Granite City trivia: St. Cloud brushes with fame and historic landmarks

Granite City Paramount Theatre

The Granite City Paramount Theatre was once Sherman Theatre. (photo: Jason Wachter/St. Cloud Times)

DealChicken spends a lot of time hunting and pecking around St. Cloud in search of the best daily deals. So it’s no surprise he’s come across more than a few interesting facts in the Granite City. Here’s a bit of local trivia that even your favorite fine-feathered know-it-all didn’t know until recently.

If writer/director/St. Cloud native Stephen Sommers (“Catch Me If You Can” and “The Mummy”) were to hold a gathering of fellow former residents from the area, the likes of actor Richard Jenkins (“Eat Pray Love” and “Six Feet Under”), actor John Hawkes (“Winter’s Bone” “Deadwood”) and art director TyRuben Ellingson (“Avatar” and “Hellboy”) might show up, as might Richard Dean Anderson (“MacGyver”), who studied how to fake-make a bomb out of a chewing gum wrapper at St. Cloud State University.

The wall surrounding St. Cloud Prison holds several records. Built in 1922, its 1½-mile length makes it the longest granite wall in the world and the longest wall in the world built entirely by prisoners. It stands 22 feet high and proves a much sturdier wall than the original 16-foot fence made of oak planks. Inmates today still practice masonry as part of vocational training.

When the Sherman Theatre opened in 1921 on Christmas Eve, D.W. Griffith’s silent film “Way Down East” screened, accompanied by a live orchestra. Now called the Paramount Theatre, the space has undergone many changes over the years, including installation of a state-of-the-art sound system. It includes a hearing-assist feature that ensures dialogue reaches all.

Only two dams in Sterns County qualify for a “high” hazard rating, with the City of St. Cloud dam sharing this distinction with the Champion/St. Regis dam. The St. Cloud dam measures 23.3 feet in height, and the effects of its potential failure were felt in 1970. During a reconstruction of the dam, a cofferdam was built upstream from the site to hold back waters from the Mississippi River. The structure proved inadequate and washed out on Halloween that year, resulting in extensive water damage to the site and other downstream areas. The city assures residents that inspections and in-place emergency protocols keep such a disaster from happening again.

Formed in 1865, the St. Cloud Pioneer Fire Company Number 1 was the first organized effort to fight fires. The company used a rotary mill engine and hose, replacing bucket brigades and the practice of tearing down adjacent buildings to contain a blaze. In 1973, the city formally established a fire department, and nearly 10 years later a pump house went up between Second and Third Streets, and Fifth Avenue and the Mississippi River. Three stations, with much more advanced equipment, now make up the St. Cloud Fire Department.

Ever wonder why the clocks on the front of the Elks Home at 22-24 Fifth Ave. S. stay at 11 a.m.? The position reminds members to pray for fallen Elks brothers. Another interesting fact: A basement tunnel links the building to its neighbor, 26 Fifth Ave. S. The Elks leased part of the building as an extension to the club, one that included bowling lanes.

From 1840 to 1866, the Granite City Hotel occupied the space at 423 E. Saint Germain. The Ace Bar and Café began operations in 1937, charging 35 cents for a chicken and ribs plate. Since then, they relocated to the 423 E. Saint Germain location and “Grill” replaced “Café” in the name, but that same chicken and ribs combo can be had during dinner hours for $20.95

St. Cloud State University admitted its first students in 1869. Then called the Third State Normal School, it was focused on teacher training, and one building (a renovated hotel) comprised its campus. Five teachers led 53 students, and of that number, 43 were women. In 2010, women still outnumbered men on campus at 51% to 49%. Noted alumni include John Stumpf, president and CEO of Wells Fargo & Company, and more than a few professional hockey players.

Bird watchers get an eyeful at Quarry Park. A total of 95 species have been spotted in the area, including the red-shouldered hawk and the American crow. These two birds serve as the park’s resident frenemies. They chase and steal from each other, but they have been known to join forces against another park resident, the great horned owl. Talk about angry birds.

In the history of’s Best of Central Minnesota poll, Val’s Rapid Serve has yet to lose in the Best Burger category. Val Henning opened the takeout-only burger joint in 1959, then sold it to his sons Bill and Dave in 1979. Vocal fans praise not only the burgers, but the restaurant’s French fries with their mystery seasoning, as well.

Got a firm grasp on the Granite City? Check out our round up of facts about Sioux Falls.