Riverside Building | Rochester, MN

My love affair with the historic Riverside Building began in 2005 when I moved to Rochester, MN and started working for an architecture and engineering firm located on the top floor.  Over the course of 7 years I worked on that top floor for two different organizations.  I participated and oversaw three different renovations and became intimately familiar with the interior and exterior.  All the while I remained curious as to the origins, and history of the building.  I would view images such as the one below and look in detail at the building to see what was different and imagine how it may have evolved.

Rochester ca. 1936

Fast forward to today, and I am no longer working inside the building, but have the opportunity to work for a client fitting out a part of the building.  The client, Limb Lab, is going to do great things, but I wanted to take a step back and provide some historical context to this wonderful historical asset in our downtown.

It all began in 1917.

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

The original building was constructed by the Olmsted County Co-Operative Association during 1917-1918.  The 2-story building (that's right only 2 stories not including the Basement) functioned with a primary entrance at the corner of Broadway and College Street (4th Street today).  There were other secondary entrances for smaller retail commercial space along both streets and canvas retractable awnings for each bay along Broadway.  It was a state of the art building for that time and as is shown in the first aerial photo, abutted the lush river bed of the Zumbro River and railroad lines to the east.  

A decade or so later (1927) the building was used as a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership, presumably with wide open showroom floors and brand new automobiles lining the storefront.  During the 1930s the top floor was used as a roller rink and later in 1942 the Mayo Foundation had offices somewhere in the building.  

Attached to the south side of the building there is still a quirky little addition that is not a part of the building envelope, but housed the Zumbro Tavern known as the "Bloody Bucket," a reference to the meat packing process that was a part of the railroad traffic passing along the east.  

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

Around 1945 (hard to know exactly how much earlier) the photos depict an evolution prompted by the ubiquity of the automobile.  Lots of signage and articulated businesses including Nelson Tire repair and service shop filled the ground floor with activity.  There was even an overhead garage door off Broadway.  The billboard high atop the corner feels at odds with the classical style of the building during what was a tumultuous time for architecture, stylistically speaking.    

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

But finally in 1948, the building found a long term tenant that used the wide open floor plan and relatively column free interior space for a single purpose.  Orlen Ross Furniture was the main occupant from 1948 until 1978, still sporting the corner entrance on 4th and Broadway.

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

That brings us to the point of drastic change for the building as a new development transformed the main structure and smaller adjacent building into "a unique collection of shops and restaurants" and labeled it Riverside for the first time.  This development was spearheaded by a local activist and historical preservationist who lobbied City Council for funds to renovate the entire structure to the tune of $1.6 Million.  This overhaul added the mezzanine level and brought about a renaissance for the building after the construction that spanned 1979-1981.  Boutique coffee and tea shops as well as leather goods could all be found on the ground floor now that the corner entrance was removed and an interior atrium replete with sawtooth skylights became the primary entrance. 

copyright: The History Center of Olmsted County

For more classic postcard images of a Rochester past, check out this site.