Bidding the Colonial Building farewell

The remaining section of the Colonial Building in Rochester is making way for a new structure connecting the Jacobson and Eisenberg buildings. Staff are sharing their memories of the building.

Mayo Clinic’s skyline in downtown Rochester is changing. Demolition of the Colonial Building is underway as part of an expansion of proton beam therapy services in the adjacent Jacobson Building.

The demolition crew got to work earlier this month, after Mayo Clinic salvaged architecturally and historically relevant aspects of the building — including the colonnade and front door — for reuse in future projects.

Staff are taking note of the demolition and are stopping at the site to reflect and share memories.

Reflecting on the future

Valmik Patel snaps a selfie with colleagues while watching the Colonial Building demolition.

Earlier this week, Valmik Patel, ran into a group of colleagues from Information Technology and Radiation Oncology, who happened to come by the construction site and observed the demolition for a few moments.

"Watching the demolition was very therapeutic for me," Patel says. "Watching the destruction while knowing what will be also creates a sense of excitement that keeps working here all the more interesting."

Patel is an Information Technology networking resource as part of the expansion project and says he enjoys seeing how Mayo makes the most of its spaces.

"It's a constant evolution of the campus that ultimately helps keep Mayo Clinic innovating and the place to go for our patients," he says.

Cherishing memories

Meanwhile, Jan Bruhnke, Media Support Services, remembers her time on Colonial 5, where she worked as a paste-up artist assembling posters and graphic production artist from 1994 to the mid-2000s.

“We loved our building and the office spaces. Since they were old nursing dorms, they were spacious and included a bathroom in each one,” Bruhnke says.

A view of Colonial Hospital in 1952.
A view of Colonial Hospital in 1952.

While she is sad about the demolition, she notes that the proton beam therapy services expansion will save many lives.

"I know it's necessary to advance with the needs of the patients, and it will be a great asset to those needing treatment," Bruhnke says.

A special connection

And then there is Lynelle Campeau, who has a special connection to the Colonial Building that spans almost 40 years.

She lived in the building as a nurse intern in the summer of 1985, having moved to Rochester from her small hometown of Foley, Minnesota.

"I was excited to live in the dorm called Clara Madsen Hall," she says. "It was the first job I had that far away from home. I was thrilled to be here."

Lynelle Campeau in front of the Colonial Building colonnade.
Lynelle Campeau in front of the Colonial Building colonnade.

Campeau had a front-row seat to the demolition of another section of the Colonial Building that year and says it was fun to see how much work occurred each day.

"It was hard to sleep past 7 a.m. because the sounds of the wrecking ball and the demolition were deafening at times," she says.

Campeau also enjoyed living right next to work with a quick commute through the subway. She was offered a permanent job at Mayo Clinic less than a year later.

Then 12 years later, her path would again lead her to the Colonial Building, where she became director of Children's R&R in 1997. She now leads the facility at its new location in northwest Rochester.

A quick history

The Colonial Building was the remaining section of a four-part facility known as the Colonial Hospital for many years.

The Kahler Corporation built two sections in 1915 as a combined hotel-hospital. Another section was added in 1916 when the facility was converted to all-hospital use to meet patient demand. A final section — the one that remained until today — was added in 1949.

The Colonial Building in 2014.

The 1915 and 1916 sections were demolished in 1985 to make room for the expansion of what is now the Methodist Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester. At that time, the remaining 1949 section was named the Colonial Building.

Colonial contributions

The Colonial Building was the site of significant contributions to medicine, including the first successful open-heart bypass procedure at Mayo Clinic in 1955.

A heart-lung bypass machine from this period and artifacts related to the story of Mayo's first patient to undergo this procedure — a 5-year-old girl from North Dakota — are on display in Heritage Hall, which is in Mathews Grand Lobby in the Gonda Building. If you can't visit in person, check out the virtual tour.

A patient room in the 1920s.

The Colonial Building also played a key role in Mayo's educational mission.

Generations of physicians rotated through the building as part of their fellowship and residency training. The Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing awarded diplomas to 3,827 nursing graduates who practiced at Mayo Clinic and many medical organizations throughout the U.S. and internationally until its closure in 1970.

More recently, the Colonial Building was home to Mayo's Nicotine Dependence Center, Children's R&R and the Patient Education Library.

"The Colonial Building played an important part in values-based medical innovation and service to patients," says Matthew Dacy, director of Mayo Clinic Heritage Hall. "This tradition will continue with the new proton beam facility."

Share your memories, help preserve history

The Colonial Building in 1915.

The W. Bruce Fye Center for the History of Medicine and Heritage Days are preserving the story of the Colonial Building through photos, timelines and other media.

You are encouraged to share your stories and memories, which will be added to the collection maintained by Mayo Clinic Archives.

Follow construction progress

You can view two webcams if you want to follow the demolition and construction progress around the Colonial Building.