Archived Story

Ideas for the Freeborn National Bank building

Published 10:15am Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Happy Medium by Erin Murtaugh

I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for a while but haven’t been able to figure out exactly what I want to say until now.

When my dad was mayor a few years back, I had the chance to tour the Freeborn National Bank building. Instantly, I fell in love with the building. The vibe that the building gives off is nostalgic. I’ve always been fascinated with the 1920s, and being that the bank building was built in 1922, I can just picture it in its prime time.

After I toured the building, I started to imagine things that could be done with this beautiful, old building. As a teenager, I’m always afraid to share my vision of the bank building because, well, I’m a teenager. What business does a teenager have thinking up these big ideas for such an important building in the community? If I were a wealthy adult, rather than a student who only works a part-time job, I think my plan would be pretty feasible. So, here it is.

I would turn the bottom floor into a nice restaurant. It would be a family-friendly, sit-down style restaurant. I would require it to be a locally owned restaurant, not some chain like nearly every other eatery in town. Somehow I would incorporate the bank vault, maybe making it a more private eating space or something along those lines.

On the first floor up, I would put some office and studio spaces to be available for rent. At many of the colleges I looked at, art students could rent a cubicle-sized studio space, and they had access to it at anytime. I think it would be cool to have something like this in town, available to any artist of any age or medium.

On the uppermost floors, I would make the space into nice apartments anyone could rent. They wouldn’t be income-based. The only stipulation would be that renters would have to sign a contract agreeing to help keep the building restored, and if not they will be asked to find a new dwelling place.

While I’m glad the building is finally going to be put to use, I don’t agree with what is being put in it.

First of all, to put the Albert Lea Art Center in the bottom floor is just silly. They had a good, historical place across the street. From what I understand there were some ownership issues, but still they had a space. I support the Art Center, but my hopes are that when they do occupy the bank building, they will be open better hours and offer more things to the public so the community as a whole can take in the beauty of this building.

Income-based housing on the upper floors don’t seem like a good idea to me, either. This is a huge piece of history for our community. If we are making the public space limited to begin with, why limit it even more by making a criteria of who can and can’t live there? It worries me that the space won’t be properly cared for, either.

I understand the building has sat empty for far too long, but I don’t think this is the right move for our community. We need to be able to share in the beauty of this building together.


Albert Lea resident Erin Murtaugh is a 2014 graduate of Albert Lea High School. She is an intern this summer for the Albert Lea Tribune. She can be reached at