Buildings that Wildly Intrigue Me #1

Check out these intriguing buildings.

1.    The Colonnade (1888)

This building is perched on the edge of the freeway and is festooned with weird hemispheric red-and-white striped awnings and arched windows. There are crazy balconies and pillars everywhere, including tiny ten-foot elaborate Rapunzel perches with those Roman-looking garland bas relief thingies underneath them. There are pillars galore. There are even balconies surrounded by pillars, because why not?

Also, there are actual Greek-style statues on each side of the weird entrance. Look at these stone people people groping themselves!

Are they having a staring contest? Yes, they are.

Someone once told me there was a fire here years ago but somehow the fire fighters saved the building and kept all the bricks and walls in place. Thanks SPFD!

The inside of the building used to have the only Kurdish restaurant in the country inside it, and still has some downtrodden corner stores that serve people of modest means.

The Colonnade is crazy. Even looking at it loosens your screws. I can only imagine that in the late 19th century there were tons of architecturally deranged buildings like this in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, designed by nouveau riche people with Trumpian levels of bad taste, only from the Victorian era.


2. The Music and Book Landfill (1922)

What is in here? A "music and book landfill"? What does that even mean? Is this where bad music goes when it’s “thrown away”? Is that where they found Rick Rolls for the first time?

What is inside that huge cupola?

Underneath its drab grey surface lie wild patches of colored paint. I am serious!

If the plot of "Ghostbusters" ever happens in Saint Paul, look here first for Gozer the Gozerian.

[Wait, what is that?]

3.     The Commutator Building (1884)
What does “commutator” even mean? I have literally never heard this word before, and nobody ever will again.

OK I looked it up. Check it out. It's something about electricity and math!

Intriguing? I think so.

The old smokestack in the back of this building leans further to the right than Hillary Clinton running for senate the first time. It is litereally held in place by ancient cables, defying gravity in a steampunk way like a Miyazaki aircraft.

There used to be a basketball hoop inside the ruined walls of the back half of this building that was overgrown with weeds. It was glimpseable through a tiny hole in the wooden door in the alcove. I am not even kidding. If I had ever had the chance to sneak in and shoot three pointers in a lost Minneapolis ruins I would have moved away immediately, just to keep my memory unspoiled.

[Go in this scary alcove, you won't regret it.]


Twin City Doorways #36


 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Payne Avenue, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [Phillips, Minneapolis.]

[University Avenue, Saint Paul.]

[Downtown, Minneapolis.]


Reading the Highland Villager #204

[A Frogtown Villager unearthing.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Conservatory of Music to move to St. Paul’s church; It’s part of a larger plan for a performing arts center
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Planning Commission [it me!] approved a permit for an old church to be used as a concert and music lesson venue. The church is 104 years old and mostly empty. Neighbors are concerned about parking. [The group here is called SARPA.]

Headline: Police unveil new approach to using force in arresting possible suspects
Author: Kevin Driscoll

Short short version: [Please don’t shoot people.]

Headline: St. Paul businesses are wary of a hike in minimum wage; Some question whether it is the best approach to reducing poverty in city
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Since when has paying people more helped reduce poverty? they asked  loudly.]

Headline: City Council supports $2 billion plan for Riverview streetcar line
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Riverview streetcar proposal [which as I said is very vague at the moment and missing crucial details like route and footprint and dedicated ROW %] was approved by the City Council. [Guess which CM was absent? Hint: starts with B and rhymes with “nostrom.” Nostrom, by the way, is an interesting word. I urge you to look it up.] There was a public hearing. CM Noecker, who represents the area, voted in favor. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking and a lack of room. Quote from a business owner: “You can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” [Little known fact: West 7th once had streetcars running on it.] Quote from neighbor citing a “planned bikeway on West 7th”: “Fixed rail and bicycles don’t play together.” [OTOH, bicycling on West 7th is very not-good presently. Also there is no “planned bikeway on West 7th” AFAIK. In fact, a special amendment to the bike plan explictly banned such a concept.] Other people were in favor of the idea.

