It’s something close to a miracle that the historic Hook & Ladder Theatre survived last week’s rioting on E. Lake Street in south Minneapolis, albeit with some extensive interior damage.
Feeling relatively fortunate, the nonprofit venue’s operators are hoping to pay it forward and offer hope and support for their neighborhood rather than simply trying to get back to hosting performances again.
“We’re waiting to see what the community needs first and foremost,” Chris Mozena, executive director of the Hook & Ladder, said Monday afternoon after getting a close look at the damage.
The initial report was mixed: Rioters did break in, loot and try to set fire to the place, but sprinklers kept it from burning. Much of the harm was contained to the smaller Mission Room and adjoining hallway and bathrooms, including water damage. But the larger theater space is also hobbled by the fact that the electrical lines to it were cut.
Still, inspectors deemed the place structurally sound enough Monday to be open in a limited capacity. Mozena and booker Jesse Brodd went to the roof to check damage up there, and from that vantage point they got a gut-punching view of the destruction to the surrounding area.
“We realized how lucky we are just to even have a roof,” Mozena said. “There’s just not much else standing in our neighborhood. It was heartbreaking to see how widespread [the destruction] is like that.”
They credited the building’s survival to vigilant surveillance and activity at the nearby Moon Palace Books and from other neighbors, the relatively well-known fact that they’re a community-oriented nonprofit, and just “being in a sturdy, old building built to last.”
“They certainly tried to destroy the place,” Mozena said, “but it held strong.”
Moon Palace — also a part-time music venue — got out relatively unscathed, too. However, the nearby Schooner Tavern across Lake Street, near the ravaged Cub Foods, suffered more extensive fire and water damage as well as looting. Stories are emerging of neighbors starting a bucket brigade after calls to the Fire Department went unanswered at the Schooner, where about 20 residents live above the bar.
Other music venues hit hard in rioting include St. Paul’s Turf Club, with damage similar to the Schooner (the extent of which is still being assessed), and the Hexagon Bar, which was reduced to charred rubble by arson, in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood.
The Hook & Ladder is housed in a historic former firehouse at 3010 Minnehaha Av. S., right next to what used to be the Third Precinct. The precinct headquarters was one of the first of many buildings to be burned to the ground near the intersection of Lake and Minnehaha after it was evacuated by police last Thursday night.
This upcoming weekend was supposed to mark the beginning of the Hook & Ladder’s audienceless HookStream virtual concert series, starting with the Jones Gang on Friday and Frogleg on Saturday. Those shows (some ticketed) are on hold for now, both for safety reasons and to keep the space open to other possible needs.
“For two months now, we’ve been taking it day by day,” Brodd said, alluding to the ongoing pandemic guidelines that already had the venue reeling. “Now we’re literally taking it hour by hour.”
Brodd was planning to launch a new membership program via Patreon in conjunction with the HookStream series, which would give patrons access to tickets once shows can be opened up to audiences again in limited capacity. For now, though, the Hook’s fundraising efforts are focusing on the community at large.
In fact, the effort and resources put into hosting the HookStream concerts — including video, audio and other staging — might be reapplied for streaming community meetings and other activities, Brodd and Mozena hope. They also foresee the venue possibly being used for doling out food and other supplies to the neighborhood, and as a hub for cleanup efforts.
“We want our doors to be open to everyone, especially to our neighbors that are hurting the most,” Mozena said. “We feel like we have a moral responsibility to fulfill now.”