Only Memories Remain of the Blue Room of Strasburg Business

Fire Destroys Historic Strasburg Business

"Only Memories Remain of the Blue Room of Strasburg Business: Fire Destroys Historic Strasburg Business." Emmons County Record, 1 August 2000, 1 & 2.

The building is gone but the memories remain.

On Saturday, fire destroyed the historic Blue Room in Strasburg, despite the efforts of fire fighters from Strasburg, Linton, Hague and Pollock. The only good news of the fire was that the next two buildings in the block were saved--Strasburg City Hall and a fragile wood frame building that houses Deb's Painting & Refinishing.

Owners Bruce Schumacher and Sam Backer discovered the fire when they opened the bar at about 10:45 a.m. Bruce said he could smell smoke and there was a light smoky haze at first. He called the Strasburg Fire Department, and he said in less than 10 minutes there were flames visible in the back hall. He said it appeared that the fire was burning above the building's false ceiling and first broke through in the back hall.

Everything happened so fast that Bruce and Sam said there was not time to remove anything from the building. "The only thing we got out was the cordless phone that I had in my hand," Bruce said.

Despite the prompt response by the Strasburg Fire Department and the summons of the other departments, there appeared to be nothing that could be done to stop the blaze, which apparently quickly swept above the false ceiling.

Also at the scene were Emmons County Sheriff Rueben Richter and the Emmons County ALS Ambulance.

Smoke from the fire was so dense that at times visibility was zero on Strasburg's Main Street, and the smoke cloud stretched as far north as Linton.

City officials and volunteers fought through the smoke to remove City Hall records and items, and furniture and other items were removed from Deb's Painting & Refinishing. Until the items were moved inside at the Knights of Columbus Hall, there was a long line of furniture on Main Street, stretching from west of Deb's to the Post Office.

In the early stages of the fire, fire fighters were able to remove a few things from the front part of The Blue Room.

As the fire engulfed the building, the city's payloader was used to push in the outer walls of the structure so that water could be applied to the flames, and after the fire was under control, Keller Excavating equipment was used to lift up rubble for the mop-up operation to get at the last embers.

Bruce and Sam said the building was insured, but they have made no decisions about the future of the business for which they had seen potential.

"We will have to see what happens in the insurance settlement before we can make any decisions," Bruce said. He said the State fire Marshal was at the scene on Saturday and visited the site again on Monday.

"We're still in disbelief about the whole thing," Bruce said. "Sam and I put a lot of work and effort into this business, and it was very hard to see it all go up in flames."

Bruce said the loss of The Blue Room is a "terrible blow" to the community, and he said the sadness is evident among everyone who has fond memories of the business. He noted that "it was tough" for some of the former owners to see what happened.

The owners were assisted in the business on weekends by Sam's daughters, Jody and Amy, and several local residents helped out on a part-time, as-needed basis.

Sam and Bruce said they wish to thank the four fire departments and everyone else who helped out during the fire. They noted that Sisters' Restaurant in Linton and Wagner's Super Valu of Strasburg provided food and beverages for the fire fighters and volunteers.

"Everybody banded together to do what they could," Bruce said. "We appreciate it all."

Schumacher is a native of Long Lake, S.D., and he and Sam moved to Strasburg from Bismarck where they lived for many years. Sam's parents are Johanna (Reinbold) Vetter of Bismarck and the late Matt Vetter. The Vetters lived in Linton, and they moved to Bismarck when Sam was about six.

Scheduled events
Bruce and Sam said about 20 wedding receptions and other events were written in their schedule book, which was lost in the fire.

"We had events booked in 2001 and for the Strasburg Centennial in 2002," Bruce said. He said the 20 events does not include those that are held annually.

Many tears
Dozens of townspeople watched the spectacle on Main Street from a safe distance across the street, and strangers drove into town off U.S. Highway 83 to find out the source of all the smoke they could see from the highway.

There were tears among many of those present who grew up with The Blue Room, which has been an institution in Strasburg since it was built in about 1906. Several people mentioned that three generations of their family had held their wedding receptions in the historic building where Lawrence Welk, John Schwab, Mike Dosch, Ray and The Ravens and other musicians performed over the years.

Imogene Schwab choked back tears when she told about her family's receptions there.

Mike and Johanna Schneider noted the nostalgia their family members have for The Blue Room. The Schneiders, two of their children and Johanna's six brothers and sisters all had their wedding parties at The Blue Room.

There are memories of the late accordionist John Schwab playing "The Wedding March" as he and his band would lead a wedding party across Main Street to The Blue Room.

Joe Kraft said Schwab and his band would entertain the older generation at a hall on the north side of the street in the afternoon and then lead the parade to The Blue Room for the evening celebration.

Joe's mother, Frances Kraft, and Lenny (Mrs. John) Schwab, were cooks for countless wedding parties, and years ago wedding parties included two meals. Those were the days when weddings were held on Mondays.

Kraft said he saw his first movie in The Blue Room in the early 1930s when it was owned by Ray Bichler and Matt "Badge" Fischer. He said he watched westerns starring cowboy actors such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

He remembers when Badge pulled a trick on one of the town's authorities on beer. The man claimed to be able to tell the difference between Hamm's Beer and Grain Belt. He was proven wrong when Badge switched the labels on two bottles of brew and served them to the expert. He bragged about the quality of his favorite beer as he sipped from the mislabeled bottle and said, "Now, this is a beer!" Then he was told of the prank.

The Blue Room even had blue beverages from time to time. Kraft said he remembers back in the days when liquor laws and their enforcement were less strict when men would add blue food coloring to drinks they mixed at their tables. He said the dye was added to sugar water and then mixed with liquor.

Brief history
Gary Keller assisted the Emmons County Record in gathering an overview of The Blue Room's history.

It was built as a pool hall and bowling alley in about 1906 by Ben Schneider. The next owner was Kasper B. Feist, who had it from 1910 until the fall of 1917 when Gregory Bichler bought it. Bichler was the owner until September of 1929 when he sold it to his son, Ray Bichler, and Matt Fischer.

Bichler and Fischer enlarged the building in 1933 or 1934 to accommodate a large dance hall which was also used as a movie theater and roller skating rink. The theater seats were on long boards, and they could readily be slid to the side to open up the main floor. The theater operated as the Mattray Theater.

The business was sold to Tony Gabriel and Ignatz Schaeffer in 1940. Gabriel sold out, and Fred Mattern joined Schaeffer in the business until Mattern became sole owner in 1945. Mattern sold the business to his son, Leo, who operated Mattern's Blue Room until March of 1972 when John and Lil Schneider became the owners.

The Schneiders sold to Virgil and Pat Horner in July of 1975, and the Horners ran the business until selling in January of 1993 to Jim and Lori Carlson. The Carlsons sold to Dave Scherr in July of 1996, and he operated The Blue Room until selling to Schumacher and Backer in June of 1998.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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