Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

That Lavender Inn billboard needs to go March 9, 2015

AWHILE AGO, A READER tipped me off to an outdated billboard along Interstate 35 bypassing Faribault.

Finally, on purpose, I traveled that stretch of interstate specifically to see this billboard off the northbound lanes:

Not the best photo, but snapped at interstate speed passing by.

Not the best photo, but snapped at interstate speed passing by.

Now imagine you’re a traveler. You’re hungry. You see the sign for the Lavender Inn Restaurant. And bonus, there’s an art gallery. So you take Exit 59.

But then you can’t find the darned place. You see a bank and a liquor store, restaurants, hotels and other businesses in the area, even a housing development. But the Lavender Inn? Nope. Not even along Lavender Drive.

By this time you are frustrated, not to mention hungry and disappointed. You had your heart set on dining at the Lavender and perusing art.

I wonder how many times this scenario has happened. The Lavender Inn has been closed for a long time, although I can’t find the precise date of closure.

But in January 2003, long-time sole owners Gaylen and Bebe Jensen, who opened the eatery first as a drive-in in June 1960, sold the property to investors. Eventually, the restaurant, which was, indeed, painted a distinct lavender hue, was torn down, replaced by business and housing developments.

Why, then, does the billboard remain posted along Interstate 35? Its presence misleads travelers.

For those of us who remember the Lavender, though, the sign jars memories of Faribault’s finest dining establishment. I ate here perhaps less than a dozen times in a restaurant that evolved into a supper club. Remember supper clubs? Folks drove from all over to dine here on Saturday evenings and on Sundays after church.

The Lavender had its regulars, including Rotarians who met here monthly. For My husband and me, this marked a place to celebrate on the rarest of special occasions given the cost of a meal in this fancy setting.

I remember the gallery rich in gilded frames and fine art and big game trophy animals from Gaylen Jensen’s African safari hunts. It all seemed rather foreign to me. And perhaps therein was part of the appeal, along with cloth napkins.

In the digital archives of Northfield’s Carleton College I found a KYMN radio jingle for the Lavender Inn, advertised as โ€œa portrait in fine dining…an original in dining.โ€ It’s worth a listen (click here).

Perhaps the Lavender Inn roadside ad ought to be archived somewhere as an important part of Faribault’s restaurant history. And then replace the sign with an attention-grabbing billboard welcoming visitors to Faribault’s historic downtown.

ยฉ Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


52 Responses to “That Lavender Inn billboard needs to go”

  1. Wow, who would think an old billboard would elicit such a great memorial to a restaurant I have never been to, or heard of. I could see your point about tearing down the sign, seeing confused folks driving around looking for it. But maybe it actually would draw more people to a town they most likely would not stop at other wise.
    Listened to the jingle, it really was great actually. Things like that would never work anymore. Makes me sad for its loss, as well as your descriptions. It seems like it was a place to be. Do you have any pictures of it by any chance?

  2. Brian Schmidt Says:

    I talked with the Rice County Historical Society Museum about the sign and adding it down at the grounds for an outside exhibit. Some were excited about the idea. Who owns the billboard? How hard would it be to remove such a large sign? It looks like it may be put together with 4 x 8 sheets of plywood? It would be a great addition to the RCHS in Faribault.

    • Excellent, Brian. I’m delighted to hear that you’ve already approached the Historical Society about this billboard. It needs to be saved. The Lavender Inn was an iconic part of Faribault’s history.

      I have no idea who owns the sign. Keep me posted if you learn anything or the RCHS decides to assume its ownership.

      Also, remember that evergreen shaped signage for the Evergreen Knoll. Every time I drove past that former supper club site, I said, “I really need to photograph that sign.” Then, guess what? One day it was gone. That sign should also be added to the RCHS.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    I am surprised that bit of ad real estate hasn’t been snatched up. Whomever manages that billboard is likely missing out on some revenue.

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    I have noticed that sign on my many travels up and down 35 and never even imagined that it was not still around although the condition of the sign should have been a hint. Great idea to salvage it to have it placed in a historical display someplace. By all means—a new sign showing all that Faribault has is in order. And supper clubs—I think they might be making a resurgence. I have heard of one in Clear Lake that is alive and going strong recently.

    • We never travel that stretch of I35, which is why I was unaware of the billboard’s existence. There, now we have directly from a traveler (you) who thought the Lavender still exists.

      I think there are still “supper clubs” in existence; you just need to really search for them. Apparently the one in Clear Lake is billing itself as a “supper club.” Correct?

