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The Burning of the Sutton Building

Submitted by Jari Lynn Oncken - June 17, 2008

Minonk News-Dispatch June 21, 2001

One part of Minonk history that is worth recalling is the Sutton's building on the 400 block of Oak Street. This half-block and the coal mine were owned by W.G. Sutton, a businessman who contributed much to our heritage.

There were two sets of Sutton's buildings at the Oak Street location, both being destroyed by fire. This information was taken from the Minonk News-Dispatch of June 1926 and March 1940 and tells of the first set of buildings.

The three north buildings, which formed the nucleus of this block, were built in the spring of 1905 by Matthias Hartley and stood on the site of the old City Hotel, which was operated by John McGrail. Around 1910, Sutton purchased these buildings.

In 1926, Sutton and Max Leiken, whose property included most of the south half of that block, began work on their new buildings. Workmen tore down the old Schuettler Millinery Store to make room for Sutton's brick structures. The first building just north of Leiken's Garage, was constructed and established as a bakery by C.J. Jauch. At the same time, Sutton acquired the sky rights above the Star Union Brewing Company building on 206 Oak Street making a complete block of five buildings. He owned all except the first floor of the fourth building, which was occupied by Otto Klatt's Saloon which was the property of the brewery.

J.E. Morgenstern, who had owned a bakery in Bloomington, came to Minonk in 1929 and purchased Jauch's bakery. In the summer of 1938, he moved his business two doors south. This vacant building was then remodeled that year and became the Minonk Theatre.

On Sunday, March 3, 1940 four of the five buildings burned. Dr. A.H. Claycomb, who had an apartment above the theatre, awoke at 4 a.m. to the smell of smoke and turned on the fire alarm. After a while, the fire created a blast that broke windows and tossed glass fragments and screen doors as far as the Illinois Central Rail Road tracks. The second concussion of the terrific heat caused an explosion that blew out the front of the buildings and spread flames throughout the structures. Four of the five buildings were gutted. The fifth building, housing Anita Lee Hohl's beauty shop, and the new theatre only suffered some water damage. The center walls and portions of the north and east walls remained intact and in good condition. The basement and heating plant were in good shape.

The loss affected twelve firms and businessmen's offices including the Minonk Coal Company, H.R. Gladden Insurance Company, Clifford Tyson's barbershop, Dr. Claycomb's office, attorney Edward F. Riely's office, Dr. A.W. Kettelhut's office, L.E. Meyers Construction Company, the Minonk Mercantile Company Store, Commonwealth Edison Company and the OK Tavern, which was operated by John F. Janssen.

Next door to the south, Leiken's Garage roof was damaged by water and from firemen walking on it while fighting the fire.

H.U. Bailey of Princeton, who owned the theatre, reopened it on Sunday, March 10, with the showing of Judge Hardy and Son, starring Mickey Rooney and Lewis Stone.

It is interesting to note that the film "The Fighting 69th" with James Cagney and Pat O'Brien, was to be shown the night of the fire. To promote this movie Clifford Blackmer, Eric Reiter, Lawrence Gerdes and Herman "Buzz" Claymon had their picture taken inside the theatre in borrowed WWI uniforms holding rifles. The movie was shown the next month on April 19 and 20.

The Minonk Theatre closed in the mid-1980s. The first permanent movie theatre was the Bijou on North Chestnut that opened in 1908. After that, there was the Rose Theatre above the alley tavern and the Royal Theatre, both on West Fifth Street.

Sutton later rebuilt on the same site and again a fire totaled the second set of buildings on April 24, 1994.

Those who remember this bit of Minonk history can be warmed by the memories of years gone by.

The Sutton Building in 1939.

The Minonk Theater in the late 1970's.