Bar fight! Old saloon stalls Minneapolis housing project

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 26, 2012 - 7:40 PM

Major housing proposal delayed while preservationists debate the significance of a onetime Gluek beer hall.

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The former Gluek saloon on the West Bank is the center of a historic debate.

Few vestiges remain of the frothy heritage of a former tavern in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside. Gone are the bar, the plate-glass front window, the Gluek Brewing logo of a six-pointed star surrounding a G.

Nevertheless, Minneapolis preservationists are saying not-so-fast to a developer who wants to raze the building for a 259-unit project next to Mixed Blood Theater.

The city's Heritage Preservation Commission has ordered a survey of Gluek's "tied houses" to determine just how many of the saloons, which were owned or controlled by the defunct northeast Minneapolis brewer, remain in the city.

While that happens, the $48.5 million development proposed by Fine Associates will be on hold for the second time.

Fine argued to the commission Monday that more than a dozen Gluek tied houses survive close to downtown, most of them retaining more of the brewer's decor and architecture. The one at 1500 6th St. S. "is devoid of all historic features that are characteristic of saloons," said Jessica Berglin, representing the project's historical consultant.

But the commission also wants a review because the building is one of four vintage structures remaining west of Cedar Avenue in an area largely razed for the freeways that surround it on three sides and Riverside Plaza, a 1970s high-rise housing complex.

Developer Bianca Fine has been working on the development since 2004. An earlier proposal foundered because of an easement problem. In its latest version, the firm has replaced the two-tower configuration with a six-story design. The site is attractive to Fine because of its proximity to the Hiawatha Line and the under-construction Central Corridor, including a bike trail, freeways and major job centers. It also has views of the downtown skyline. But she admits she didn't anticipate that it would be held up by a question of beer history.

The 1903 building was built by Gluek as one of 86 in the city that served its brew exclusively. Gluek ranked as the state's third largest brewer, according to a historic evaluation of the West Bank property. luek was a Minnesota-focused brewery, while rivals such as Grain Belt, its neighbor on Marshall Street NE, marketed more widely. The riverfront brewery operated for 107 years before it closed and was demolished in 1966.

Gluek's historic consultant argued that the Fine-owned building at 1500 S. 6th St. pales beside better preserved examples of former Gluek saloons, including several nearby across Cedar Avenue, with some such as Clubhouse Jäger on Washington Avenue N. preserving signature elements.

Heritage commission members weren't convinced. They ordered the survey of Gluek saloons that's due Nov. 5. Sue Hunter-Weir, one member, said she rejects the argument that because a building isn't the last of its kind, demolition is OK. Keep that up and there's nothing left, she said.

"It is a nice little building. There are ways of working around it," said commissioner Ginny Lackovic.

The building occupies only 1.5 percent of the development site. But Fine said that keeping it would eliminate at least 25 units, and moving it would cost several hundred thousand dollars, depending on the distance. She's explored moving it to the site of Dania Hall, a West Bank landmark on Cedar Avenue that was razed after a 2000 fire, but noted that someone would need to take ownership.

The Gluek building is one of four from its era in the area, including two other former bars, and Mixed Blood's playhouse in a 1887 fire station. Fine said she plans to incorporate one of the former bars in a third phase of the project lying closest to the Cedar-Riverside light-rail station. She has no designs on the theater, and she and artistic director Jack Reuler have discussed a land swap that could allow the theater better parking and access for handicapped patrons, or even permit a new theater next to the existing building.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: Brandtstrib

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