Western Grocer building gets the axe

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Karen Trow will be looking for another route from her Albert Lea home to her business in Glenville for the next few days.

She doesn’t want to take Broadway Avenue. If she did, she’d pass the Western Grocer building &045; and the demolition crew that began taking it down Tuesday morning.

Trow, who helped lead an effort to save the historic building, doesn’t want to see the backhoe smashing the brick walls and tearing out the huge timber pillars that held up the massive former grocery building, most recently known as Stevens Window and Hardware.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;It was a beautiful building,&uot; she said.

Freeborn County, which owns the building, is demolishing it to make way for a southward expansion of the courthouse. The county is planning a new judicial center for the site, including a new jail, courts and offices.

Bev Jackson, director of the Freeborn County Historical Museum, said the building may have had faults, but overall was found to be structurally sound in a study by the Minnesota Historical Society, and could have been used rather than destroyed.

&uot;I wish they would have been able to find another use for it, that they would have found another way to do (the judicial center),&uot; she said. &uot;Maybe (the building) could have been used for the courthouse.&uot;

Commissioners rejected that idea, claiming the building was not as sound as the study reported and that it would be expensive to renovate.

After commissioners voted in December to demolish the vacant structure, the state historical society placed it on its list of the ten most endangered buildings in Minnesota.

&uot;I just hate losing a lot of our heritage,&uot; Jackson said. &uot;It’s more than a building. The business owners who build a building like that build it to last. They believed in the future of the community.&uot;

Trow, with other members of Destination: Albert Lea, helped fund the historical society study after it became clear that commissioners were considering demolishing it last summer.

But the effort didn’t get much popular support.

&uot;People don’t love that building,&uot; Trow said. &uot;I think it’s because of the way it looks from Broadway.&uot; The building’s most attractive features face Pearl Street and the jail across the street, but drivers on the busier Broadway get a better look at the broad, flat side of the building.

Despite the building’s demise, Trow said the campaign to save it had positive results. One was that although few rallied around the building, the effort turned new attention on the city’s downtown.

&uot;At least we raised awareness of the beautiful buildings in town,&uot; she said. &uot;I think we have done that in a way.&uot;

And while the county’s courthouse plans mean the end of Western Grocer, Trow said it’s a better result for Albert Lea than the alternative plan, which had the judicial center moving out of downtown onto the city’s fringe or even into a rural area.

&uot;We had a choice,&uot; she said. &uot;Did we want our whole courts and judicial system in Albert Lea or out in the country? I think we needed that in Albert Lea.

&uot;For the good of Albert Lea, down comes the building.&uot;