I hate to see old buildings torn down — especially this one.

On Thursday and Friday, they tore down what was left of the building that used to house Heidi’s Restaurant, the Blackbird Cafe and the Patina and Shoppe Local gift stores. Now there’s just a big hole.

Big hole where some terrific neighborhood businesses used to be (photo by Steve Date)

On my way home from work on February 18th, I heard on the radio that there was a fire at a popular restaurant and surrounding businesses in my neighborhood. The odor hit me when I was still a couple of miles away. It was a sickly smell of things that shouldn’t be burning.

The front facade of the brick building was still standing after the fire trucks left. While we knew the insides of all the businesses were lost, most of us hoped that the building’s front and side walls could be saved and that the restaurants and stores could eventually move back in to their old spaces. Even when the Blackbird announced a couple of months ago that it would reopen at a new location on 38th and Nicollet, I still held onto some hope that the building could be reused.

But it was apparently too far gone.

Firefighters try to save Heidi's and the Blackbird (photo by Kate NG Sommers for Heavy Table)

From a similar vantage point yesterday (photo by Steve Date)

The fire was a blow to the Minneapolis restaurant scene. Heidi’s had developed a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the Twin Cities and The Blackbird was a wonderful neighborhood place that was full of tender loving care and served fantastic food.

But the loss of this block was like a death in the family to the people in the neighborhood. The building itself was not architecturally noteworthy, but it represented one of the little neighborhood business corners that developed in the early 20th century along the old street car lines in the Twin Cities. James Lileks of the StarTribune wrote a nice, nostalgic column about the building shortly after the fire. It was, he wrote, “… a building full of secret stories, the sort of place you only find in places that have been inhabited for a hundred years or so. The one we lost was just a one-story brick block. We have many. We have spares. So?
Well, it was ours.”

The corner occupied by the Patina gift store was originally a drug store. It has gone through several incarnations and was an antique store before Patina bought it and began the transformation of the block. Over the past two decades this block had turned into a truly great urban residential small business area. The neighborhood was thankful it was there — and proud of it.

Firefighters worked all afternoon trying to stop the fire (Photo by Kate NG Sommers for Heavy Table)

From a similar angle this weekend. The Malt Shop next door escaped damage (photo by Steve Date)

I held out hope that something of the old building could be saved. I had heard in recent weeks that they were going to have to tear it down, but I didn’t want to believe it until I ran by on Friday and the big hole took me by surprise.

I’m still hoping that some of the businesses rebuild there and I hope the new building looks good and fits into the neighborhood.

Of course, life goes on and “things fall apart”. But the big hole makes me sad, because you can’t build an old building.

I used a couple of photos by Kate NG Sommers who did some great reporting and photography for Heavy Table during and after the fire. Please read her stories and look at the other fantastic photos she shot.

My daughter, Lauren, also did a nice blog post about it right after the fire.