Travelers along West Broadway in North Minneapolis lately may have wondered why a vacant building suddenly featured an "open" sign and paintings of people eating ice cream.

It turns out there's a battle brewing over the future of the building -- an ice cream battle.

The neighboring Kemps ice cream plant purchased the former White Castle and its adjacent cousin -- both vacant -- with hopes of demolishing them to make way for a parking and loading space, according to the city.

But the structures have a long history on the corner. The White Castle was erected in 1927, said the city's architectural historian, John Smoley. It sits next to the former home of the International Order of Odd Fellows' Hennepin Lodge No. 4, built in 1897.

Smoley said staff determined that the two buildings were historic resources. That means Kemps must submit an application to demolish a historic resource and have it approved by the city's heritage preservation commission -- or the city council, on appeal. That hasn't happened yet.

Rachel Kyllo, the company's senior vice president for sales and marketing, said in an e-mail that they purchased the buildings in September 2013. They had been on the market for a year prior to the sale, she said.

"The reason Kemps bought the property was so we could have the ability to expand our plant, if needed in the future," Kyllo wrote. "The buildings are in poor condition, suffering from years of neglect. As an example, the roof and floor on the second story have holes from water damage that was never repaired."

Recently, someone painted an ice cream shop on the facade without the company's permission. But as quickly as it appeared, the paint protest has been removed.

It's unclear if Kemps will move forward with the application to demolish a historic resource. Kyllo said they have hired an architectural engineer to determine the structural integrity of the buildings before deciding on next steps.

As for the significance of the structures, Smoley said the white building may be the oldest remaining White Castle building in Minneapolis – predating the company's prefab porcelain outposts. Another White Castle located on Lyndale Avenue is historically designated and has been moved three times.

The Odd Fellows was an early fraternal organization, he said, noting that they were pioneering in the area of women's rights.

"They were the first national fraternity to permit female members beginning in 1851," Smoley said.
"And [they were] pioneers in social welfare, they established very early retirement homes and orphanages for members."

The Odd Fellows building was formerly home to Vietnam Hong Kong International, a grocery store.

UPDATE: MPLS snagged a photo (below) of the property on Thursday:

Hat tip: North by Northside blog