The Historic White Bear Lake Armory

The cornerstone for the White Bear Armory, located at Fourth Street and Cook Avenue, was laid September 27, 1922, in a grand ceremony. Speakers included White Bear Lake Mayor Earl Jackson and St. Paul Mayor Arthur Nelson, who spoke dramatically on the value of the National Guard and its importance in our communities, not only during times of war, but also during times of peace when service was needed.

From those early years, the purpose of the armory was not exclusively for National Guard drilling and training. As early as 1925, events were being held in the large hall to raise funds for a piano to be used for events and entertainment for the community at the armory.

In the early hours of December 7, 1928, the armory had a devastating fire that destroyed nearly all of the front portion of the building. The drill hall was spared due to the three-story brick partition that separated the hall from the officers’ quarters, locker rooms and other facilities housed at the front. The building was restored, but was again damaged when a cyclone tore through White Bear Lake in September 1941. It was once again rebuilt.

It was from this building in January 1941 that White Bear’s National Guard unit departed for Camp Haan, California, and tours of duty that would evolve into service in World War II. During the war, the State Guard, or “Home Guard,” as they were often called, held their meetings and training sessions here as well.

In the 1980s, the building was decommissioned and the city of White Bear Lake bought the property. It has continued to serve as a center for the community and the site of many events.

Group of soldiers on steps of brick building with door and windows behind
White Bear Lake Armory gets historic recognition
White Bear Press
April 3, 2019
White Bear Lake Armory placed on the National Register of Historic Places
Pioneer Press
April 13, 2019

Our vision for the future is focused on these three important goals:

1.) Transform a Historic Armory into a Modern Museum

As caretakers of the Armory, we will preserve and honor its unique history and significance to our community. A transformed Armory will be revitalized for today’s uses: mechanicals, exteriors, bathrooms and circulation spaces will be improved to secure the lifespan, efficiency, sustainability, and utility of the building. New or updated workspaces, offices, and archives will increase the capacity of staff and volunteers and ultimately advance the Society’s mission. New exhibits, classrooms, library, and a gift store will be designed to inspire and engage the public in local history.

2.) Improve Member Services and Expand Public Programs

The heart of the WBLAHS has always been its members: a dedicated and passionate group of supporters who have advocated for our organization and local history. Increased and improved member services can offer more responsive and frequent communications, member privileges, and emmer-only events. The successful public program offerings can be hosted on site and expanded to include events such as family events, genealogy workshops, heritage craft workshops and performances and demonstrations.

3.) Invest in Collections Management

With additional staff, volunteers, and work spaces, the long-delayed efforts to attend to the collections can finally begin. Full inventorying and proper storage of all items will be prioritized. Stabilization and preservation of fragile items can begin. The opportunity to identify and collect new accessions will be possible. Ideally, the collections can be centralized on the property, helping to facility access, preservation and management.

Future of the Armory & WBLAHS

Since its foundation in 1970 the White Bear Lake Area Historical Society has worked to fulfill its mission to “Connect our community to its past, cultivating an understanding and appreciation for our history”.

Today the organization is poised to take ownership of the historic White Bear Lake Armory and to become a leader in local history.

How Did We Get Here?

Market Analysis
With Bluestem Heritage Group, we explored 14 local museums that are competitors and 13 national museums that are comparisons. This study confirmed that the WBLAHS is more of a “regional” museum, more similar to county museums as opposed to city museums. The Society’s public programs are particularly effective and the attention to broader historical themes has developed a wide audience. The history of White Bear Lake as a regional tourist destination and its water-related industries is unique and appealing.
Audience Analysis

With Bluestem Heritage Group, we studied and compared the demographics of our members versus our Historic House Tour attendees. We also surveyed 199 people recruited through our Facebook page, which included both members, past-members, non-member visitors, and non-visitors. This survey showed high interest in particular topics and high-engagement programs such as lectures, walking/bus/boat tours and family events. We identified three target audiences: Social Active Adult Leaners, Families and Loyal History Buffs.

Collections Review

With Bluestem Heritage Group we reviewed the status of our collection, which is presently housed in three different locations, the Fillebrown House, White Bear Lake City Hall, and the Armory. These sites were analyzed for security, climate control, environmental stability, pest risk and management ease. As previous studies have noted, the collections are in need of additional investment. The collections of photographs and boat plans are particularly strong and unique.

Historic Context Review

The history of the White Bear Lake Area offers many fascinating and meaningful stories, beginning with the prehistoric period, Dakoa, and Ojibwe. Lake-related development (such as boat works, resorts, summer homes and tourism) are particularly unique and significant. As a suburb, the area shares many over-lapping themes with other nearby communities such as fringe farming, transportation, and suburban development. The geography and environment of the lake is significant both historically and today. There is ample opportunity to explore compelling histories here.

Armory Building and Site Study

With SALA Architects and Bluestem Heritage Group, we studied the present Armory building and site. This effort explore the opportunities and limitations of the spaces, and developed recommendations for re-use of the site as a museum. Engineering studies have identified areas of concern. Our findings have confirmed that the building and property offer many appealing attributes but will need significant investments to evolve into a future museum.

Interpretive Message and Methods

Based on these studies we have identified an interpretive message to guide future efforts: celebrating the art and craft of our lake history. This helps clarify a new attention to the local traditions of craftsmanship (boat building, architecture, design) as well as the craft of community building (towns, schools, businesses, and cultural organizations) and the history of the lake environment, preservation, industry, and recreation.

Where Do We Go?

Fundraising and Community Engagement
Our vision relies on the support of our community. Fundraising for the following stages will be significant. Our campaign will kick off in 2022.
Property Acquisition
The WBLAHS board has worked with architects and engineers to complete studies of the existing site. With the property is fully vetted, the WBLAHS is pursuing ownership of the property.
Planning Out The Museum
Once the property is transferred to the WBLAHS detailed plans for its renovation and re-use can begin. This phase is estimated to take 12-24 months.
Rehabilitation and Construction
Depending on the scope of the plans and the available budget, construction is likely to take between 12-24 months.
Exhibit Planning and Installation
Depending on the scope of the plans and the available budget, exhibit planning construction and installation is likely to take between 18-24 months.
Programming Expansion
Once the museum opens, new programming staff can begin offering expanded classes, lectures and programs.
Collections Improvements
Once the museum opens, attention to the collections can finally begin.