A Lake Street icon fell to the wreckers on Tuesday to the relief of some and the lament of others.
The Gustavus II Adolphus Hall at 1626 E. Lake St. was demolished nearly four years after a fire devoured its guts.
"Sadly enough, it was way too far gone to bring it back to life in a fiscally responsible way," said Peter Fuchs, the latest in a string of owners since the fire.
The two-story ornamented brick building once was a bastion of Swedish culture, constructed in 1924 by the Gustavus II Adolphus Society. But the society sold the building in 1996, and it later housed a series of restaurants, a dance club and shops.
Julie Ingebretsen, of the gift and food shop down the block, said she was both ready for and saddened by the building's demise. "I really wish somebody could have come up with the money to restore it, but I guess it wasn't the right time for that," she said. She invited acquaintances to watch the razing from the store.
Ted Muller, chair of the Bloomington Lake Cedar Commercial Association, admitted to a little sadness but mostly relief. "I'd like to see it come back in its old glory, but that's not going to happen," said Muller, who owns property on the same block. "Those of us who worked diligently on rebuilding Lake Street for years have lived with it as long as we can."
One neighbor, Mala Vujnovich, minced no words about removing a building that she saw as undermining millions in public and private investment on Lake. "It was just an ugly eyesore," said Vujnovich, who lives five blocks away.
Tom Deegan, who oversees vacant and boarded buildings for the city, said demolition was the only course after no one completed a restoration of the hall.
The city ordered that parts of the building be saved, such as the four engraved limestone cartouches on the Lake Street facade, bearing initials standing for Equality, Justice, Brotherhood and Forward, the society's watchwords.
The independent society formed in 1886 to advance the interests of the city's proliferating Swedish population. It featured debates, lectures, music and physical training such as gymnastics and military drill, according to a society history.
The hall cost $45,000. It featured a large dance floor on the second floor, where members played bingo and danced waltzes and polkas.
The society, named after a noted Swedish monarch, didn't make the switch from Swedish to English for conducting meetings until 1950, and then only after heated debate. The requirement that members have some Swedish blood was dropped more recently. "We have at least one Mexican, as well as a lot of Norwegians, of course," said longtime member Sven Hedin, 73, of Bloomington.
The society moved its monthly meetings to the American Swedish Institute as it sold the building. Activities include awarding scholarships and holding picnics. Membership has fallen below 100.
Fuchs, who bought the building in a different economy last summer, said the message from the city was clear that if the building wasn't rehabbed, the city would raze it if he didn't. So he went ahead, unsure how he'll use the land.
"I have ideas, but quite frankly, with the economy the way it is, these ideas have to be pretty carefully considered," the investor said.
"I think it's time, mainly because of the fire," said Hedin of the demolition. "I know that people who helped to pay for it are turning over in their graves."
The society buried a longtime member not long ago who was in his 90s. "When we talked about the building, he'd get tears in his eyes."
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438