Discover somewhere new — just for today

To see a photo of the house from the 1940s, visit Credit: Photo by Linda Koutsky

Washburn mansion
2218 1st Ave. S., Minneapolis

Keep an open mind. That’s what I tell myself as I look for new destinations for the Weekend Tourist. You never know what you’ll find if you’re open to something different.

Recently I heard about an organization in a historic building that was raising funds for restoration work. I found them on Give to the Max Day’s website and was surprised I hadn’t heard of them before having driven by the place on 1st Avenue near the Institute of Arts probably a million times. So I decided to donate some money then find out more about them. Let it begin with me.

Last week I convinced a friend to stop in with me. As we drove through the neighborhood it was easy to see why this house was part of a historic district. Homes in the Washburn-Fair Oaks Historic District were opulent and designed by prominent architects for city founders. Most of these have now been converted into offices, nonprofit organizations or museums.

John Washburn (1858–1919) was a member of the esteemed Washburn family that among numerous other endeavors co-founded Washburn-Crosby Company, predecessor of General Mills. Washburn built his home in 1887. It was designed by local firm William Channing Whitney who designed the Governor’s Mansion, the Handicraft Guild, and many high society residences.

After crossing the wide veranda we went inside and were welcomed at the front desk. Guests were allowed on the first floor but upstairs rooms were reserved for meetings. We had entered the oldest continuously operating Alano Club in a single location in the world.

Alano Clubs are permanent meeting places for AA and other addiction recovery groups as well as Al Anon groups. Minnesota has legendary status in the recovery business and this place is another example. While the club has actual members anyone is allowed to attend certain meetings or just hang out in the building. It’s a safe gathering place for newcomers or people with many years of sobriety. The vast living room has plenty of sitting areas and furniture and built-in bookshelves stocked with donated books. A giant photo of Dr. Bob, founder of AA, hangs in the same room in which the photo was taken many years ago.

The dining room’s beautiful wood paneling is still intact, as are many of the building’s original features. For the past year, “Dave the Pie Guy” runs the small restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner for great prices. But as you can imagine, save room for pie! Dave bakes pies for several other restaurants in town and last year won Best Pie in America at the American Pie Council’s annual competition in Florida. We had Streusel Apple pie that night and bought the rest of it to go when we left. Practice an attitude of gratitude.

If you have a resolution to address an addiction or need help because of a loved one’s situation, this place could help. And this place could use your help too if you’re an architect or interior designer who could volunteer to help with preservation plans. Have a safe 2014 and keep coming back.

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