At 2155 Lake Shore Blvd. W.: Casa Mendoza
Casa Mendoza Restaurant and Inn is a Spanish hacienda that is the last of the Lake Shore motel strip that is being replaced with high rise condo developments. Casa Mendoza will soon meet the same fate.
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR
She looks out the rear window of the Casa Mendoza, the lone survivor of Etobicoke's motel strip. Gazing toward Humber Bay, Teresa Bodzan, who runs the restaurant and inn, sees the future: condominium sales offices. They are bright, modern boxes, not far from what was once a dock where boaters would tie up and come in for a drink and dinner.
That doesn't happen any more. There's a road now, Marine Parade Dr., between Casa and the lake, used by cyclists, strollers, runners and condo buyers. A red-and-white lighthouse and a rowboat, where wild chicory and yarrow grow, are no longer useful, just decaying ornaments.
There are two guests staying at the Casa Mendoza, with it Spanish-style arches, iron grilles and white stucco. The menu in the restaurant is old school, seafood platters and mixed grill.
Casa will soon be knocked down to make way for a road connecting Lake Shore Blvd. W. to the lake. Condos will follow.
Some will call it progress. After all, the Casa, which over the years has been a marine yard, a banquet hall and the Dutch Sisters Inn, has had a good run since 1928, when naval architect Hans Sachau built it. Its neighbours, motels named the Silver Moon and the Rainbow, have been demolished, their furniture crumpled up and bulldozed into kindling.
The Beach Motel, famous for its water views and moulded plastic Solair chairs prized by modernists, was vacated over the summer. The building remains, ripe with the melancholy of decay. Mattresses are stacked up, doors lay open. Vagrants have been sleeping and drinking there. Drivers on Lake Shore Blvd. W. can see through the motel's dirty windows through to the lake in the distance.
In the 1960s and '70s, the motel strip, with budget rates and access to the city, was popular with families and drew visitors to the CNE and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. "The manager, Wink, was worth the trip to Canada," a guest wrote about the Shore Breeze in an online review.
Later, the establishments became popular with a clientele whose needs were hourly.
But still, some might call it a shame.
The dining room where Bodzan sits has an old-world feel, dark chairs, dark wood and white tablecloths. On weekends, a silver-hair crooner, Tomanel Raposo, plays at the piano bar, tunes like "Me and Mrs. Jones." The dance floor, under the disco ball, is packed with smooth-moving couples.
Her eyes well up.
"If I was the owner, I would never develop this," says Bodzan, 66, in lightly accented English. "For me it is a sentimental thing."She came from Warsaw in 1988 and has run the business since 1990. The property is owned by a developer. "Every day, people come and say, ‘Teresa. I hope you stay.' But I'm here as long as the owner of the property wants me here."
How long that may be is not clear, possibly months. One of Casa's regulars started a petition that garnered some 2,000 signatures. As the Lake Shore changes, it read, "It's more crucial to maintain a tie to the past." Nothing came of it.
"I am not even ready to describe what it will be like when are tearing it down," Bodzan says. "Every day I am walking here and crying."
Married and now a grandmother, she's not interested in retiring. "I have to do something." She arrives in the morning and works the kitchen at night, calling out orders.
Despite her industry, some customers sensing the end is near have coveted the Casa's fittings, especially the ornate iron gates at the back of the patio. "This is still a business!" she exclaims. "We are alive here, we are not dead!"
By mid-afternoon, Bodzan has to attend to her duties: do inventory, order scallops, salmon and shrimp, take reservations, get vegetables from the Ontario Food Terminal, make sure someone makes apple crumble, and look after payroll. It's payday.
Above her is a neon sign, advertising in glowing red letters the name of the upstairs bar. It says "last call."
Vanessa Rawecki (right) and friends Josie Borrelli (left) and Franklin Ramlal mix it up on the dance floor. Casa Mendoza, a staple of the Lakeshore Strip of hotels and motels, is the last holdout of the redevelopment of the west Lakeshore area.
RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR
"If I was the owner, I would never develop this," says Teresa Bodzan-Jackson, who runs Casa Mendoza.
STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR
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