Historic Mueller Buildings Destroyed by Fire

Posted by Scott on May 11, 2022

(written by Anita Taylor Doering, Archives staff)


Mueller buildings, 300 block of South 4th Street, on fire 28 April 2022.  Photo taken by Don Murphy

Our community is grieving the loss of two historic buildings in downtown La Crosse from a devastating fire last month.  Thankfully, everyone was safe (including the pets!), and the La Crosse Fire Department worked tirelessly to try and save lives, the building, and other buildings in the area.


The three large bay windows seen in the photo looking west are 2nd-story features of the two buildings in the 300 block of South 4th Street that were destroyed by fire 28 April 2022, ca. 1909.


There were actually two buildings actively involved in the fire.  Both buildings were considered historic since the buildings were over one hundred years old.  The smaller, one-bay commercial building to the north (318 South 4th St) was completed in 1898 and replaced residential homes. Emil T. and Louisa (Heileman) Mueller had the building constructed as a rental and owned it until 1916.  This building housed retail and commercial businesses on the first floor and had apartments above.


Heileman children. Faces with yellow boxes: back row, second from left is Louisa Heileman (oldest daughter, later married Emil Mueller); on the right is Pauline Heileman (later married Otto Mueller).

The larger two-bay store (320-322 South 4th St) was built by Otto A. and Pauline (Heileman) Mueller in 1902.  Yes, two Mueller brothers married two Heileman sisters, daughters of Gottlieb and Johanna Heileman.  Emil took over operation of the G. Heileman Brewing Company after the death of Gottlieb (1878), Johanna (1917), and their only son, Henry (1895).  Otto worked in the city engineer’s office for many years.  This building also housed retail and commercial businesses on the first floor and had apartments above.  The descendants owned this property at least into the 1960s.


Heileman family. Faces with yellow boxes: back row third from left is Emil Mueller; back row fifth from left is Pauline Heileman Mueller.; back row center is Johanna Heileman; kneeling is Louisa Heileman Mueller.

For a few hours between getting the fire under control and razing the completely devastated buildings, a "ghost sign" (an old, painted billboard) appeared on the side of 318 after the collapse of the larger building (320-322).  Some words were intelligible, but it read something to the effect of "Franz Saloon Sells G. Heileman."  This sign is a remnant of the four years before 320-322 was built, while 318 was the home of the William Franz Saloon (1898-1903), and signifies the Mueller-Heileman ownership of these buildings in their earlier years.  These buildings had been altered from their original architectural design.  Two independent buildings became one in 1979 as the first-floor interior was joined into one space and the brick exterior was covered with stucco.  A false Tudor style treatment was applied to the bottom exterior.  Much of the buildings’ decoration was lost or covered over.



Ghost sign only visible for a few hours before both buildings were torn down.  Photos taken by Don Murphy

The New China Café, the only Chinese restaurant in the city at that time, moved into the space in 1972 from Mississippi Street.  In 1982, descendants of the Wong family sold their restaurant business to Hunan’s Chinese Restaurant franchise.  The New China Cafe was reopened later at Center Q. Hunan's remained at the South 4th Street address until the end of 2021.  The India Curry House had just opened in February at this location.


Mueller buildings, 300 block of South 4th Street, ca. 2000