The Gathering Place
Dania Hall was the cultural and entertainment center of Cedar-Riverside for almost 100 years. It was built by Society Dania, a fraternal organization organized in 1875 to help young Danes coming to America. By 1885 it had raised funds to purchase a lot and Dania Hall was completed in 1886. The dedication ceremony was an elaborate affair, including singing and a march down Cedar Avenue and Washington Avenue to the Union Depot and back again. Speeches were given by Scandinavian community leaders and the mayor of Minneapolis.
Norwegian architect, Carl F. Struck, designed the building for multiple uses: The top two floors were a theater and dance floor surrounded by a horseshoe balcony, the first floor had meeting rooms, a bar and retail spaces, and the basement included offices, a dining hall and a barbershop. Dania Hall quickly became a popular place for dances, weddings, cultural events, and get-togethers for multiple Scandinavian communities. It hosted plays, concerts and lectures and became known as the home of Swedish American vaudeville. Dania was one of five theaters in the area (including the Southern Theater, Normmanna Hall and Mozart Hall) that catered to Scandinavian communities and helped make it an entertainment district.
As older immigrant groups moved out of Cedar-Riverside, Dania Hall remained a popular place to hang out. Phil Richter established a pharmacy there in 1948, and in 1963 bought the building from Society Dania. He kept the top two floors open for community use. In the 1960s and 1970s, hippies and countercultural groups gathered here for dances, community meetings and (sometimes) a toke or two. Suburbanites would drive into town to see Cedar-Riverside’s new residents hanging around outside Richter’s pharmacy.
Dania Hall was saved from the wrecking ball during the urban redevelopment of the 1970s. The Danish American Fellowship, the Minnesota Historical Society and neighborhood preservation activists helped get it on the National Register for Historic Places in 1974, which helped keep it from being demolished by its new owners, Cedar Riverside Associates. However, CRA refused to maintain the building and let it fall into decline. The Hall failed to meet new building codes and was left unused for several years. In 1991, a fire severely damaged the building. Restoration efforts were underway, thanks to a Neighborhood Revitalization Project grant, but right before it was finished, another fire burned Dania Hall to the ground.
The Dania Hall pillar was a community art project that was built in its memory. Its tiles reflect the many communities that were served by this extraordinary cultural space.
The memories of Dania Hall are part of Cedar-Riverside’s history. If you listen closely you might still be able to hear the fiddle play “Nikolina,” one of the most popular Swedish-American songs of the early 20th century.