If These Walls Could Talk: From Turkish baths to modern
Editor's note: This is part of a 15-story series titled "If These Walls Could Talk" completed by Pioneer reporters with help from the Beltrami County Historical Society for our 2023 Annual Report.
From 1907 to 1909, the brick building at 423 Beltrami Ave. housed Turkish baths. Today, it houses an elegantly peaceful business called the Siam Wellness and Massage Spa.
The building is probably best known as the site of the Bemidji Pioneer newspaper for 50 years, but it has had a varied history and was constructed originally for use as a meeting hall.
One of the oldest buildings in Bemidji, the two-story brick building on the southwest corner of Fifth Street and Beltrami Avenue was constructed in 1905 by the Bemidji Lodge of Freemasons.
The committee was very proud of the construction’s modern conveniences, which included steam heat, electric lights and waterworks. The building was completed at a cost of $8,000. The second story was used as a lodge room and the first floor was rented out to the Crookston Lumber Company as a reading room.
In March 1906, the reading room was used for the examination of 12 prospective mail carriers. The tests started in the morning and continued until late in the afternoon. Those of Bemidji who tried for places as carriers were Sgt. Adam E. Otto, Harry Geil, Hollie Barrett, J.C. Cobb, Lee Heffron, Aakeberg, W.H. Elletson, George Harris and Arthur Gould.
The Knights of Pythias held many of their meetings and events at Castle Hall at the Masonic Block. They had a splendid public installation, a banquet and ball on Jan. 1, 1907.
The meeting started at the Masonic Block, then adjourned to the Markham Hotel for a banquet and then the floor of the lodge room at the Masonic Block was cleared and dancing continued until the wee hours. Cards and other games were set up on the first floor for those who chose not to participate in the dancing.
Turkish bath rooms were located in the basement rooms of the Masonic Block in 1907. D.C. Smyth was the proprietor, and Professor J.G. Philips was in charge. In January 1908, Miss Blanche Paddock, professional masseuse, worked at the bath parlors.
Plain showers and Turkish baths, hairdressing and manicuring were offered on Thursday afternoon of each week and times were set aside for Ladies’ Day from 2 until 10 p.m.
In July 1908, Professor W.B. Ford was again in charge of the Turkish bath parlors in the Masonic building and announced that he would be pleased to serve his old-time friends and patrons.
In 1909, these rooms had Mr. and Mrs. Alvin Frost as attendants. They advertised tub and shower baths, ladies’ shampoo and hairdressing day and night.
Many fraternal organizations held their meetings in the Masonic Hall. Retail clerks of the city met in the Crookston Reading Room and organized a new association in September 1913.
The Fourth Minnesota Infantry that was stationed in Bemidji during World War I was first quartered in the Crookston Reading Room and later shifted to a hotel. The unit was demobilized in December 1918.
On July 3, 1920, the Bemidji Daily Pioneer dismantled its large paper press so it could be moved into this building. It was also the home of the weekly Sentinel until this weekly publication was discontinued in 1962.
After the high school was destroyed by fire in January 1921, classes were held in the Masonic Hall and the Crookston Reading Room. The manual training classes for the senior high school, which included woodworking and similar hands-on training, were held in the Crookston reading rooms in the fall of 1921.
The Masonic Lodge likely continued to meet there until their new building was completed in 1923 on Bemidji Avenue.
Phil Wattles, a paperboy in the 1950s, recalled, “When I think of the old Bemidji Pioneer building, my first thought is of the open stairwell on the north side of the building and the steps leading down to the noisy room where we gathered every day to pick up the papers for our paper routes.
“The steps were fairly steep, and the barrier around them consisted only of a couple of iron railings. Despite that, I don't remember anyone getting hurt. There were big doors just to the west of the steps which were left open in the summer. I’m sure it got very warm in that room with all the machinery running for hours. Passersby often craned their necks to see what was happening inside the building.”
One reader, Ken Edd, wrote on Facebook: “My brother, Jon, had a friend whose mother was a Linotype operator at the Pioneer in the ‘50s. He took us to visit her, and I remember being awed by the complexity of the machine. Gears and levers and switches all run by his friend’s mom.”
James Scherer recalled on Facebook: “They had an older printing press that used lead type and printed one page at a time! Looked like an old locomotive. And the smell of the ink was memorable, too.”
It would be a great joy to hear the stories of newspaper stalwarts like John Ainley, Fred Bahr, Cliff Morlan, and Marie Mossefin. The Pioneer moved its printing presses to the Industrial Park in 1970. The business offices, however, did not move out of this building until 1972.
Jack Quistgard of 2-Q’s, Inc. bought the old Pioneer building. It underwent major remodeling, and scaffolding surrounded the building in the spring of 1973.
It opened as Q’s Hallmark Pok-A-Bout Cards and Gifts in June 1973 which continued until it became Julie’s Hallmark Shop, owned and managed by Julie Naasz, from approximately 1995 to 2004.
The building also housed a wide variety of businesses. Warren Brauer opened Stereo 1 on July 1, 1973. The new headquarters had a rustic motif and a complete sound room. Steve Nicklason was the manager there for a time and also managed a second store at the Paul Bunyan Mall.
The Bemidji Karate Club met upstairs from about 1975 to 1978. The Bike Guy, Kirby Harman, had a bike shop with five employees. Twice but Nice was in the basement in 1989 before moving to 411 Beltrami Ave. Russ Jackson had the credit bureau on the lower level.
Many offices were housed in the building and accessed from the Fifth Street side including the law offices of McRae and McRae, the U.S. Army Recruiting Office, the Joint Economic Development Commission, Northern Psychological Services Inc., and David Moffett’s insurance agency.
The building is currently owned by Mitch Rautio. Appropriately, the west section of the building has a Q in the wrought iron work on the second floor and houses Q-107.1 managed by Phil Ehlke.
The main part of the street level was remodeled by a local chiropractor, Dr. Ryan Moeskau, but a change of plans took him instead to Boulder, Colo. The upstairs has several apartments with the largest one at the front of the building.
These walls would have to talk a long time to unfold their many tales of occupants and visitors.