216 5TH AVE
Architecture and History Inventory
Historic Name: John Johnson Saloon
Other Name: Butterfly Exchange
Reference Number: 41802
Location (Address): 216 5TH AVE
County: Eau Claire
City: Eau Claire
Year Built: 1882
Historic Use: tavern/bar
Architectural Style: Boomtown
Property Type: Building
Wall Material: Clapboard
Other Buildings On Site: 0
National/State Register Listing Name: Johnson, John, Saloon
National Register Listing Date: 1983-01-28
State Register Listing Date: 1989-01-01
National Register Multiple Property Name: Multiple Resources of Eau Claire
Additional Information: DEMOLISHED 1987. The gable roofed and clapboard sided John Johnson Saloon is highlighted by a "boomtown" facade that is terminated by a simple bracketed cornice. On the second floor are three double hung sash windows outlined by plain moldings. The lower storefront, supported by wooden pillars, contains a recessed entrance flanked by large display windows. Transom windows are located above the display area and paneled kickplates, below. Next to the storefront (to the south) is an entrance to the second story. A transom window lights the entry. A covered outside stairway is also present. The interior of the building retains its pressed tin ceiling and original wod floor.
The John Johnson saloon, constructed after a fire that devastated the Water Street commercial district, is an architecturally significant structure, providing an intact example of a vernacular commercial building with the characteristic "boomtown" facade. It was identified in the intensive survey of the city as one of two "boomtown" commercial structures in the community which retained their architectural integrity. The other building, the Ottawa House, 20/8, located just over a block away at 602 Water Street, is also being nominated.
The "boomtown" facade type of commercial architecture is most commonly associated with the frontier, but the easy-to-construct frame structures were features of nearly every community, particularly during their early years of development. The "false" or "boomtown" front affected a permanence and prestige that contrasted with the modest structure behind it. Early photos of Eau Claire's business districts contain numerous examples of the building type which has been reduced through both demolition and alteration. Although the Johnson Saloon and the Ottawa House were erected after Eau Claire's formative years, the two buildings are excellent representatives of the early commercial form.
On April 24, 1882, a fire swept through the Water Street business area destroying seventy-one buildings. According to the newspaper accounts, sparks from a passing steam boat ignited the blaze. The businesses on Water Street (and intersecting streets such as Fifth Avenue) served the city's west side which was the site of several lumber companies, including the Valley, Empire Lumber, and the Daniel Shaw Lumber Company. Although most of the buildings erected after the fire were brick, both the Johnson Saloon and the Ottawa House featured the frame construction that dominated the pre-fire years.
Bibliographic References: (A) 1884 Eau Claire City Directory.
(B) Tax Assessment Rolls - UW-Eau Claire Area Research Center.
(C) Newpaper article available at Chippewa Valley Museum - no date, but retells story of 1882 Water Street fire using April 26, 1882 edition of the Daily Leader.
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