  5. Jackie Says:

    It’s interesting that this advertisement is still on the billboard, isn’t it. I’m wondering if the billboard company went out of business too because they certainly aren’t making any money off the “Lavender Inn” I chuckled at the little radio jingle…. That’s all I can say about that ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. treadlemusic Says:

    Ah yes, the “supper club”…..back when dining out was a special event, before such places as McDonalds, DQ, Culvers and other ‘fast food’ establishments became common-place and utilized by all the present day families with 2 working spouses (too exhausted at the end of the day to prepare a home-cooked meal). The evening supper has been replaced, pushed into the shadows, by all the school events and other schedules that have made eating a “grab-and-go” activity and eating in the car (taboo when I was growing up!) the “dining room” of choice!!!!! Sad. How many life experiences go unshared at a common table because of this???

  7. Marneymae Says:

    Maybe the sign could hang in the beautiful brick bakery building…

  8. Lori Weyrauch Says:

    I listened to the jingle–what a hoot! Audrey, you are so good at sleuthing information on a variety of topics. I remember the sign, also, and always thought it would be a neat place to eat since it was “lavender”–I love any shade of purple ๐Ÿ™‚ From junior high I have a recipe for “Hubble House Dressing” which was from the Hubble House in Mantorville. Another “supper club” that has lost its glory days (but, I think it is still a restaurant).

  9. Sue Ready Says:

    wow you have generated a lot of conversation in comments above about a billboard and motivated some to find a new home for this outdated sign.
    Actually i do recall stopping there on a return trip from Iowa many many years ago. The “supper club” concept has long since vanished. I’m not even sure my own children know what the words mean.
    Thanks for bringing back a piece of nostalgia.

  10. Littlesundog Says:

    Around these parts, old billboards and signage are rescued and used in both commercial and residential decor. Oddly, when our Dad passed away we kids discovered several old automobile dealership and grain company signs stored along a huge dividing wall. I guess Dad or Grandpa collected them to use as wallboard in the barns, but never got the work done to install them. Some are still very colorful and beautiful!

  11. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    And the first thing I thought was why hasn’t some graffiti artist worked on that billboard? There would be some irony in that.

  12. Thanks for this post, Audrey! Who would have thought that an off-handed comment would bring such passion to this long-lost piece of Faribault history. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thinks something fun could be done with this old, historic billboard! Given the other wonderful murals throughout Faribault, I’m with other readers who suggest taking it down and moving it to another location. Perhaps Dave at Brushworks could work his magic to restore it!? I couldn’t quite make it out on your picture, but if you can glean the name-plate of the billboard company (usually quite prominent, in the middle of the billboard) I would be happy to contact the company and see if we can “make-a-deal” to either restore it (to include new updated information about other offerings in Faribault), or have it removed and possibly re-located in Faribault. If you can’t see it on the picture, let me know and I’ll drive out there and take a look.

    • Tami, thanks for your original tip on this billboard and your enthusiasm for saving it. I like your idea of having Brushworks restore the sign and relocating it.

      I looked at my photos, none of which are great because of the conditions under which the images were shot. But I believe the name of the billboard company is MAGIC MEDIA.

      Please keep me posted via email or otherwise so I know what you’ve got going with the sign. Thanks for all you do to promote Faribault. I’d like to find a photo of the Lavender Inn to post here.

  13. Also, forgot to mention, Alexander’s Supper Club, 31-3rd Street NE, Faribault (http://www.alexanderssupperclub.com/) is relatively new, opening in June 2014. It’s definitely worth a try . . . they hired a new, accredited chef a few weeks ago and the drinks coming out of the bar are fabulous! The restaurant is located in a beautifully, renovated shoe factory in the heart of downtown Faribault. Downstairs is Pub 31, featuring a slightly different menu from the upstairs restaurant and live music on the weekends.

  14. Almost Iowa Says:

    Oh please, don’t tear the sign down. Tack an addendum to it, “Closed but remembered”.

  15. I remember Minnesota supper clubs. In Marshall, there was one called the Club 59. I’m hoping that’s the name – we’re relying on my memory now. Oh, what a thrill it was to go there occasionally and get crab legs! So funny how these types of restaurants go out of fashion.

    • Your memory is absolutely correct. Club 59 was in Marshall. My closest high school friends and I went there during the winter of our senior year to celebrate our forthcoming graduation. I have photos of all of us together. But, alas, none actually show Club 59.

      Do you remember the Blue Moon Ballroom in Marshall?

      • No, but I’ll ask my Dad. I lived there in 1972, Audrey. My Dad was born and raised in Marshall and that’s where my grandparents are buried. So funny that you have been to a place I remember!

