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Rochester, MN (KROC AM News) - The planned demolition of two old downtown Rochester buildings has run into a possible roadblock - a Red Owl roadblock.

The city is the current owner of the two buildings located on 4th St SE on the west side of the Zumbro River and had hoped to clear the site for future development.

But those plans may be put on hold - perhaps permanently.

The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission has designated the former Legends/Labor Temple property as a potential landmark. The designation is being pursued by Rochester preservationist Kevin Lund, also a district court judge. He is seeking more time to collect the information needed to meet the requirements of a landmark designation, which could protect the buildings from demolition.

Two of the major reasons given for the historic nature of the property are a Mayo Clinic connection and the origins of the Red Owl grocery store chain.

City of Rochester information
City of Rochester information

Information submitted to the City Council for its consideration indicates the Red Owl grocery store chain began as one store in Rochester. It was actually one of two attached buildings that were constructed in the 1930s. The Red Owl store was on the west side and the former Time Theater was on the east side.

The documentation indicates a relationship between Dr. William J. Mayo and the head of General Mills, which developed the Red Owl chain. The property was also linked to the Mayo Clinic:

"While documentation indicates that the first Red Owl store was established in 1922 on this same block, the history of how and when the brand was acquired or established by General Mills or its affiliated investment firm has not been identified. The connection between the old Mill and General Mills and the grocery store, having started here in Rochester is intriguing. So too is the relationship between Dr. Will Mayo and James Ford Bell, President and then Chairmen of General Mills over this period of time.

The building attached to the east side of the Red Owl was constructed between 1935 and 1937 as the Time Theater. The property on which the two buildings were constructed, was initially platted as part of the “Mill Reservation” in 1857 in Moe & Oldes Addition to the City of Rochester. The Mill, which was already in operation by the time platting occurred in 1857, would continue in operation, under different names and ownership, into the 1950’s. In 1930, the Rochester Milling Company transferred ownership of to the Mayo Property Association (predecessor to the Mayo Foundation). Within a few years, the City would gain interest in portions of the property. The mill would be leased to General Mills Farms Services Division starting in the 1930’s, an arrangement that would last for decades. The Time Theater was operated by Minnesota Amusement Company, who leased the building from the Mayo Property Association. Communications between James Ford Bell, President of General Mills and Dr. William J Mayo, indicate a shared interest in philanthropy and in the economic issues revolving around wheat farming and milling of the early 1920’s. These different pieces of information show a convergence of activity, at the riverfront site in Rochester which are related to historic significance at both local and state levels. Documentation as to how these pieces fit together and the level of significance has not yet been uncovered."


The council is being asked to approve Lund’s request at its Monday meeting.

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