Preserving music at historic White Castle

historic White Castle building
A historic White Castle building on Lyndale Avenue, most recently home to an antique store, will soon host a nonprofit dedicated to archiving the music of Minnesota artists. Photo by Becca Most

On the corner of 33rd & Lyndale, the historic White Castle building still boasts of 5-cent hamburgers though the smell of sliders has been absent for decades.

White Castle Building No. 8 is one of the few portable buildings owned by the burger chain. It sat on the University of Minnesota campus until 1936. After being moved to different locations around the city, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and it has been preserved at its current location since 1984.

The building was most recently home to an antique shop called Xcentric Goods. With the shop’s owners now easing into retirement, the White Castle will soon have a new tenant with a musical mission.

Starting in October, a local nonprofit called the Diverse Emerging Music Organization (DEMO) will use the space to archive and share music from Minnesota artists of all styles and persuasions.

“It’s a unique place [that will] draw attention to the unique thing about Minneapolis, which is our local music scene,” said Ted Martin, who chairs DEMO’s board.

DEMO plans to use the site to store and archive its collection of everything from digital files to CDs to vinyl records. At the White Castle, people will be able to drop off local music to be archived or drop in to listen to music or convert their records into digital files.

Eventually the nonprofit plans to create an online site streaming local music, though some logistic hurdles involving distribution of royalties remain.

Stephen McClellan, a promoter who founded the nonprofit in 1999, said it’s hard to read obituaries of artists he’s worked with over the course of his five-decade career and see their achievements insufficiently acknowledged.

“We don’t need to be doing this archive project for Prince, for The Replacements,” he said. “I’m just thinking of the huge number of musicians who will fall between the cracks when they leave the music scene or will never get recognized.”

Originally founded as a nonprofit extension of First Avenue that gave local musicians a platform to perform, DEMO has since hosted industry panels, run education programs and offered internships to students wanting to join the business.

McClellan said he’s excited about moving the nonprofit into a new space, though he is apprehensive of the logistics of opening an archival project during a pandemic. (DEMO was kicked out of a space in Seward in 2017 when its building was sold and converted into a charter school.)

A major component of the music project will be collecting metadata, which includes the names, dates, song titles, album art and other identifiable information listed on music releases. By collecting this information, the team wants to create a genealogy program that tracks band lineage, much like a family tree. That can help listeners discover new music and document the influence of smaller bands on different genres.

“If the music can be listened to, their musical legacy [will live] on forever,” said Seth Peter, a board member of DEMO working on the project.

The White Castle building has hosted a number of other tenants, including a jewelry store and a construction company. Although commercial zoning rules are flexible about business type, owner Pat Fitzgerald wrote in an email that “out of respect and covenant for the White Castle brand, there can be no burgers, booze or porn.”

Diverse Emerging Music Organization

3252 Lyndale Ave S.