So lengthy to Windsor’s risque landmark: Studio Four and its racy signal have been offered

It’s a sight familiar to anyone who’s driven into or out of Windsor across the Ambassador Bridge — a woman in a bright red bikini, next to a massive number 4.

For decades, Studio 4 has greeted millions of drivers entering Canada or heading to the United States; its risqué sign a distinctive—and for some an unwelcome—landmark.

But the sign you can’t miss won’t be there for much longer.

The strip club has been sold.

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I think if they demolish it or something I want to be there,” said Peter Barth, who had owned the bar since 1984.

Negotiations for the lot at the corner of Huron Church and Tecumseh roads began last year, according to Iyman Meddoui, president of Westdell Development Corporation, which bought the property.

Both Barth and Meddoui declined to say how much the site sold for, but land registry documents show it was transferred on Jan 21 for $1,250,000.

Plans for something ‘completely different’

The new owners won’t say just yet what’s coming to the site — but it won’t be a strip club.

“Our plans are going to be something completely different,” said Meddoui. “We have an exciting development that’s under the planning.”

The company has applied to demolish the red building covered in signs currently advertising the XXXTASY LOUNGE, he added.

“Saying that it was rough is putting it lightly. It looked like there wasn’t much investment made there for many years now.”

A sign outside Studio 4 boasts of ‘Windsor’s Best VIP’ Room,’ but cracked paint and a bird’s nest show the club has seen better days. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Knocking down Studio 4 means the loss of a landmark — for better or worse.

It was part of Windsor’s exotic dancer heyday in the 1980s, when roughly a dozen strip clubs were operating and the city was dubbed “Tijuana North” by American visitors, said local historian Marty Gervais.

“When you drive off the bridge and you see Studio 4 it’s part of our Sin City image and people have always talked about it.”

Local historian Marty Gervais says Windsor has a long history of catering to visitors from the US (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The history of catering to parties who streamed across the river dates back to Confederation when the city boasted the “best bawdy houses in North America,” he explained.

During prohibition, Windsor offered dance halls and a place to get a drink. More recently, it’s attracted visitors with fully-nude dancing, Cuban cigars and a legal drinking age of 19.

“We were constantly feeding thirsty Americans with what they wanted, which they couldn’t get on the Detroit side of the border,” said Gervais.

Studio 4, and its salacious sign is part of that history.

“It’s very much a part of Windsor life. It just seems to have always been there,” he said.

Sign survived councilors and controversies

But the sign, much like the club it stands outside, has had to weather controversy.

Alan Halberstadt is a former newspaper columnist and city councillor.

He remembers his council colleague, Caroline Postma, leading a crusade to “get that half-naked sign down because she felt it was against the city’s sensibilities.”

Studio 4’s risque sign has drawn the ire of some, including a former city councillor. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Halberstadt said he wasn’t happy about the sign either, but over time he got used to it.

“After a while it becomes … kind of a Windsor insignia or landmark,” he said, adding he believes any concerns about damage it may have done to the city’s image is “overblown.”

“There’s a lot of politicians and people that would have liked to see that sign come down, but she’s stood the test of time,” he said with a wry smile.

Tussles with councilors and police officers enforcing the no-touching rule are among memories that were top of mind for Barth on Tuesday.

He doesn’t have any worries about his sign being a bad first impression of Windsor, or Canada for that matter.

“We were right in their face, right on the corner,” he said.

Peter Barth had owned Studio 4 since 1984. He says he was sad to sell, but it’s time to move on. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The sign that’s so recognizable today was also once a little more risque.

“We had to draw on panties and a bra,” said the former owner. “Originally, it was showing a little bit more.”

Strip clubs have been shut down by COVID-19, but even before the pandemic, Barth, who’s 80 now, said business wasn’t what it once was.

Gone are the days of limousines pulling up out front, seven servers working non-stop and a lineup that extended beyond the canopy snaking out the back door.

“The first week we were full, full, full,” he said. “Lately? Nothing. Adult entertainment in Windsor is dead.”

Studio 4’s new owners are planning to turn the site into a shopping development, he added.

A ‘fresh new look’ coming to sign

Meddoui was tight-lipped about his company’s plans, saying they’re still being developed.

Westdell has also purchased an empty lot next to the club, along with the University and Ambassador shopping centers across the street.

Westdell Development Corporation has purchased the vacant property next to the club. A sign there shows off plans for the site, a commercial building offering space for food, fashion and retail. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

They’re planning to “transform” the intersection over the next couple of years, said Meddoui.

As for the sign? He’s promising a very different look in the meantime.

“You’ll see a fresh new look on that sign on an interim basis,” he said. “As the building will be removed, the sign will also be rebranded.”

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