The fall of the hall
It's been more than two years since a fire gutted Gustavus Adolphus Hall, an iconic building on East Lake Street in the Phillips neighborhood of south Minneapolis. On August 4th, the Minneapolis City Council gave the go-ahead for the building to be demolished.
It was never clear what caused the fire in the 82-year-old structure in January 2004, but it displaced a beauty shop, a Latino dance club and the Babylon International Cafe and Gallery. What is clear is that the city became exasperated with the owner's inability to rehab the joint.
Gary Schiff, the Ninth Ward council member who represents the area, notes "all the council actions," aimed at saving the structure, adding that two city staffers "worked extensively" to avoid demolition. "There have been several [proposals] the past couple years," Schiff tells Blotter, "trying to get the owner to rehab the building, or to post the financing to show that he could fix it up."
The owner, Floyd Olson, is apparently not giving up hope; his lawyer, Mark Kallenbach, has said he feels an arrangment can still be negotiated before a demolition date is set. Estimates put the pricetag on rehabbing between $2.8 and $3.6 million.
The hall was built in 1924 by a Swedish fraternal order as a social venue for Swedish immigrants. Recent history has it that Bill Clinton dined at Sallie's, a soul food and Creole restaurant housed in the building, in 2000. The hall also sits across Lake from the now-defunct Pizza Shack, the infamous restaurant where an MPD officer, Jerry Haaf, was fatally shot in the back in 1992.
According to a newsletter sent out by Schiff's office, "the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission will make recommendations to save the signage and other features of the facade before demolition occurs." The wrecking ball could come, according to the newsletter, "before the end of the year, unless legal action prompts a court review."
Schiff says the building is "old, but not historically designated." However, Schiff notes, it could be eligible, not because of its architecture, but for its social history. "Are we willing to mothball it and let it stand for 20 years because of its social history?" Schiff asks rhetorically, drawing a distinct comparison between Gustavus Adolphus and the perpetually mothballed Shubert Theater.
The newsletter also quotes Schiff: "The fire was a tragedy. The owner's refusal to rehab the building or sell it since the fire has been an additional heartbreak. Allowing the building owner to keep the property in its current state indefinitely is not in the community's interest."
Schiff notes that development on Lake Street has rarely been more vital, and the burned-out shell "scares away investors." So it is with some sadness and no small frustation that the council voted unanimously to knock down the structure. "Absolutely," Schiff says. "[Olson] repeatedly came to the council and promised to do something about it. But no matter how many deadlines we gave him, he never lived up to his promises."
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