Headline: Snelling/St. Clari site eyed for new one-story commercial building
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A flower shop / strip mall an Snelling Avenue will be developed into a one-story building. [This is the site of the proposed five-story housing development that was pulled because of a mix of neighbor concerns, lack of street level mixed-use, and a problem with site control involving a parking lot for a dance studio.] No housing is planned. There will be parking.

Headline: Allianz Field scores large sign variances
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The new soccer stadium can have a big sign during construction and also when it’s open. BZA (board of zoning appeals) people are worried that it might prevent development.

Headline: Sustain chair fined for stolen ‘Stop Ford’ signs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A person was accused of stealing “anti-Ford site” development signs and sued over it before settling the "suit". One concerned neighbor filed the case in small claims court. The alleged sign stealer denies stealing the signs and is quoted thus: "I feel like they’re trying to make an example out of me” and “Unfortunately my neighbors have chosen to use the court system to seek restitution for yard signs placed in the city right-of-way.” [Placed in the city right-of-way? Yes, you heard that correctly.] The alleged sign taker-downer had earlier tweeted the following: “wonder who had the time today to bring a step ladder out and rip down Liveable signs illegally stapled high up on trees in the public right-of-way?” [Well this is just amazing to me personally. The thing here is that these signs were graffiti / illegal litter. They were just like the pro-Bob Fletcher signs placed in theyards of abandoned houses. They were strictly speaking much like the similarly-illegal yellow “We Buy Ugly Houses” signs that I wrote about years ago and that CM Brendmoen is rightly proud of removing from poles or trees in her neighborhood. OR that civic-minded people in North Minneapolis take down continually to such a degree that they have hundreds of these signs that accumulate and build sculptures out of them. So, yes, Stop Ford signs are the rich-neighborhood equivalent of predatory lending signs in a poor neighborhood. This is just petty and sad.] The alleged culprit denies taking the signs and said that he is a “pretty average looking young male.” [Counterpoint: I think Brandon Long is above average and handsome! Anyway, if it's an undisputed fact that these signs were litter placed illegally on the public right-of-way, then this situation is beyond frivolous. See below for File photo of City Council President Amy Brendmoen's trunk, containing illegally posted signage confiscated from the public right-of-way:

[This should have been one of those "I Am Spartacus!" moments where every young male in Saint Paul simultaneously admitted to taking them down. That is all.]

Headline: Not bluffing; Moose Country, strip mall to close by end of April to make way for housing development
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The 70s-era old timey looking [but not really] strip mall in Mendota Heights is going to become housing. [“Moose Country” is a terrible place. I used to go here all the time as a kid. The chinese restaurant, then called China Delight, was exotic and exciting at the time. Also there used to be a gun shop here. Wow!]

Headline: Proposed disc golf course expansion discussed by HDC
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The parks department wants to add more disc golf holes. Neighbors are concerned about the loss of trees, frisbees hitting parked cars, and “criminal behavior.” [Disc golf seems like a fine upstanding activity to me. Serious! These anti-frisbee folks are kind of nuts-seeming.]

Headline: O'Gara's plans new mixed-use building on Snelling Ave. site
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The old Irish bar [renowned for hosting "urban conservative" social functions as well as my High School reunion as well as the 'big band in a small room' concept] is going to tear down its building and build a larger mixed-use building in its place. It might be four stories, and will occupy a whole bunch of the existing surface parking lot. Neighbors are concerned about property values and taxes. [????? grunt noise???] The owner is going to get "input" from the neighborhood. There will be parking. Article includes some mention of Charles Shultz. [I would have sworn there would be more gnashing of teeth and wailing of arms about this, but it's a weird situation because O'Gara's is also synonymous with libertarian and free-market narratives within Saint Paul. So it's like, the "lassiez faire" side of the coin is strong here. ¯\_(ツ)_/] Article includes O'Gara family history.

Headline: Commodore appeal is denied, but Rupp says he will keep dining room open
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [Speaking of libertarian / free-market narratives within Saint Paul...] The owner of an old hotel / restaurant is upset about the City Council supporting a BZA denial of an appeal to keep open a part of a restaurant. Article includes long discussion of the "nonconforming use" permit etc. CM Thao says it will all work out. There is also a Squash Club in there somewhere. Article includes history of the hotel.

