What: In the early morning of March 1, 1947, fire raged through a building at the corner of 8th Street and Hennepin Avenue S. The fire was first reported at 1:17 a.m. Less than an hour and a half later, it had claimed the life of Capt. William McLaughlin, 54, head of Ladder Company No. 3. It had been a bad year for the department: Four firemen had died fighting a fire in Uptown two months earlier.
The aftermath: Damage to the building — the headquarters of Snyders Drug Stores — was severe. If the building had been torn down, there wouldn’t have been much of an outcry. It was an ordinary three-story structure whose only distinguishing characteristic was its angled corner.
The building, however, was not only saved, but improved. In 1948, Snyders opened a new store, which boasted “electric humidified washed air” to cool shoppers, a fountain grill with “an automatic conveyor for the removal and sterilization of soiled glasses,” and a specially designed ceiling that muffled “unwanted noise.” In short, it was the most modern store in town.
Synders, which had 60 corporate-owned stores in the Twin Cities area and 22 elsewhere at its height in 1993, fell to competition and consolidation. The company went out of business in 2010. The flagship downtown store had closed well before that, in 1975. It was a gritty Burger King for years, then the last outpost of Shinder’s, after the destruction of Block E forced the magazine store to move.
Going upscale: The building is still there, with the same facade it had in 1948. You can see the SNYDERS logo embedded in the pavement in a doorway on 8th Street. But it now houses Union, and revelers can enjoy a drink on the heated, glass-enclosed rooftop. It’s the rooftop now. It didn’t used to be. The building was once three stories tall. It lost a floor to the fire.
The next time you head to Union for a chicken waffle slider and a Grain Belt Premium, raise a glass to Capt. McLaughlin. The third floor was lost, but thanks to him and his men, the building survived.