A Saloon with Heart and Soul:
Hi, my name is Tom Schroeder, and I live in St. Paul, Minnesota with my wife Ann and three daughters. In 2008 we went out on a limb and bought this amazing little limestone building near our house to save it from demolition. We soon learned it’s St. Paul’s oldest commercial building, and before the Civil War, it was a German lager beer saloon. (What’s that? Well, keep reading!)
For the past 9 years we’ve worked our hearts out restoring the building and learning about the beers and foods it originally served. Now—154 years after the saloon mysteriously closed—we’re almost ready to re-open it again as “Waldmann,” a brewery, lager house and wurstery named after its original proprietor, Anthony Waldmann.
Beginning this fall, you’ll be able to come in and enjoy a classic Pre-Prohibition pilsner or dunkel brewed on site, paired with German-inspired locally sourced foods, while sitting on period furniture, next to real woodstoves and by lamplight. And just to make sure our vision never strays, I’ve organized Waldmann as a public benefit corporation. Our mission is not just to preserve a building, but to invite you into its history, to be a part of a warm and vibrant community that welcomes all and values their stories—in other words, to be a saloon with a heart and soul!
We’ve lived here in Uppertown, St. Paul for 26 years. It’s a proud, working-class neighborhood—one of the oldest in the City, filled with humble historic buildings, some of which have seen better days. One such building was a mysterious little limestone “house” a block away from my family’s house. It had been vacant for several years and was headed for demolition, but we thought it deserved a better fate—even before we knew what it originally was.
After buying this little fortress, I did what any history geek would do: I went to the library. I eventually learned that a German immigrant named Anthony Waldmann once ran a “lager beer saloon” in the building starting in 1857, but it closed for unknown reasons around 1863. The Germans had just brought lager beer to America and lager saloons spread like wildfire across the country, including all the way to Territorial Minnesota. I know a couple of archeologists, and together with some neighbors we dug almost as much information from the ground as I did from the library, finding Civil War saloon pipes, beer tokens and even Waldmann’s original brass stencil for marking barrels.
… and the answer is: BEER
So now it’s about 2012 and I owned a derelict building with a pretty interesting history, but what to do with it? Then it hit me: maybe beer—specifically, the income from a brewery—could help fund the preservation of the building, and in the process inspire others to appreciate the diamonds-in-the-rough in their communities.
So I formed Waldmann. I incorporated as a public benefit corporation, with a mission to give people the chance to experience first-hand a pre-Civil War German-American lager beer saloon—in a glass, on a plate, and in the sights and sounds of this humble but unique building. What’s a “public benefit corporation”? It’s a new form of corporation in Minnesota (and several other states) that allows organizations other than nonprofits to put public service before profits—while still being able to make a profit consistent with their mission. Every year we report to the Minnesota Secretary of State on how we’ve accomplished our mission, in measurable ways. For example, even before we’ve opened, we’ve sponsored numerous educational tours, two nonprofit fundraisers, three public archeology events, advocated to preserve several neighboring buildings, and hosted several community gatherings—all without charge. In the future, Waldmann will continue to provide tours, presentations, preservation advocacy, a venue for meetings and events, outreach to area schools and community groups, host musicians and other special gatherings, and routinely provide information and access to anyone interested in the building’s unique history and architecture.
After a lot more research, writing and public hearings we were able to convince the City of St. Paul to designate the building as an official historic site. In fact, we did the same for four other pioneer-era limestone buildings in the neighborhood, all of which are now protected. When the City later enacted a new Historic Use Variance ordinance (inspired by our project) we got the zoning we needed to re-open as a lager house. One of our most eloquent supporters was a then-5 year old boy across the street named Lochlan Swanson, who strode up to the microphone in City Hall to read from this letter. Ever since then, we’ve been working hard to restore the building and complete a new, barn-like addition in the back to house our kitchen and brewery equipment.
Our dream is that someday soon you’ll be able to pull up a steamboat chair at Waldmann in front of one of our wood stoves, and enjoy a classic German-American lager brewed on site as you check the chalkboard for a hearty bite to go with it. We’ve designed a small wurstery kitchen for preparing freshly made sausages, heritage wheat pretzels, hearty soups and what we call “limestone potatoes” roasted under a slab of Platteville bedrock—all using locally sourced ingredients. Waldmann’s journeyman chef and butcher is as passionate about non-clichéd German/American cooking as our Head Brewer is about brewing old world lagers.
