Union Block | Rochester, MN

When favorite local eatery Sontes shutters its doors in a few days, there will be much change occurring within one of downtown Rochester's oldest buildings.  The Union Block as it was first known was constructed originally in 1866 (pictured below) for the Union National Bank.  The architect of the original 82' by 90' structure was Mr. Oscar Cobb. 

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

The building was opulent and stately with lots of individual storefronts lining Broadway.  And the quote below from the local newspaper at that time is indicative of the impact this building was to have on the community: 

This block occupies one of the best business locations in the city, as is shown by the fact that nearly all the rooms are already engaged by some of our best business men, and when finished according to plans, will be not only an ornament to the city, but will reflect much credit on the liberal and enterprising properties.
— Rochester Post (page 3, column 3) 9-21-1867

Nothing lasts forever, as they say, and after the turn of the new century, design sensibilities changed as the entire world passed through the "modernsim" era.  The structure was kept intact, but was given a major facelift.  The below image from the 1930s proves that a small remnant of that original Union Block was kept (see far left of the image) but the majority of the frontage transformed to become the simplified tripartite brick masonry facade of the Union National Bank.  UNB was a staple in the community for decades with many illustrious figures from Rochester's past participating on the board.  The initial organizers of the bank were Daniels, Clark, Olds, and Smith, but even Doctor Christopher Graham (of Mayo Clinic and Graham Park fame) was the board chairman in 1939.

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

Much of the interior historical elements remain today from the steel and concrete 17" thick walls of the bank vault (Baement, 1st and 2nd Floors); to the classic expressed post and beam structure with dentals that accent the vaulted ceiling of the 1st Floor; to the array of classic offices that line the perimeter of the 2nd Floor.  Vestiges also remain in the Basement of a time when coal was slid down into the boiler room from 3rd Street SW via large chutes.  

But alas time has changed more than has remained.  The entrance that used to exist on Broadway was eliminated long ago and the last bastion of historic architecture of the Union Block on the south end of the building was removed and simplified.  Later in the century, the 1st Floor became Wong's Cafe (in fact many older generation still remember this corner as Wong's) and the images below show the all too common postmodern design effort to cover the detail and unique qualities with vehicular oriented signage.  

Wong's remodeling in 1983

Wong's remodeling in 1983

But there is new hope.  

The crew of Grand Rounds Brewpub and 9.SQUARE | Community Design is endeavoring to refresh the interior and bring a new era of prosperity to Union Block.  Early in 2015 there will be the smell of freshly brewed beer and local sourced food hitting the tables because as Jane Jacobs said, "new ideas need old buildings."