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Downtown Hastings: A storied past

The Meyer Building was built in 1863. An opera hall was built on the top floor in 1877. Michelle Wirth / RiverTown Multimedia

If walls could talk, there sure would be lots of stories coming from the buildings in downtown Hastings. Many of the shops and businesses are located in historic buildings; some date to the 1800s.

Over the years ownership has changed, businesses have come and gone and renovations have taken place. Some of the spaces inside may have been originally built for one purpose, that may not be the case today. This week, the Hastings Star Gazette took a look at some stories within the walls of a few historic buildings.

The opera house

The Meyer Building, located at 117 E. Second St., was built in 1863. It was owned by George Newman and W.D. French, who sold his share of the building to Charles Strauss in 1865. Strauss bought out Newman in 1870.

By 1877, Strauss decided to start work on a first-class opera hall to be called the Strauss Music Hall. It was to have a large slanting stage, roomy gallery, fine scenery and the best of seating accommodations. The hall was said to have one of the finest dancing floors in the northwest at that time.

Strauss Music Hall opened with a grand ball featuring Shades String Band. Tickets were $1.

In 1982, local resident Joseph Schneider shared memories in an interview with the Hastings Star Gazette. He was 94 years old at the time. He recalled a grand stairway leading up to the Strauss Music Hall, which was "the praise of the town at one time," he said. He remembered playing on the stage as a young boy. However, the grand staircase was removed years ago to make room for more retail space and offices

Today, the opera hall that once hosted lively events looks more like an attic. The former windows are covered up, but some remnants of its former use are apparent. There is still ornate trim along the walls and what is left of a stage. Writing on the walls near the stage suggest names of the people who frequented the space in the past.

The bank vault

The building 111 E. Third St. is currently the home of BreakAway Arts. Michelle Wirth / RiverTown MultimediaThe building at located at 111 E. Third St. has a rich history. BreakAway Arts is the most recent business to utilize its space, but it was originally intended to be used a bank.

The building was built in 1956 as the home of the Hastings National Bank.

The bank changed its name in 1962 to Northwestern National Bank of Hastings. It was the second name change. From 1882, when the bank was organized, until World War I, it was known as the German-American Bank.

Some remnants of the bank are left in the arts studio on the lower level with an old vault now acting as a storage closet. The ornate features of the vault are still clearly visible in the detail of the doors.

The boxing ring

There is more to the building at 100 Sibley St. than meets the eye. It may be the current home of the Onion Grille, but it has a varied past. The structure was built around 1917 after Lloyd P. Kingston purchased the lot and rebuilt in brick the structure already there. Over the years, the building has been transformed into restaurants, a clothing store, florist, City Hall and an auto shop.

The Onion Grille has an old boxing ring in the basement. Michelle Wirth / RiverTown MultimediaIn 1955, the local Eagles bought the building. It was during the fraternal organization's ownership that the Eagles formed a partnership with the VFWs boxing program—Hastings Golden Gloves. The boxing program was allowed to use the space in the basement for free. In 1960, the team won the Upper Midwest State Golden Gloves Championship.

When Wendy Agen purchased the building in 2011, she found historic items including the original ropes from the old boxing ring. She re-installed the ropes and set up the old chairs around the ring that would have been used to watch the athletes. The re-creation pays homage to a sliver of history at 100 Sibley St.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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