Headline: Another lot spot on 1900 block of Igelhart is denied
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The owner of an old house wanted to tear it down and subdivide the lot but the city said no. A neighborhood group is trying to save the house and move it somewhere else.

Headline: Proposed residential permit parking changes reviewed
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is studying how permit parking works. There was a study and there will be two meetings. [Basically, this whole thing is a huge mess! The city loses money on this from administration costs alone, let alone opportunity costs about parking etc. The rules are arbitrary, there is supposedly rampant "gaming" of the system, and the policies change willy-nilly depending on which neighborhood you are in, and for police, it's almost impossible to enforce these rules in any way that does not involve an angry neighbor calling the police specifically. The reform should involve simplification, getting rid of the "one-hour" or "two hour" zones, raising the cost to cover inflation at the very least, having an escalating fee for the overall # of cars, and reducing the overall number of these areas to only the places where they're actually used. I doubt, though, that there will be a sensible discussion about this?]

Headline: St. Paul issues ultimatum for unregistered Airbnbs
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city passed a new short-term rental policy and is trying to get people who have short-term rentals to actually register them. They are mailing "warning notices."

Headline: Light-industrial firm opposes permit for 60 new apartments
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to turn an old abandoned slaughterhouse into housing in an industrial area but the trucking / engineering / testing firm next door is upset about it. [Name for the development: The Abbatoir Arms? Killing Floor Flats? Schlachthof-fünf?]

Headline: I-94 noise wall planned between Fairview and Prior
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: MN-DOT is putting a new noise wall along 94 between Fairview and Prior. They had a meeting about it. [Is Trump involved?]

Headline: RAS Restaurant is fined $500 for license violations
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A [East African] restaurant got fined. Two of the violations were parking related, including "expired tabs in the business' lot" and "failure to install barriers to prevent cars from parking on an adjacent vacant lot." [Seems petty.]

Headline: Correction [WOAH! This is a rare correction in the Villager! Check it out...]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: "A story in the February 28 Villager on plans to add more sidewalks in Highland Park should have stated that once people walk past the sidewalk in front of Dawn Zaidel's home on Saratoga Street, they have to walk onto a neighbor's driveway and into the street." [Most Villager correction ever.]


Introducing Sprinter (spring + winter), the Season You’ve Been Waiting For

[Sunshine + snowpack.]
People in Minnesota always say that "spring is so short here."

They also always say, with a resigned air, "Oh woe is me! We have six months of winter."

Many people wear these seasonal affectations like paper bags on their heads. In the grips of the seemingly endless winter, they wilt and feign helplessness. They insist they cannot do anything like ride bicycles, sit on patios, play football out of doors, or leave the banal containment of the downtown skyway system from November through May.

Of course that’s not true, but one of the problems I think we face as a northern (albeit rapidly warming) society is that we assume that because it *might/probably-will* snow at some point in April or November, that therefore winter lasts that long also. This kind of attitude subsumes all seasonal variation within a six-month period into once overarching and oppressive seasonal concept — “winter" — that to the untrained eye looks homogeneous and bleak and therefore sends otherwise reasonable people into a cycle of place-based self-loathing that leads invariably to seasonal affective disorders, anti-social architectural escapism, and misguided flights to Florida.

It's sad. But it doesn't have to be this way...

Listen friend, have I got a concept for you! It’s a brand new season that has already existed your whole life,  but you didn’t have a name for it yet.

It’s called Sprinter!

[Sprinter is when all these lines get tangled up at once.]
Sprinter is spring + winter, and it's the season that begins with the first 50º day and lasts until the final bit of snow or sleet-type precipitation.

Like an actual fast-moving runner, sprinter comes at you fast and can be fleeting. But it’s a meaningful, distinct season that exists in Minnesota and helps us understand the fine-grained stuff happening in between actual winter (defined as mostly below-freezing temps) and actual spring (defined as when leaves and flowers appear out of the trees and ground).

