Knutson building owner works to restore ad from early 1900s

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 16, 2002

Downtown Albert Lea’s past is about to become part of its future.

Scott Knutson, owner of the Knutson Building located at 115 N. Newton Ave., is restoring the time-faded Coca-Cola advertisement painted on the north wall of the building, using custom-mixed paint to match the original colors. According to what is most likely the artists’ signature &045; &uot;Ted and George, 1916&uot; &045; the sign was originally painted more than 85 years ago.

&uot;It’s a slow process,&uot; said Knutson, explaining that restoring the sign is only part of a larger project &045; the restoration of the entire north wall of the building. He said there are three phases to the job: restoring the wall, which includes &uot;tuck-pointing,&uot; a process in which old mortar is ground from in between the rows of bricks, and new mortar is filled in; acid washing; and painting.

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&uot;This is obviously the most expensive way to do a building,&uot; said Knutson. &uot;But, it’s also the right way.&uot; Knutson said that he contacted Coca-Cola of Mankato, to see if it was possible for them to help with some of the cost, but they refused.

Knutson is not without help, though. Joining him in the project are Kevin Blake, the owner of Blake’s Body Shop; and Nick Busall, Knutson’s nephew. Adam Newman also helped, working with Busall on tuck-pointing.

&uot;Kevin knew that I wanted to restore this wall and offered his artistic talents to redo these old Coke signs,&uot; said Knutson.

The task, though, has its own set of challenges. At one time, a Blatz Beer advertisement was painted over the Coke sign. Though over time the Blatz sign has faded, parts of the Coke sign are still somewhat obscured. In addition, the sign will require several coats to achieve the desired effect.

&uot;The easiest would be to paint over it, but this is a part of Albert Lea’s history,&uot; said Knutson, whose building was at one time home to the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant of Albert Lea, according the 1944-45 city directory. According to Knutson, the building also housed the Albert Lea Corset Company years ago, and the upstairs portion was home to the American Federation of Laborers Dance Hall, the stage for which is still intact.

&uot;There’s a lot of history still there,&uot; said Blake. &uot;It’s neat.&uot;

When Knutson purchased the building in 2000, it had sat empty with boarded windows for three years, and looked more like it should have been leveled than restored. The inside has since been remodeled, with only a few remaining spaces left to rent out.

For the most part, Knutson’s restoration project has met with a very positive response from the community. People driving by give shouts of approval, and some of the staff members at Alliance Benefit Group across the street occasionally look out the window to check on the progress. He said that most of his neighbors have been pretty good about it, and that he has had only one complaint.

&uot;We’re really thankful to Shelly Gold Insurance for giving us access over her roof, and to everyone for putting up with a man lift on the street,&uot; said Knutson.

Knutson expects the building to add to the value of the community, especially with its location in an area planned for future developments, and at least one other downtown business owner agreed.

&uot;It’s in an area that will be hopefully looking attractive with the restoration of the Lea Center Building,&uot; said Mary Ellen Johnson, owner of Best Buy Paper Company and member of Destination: Albert Lea.

Knutson expects to complete work on the sign within two weeks. When finished, the sign will read &uot;Delicious and Refreshing&uot; on the left side, and &uot;Enjoy Coca-Cola in Bottles, Five Cents&uot; on the right. Knutson, a Coca-Cola memorabilia enthusiast, said that he also plans to feature a historical showcase inside the building, featuring old Coke machines, along with old photographs of Albert Lea buildings, events and parades. Anyone with pictures they would like to share is encouraged to leave a message at 377-3241.

&uot;It’ll be one of the nicer-looking historic properties,&uot; Knutson said.