Driving down Raymond Avenue in south St. Anthony Park, it’s hard to miss the Hampden Park Co-op. The red brick building sits directly across the street from Hampden Park and boasts a colorful still-life mural depicting wholesome foods like breads and fruit.
But there is more to this historical building than first meets the eye. Behind the large arched windows on the second floor lies an expansive ballroom.
While the building is currently owned by the Hampden Co-op, it was previously the home of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a global benevolent fraternal organization, that once held social gatherings and dances on the second floor of the building before relocating to Hutchinson, Minn.
The regal space now houses the Mill City Ballroom, the latest tenant in the building.
Mill City opened its doors on Jan. 1. Owners and married couple Kate and Gordon Bratt had been teaching private ballroom and Latin dance lessons for many years at a variety of locations with great success, but when the opportunity presented itself to open their own dance studio in the historic building, they couldn’t resist.
“This was meant to be a ballroom,” said Gordon. “We took one look at these gorgeous wood floors and knew we had to restore it to its original glory.”
With more than 25 years of experience between them, the Bratts teach group classes and personalized private lessons, as well as host social dances like their popular Friday Night Happy Hour. Most Fridays at 6 p.m., anyone curious about partner dancing is welcome to grab a drink and dance the rumba, salsa, foxtrot, swing and cha-cha to their hearts’ content.
Those interested in taking private or group lessons have a range of classes to choose from, covering all ability levels. Classes such as Rhythm and Melody and Foxtrot and Merengue run in six-week sessions.
The Bratts, parents of three young girls, also hold a children’s class on Saturday mornings, giving little ones a basic understanding of several types of dance in a noncompetitive, relaxed and fun-filled atmosphere. The Bratts, who travel extensively to compete in ballroom dancing on a national level, are thrilled to be setting roots in St. Anthony Park. The central location of their ballroom has brought in clients from all over the Twin Cities, but it’s the close-knit feel of the community around them that impresses them most.
“We have more people walking in through word-of-mouth than we could have imagined,” said Kate. “Everyone seems very excited to have a new dance and entertainment venue in the neighborhood.”
Speaking of those unique hardwood floors, they are being restored to their original luster as a part of the Bratts’ plan to bring the ballroom back to its heyday. Old theater chairs line the window-studded walls and new, sparkly chandeliers hang from the tin ceiling.
But Mill City Ballroom is not the only tenant dabbling in the art of refined things. Scott Jensen has been a tenant in the building for many years. Jensen is a Luthier, repairing and restoring violin-family stringed instruments. Jensen specializes in double basses and is one of only a few Luthiers in Minnesota, making his art form a distinctive addition to the community.
Through a separate entrance of of Hampden Avenue is Vienna Community Arts, a nonprofit music studio run by Nancy Sogabe-Engelmayer and Herbert Engelmayer. Viennna Community Arts offers private music lessons to all ages, from kindergarten through adults. Engelmayer and Sogabe-Engelmayer offer instruction in piano, voice, woodwinds, guitar, strings, choir directing and music theory. They also rent and sell keyboards, guitars, string instruments and a wide variety of musical accessories.
“We believe music is important for personal growth and for community building,” Sogabe-Engelmayer said.
“Although Herbert already directs two German choirs, we have been trying to put together a community choir as well. We both love to sing, to make music together, and we enjoy helping people bring music into their lives.”
Along with Herbert and Nancy, Vienna Community Arts has six music teachers who teach one or two days at the studio, focusing on piano, voice, woodwinds, guitar and strings, and even ukulele for the littlest musicians.
Herbert also teaches at the German Immersion School in Como Park through the afterschool program. He keeps the school pianos tuned and volunteers for school music programs and collaborates on projects with the schools’ performing art teacher.
The outreach program is a personal venture for Austrian-born Herbert.
“We think of ourselves as cultural curators in a way. Through music, song and education, we help carry on traditions and celebrate culture,” explained Nancy. “Another reason outreach is important to us is that we realize that families today are rushed, pushed, pulled and shoved in many directions. Offering lessons at the school site is convenient for parents and comfortable for beginners.”
Since moving into the building in March 2012, Nancy and Herbert have created their own little Viennese salon in the space, according to Nancy.
“We also love the convenient location, street access, proximity to good co-op food and creative neighbors,” she said. “Many creative souls rent from, volunteer for or support the Hampden Park Co-op.
“With the light rail and new development, this is a vibrant area of the cities and we are a part of this,” she concluded. “Herbert always points out that we are close to the railroad, and what could be better?”