Landmark designation may signal new life for Granary site

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CORRECTED.

The historic building that once housed the Granary restaurant and a short-lived night spot called Club Element may be getting a makeover into an apartment building.

Private developer Andy Dumke scooped up the site from the U.S. Small Business Administration for a fraction of its assessed value earlier this year.

Now he is laying the groundwork that will allow him to ask taxpayers for financial assistance to transform the distinctive three-story stone structure.

To qualify for that assistance, which would come in the form of income tax credits, Dumke is asking the city to designate the site, 50 W. Sixth Ave., as a historic landmark. His application has been working through the system and was expected to come before the Oshkosh Common Council Oct. 27 for an initial review. State and federal authorities would also have to agree about the historic nature of the building before its owner would be eligible for taxpayer assistance.

City planning documents indicate that Dumke intends to develop housing at the site, but the reopening of a restaurant seems likely. On June 23 the Common Council approved Dumke’s request to transfer a Class C liquor license, allowing on premise consumption, to the location.

There doesn’t seem to be much doubt about structure’s historic significance. It was erected in 1883 to replace a mill that had burned down and is “the largest and only stone commercial/industrial building of its nature still located in Oshkosh,” according to a Plan Commission staff report.

The mill was acquired by Henry P. Schmidt and operated as the H.P. Schmidt Milling Co. from 1886 until 1982. New owners of the site converted the building into a restaurant known as the Granary, a fixture on the local dining scene from 1984 to 2004.

After the eatery went out of business, the mill was briefly revived, 2007, as the Element Night Club.

The Plan Commission staff praised the way the restaurant owners retained “the limestone block walls, massive square beams and wide plank floors” and call their renovation “an excellent example of reuse of a historical structure.”

“Elements of the chutes, bins and milling equipment were left in place  as well, acting as ghosts of the past that linger on to remind us of the building’s history,” the staff said.

During its heyday, the mill produced flours that were marketed under names like “Honey Dew” and “Cream of the Harvest.” But for the last 60 years of operation it specialized in producing animal feed for poultry, cattle and hogs.

The walls of the building are 2 feet thick, made of limestone quarried from Faber Quarry, which is now Quarry Park on Knapp Street. Atop the main roof sits a fourth-floor penthouse, which is marked by a red and white checkerboard pattern made of pressed tin.

The property is assessed at $304,000, but the developer acquired it in May for just $50,000, according to city property records. Dumke did not respond to a request for comment.

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to show that the landmark proposal was scheduled to come before the Common Council Oct. 27 without formal action being taken.

A view of the old Granary building from the Oregon Street bridge, photo by Miles Maguire.

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Miles Maguire

Miles Maguire is the author of Advanced Reporting: Essential Skills for 21st Century Journalism. He was the founding editor of the Oshkosh Community News Network, a nonprofit online news organization whose work was cited as a notable innovation in journalism in the 2005 Knight-Batten Awards. Send questions, comments and suggestions to miles.maguire@yahoo.com.

3 Comments

  1. Marcie Conklin on

    I would LOVE to see this building opened up again as a restaurant! We loved going there when it was The Granary! Very unique building that needs to be opened again. The stone building on the East end looks like it has an upstairs, could be a smaller banquet/ party room rented out; or it could be divided up and rented out as apartments or a small business……lots of possibilities. It’s been sitting dormant for WAY too long and with the downtown development projects going on, we nee to utilize this space.

  2. Man, I have found memories of the Granery. I was on my first business trip at age 20, 27 years ago, in mid February. 17 inches of new snow on the ground. Lonely. I looked for something to fill my void. It was the Granery that did the trick! I was sat by the fire. Served my first steak au pauvre. What a memorable night. I’m very sad to see it has gone.

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