NEW ULM — In the late 19th century the Union Hotel in New Ulm temporarily housed travelers. Today, as The Grand, it temporarily houses artists and their works for the benefit of New Ulm.
The first structure built on the site in 1856 by German immigrant Phillipp Gross was called the Minnesota Haus. A two-story wood frame building, it burned in 1860, and was rebuilt as the Union Hotel, according to its registration form for the New Ulm Heritage Preservation Commission.
At first it was the only building offering housing to visitors. It would become a focal point of activity, including being one of two hotels to serve as a hospital during the US-Dakota War.
After the war, New Ulm grew in commercial activity to become a regional center for agricultural products, according to the registration form.
The Union burned down again on July 4, 1875. Gross went on to rebuild it as a two story brick building in January of 1876.
The new building was constructed in the Italianate architectural style. It is significant as the oldest and most historically unaltered exterior in New Ulm and most of southern Minnesota.
Gross continued to own it until his death in 1895. In 1885 he turned the management of the property over to his step granddaughter’s husband Wenzel Schotzko.
A Mr. Manderfeld purchased the hotel at the turn of the century, renaming it the Grand Hotel, Founding Director of the Grand Anne Makepeace said.
“It had been run as a hotel and he continued to run it as a hotel but he bought it in 1899 and then he decided to add that third story you see up here and renovate the downstairs,” Makepeace, a descendant of Gross, said.
This was when the name was changed to the Grand Hotel. The plumbing and lighting fixtures were upgraded and a one story brick addition was added to the rear, which would be the last major external change done to the Grand.
In the registration, it is conjectured that the changes were in part due to competition from two additional hotels.
Even though the Grand was able to boast the first neon sign in New Ulm in the 1930’s it began to lag behind the other two hotels in the early twentieth century Makepeace said, due to having only one washroom per floor and one shower in the entire building.
“That is why by the ’40’s and ’50’s the building became more of a transient hotel instead of a nicer hotel, because people wanted to start having their own restroom in their room and we did not have that,” Makepeace said.
From the mid-20th century to the 1970’s the first floor of the building was divided into rentals for apartments and businesses.
“I mean they just pretty much carved it up,” Makepeace said. “In fact what is now the kitchen was actually an apartment at that time. What are the handicap accessible bathrooms were actually another apartment, it was just carved up in all different ways.”
The next major change to the Grand was when radio station KNUJ moved into the second floor in 1987.
At that time the Gag family owned the building an primarily rented it out for commercial space. The only major renovation was a metal grid added to the roof for KNUJ’s satellite dishes, General Manager Jim Bartels said.
In 2000 Makepeace purchased the building. She started some renovations to it in 2002 and 2003, Makepeace said.
It was not until 2008-’09 that the major renovations for the building were planned, around the time the Grand Center for Arts and Culture became a nonprofit.
“We are officially a nonprofit as of December 2009,” Makepeace said. “So once we got our nonprofit status we went out to the community and tried to raise funds to help us renovate it.”
Around this time was when Makepeace and company came to the idea for what would become the 4 Pillars Art Gallery.
“Then on the second floor I said ‘okay what are we going to do when the radio station moves out? Then we have two more floors and what should we do with this?’ and we wanted it to be some kind of nonprofit purpose,” Makepeace said. “So I guess logically we thought there is really no downtown art center, there is no art center or destination here in town.”
Makepeace hired an intern and began to do research on what was needed to make an art gallery. They had been displaying some artwork in what was at the time a tea room, but wanted something more.
The full renovation took place in 2010-’11. during that, the first floor was returned to approximately its original state and the second and third floors were turned into space for artists to work.
Makepeace still considers the Grand a fledgling operation and hopes to expand what services it offers.
Particularly the basement, which maintains much of the original stonework.
“Downstairs we have tons of room down there,” Makepeace said. “So we could have kilns down there, we could have a ceramics program, we could have a print studio.”
Currently the Grand offers art, recording and music studios for rent. There is also a space for an in-resident artist, which is expected to house a composer soon.
They are also looking for a restauranteur to move in downstairs. The Grand would like someone to assist in hosting their regular live music shows.
For more information on the Grand, classes offered there or to rent space contact the office at (507) 359-9222 or email email@example.com. Regular updates on line-ups and classes can be found at thegrandnewulm.com.
Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.