Historic lakeside pavilion demolished after fire

Demolition crews tore down the remains of the pavilion at Bde Maka Ska on May 28, 12 days after flames engulfed the building. A man has been charged with negligently starting the fire. Photo by Andrew Hazzard

Bulldozers demolished the remains of the historic lakeside pavilion at Bde Maka Ska on Tuesday, May 28, 12 days after a fire rendered the building unsalvageable.

The fire, which remains under investigation by the Minneapolis Police Department, destroyed the home of Lola on the Lake, leaving one of Southwest Minneapolis most visited destinations without a restaurant or restrooms with plumbing for the summer.

Officials with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board opted to tear down the structure quickly to mitigate safety and environmental concerns caused by the wreckage remaining in place.

“We are devastated by the loss of such an iconic feature along the lake. As difficult a decision as it is, removing the structure is the right thing to do and will allow us to rise out of this and begin moving forward,” MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura said in a statement.

The building was originally constructed in 1930 as a shelter, restroom and concession stand and underwent a major renovation in the 1980s. The MPRB first began to lease the space to private restaurants in 2004, when Tin Fish opened at the site. Lola on the Lake had just reopened for its second season weeks before the fire.

A MPRB archival photo shows the pavilion sometime in the 1930s or '40s. Submitted image
A MPRB archival photo shows the pavilion sometime in the 1930s or ’40s. Submitted image

Investigation ongoing

Flames engulfed the building shortly after 4 a.m. on May 16, according to the Minneapolis Fire Department. No one was injured in the fire, which firefighters battled to get under control for just over an hour; MFD reported the fire was under control around 5:30 a.m.

The fire began in the midst of large thunderstorm and initially many affiliated with Lola on the Lake speculated it may have been caused by lightning.  Minneapolis Police have since said lightning did not start the fire.

“We got no fire alarm, which means whatever happened was pretty violent,” Lola owner Louis King told the Southwest Journal at the scene of the fire on May 16.

But two weeks later, the police and fire departments have yet to determine the cause of the fire. The MPRB, whose insurance company is conducting its own investigation, has also not resolved the cause. The insurer did allow them to tear down the building, according to Park Board spokesperson Dawn Sommers.

Minneapolis Police released images of a man and woman recorded by surveillance cameras at the pavilion between 3 to 3:30 a.m. on May 16, just before the fire began, including an image where the man appeared to spark a flame near the building.

After police released the images on May 21, the woman in the photographs came and spoke with investigators, according to Sgt. Darcy Horn, an MPD spokesperson.

The woman is no longer considered a person of interest, Horn said. But the man in the photos is now considered a suspect in the case and has been identified by law enforcement, according to Horn. No arrests have been made in the case, nor have charges been filed. Police have not officially declared the case an arson.

Surveillance photo released by Minneapolis Police shows a male suspect police are seeking in the fire that destroyed the pavilion at Bde Maka Ska and a female companion who is no longer considered a person of interest. Submitted image
Surveillance photo released by Minneapolis Police shows a male suspect police are seeking in the fire that destroyed the pavilion at Bde Maka Ska and a female companion who is no longer considered a person of interest. Submitted image

Plan for the summer

Lola had just reopened for its second season operating the restaurant at the lakeside pavilion with a new menu and new staff. Now that staff will serve their fare out of food trucks. Over Memorial Day weekend, Lola’s set up trucks at Thomas Beach, but it’s unclear if they will stay there for the summer or be relocated to the site of the pavilion once the remains are fully removed, Sommers said.

“We mourn the loss of the facility, but we are going to take care of our personnel and figure out how we can get back to business,” King said in a statement. “Lola’s and the MPRB will continue to be partners and make sure visitors enjoy fast, friendly service and great food that people visiting Bde Maka Ska have come to expect.”

Lola’s has a contract to serve food at the location through 2022, Sommers said. No other vendors are licensed to operate food trucks there.

To make up for the loss of public restrooms attached to the pavilion, the MPRB has placed two additional portable toilets, one ADA compliant and one standard, near the site. Sommers said the toilets will be cleaned six days per week and additional toilets may be placed by the site if needed.

The boat launch and Wheel Fun boat and bike rental were scheduled to reopen May 30. The fishing docks south of the pavilion have remained open.

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