Neighbors and customers mourned the loss of a popular south Minneapolis pizzeria on Friday as firefighters extinguished the last flames from its frosted remains.

"It's sad to see my home away from home go away," said Jim Keith as he stood outside the charred shell of Beek's Pizza, chipping away at a cotton candy machine encrusted in ice.

Keith, who had worked on repairs in the building, which was also home to Diamond Lake Rental, returned Friday to salvage what he could from the burnt businesses.

Beek's and Diamond Lake Rental, which share the building on Lyndale Avenue S. near 54th Street, caught fire a little before 6 p.m. Thursday. Fire crews worked through the cold night to battle the blaze. No one was seriously injured.

Calls to the owners of Beek's Pizza and Diamond Lake Rental weren't immediately returned Friday.

Curious passersby stopped and stared at the damaged building throughout the day. Some people peered through its broken windows.

"We were sad to see it burn down," said Peter Woollen, a frequent customer at Beek's, as he stood across the street looking at the eatery.

Beek's Pizza has been a south Minneapolis staple since the 1950s, when Charles Beekman opened Beek's King of Pizza on Hiawatha Avenue close to 38th Street.

Popular gathering spot

According to a 1970 Minneapolis Tribune column by Robert T. Smith, "The joint caught on almost immediately. It became 'in' to go there. You'd see men in tuxedos next to mill workers next to the high schoolers."

Smith, who died last month, wrote that Mayor Charles Stenvig used to be a bouncer there and that many city officials and sports figures frequented the pizza place. It was also a popular police hangout since all police ate there for free. The original Beek's was closed to make way for Hwy. 55. At one time, Beek's expanded to several locations but currently there are two: the one on Lyndale and another in St. Louis Park.

The cause of the three-alarm fire and where it started are still unknown, said Minneapolis Fire Marshal Perry Ebner, as crews finished up their work Friday.

The reason it took so long to wrap up their work, he said, was that the building was not structurally sound, so firefighters could not enter it. Firefighters were still pouring on water from the outside Friday afternoon. The north wall of the building had to be demolished to help expedite the process, Ebner said.

It may be a while before authorities will be able to determine the cause of the fire, if they can ever determine it, Ebner said.

"There's nothing left," he said of the gutted building. "Finding a cause and determination is going to be that much more difficult."

A lot of times there are burn patterns and other clues to indicate how a fire started, but those pieces weren't left behind in this fire, Ebner said.

Firefighters didn't have an easy time Thursday, either.

The third alarm was called because of the single-digit temperatures and the fact that extra personnel were needed to swap out with responding firefighters who were getting too cold, Ebner said. Thin layers of ice were forming on firefighters from all of the water, making them look "sort of like the Tin Man," Ebner said.

One firefighter who fell and twisted an ankle was treated at Hennepin County Medical Center, Ebner said. Other nearby businesses weren't affected by the fire, he said.

Brian Arola is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune. Staff writer Randy Furst contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495