Construction crews are working to save the Corner Bar’s original façade. Courtesy Orion Construction
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The Rockford community lost an iconic site in August when a fire, fueled by a gas line, tore through the Corner Bar on 31 N. Main St., damaging most of the structure.
“First of all, we want to give thanks that even though the fire is severe, that no one was hurt,” owner Jeff Wolfe wrote on the Corner Bar website.
Wolfe added the Corner Bar plans to make a comeback and continue its “fine history” of serving the Rockford community. Wolfe and his wife Sarah recently contracted Orion Construction, and a crew began securing the site last month and tearing down what could not be saved.
The east-facing brick façade and the northeast corner of the building were shored up immediately, and the crew hopes to save as much of the old building as possible.
“It’s definitely a staple of Rockford,” said Brad Walsh, project manager at Orion. “It is the one bar that everyone seems to gravitate to. It was the oldest bar in Rockford.”
Walsh said he has heard a number of stories from people in the area talking about the connection they had to the old bar. One of his contractors on the project told him about a Christmas tradition involving the bar that he won’t be able to take part in this year.
“He said this was the first time in 15 years he wouldn’t be traveling up to Rockford to cut down a Christmas tree and then go to the Corner Bar and have a meal,” Walsh said.
Another story involved an older woman and Rockford resident who asked for a brick from the old building just as the crew barricaded the site.
“It’s amazing the connection that people have to it,” Walsh said.
Before the fire, the Corner Bar was set in a historic brick building built in 1873. According to the Corner Bar history on the company’s website, the bar began selling hot dogs after Prohibition, as the law required them to serve food to be able to serve alcohol.
Previous owner Donald R. Berg created the Hot Dog Hall of Fame in 1968. Wolfe bought the building with then-business partner Andy Tidey in 2000.
Orion said it will be incorporating the old “Wall of Fame” that displayed names of those who ate more than 12 hot dogs. A Rockford High School class took photos of all the nameplates that covered the walls.
The façade also will be saved, and the crew will maintain the fit, finish and feel of the original bar, while making the necessary upgrades. One of the major additions will be a remodeling of the second floor, which will include an open-air patio. The new bar is slated for completion in the summer of 2018 and will have a maximum capacity of about 300 guests.
The projected cost of rebuilding is an estimated $1.2 million and will be covered by the owner’s insurance. Grand Rapids-based Henrickson Architecture is providing architectural services for the project.