      • It would have been 1974 when my friends and I dined at Club 59.

        I just googled Club 59, but did not come up with any results showing it still exists. But, yes, ask your dad. I would love to hear what he has to say.

      • Audrey, I graduated in 1974 too! It was a good year. I will ask him and let you know.

      • Then here’s to the Class of 1974.

      • Hi Audrey, my Dad does remember the Blue Room Ballroom from 1955 when he was a regular. He remembers the funny liquor law that was in place at the time (maybe even now?) where you could bring liquor into the ballroom but couldn’t have it on the table. So there was a little ledge under the table where you put your bottle and then ordered your mixers. He remembers that hundreds of people went there on Friday nights in summer and that it was “the” thing to do in Marshall. Good bands came like Les Paul and his Band of Renown. He had fun reminiscing about those days including that the day before he shipped out to Korea he went to the Blue Moon and got impatient in a long line of traffic after it closed. So he pulled out and passed about thirty cars only to find out that a cop was at the head of the line. He can’t remember if he got a ticket or not!

      • That is quite the story about your dad. I don’t recall ever going to the Blue Moon Ballroom. But my younger siblings did nearly every Saturday night. And I bet my mom did, too, when she was dating my dad. I will have to ask her. She met Dad at a dance place in Ghent.

        Tell your dad that the Blue Moon Ballroom burned down. That was probably in the late 70s or early 80s.

        Also, my dad served in Korea, too, on the front line. How about your father?

  16. Cindy Kubes Says:

    There have been plenty of billboards over this one. But many wind storms have blown the new ones away.it must have been really well done back in the day. But just the fact that it keeps showing up shows me that it begs to be saved!

  17. Kristen K Says:

    Ha! I was *just* wondering about this the last time I drove past Faribault. My supervisor used to work for the City of Faribault. Maybe I’ll ask him about the sign’s history… I know we’ve had signs here in Owatonna that took years to finally come down, long after the business they advertised had been demolished. (Although I would think billboards are a little different.)

  18. Christine Hanson Says:

    I loved your article. I worked as a waitress there in my middle 20’s. I was taken to dinner there just a couple of times… But one of those times… well it was the first day, of my brand new journey in life. It was the special night when my husband proposed to me.
    He literally got down on one knee at the side of our table and pulled out that unmistakable little box from the inside pocket of his blazer, and asked me to marry him. An unforgettable moment… him all nervous and ADORABLY awkward. It was the Spring of 1994 and we married that next March of 95′
    Well we just had our 25th wedding Anniversary this year, and once again we we’re left with “I wish the Lavender Inn was still open”

  19. Mark Lang Says:

    I remember going to the Lavender Inn from Carleton College for two or three special meals in the 1980’s. My Dad was a travelling salesman and he knew the spots. It was a supper club. The building was lavender and I think the story was that it had started out as a drive up. But then a lot of great places did in those days.

    You walked up some steps, across a gift shop gallery and in to a big dining room which had a leopard print carpet. And the rest of it was lavender and gilt. I mean you expect a pink velvet breakfast room at the Schlosshotel in Pontresina, Switzerland, but the lavender and leopard decor was a surprise in the cornfields of the Midwest. Indeed, it was kitsch and it was surreal. And yes, the meals were very good. I remember a student from Texas had never eaten lamb. She might as well have told us she was an alien.

    Nevertheless, Dad always read the room and could deliver the line. He also took me to a steak house in St. Paul down towards the river and then for desert at the Crystal Palace. That waiter could not understand that we were there for desert and coffee. So yes he could start us with coffee and the desert menu, as we just had a wonderful steak dinner in St. Paul.

    • Mark, thank you for sharing your wonderful memories of the Lavender Inn. Your descriptions of the setting and the food seem accurate. I dined there only a few times. It truly was a special place for many locals and others, like you.

      Just for the record, I’ve never eaten lamb. When my son attended Tuft’s University in greater Boston not all that long ago, I remember him telling me about the lamb served in the dining hall along with a lot of other foods he’d never eaten. It was a big change from the basics I cooked for him when he was at home and a big change from the hot dish and simple salads served at the North Dakota State University dining hall. He attended NDSU his freshman year before getting accepted as a transfer student into Tufts.

      Your culinary experiences are much different than mine and it’s interesting to hear about them. Thank you for appreciating the Lavender Inn, “a surprise in the cornfields of the Midwest.”

  20. Susan Ready Says:

    My oh my goodness Audrey, 50 is quite an impressive number of responses to your posting and so many detailed thoughts. Obviously, you evoked similar memories with a lot of folks. I do remember being there a few times.

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