There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do what we wanted to do with it," she said.
Still, Bergagnini said her family has maintained the building during their tenure, keeping the bar and bowling alley in use and upgrading the roof. Bergagnini thinks the unusual property might appeal to another cultural society like the original owners, or maybe a church group.
With its high-ceilinged banquet hall, real estate broker Teddy Czarnecki said the building would make a good venue for large events such as wedding receptions.
"But we’ve also had buyers pinpointing certain requirements or needs for their own personal use," he said.
"We’ve had buyers calling wanting to run an employment office out of this site. We’ve had people discuss worship gatherings there, maybe even like a kids’ play zone. There was even one buyer looking at an indoor minigolf course, which when you think about it, would actually flow well with the attached bowling alley."
The building was described by the Free Press as "the largest Polish hall in Canada" when it opened in December 1936.
Construction was reported to cost roughly $20,000, "not counting a large amount of free labour contributed by its members."
Robert Kolt, co-president of the Polish Fraternal Aid Society of St. John Cantius, said the society’s old home was a key gathering place for Winnipeg’s Polish community in its heyday, but the building was used less and less over the decade leading up to its 2016 sale.
"Our membership started to really come down, and the facility was under-utilized," said Kolt.
"We felt that by selling it, we could get it back to having it (be) more meaningful in the North End, especially in that location, so that other people can come back there and revitalize it again."
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Solomon Israel is a full-time reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and for two years, the lead writer for Free Press cannabis news site, The Leaf News. He continues to provide coverage of the cannabis beat while covering business in the city and province.