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This Grande Dame of Ely’s Downtown is now closed to the public. Its marble stairs and terrazzo floors feel no footsteps. Its marble walls carry no posters of upcoming events. Its fabulous auditorium is silent. After 75 years of service, the Ely Community Center was closed on November 14, 2014, when its last tenant, the Ely Public Library, moved to a new space on Chapman Street.  In 2016, the Community Center was added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its history and striking architecture. In 2022, it was purchased by a developer, who will bring a new purpose and a new life to this jewel. The community now awaits the re-opening of this amazing building. 

Ely Community Center

Building, Photograph, Car, White

Ely Community Center main lobby and stairs to third floor

Building, Stairs, Fixture, House

Ely Community Center third floor auditorium

Property, Architecture, Hall, Wood

Ely Community Center library

Bookcase, Furniture, Property, Table

The Ely Community Center was one of the WPA era building projects. It was approved in 1935 and completed in February 1938 at a construction cost of $208,748 and a project cost of $229,416. It was funded by a city bond and a grant from the Public Works Administration. It is a period piece that could not be duplicated today.

But the numbers alone do not reflect what this building meant to the community. The people of Ely suffered during the Great Depression, but this building, like many other WPA era projects, offered hope. Its construction meant that a prosperous future was possible. It meant jobs and the survival of their city and their way of life. The Ely Community Center was important not just as a structure but as a belief in the American Dream when that dream was threatened.  A resident who attended the opening stated, “You have no idea what this building meant. The people of Ely were so proud.”

The building was designed by William M. Ingemann, a nationally recognized and prominent Minnesota architect.  The building has architectural standing. It is referenced in both the Berkley Living New Deal website and in the guide to Architecture in Minnesota

The design is Streamline or Art Moderne. It is faced with Mankato fabricated greystone with bas relief carvings ornamenting the lower walls. The entrances are enhanced by metal decoration highlighting the building’s use. Large glass block windows are historic to the period. 

The building housed a cafeteria in the lower level, library and office space on the main level and a massive open auditorium on the upper level. It has a total square footage of 28,834.

The main entrance opens to a wide marble staircase, allowing access to the first and second levels and basement below. The central lobby on the main floor is faced with Montana Travertine Marble, oak display cases and a gold leaf ceiling. The original library space features quarter-sawn white oak paneling and a fireplace made of rose, tan, and brown Minnesota Kasota Stone. A Carl Gawboy mural covers the upper walls of an anteroom on the South Side of the entrance. A photograph of that mural can be seen today in the reading room at the Minnesota North College Campus.  

The marble stairs and decorative brass stair rail lead up to the second-floor lobby. A fine brass clock decorates the lobby area as well as period light fixtures.  The lobby leads to the large auditorium decorated with subtle geometric trim and an acoustic ceiling. The roof over the auditorium is spanned with steel trusses, purlins and decking allowing for a stunning large open space without the interruption of support columns. The floor is oak block set in asphalt.  There is a stage at the north end of the auditorium with lights, stage curtains and a connecting green room.

For 75 years the Ely Community Center was central to the lives of the citizens of Ely.  It housed evening classes for children and teenagers and club meetings for adults. There were weddings, and dances, and dinners, and art fairs and fundraisers.  In November 2014, the building was closed to the public. Most recently, the building has been purchased by a developer, who will bring new life to this architectural jewel.  


1938 – the construction of the Ely Community Center is completed

November 2014 – the Ely Community Center is closed to the public

2022 – the Ely Community Center was purchased by a private developer


Information from the Ely-Winton Historical Society files

The Ely Community Center Final Re-Use Study, Ely Mn., The City of Ely, September 4, 2014

The anniversary Committee. Centennial roaring Stoney Days – In Commemoration of Ely’s 70th Birthday 1888-1958. Edition Second, October 30, 1982. Ely, Minnesota Ely-Winton HIsotrical Society, 1958. 

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Ely-Winton Hisotrical Society

Domich Collection

Domich Collection

Domich Collection