From Waldmann’s hand-hewn woodwork to its period lighting, framed maps and engravings—every detail will show the care and craftsmanship at the soul of this restored pre-Civil War original. But whether or not you’re drawn in by Waldmann’s history, you’ll feel a warm welcome when you step inside—because it’s real!
Revitalizing a historically-listed 160-year old building into a brewery and restaurant that meets modern codes is expensive. The building is solid limestone, sitting on bedrock, subject to historic design restrictions and on a city lot so small that we had to build steel scaffolding to stack our lagering tanks on top of our brew house. We’ve restored the exterior, and we’ve paid for the steel scaffolding in the brew barn, new water and sewer lines, fire suppression and energy code upgrades. Now we need help with the most important part of this project: restoring the historic interior.
How you can help:
We’ve tallied up $45,000 in additional restoration work that needs to be done on the inside—painstaking, meticulous work that no “normal” brewery/restaurant would face and no bank will fund. Like stripping, repairing and re-installing the original 1850s woodwork, patching and re-laying the wide-pine flooring, building five mortice and tenon doors to match the two original ones that survive, milling replacement picture- and chair-rails long-since lost from the building, and building a new, code-compliant stairway to make Waldmann’s second-story rooms more accessible—including the meeting room we’re making available for neighborhood meetings and nonprofits. We’re using all local woodworkers, carpenter-craftsmen, plasterers and painters, and their hearts are in this—but we, and they, need your help.
A call to action:
In 1857, Waldmann was a vibrant community watering hole and that’s what we intend to create in 2017. Even more, with your help, Waldmann may inspire others to improve their communities, leveraging our common history to forge timeless connections. It’s certainly inspired Lochlan, who’s now 8 and living in Seattle—and anxious to return for our opening! (See video). With your help, we can make Waldmann Brewery and Wurstery a reality!
Want to Know More? Read on!
... ok, about that Lager Beer Saloon history:
German lager beer took Minnesota Territory by storm in the late 1850s. First introduced to this country in 1848, lager beer became immediately popular with Americans who had never seen any beer other than the dark, heavy ales brewed by New England Yankees. By the time Waldmann’s original saloon was built, the lager beer craze was at its height. Saint Paul had twelve breweries, ten of which brewed only lagers. And city ordinances granted special treatment to lager beer saloons by licensing them separately from all other saloons, applying lower licensing fees and exempting them from saloon bonding requirements.
This special treatment was thanks in part to the fact that German lager beer saloons were different from Yankee saloons, which served mainly hard liquor. German lager saloons served beer almost exclusively, and offered a variety of foods, musical events, and often political debates and other forms of entertainment. For these reasons, lager beer saloons gained the reputation of being more family-friendly and community-oriented. Just like we plan to be today!
... the building, and our restoration vision:
The building housing Waldmann was built in the fall of 1857—six months before Minnesota became a state, nearly four years before the Civil War began, and at a time when fewer than 10,000 people lived in the Saint Paul. It is the oldest surviving commercial building in the Twin Cities. Its rich history and unique solid limestone construction compelled the City of St. Paul to designate it a Heritage Preservation Site in 2015.
Waldmann’s interior restoration includes wood stoves, virgin pinewood floors, hand-blown glass windows, more than forty 19th century steamboat chairs, period saloon tables, whale oil lamps (burning liquid paraffin) and walls crowded with historic maps, photographs, Civil War recruitment posters, an enormous buffalo head, period wall clocks and other memorabilia. All the same, this is not a museum, and you'll feel just at home at Waldmann as you would at your own kitchen table--that is, if you had really cool things in your kitchen like maps, buffaloes and Civil war recruitment posters. But you know what we mean.
Thanks for supporting Waldmann!
Risks and challenges
There’s a risk to any start-up business. But our Head Brewer has many years of experience, we have our TTB Brewer’s Notice in hand, our brewhouse and tanks arrive in May and we’re staffing up for a fall opening. I’ve gone through 11 public hearings and worked 9 years to get to this point, so unless the place is hit by an intergalactic asteroid—and Waldmann’s stone walls might survive even that—we’re opening our doors this fall!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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