Here are some hallmarks of sprinter season.
  • Mud! Lots of mud. In some communities, sprinter is also known as “mud season.” The earthy sickly-sweet smell of mud surrounds you in sprintertime, and you grow to love it in the way that a farmer loves the smell of manure or an old man loves the smell of his farts. It’s a sign that things are alive and working properly.
  • Heavy snow. I mean this literally, in the quality vs. quantity sense, where any snow that falls has a lot of moisture content and is heavy. Thundersnow might also be a thing that happens here.
  • Melting snow. The drips and drops of snow are all around you, forming into sidewalk ice flows and piles of snirt (snow + dirt). The constant dripping and evaporation fills the air with a crisp kind of cold humidity that’s sort of exciting, especially in contrast with…
  • Warm sunshine. Unlike in actual winter, the sprintertime sun warms your skin and you can legit get a sunburn in sprinter like I did at the Minnesota United home opener this weekend. The contrast between the still-existing snow and the warm sun is the hallmark of sprinter weather. 
  • Uneven landscapes. The “warm side” of streets that get all the south-facing sun are dry but the “cold side” of streets that face northward are full of ice. It’s weird!
  • Teens wearing shorts. Oh those teens!
  • Other things? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

Sprinter is what we need. They have more than four seasons in other places (e.g. Japan’s “rainy season” and India’s “monsoon season” and the Shire’s “second breakfast”). Why not here?

Sprinter is spring + winter and it’s a season for those who feel trapped in the eternal slog of wintertime and calendars and whatnot. Embrace sprinter, for it has already embraced you. Get out and ride your bike, bask in the warmth of the midday sun, and go on walks on the sunny sides of streets.

Sprinter moves fast, so enjoy it while it lasts!

[This kid gets it!]


Walking Tour of Old Nicollet Avenue on March 22nd

[Nicollet and 17th in 1950.]

Please join me for a walking tour next Thursday of what I call "Old Nicollet Avenue," the area between the south end of the Nicollet Mall (Grant Street) and Franklin Avenue.

This is a stretch of the city that's intrigued me for many years. This is a part of the city that, at least to me, survived in the margins between downtown and the Eat Street part of Nicollet to the south. It sits nestled by the freeway and the convention center on the edge of the Loring Park neighborhood. In a way, this half-mile stretch of Nicollet Avenue feels like what Minneapolis might have been like twenty or thirty years ago, back when the city was struggling with a changing economy, crime and disinvestment, and ongoing suburbanization. And at the same time, this was the era with lots of opportunities for small marginal businesses, historic fabric, and a thriving sense of a counterculture.

[The largest onion dome of its kind in Minneapolis.]
The street is also home to a bunch of antiquated restaurants that are not long for this world -- places from another era like the now-shuttered Jerusalem's (a classic "architecture duck") and the now-shuttered Ichiban Japanese Steak House -- as well as a number of marginal-but-doing-fine restaurants like Salsa a la Salsa, Ping's Szechuan, or Awkaaba, that offer cuisine from around the world. And yet I've always felt these places were ignored by local hipsters and the downtown office crowd. Maybe they survive only on the benevolent ignorance of tourists?

I was thinking about doing this tour for many years and, I swear to god, had it planned on my calendar BEFORE the most historical restaurant on the stretch, Market BBQ, announced they were closing for a new apartment development.

So carpe veteris nicolletum. Let's explore this forgotten and vanishing part of our city on the edge of downtown and see what we can appreciate. I'm looking forward to sharing stories about old Nicollet Village Video, the Triple Espresso theater, Gangchen / Tibet Kitchen, the Marigold Ballroom, and other things that I'm uncovering about this stretch of street.

Please come if you're interested!

[Some video of Nicollet, from Franklin to the freeway, in 1983, followed by a bunch of great downtown footage.]

What: Walking tour of Nicollet Avenue from Grant Street to Franklin Avenue.
When: Thursday March 22nd at 6:30
Where: Meet at Market BBQ, 1414 Nicollet
Who: Anyone! Free of charge, but will be collecting money for egg rolls
Why: Because it's there, but not for long it seems.

[Amazing Nicollet Village Video ad and more historic pictures below.]