Text by Andrea Swensson and Steve Cohen
Research and “Now” photos by Steve Cohen
Now that every address is available with a quick Google search and every concert is Instagrammed from 100 angles, it can be hard to remember a time when things weren’t so heavily documented.
Even massive concerts like the Beatles’ visit to Minneapolis in 1965 and Elvis’s stop through town a decade earlier were scarcely photographed (at least by today’s standards). It can make photos from that era feel like long lost relics, like rarely opened windows that peer into a forgotten time.
In the spirit of remembering and revisiting our history, we dug through the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society, Minneapolis Public Library, Old Minneapolis, and other sources to find the influential venues that predate today’s popular clubs like First Avenue. For the second installment of the “Then and Now” series, we’ll revisit Dania Hall, a venue that hosted concerts in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood for over 100 years.
Previously: Then and Now: Metropolitan Stadium
Back in the late 1800s, the West Bank neighborhood was primarily made up of Scandinavian immigrants, and Dania Hall was originally intended to be a gathering place for Danish residents in the area. Built in 1886 by Norwegian architect Carl F. Struck for Society Dania, it quickly became a gathering place for all of the different immigrants in the community and the site of many banquets, bazaars, concerts, and plays.
The imposing Victorian building contained several different levels; the top two floors contained a large theater with a horseshoe balcony, the middle floors had meeting rooms, and the first floor and basement contained retail spaces and restaurants.
The neighborhood we know as Cedar-Riverside was just beginning to be developed at that point. Dania Hall was located at 427 Cedar Avenue, just down the street from the 400 Bar, which opened in 1882, and the buildings that now house venues like Palmer’s, the Nomad, and the Triple Rock Social Club.
By the ’60s the West Bank neighborhood had started to evolve, and was no longer primarily populated by Scandinavian-Americans. Society Dania sold the building to Phil Richter, who had been operating a pharmacy out of the first floor of the building, and the began to transform into a more modern cultural gathering place for the young students and hippies in the area.
It was at this time that the West Bank developed into the bustling countercultural hub that is documented in Cyn Collins’ book, West Bank Boogie. Venues like the Cafe Extemporé, New Riverside Cafe, the Triangle Bar, and the Viking were hosting shows by popular young blues and folk artists, and soon Dania Hall was also putting on psychedelic rock shows by bands like T.C. Atlantic and the Paisleys.
But in its later years, Dania Hall encountered a series of problems. The fire marshall declared that the auditorium inside Dania Hall was unfit for events because of a lack of fire exits, but the building had already been declared a historic landmark, making renovations difficult. The auditorium sat dorment for several years, and in 1991 the building caught fire, sustaining serious damage.
“Will Dania Hall’s fire spark its rescue?” a preservation activist wondered that year, speculating that the fire could have been prevented if the building wasn’t in such a state of neglect. A debate raged on for nearly a decade about what to do with Dania Hall, and plans for a serious renovation were underway in 2000 when another fire struck the building, this time leaving it in ruins. The four-alarm fire devoured the 114-year-old building on February 28, 2000. The cause of the fire was later determined to be a discarded cigarette.
A pillar was constructed at the site of Dania Hall in 2001, and most of the lot still sits vacant, awaiting possible reconstruction. The City of Minneapolis was soliciting development plans for the site as recently as 2010, but as of yet the future of 427 Cedar Avenue remains unknown.