Hafner’s was located at 1560 White Bear Ave., at the south end of the Hillcrest Shopping Center in St. Paul.
At first the facility consisted of a basement bowling alley; in 1959 the upstairs was built. There were bowling alleys on both floors. According to the lighter below, there was a cocktail lounge with a piano bar.
Photos of lighter courtesy of Diane Humphreys
The name of the facility was changed to Hafner’s in 1965, although it belonged to the Hafner family before that.
The facility served as the venue for many events for the 3M Corporation.
The Lord Aldon Room was named for its owners, brothers Al and Don Hafner.
1974: Always the finest in dining and entertainment. Jim Harvey at the organ. Now playing in the Lord Aldon Inn: Skyline. In the Rumpus Room: Ken Nelson.
On August 12, 1994, Hafner’s owner Carl L. Thompsen pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute marijuana and money laundering. He and 22 other people, including NHL hockey player Thomas McCarthy were indicted in March for their involvement in a network that brought marijuana and cocaine from South America to California, then to St. Paul and Mankato. Thompsen allegedly gave McCarthy two pounds of marijuana for driving 150 pounds of marijuana from California to Minnesota. The others either plead guilty or stood trial at the end of the year. Thompsen had been granted a liquor license in 1991 despite having a cocaine-related conviction. The shipments of drugs were alleged to have happened in 1989 and 1992. (Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 13, 1994; November 18, 1994)
In 1995 Hafner’s Restaurant became Hafner’s Sports Bar.
HILLCREST BOWLING AND ENTERTAINMENT
In February 1998 it was listed as Hillcrest Bowling and Entertainment Centers in the Star Tribune calendar of events.
The company that owned the facility, which had a number of names (including “formerly known as Hafner’s”) filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on July 19, 1999. The president of the company was Charles Senkler.
The facility continued to operate, with Charlie’s Bar, a banquet hall, and the bowling alley, run by Senkler. On August 12, 2000, a white malcontent made racial slurs towards black participants at a rehearsal dinner, and the fight escalated until the suspect got in his van and aimed it at the victims. He seriously injured two bridesmaids and sent them to the hospital. (Star Tribune, August 13, 2000)
The entire block was razed in 2002. The last mention in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of the address is in March 2003, in an RFP looking for development of the block for market rate housing. As of May 2019 no construction has occurred.
The following article appeared in the East Side Review on August 9, 2015, written by Patrick Larkin.
Hafner lot, long empty, on market: NENDC hoping flea market, food trucks will draw attention to the spot
Just south of the border with Maplewood, a bare and disheveled piece of pavement has sat empty for over a decade at 1590 White Bear Ave.
The lot once held a bustling shopping center emblematic of the strip mall format of the 1950’s, called Hafner’s. Hafner’s was a pillar of the Hillcrest shopping area along White Bear Avenue, just south of Larpenteur Avenue and St. Paul’s border with Maplewood.
Hafner’s held a bowling alley, restaurant and lounge along with several other commercial entities including a barber and a chiropractor. It was a booming mall with parking and a gas station. But slowly, business faded, in part due to changing times, suburban shopping centers, freeways, and the like. It changed owners multiple times, and the building slowly fell into disrepair.
By the time St. Paul’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority acquired the land in 2002, it was on its last legs. The city bought and demolished the place, and shored up the 2.18 acre lot for redevelopment.
Now for the first time since it was razed, the North East Neighborhood Development Company, which now manages the lot through its real estate brokerage, Capitol Brokerage, put it on the market this spring, hoping to draw in a developer to the blank spot on White Bear Avenue.
It was first listed on March 17, and according to NENDC’s Chuck Repke, it has attracted some modest amount of interest from developers, although nothing’s solidified.
To keep the site active, NENDC is allowing it to be used by two food trucks — a taco truck and a deli truck — as well as a church, which will use the lot to hold flea markets.
Mixed use possibilities
Dave Gontarek, project manager in St. Paul’s Planning and Economic Development department, said the place has been informally on the market since the HRA acquired the property more than a decade ago.
Through those years, he said they’ve heard some interest in the parcel, including a church group looking to build a restaurant, but the proposed uses didn’t add up to enough density to satisfy Hillcrest’s small area plan.
The price tag for the empty concrete lot is $1.3 million, and the purchase and development of the lot is subject to the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s approval.
“With that,” Repke noted, “the price becomes flexible based on how enthused the city is.
“The more positive the benefit to the neighborhood, the more likely the city is to come down on the price.”
Repke said he’s pulling for a mixed use or commercial development — a smaller grocery store like Trader Joe’s, or an apartment building with storefront retail on the main level.
However, for residential uses to be approved, the site would need significant cleanup — there used to be a Clark gas station in the front portion of the lot, which had leaky gas tanks. Those old wells would need to be removed, and soil remediation would likely be needed.
‘Heck of an enterprise’
Repke said that bringing in an anchor building to the dated shopping district would be a good way to keep the place viable.
Though vacancy rates in the commercial buildings along the corridor are low, it takes a significant amount of time to find new tenants when one moves out, he said.
The goal would be to have a store with some draw, that would make the whole corridor more active, so prospective tenants were approaching the building owners, rather than the other way around.
“I want people to see it as a retail site,” Repke said. “I figured over the course of the summer we would fill it up with things happening and draw a little attention to it.”
“There’s 19,000 cars going past that property every day,” he added. “That ought to be enough customers for almost anybody to figure out how to make a buck.”
Gary Unger, who lives just a few blocks from the site, used to pump gas at the gas station in front of Hafner’s, and also used to set pins at the lanes.
He can recall Hafner’s in it’s full glory.
“It was a heck of an enterprise,” he said, adding that the place was spick and span.
“It was the cleanest place you’ve ever seen in your life… the sanitatition around there, it was second to none.”
With the idea of a new development coming to the spot, he said he’d like to see a destination store go in.
While White Bear Avenue was once a happening commercial strip; it’s now a bit more off the beaten path, he said. He pointed out that as the suburbs flared out, White Bear Avenue connected to the Maplewood Mall, as well as the high-speed roadways Minnesota 36 and Interstate 694, which connect to various suburban shopping facilities, leaving the once bustling commercial corridor as just a connector.