Think of Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes trails, the suburban Nine Mile Creek trail and Dakota County’s Big Rivers trail, and what comes to mind are images that make you want to hop on a bike: lakes, a burbling creek, the confluence of two mighty rivers.
But the Intercity Regional Trail? Meh, not so much.
The trail with the name problem will run south from Lake Nokomis in Minneapolis through Richfield into Bloomington. Three Rivers Park District, which is in charge of the developing trail, would only say that “Intercity” was the name the trail had during the planning process and that the subject will be discussed by park commissioners in December.
Apparently in search of a moniker with a little more flair, the park district asked city councils in Bloomington and Richfield to suggest a new name. While Richfield settled on a title that offers a doff of the hat to the city’s pioneering settlers — the Bartholomew Regional Trail — Bloomington got a bit more creative.
In addition to some ho-hum suggestions like Airport or MSP trail, they suggested the Black CatTrail, after a notorious saloon that once graced the corner of Old Shakopee Road and Cedar Avenue. Or the Speedway Field Trail, in honor of the original name of what is now Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where planes once landed on grass in the center of an old racetrack.
“Usually these trails have a geographic or historic allusion in their names,” said Randy Quale, Bloomington’s parks and recreation manager. “When they first started talking about it, some people said the ‘Intercity Trail’ isn’t a good descriptor.”
Bloomington’s other suggestions included Wold-Chamberlain, Nokomis-Long Meadow, Amelia-St. Pierre, Cedar-Valley, Valley Link and Minnesota River-Grand Rounds.
But the most memorable was Black Cat.
It was the suggestion of longtime council member Vern Wilcox, who has a history of pressing for more colorful titles for things that need naming. Wilcox said he objected when Bloomington renamed the developing area near the Mall of America the “South Loop.”
“What the hell does that mean?” he said. “Geez, there’s any number of names we could have picked.”
Black Cat brought good luck
At age 67, he remembers his parents going out for dancing and drinks at the Black Cat during the 1950s. By that time the business, which was rumored to be a speak-easy during Prohibition, had become a nightclub.
Wilcox said the Black Cat was responsible for his family moving from south Minneapolis to Bloomington, because that’s how his parents first ventured into the growing suburb.
“They’d go out and dance and party there, and my dad kind of discovered Bloomington because of that,” Wilcox said. “We moved here in 1958.”
The Black Cat stands large in the memories of older Bloomington residents, partly because of its racy reputation and partly because of the eye-catching sign that hung outside. There were rumors that in the old days, ladies of the night worked on the second floor.
“I heard those rumors, but I don’t remember that [in the 1950s],” Wilcox said. “It was a nightclub bar then.”
Wilcox said that when he suggested to other council members that the trail be named for the Black Cat, “Everybody went, ‘What?’
“I’m the only dinosaur left there,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe one other person on the council remembered it.”
Wilcox still thinks it would make a good name for the trail.
“It made Bloomington famous,” he said. “Frankly, [the trail route] is the one that most people took to get to the Black Cat.”
In later years, the Black Cat building was an antiques store. In 2002, the building fell victim to the relentless march of progress: It was razed to make way for a right-turn lane.
The final decision on the trail’s name rests with park commissioners.