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Telluride's Swede Finn Hall Lives Again

Karl G. Olin

Swede Finn Hall Today's "In" Inn

"Swede Finn" has become a household word today in Telluride, CO. Since its reverently-executed restoration, Telluride's old Swede Finn lodge hall is officially called "The New Swede Finn Temperance Hall" and is a combination of richly traditional gathering place and well-ordered restaurant. During the happy days of the gold rush, it was a much-frequented gathering place for Ostrobothnians in the mining community. However, in the 1950's the activities of the Swede Finn's association Morgonrodnan began to wane. For several decades, the hall stood more or less unused; at the same time dilapidation began to steal in.

Since the beginning of the 1970's, Telluride has been developing into one of the Rocky Mountains' most popular ski areas and is today experiencing a new economic boom. Despite the fact that this small town of 1,300 people lies beautifully embedded in a valley between the mountains, the area actually lies 3,000 meters above sea level. This truly hot "in-spot" attracts film stars and other millionaires, celebrities like Tom Cruise, Sylvester "Rambo" Stallone, Oliver Stone and Oprah Winfrey. The mountain slopes offer superb possibilities for slalom skiing. Today, streams of jet-set people ski down the slopes, pedal around on mountain bikes, drive luxurious jeeps, climb mountains, or hike just for fun. The reverently-restored city center has a charming atmosphere of the old Wild West about it. The fact that neon lights are forbidden in the town contributes to the turn-of-the-century mood.

Old Telluride itself has been declared a national historic district, which means that all old buildings are protected and that new construction is strictly regulated. You can't make changes in the facades of the old houses, so that some which appear to be simple mineworkers' homes on the exterior can be luxurious palaces within the walls.

...ravages of time
would have made
an end to the old
Swede Finn Hall
so rich in
tradition if it had
not been for a
young man
named David
Wolf

It's certain that the ravages of time would have made an end to the old Swede Finn Hall so rich in tradition if it had not been for a young man named David Wolf. Every day on his way to work, David passed the old hall. He thought it was a shame that it just stood there rotting. In the fall of 1991 he decided to do something about it. His parents put up part of the capital which was needed, and the bank loaned him the rest. In January of 1992, negotiations with the then-owner were settled, and for one half million dollars David became the owner of the building rich in fine old traditions. Then the restoration was undertaken, which grew equally expensive when totaled. David has thus far plowed more than a million dollars into it. But as a result he has a well-ordered restaurant today in a very attractive spot.

Wolf took on an extensive job of restoration. First he moved the hall 6 yards to one side. Then a hole was excavated for a floor at the basement level, and then the hall was moved back. But today it actually stands several yards off its original position so that it can have the best possible placement at a street corner. In the lower level, modern bathrooms, a kitchen and a billiard hall were installed.

During the restoration, the hall proved to be surprisingly well-constructed, this taking into consideration that many buildings in Telluride were put up in the old mining days as temporary dwellings and the quality was accordingly poor. Wolf explains that the Swede Finns had utilized large railroad spikes while building their hall, which apparently they had taken home from the railroads possibly for use in the hall's construction.

But there was one headache for Wolf. During the renovation lots of empty bottles were found which apparently had contained homebrew. From the evidence, temperance was not that deeply-rooted among the miners. Drinking on the sly could be explained by the fact that the ladies of Telluride neither wished to nor were allowed to enter buildings where spirits were served.

It is with dumbstruck admiration that one who visits the hall allows himself to be guided around this reverently-restored building. Wolf operated on the premise that the renovation would preserve the hall's character as much as possible. As far as he could, he has tried to use old materials and to restore the original colors. That also includes the interiors. Among other things, the old stage remains, even if it had to be set back a few yards. The result is that the restaurant reminds one a lot of an ordinary Ostrobothnian community center; that is, if one ignores the fact that Swede Finn Hall has a bar right inside the entrance and has 25 full-time employees.

The 29-year old Wolf has absolutely no connections at all to the Finland Swedes, neither through his kin nor in any other way. The fact is, he's had a number of problems forming an image of the ethnic group which built the hall in the old days. A friend of his has tried to straighten out the matter, and you can read a short history of the Finland Swedes on the restaurant's menu. Of course, it's not completely correct in all the details, but most of it is reasonably correct.

Wolf would be
very interested in
adding some
Swede Finn
dishes to the
menu.

A few visitors from Finland have found the way to old Swede Finn Hall, but Wolf has never seen any other Finland Swedes before. Many other guests also ask him what that funny expression "Swede Finn" means. Wolf would be very interested in adding some Swede Finn dishes to the menu. Today the Scandinavian influence is limited to the offering of vegetarian meatballs. Wolf would also very much like to introduce glögg to Telluride. It would be something to serve cold downhill skiers when they come in after a long day on thc slopes.

Wolf also lacks photos of how the Swede Finn Hall appeared in the old days. There was a photo at Telluride's museum they thought was taken in front of the hall. But, when the photo was enlarged it proved to originate from the Finnish Hall, which actually stands only a little bit farther down the street.

Worthy of a Medal!

At a time when traces of the old Swede Finn emigrants are getting ever scarcer in North America, here an important bit of the history of their emigration has been preserved - on top of that, by a person who has not the least tie to the Swede Finn culture. Into the bargain this happens in an area which is one of the real "in spots" in the USA right now. Swedish Finland could never have asked for a better PR ambassador.

"Will I be famous now?" asks Wolf, a little scared as he gets ready to pose for the photographer standing next to the dignified sign, "Swede-Finn Hall Restaurant and Billiards Parlour", which is situated invitingly at the entrance to the restaurant.

Famous or not, this young businessman is surely worthy of some form of recognition for his unique contribution. The thought comes - couldn't Svenska Finland's folkting, Svenska Folkskolans vänner, Svenska kulturfonden, or some other group award David Wolf a medal?

Karl G. Olin is a journalist with the Jakobstads Tidning, Jakobstad, Finland, and an independent historical author. The article was translated by Syrene Forsman.

Published by SFHS Newsletter 1995, Vol. 4, No.4

© K-G Olin

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