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Fire destroys historic Lester Prairie building
Sept. 26, 2013

By Ivan Raconteur

LESTER PRAIRIE, MN – The building in block 12, lots 10 and 11 along Central Avenue in downtown Lester Prairie was vacant when it was destroyed by fire last Monday, but it was home to numerous businesses during its 117-year history.

Lester Prairie Police Chief Bob Carlson, who is also the city’s emergency manager, said the fire began at 1:40 p.m.

When Carlson arrived on the scene, he observed smoke coming from the building’s windows and doors, and flames visible under the door on the Central Avenue side of the building.

Carlson said he called firefighters, who had already been paged, and told them this was going to be “a big fire.”

Fire departments from six cities battled the blaze, including Lester Prairie, Winsted, New Germany, Glencoe, Silver Lake, and Plato.

Carlson said the fire department also called Ridgeview Ambulance in case there were any injuries. He noted Lester Prairie Police Department received assistance from Winsted Police Department and the McLeod County Sheriff’s Office.

Carlson said the business space on the first floor was vacant. There was an apartment on the second floor, but Carlson said no one was in the building at the time of the fire.

Carlson said Litzau Excavating of Lester Prairie was called to move the debris away from an adjacent building, which houses a fitness center on the ground floor and apartments above.

He expressed appreciation to residents who brought water and food for the firefighters.

Carlson announced Thursday morning that, according to Deputy State Fire Marshal Ron Rahman, the cause of the fire was definitely not arson. Rahman has classified the cause as “accidental undetermined.”

Lester Prairie Fire Chief Jim Hoof said the operation went very well.

“It couldn’t have gone any better than it did,” Hoof noted, explaining that the departments from local cities train together, and everyone gets the same training. This helps everything run smoothly when they are working at a scene together.

“It was a good stop,” Hoof said. “I’m glad we stopped it where we did, because if it had got into that old hardware store building, there would have been no stopping it until it got to the gap between there and the bank. It would have burned as fast as this one did.”

Hoof said everyone involved worked well together, and, in addition to the agencies mentioned above, Lester Prairie city maintenance workers Greg Mueller and Adam Birkholz helped at the scene.

A rich history

According to the history book, “Lester Prairie Community 1886-1986,” the building was constructed about 1896.

It was home to the State Bank of Lester Prairie until 1915.

From 1896 to 1916, Ovette L. Day ran a confectionery business in the building, selling groceries, ice cream, soda water, cigars, and tobacco.

Starting in 1915, Max Schiff, a Russian immigrant, ran a general merchandise store in the building.

On May 11, 1900, the city’s first telephone switchboard was installed in the building.

The family that lived upstairs took care of operating the switchboard.

Residents were not to make any calls after 9 p.m. except in emergency situations, because family members had to run downstairs to operate the switchboard.

In 1908, the J.J. Birkebak Jewelry Store opened in the building.

S. Lutsky opened a mercantile in the building in 1921.

The structure was damaged by fire in December 1921.

Abe Stone purchased the damaged building from Jacob Koerschen for $1,800, and opened a mercantile.

In 1932, Irvin Emich opened a soft drink parlor. Martin Brandenburg purchased the business in 1933.

From 1935 to 1937, attorneys George and Edgar Young occupied the building.

In May 1937, Mrs. Everett Ernst opened The Fashionette, a ladies’ apparel business.

The Lois Ernst Beauty Salon and the Alice Smith Beauty Salon occupied the building in 1937.

In September 1939, Mayer & Stolp, a ready-to-wear and millinery shop managed by Malonie Olson, opened.

The Olson Dress Shop, owned by Malonie Olson, occupied the space from September 1939 to November 1942.

The Otto Schneider Barber Shop opened in January 1940, and in June of that year, Otto Schneider & Family opened a lunchroom, which they operated until October 1942, when they closed both businesses and moved to California to work in the defense plants during World War II.

Robert and Myrtle Ernst purchased the building in 1945 and completely remodeled the interior. They also renovated the front of the exterior and opened Bob’s Cafe.

A partition separated the bar and restaurant, with an archway between the rooms. A large kitchen and spacious booths were installed.

In 1946, Leo Scherber and Walter Misek purchased the business and opened Leo & Walt’s Cafe.

In 1947, Scherber sold his interest in the business to Joseph Czech.

The name was changed to the Walter Misek Cafe in 1949, and it was sold to Richard and Marie Peterson in 1953.

In 1956, Orland and Mavis Kruschke operated a business in the building.

David Kopischke and Wallace Kempfert operated a business in 1961, followed by Belvin Kempfert and Arvid Ortlip in 1963.

In 1965, Desmond Doyle operated a business, and in May 1968, Mel and Betty Milbrett opened a business.

A 48-by-46-foot addition was built at the back of the building in 1979. A large meeting and game room was added in the basement, a new bar room was added, and the kitchen was remodeled.

In September 1984, Jim and Mauna Sorenson opened The Final Approach.

Since that time, Joel Zellman operated a business called the Stumble In during the late 1980s.

Other businesses have included the Steakout, Past Times, Jonio’s, Scooters, and most recently, Cents Pizza.

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