MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — You probably haven’t given much thought to that building on the edge of the ice rink where you lace up your skates or come in from the cold.
Warming houses are a staple of the Minnesota skating experience. So WCCO’s Matt Brickman set out to find the best one.
Your votes sent him to a place on the National Register of Historic Places, the Stone Warming House at the Handke Pit in Elk River.
“I grew up in a small town in southwest Minnesota, and the warming house there was like a single stall garage,” Charlie Blesener, director of community engagement for District 728, said.
That describes a lot of warming houses across Minnesota. But the one in Elk River is different. What’s now known as the Handke Pit, was built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
“It was part of the work progress administration, the WPA. They were supervised by adults who were probably not a whole lot older than they were, but they were learning masonry skills,” Blesener said. “All the stonework that you see all the way around the stadium were installed during that time, summer of 1937, including the warming house.”
The Pit has seen a lot since then, but its finest hour may have come just a month ago, when it was host to Hockey Day Minnesota.
But the building that stood that day wasn’t the same as what was built in 1937. After decades of moisture dripping through these field-stone walls, the warming house was set for demolition.
“There was a real bad mold situation going on in the original warming house, so bad that it was deemed to not be (occupied),” Blesener said.
But in Elk River, you don’t just turn your back on history. So, in 2002, the community rallied, raising more than $200,000 to build a replica of the original warming house.
“It’s still built into the hill. We now manage the moisture in the summer time with dehumidification and we hope it’s gonna be here for another hundred years,” Blesener said.
And with the newly restored stonework lining the ice, the Pit still provides a view unlike anything else in Minnesota.
“It does kind of take your breath away. In the evening, when the lights are on here, this looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. And the warming house adds to that ambiance,” Blesener said.