The demolition of an old St. Paul bar caught some folks by surprise on the city's East Side, and they're not happy they didn't get a chance to weigh in.

The Viaduct Inn was razed Friday by the St. Paul Port Authority, which purchased the building at E. Seventh and Earl streets in July.

It had been vacant and was contaminated, the Port Authority said, and wasn't worth trying to save.

But some in the community are irked that they had to find out by word of mouth and that there were no public meetings to discuss the fate of the 95-year-old building, which gained some fame in the movie "Joe Somebody," starring Tim Allen.

"The Port Authority does really good work, but it just seems to me this hasn't gone through much community process," said Jane Prince, a former City Council legislative aide. "Those old brick commercial buildings are a valuable historic resource in the community."

Indeed, said Carol Carey, executive director of nonprofit Historic St. Paul, "the assumption that a vacant piece of land is more valued than one with a 100-year-old structure should be discussed."

The Port Authority made it clear when it purchased the building that it was going to be redeveloped, said spokesman Tom Collins. "No public process was required," he said.

The Port Authority buys and cleans industrial land with the goal of luring new jobs.

The Port Authority went through a heritage preservation process to determine whether there was historic or reuse value, Collins said. "The cost of rehabbing it far exceeds our ability to lease or sell it. If we can't reuse it, we tear it down."

The building was riddled with asbestos and anything of value had been removed by previous owners, he added.

In the shadow of the Earl Street Bridge, it was a two-story brick building built in 1913, according to Ramsey County records. The bar was made of wood, the ceilings were stamped tin and the floor was tile. It was a workingman's bar, a good family place, said Steve Trimble, a Dayton's Bluff resident and St. Paul historian.

But like many neighborhood bars, as industry went away, so did the clientele.

The joint changed hands several times. Cold beer was a constant, and the food offerings evolved, from American to Indonesian to Mexican.

But business wasn't brisk in recent years, Collins said.

"Several private entities have tried to make it go, and it hasn't gone," said Council Member Dan Bostrom.

Prince wondered whether it would have been worth mothballing the building until other development happens along the street. The Port Authority already has many acres of nearby land ready for new construction and a deal to buy the 3M Co. property, also nearby.

She and others point to two Dayton's Bluff renovations they say have spiffed up the area and drawn interest and admirers from around the metro.

One is the Stutzman Building -- at times a cigar factory, brothel and drug den -- that now houses the Swede Hollow Cafe. The other is the Strip Club restaurant, which opened in January.

"When these buildings are lovingly restored they can be real amenities that succeed on the East Side," Prince said.

Just because something's old, however, doesn't mean it's special, Bostrom said. "In my opinion, it's one of those buildings that served its useful life, there really isn't much more you can do with it."

The neighborhood has greater concerns these days, he says, such as the high number of vacant houses.

"One of the problems with this whole deal is the Port Authority doesn't really involve the neighborhood before they make decisions," Trimble said. "The surprise is the worst part about it."

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542