Albert Lea’s patriotic windows

Published 9:07 am Saturday, July 26, 2008

What has been called the only stained glass windows of their type in the nation are still a part of the former VFW building at the corner of East Clark Street and North Newton Avenue.

There are three pairs of the colorful and distinctive windows situated on the first floor of this structure. One set is facing Newton Avenue and two sets face Clark Street.

These six windows were installed in 1948 as part of a remodeling project for the building which was originally constructed in 1910 for the Danish Brotherhood Society. Proof of this can still be seen with the DBS seal or emblem in the masonry on the front of the structure near the roof line.

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Freemond Madson Post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars was organized in 1920. For 16 years the post’s members held meetings in various places, including lodge halls, club rooms, in the back of stores, and in the DBS Hall.

In 1946, with a real boost in membership as a result of World War II, the local VFW voted to purchase the DBS building. One of their first projects was to remodel the exterior of the building’s front on the Clark Street side and a short portion on the Newton Avenue side. This project was turned over to LeRoy Gaarder, a VFW member and architect who designed many buildings and churches in Albert Lea and around the region.

The facade of the first floor of this building was remodeled with the present stonework which includes etchings of an eagle emblem and the full VFW name.

Part of the mystery regarding the origin of the six stained glass windows is answered with a quotation from a news report in the July 12, 1948, issue of the Tribune. It said, “The design of the windows is by the Weston and Leighton Company of Minneapolis in collaboration with Mr. Gaarder. Glass material has been secured by the (Minneapolis) company from England and Czechoslovakia. … Funds for the project have been raised by the local VFW chapter (post).”

What’s still somewhat of a mystery is based on who was the artist responsible for the final creation and layout of the six windows.

These stained glass artistic creations are protected on both the exterior and interior by plate glass windows.

The city directory shows the last listing for the VFW at 137 E. Clark St. as 1996. Since that time this building has been used for several restaurant and bar operations, including Seasons Fine Dining, Top Shelf, Andy’s Cellar, Andy’s Roadhouse and Grumpy’s. The building is now unused.

The building’s owner is Mike Barnhart of Brownsburg, Ind.