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The Victoria Theater at 825 University Ave. in Frogtown will be refurbished to put on live shows once more. Photo by Kimmy Tanaka.
If the walls of the Victoria Theater could talk, they'd sing. And dance. Singing and dancing will be happening there again if a neighborhood booster group can raise enough money. The century-old space with a colorful history in St. Paul's Frogtown won't become a parking lot, said writer/director Tyler Olsen, founder of the St. Paul troupe Dangerous Productions. The Twin Cities Community Land Bank will buy the Franklin Ellerbe-designed theater on behalf of the Victoria Theater Arts Initiative, a group that wants to restore the vacant eyesore, most recently a lamp store, and turn it into a combo-use space including an intimate (200-seat) theater and possibly elements of a community center.
Built in 1915, the theater originally showed movies before becoming a nightclub and then a speakeasy during Prohibition."Moonshiners' Dance: Part One," an historically influential song included in the American Anthology of Folk Music, was recorded there in 1927.The St. Paul City Council granted the Beaux Arts building historic designation in 2010.
The bank paid about $275,000 for what is “right now, a shell,” Olsen said. “No furnace, no bathrooms, but if you look hard, you can see a theater.” He said that while Bedlam Theatre’s move to Lowertown is a good thing, the closing of Gremlin Theatre on University last year leaves a need for another small performing space in St. Paul. “This brings theater out to a part of the city that thousands of people will be commuting through every day, the Central Corridor. Our goal is to engage those people as well as the neighborhood.”
A fundraising campaign is being planned, Olsen said.
A literary giant in life, the German poet and philosopher Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759 - 1805), stands as a bronze giant near the entrance to St. Paul's Como Park. Commissioned by a group of prominent German-Americans as a gift to the city of St. Paul, the sculpture immediately became a celebrated landmark at its dedication on July 7, 1907 when 5,000 people turned out to honor the writer and his legacy as an Enlightenment champion of freedom and democracy.
Recently restored, the sculpture will be re-dedicated at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11. The Minnesota Chorale will perform "Ode to Joy," from Beethoven's 9th Symphony, the lyrics of which come from Schiller's 1785 poem "Ode an die Freude" (Ode to Joy). Officials from the city, park, arts and University of Minnesota will speak along with a counsular representative and students. The ceremony will occur at the Schiller sculpture site near the Como Park gateway at Lexington and Eastbrook Drive.
After a century in Minnesota's harsh weather, the sculpture was streaked with "green and blue copper carbonate corrosion and black, crusty sulfur-based deposits," said Public Art Saint Paul, a non-profit organization that oversaw the sculpture's restoration in 2012. Its bronze surface was pitted, the base unstable and the sculpture covered with graffiti and carvings. Conservator Kristin Cheronis and a team from Public Art Saint Paul cleaned and repaired the sculpture and its Vermont-granite pedestal.
A handsome figure, Schiller is dressed in the manner of 18th century intellectuals in a long frock coat over a shirt, vest and knee breeches above long stockings and buckled shoes. A sheaf of papers in his left hand signals his profession while his animated, confident stride telegraphs the vigor of his ideas and their inspiration to his countrymen.
At Mill City Museum Thursday, author Neal Karlen gave an animated recounting of Minneapolis's Jewish-mafia era in the 1940s and '50s. That's club owner Augie Ratner on the right. Photo by Fawn Bernhardt-Norvell.
Good thing for Neal Karlen that Israel "Icepick Willie" Alderman no longer roams Hennepin Ave. Ol' Icepick (photo below) -- whose specialty was ramming a you-know-what into the eardrums of his victims to avoid obvious signs of murder -- wouldn't have taken kindly to Karlen's spilling his secrets Thursday night at the Mill City Museum, where more than 120 people braved the spring blizzard to hear the author read from his new book, "Augie's Secrets" The Minneapolis Mob and the King of the Hennepin Strip." The event was hosted by its publisher, Minnesota Historical Society Press.
The "Augie" in the title, Karlen's great-uncle Augie Ratner, owned the strip club that still bears his name, though he sold it in the '60s. Karlen spoke of how Augie's, along with long-gone establishments like the Persian Palms and the 620 Club, was a watering hole for infamous mobsters including Isadore "Kid Cann" Blumenfeld (who got his nickname because he was always in the bathroom when the cops showed up, so the story goes) and gambling kingpin Davie "the Jew" Berman.
Kid Cann gave money not only to synagogues, but also Christian churches, because he said he "liked to play all the angles," Karlen said, adding that the Jewish mafia weren't alone in their shady deals: "There were some corrupt Scandinavians, too."
Israel "Icepick WIllie" Alderman
Walt Bachman, well known in Minnesota as a lawyer, former chief deputy Hennepin County attorney and a member of the family behind Bachman’s garden stores, was back in the Twin Cities this week to launch his new book.
Bachman, pictured, who lives in New York, has written “Northern Slave, Black Dakota” (Pond Dakota Press, $24.95), a biography of Joseph Godfrey, a fascinating and little-known figure in Minnesota history.
Bachman spoke and signed books Wednesday at the Bachman’s store on Lyndale Avenue South, where the crowd included a dozen Bachman family members as well as about 10 ancestors of Godfrey, who was born in the 1830s in Minnesota, the son of a black slave woman. Godfrey, himself a slave until he ran away from his owner, later married a Dakota woman and lived much of his life with the Dakota people.
Walt Bachman’s great-great grandfather, Ernst Dietrich, was among those killed in August 1862 at the outset of the Dakota War in an attack by a party of Dakota Indians that included Godfrey.
The incident in his family history led Bachman to spend more than six years researching and writing about Godfrey and about the often-ignored fact that slavery was present in Minnesota in the decades leading up to statehood, despite its being unlawful in the territory under terms of the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
“Northern Slave, Black Dakota” is a painstakingly researched and tautly written account that pieces together from scant records the early years of Godfrey, who became much better known to the history books after his imprisonment and trial for killings during the Dakota War.
Sentenced to hang, Godfrey’s death sentence was among a very few that were commuted by President Abraham Lincoln. Released after several years in prison, Godfrey found his way to an Indian reservation in Nebraska, where he lived a long life, dying in 1909.
It may seem odd for someone to write the biography of a man who was alleged to have killed his ancestor on a day that is known for a pitiless bloody massacre of whites by Indians in and around what was then Milford, Minnesota. But, said Bachman, he became convinced that Godfrey, while not blameless, has been “unfairly maligned by history,” a wrong he sought to correct. “Northern Slave, Black Dakota” does that with clarity and commitment. The book should compel the interest of all who are interested in 19th-century Minnesota history.
Also see the Star Tribune's recent series about the Dakota War, "In the Footsteps of Little Crow," by Curt Brown.
Joseph Godfrey, pictured on the book cover of "Northern Slave, Black Dakota," by Walt Bachman, was born a slave in Minnesota and lived the first half of his life here.
A Baron von Raschke Kickstarter funding campaign that ends tomorrow already has made its $20,000 goal.
The money will be used for post-production costs of a documentary about legendary pro wrestler Von Raschke, aka "The Claw," directed by Phil Harder.
The filmmakers already have spent two years gathering documentary footage from the 1960s and '70s, Raschke's heyday as the Baron. His fearsome German wrestler often attacked opponents with the Brainclaw grip, which was sometimes censored in TV as too violent and disturbing.
Photographer Karl Raschke, son of the wrestler, is on board as a producer of the movie.
Recreated scenes are mixed with film footage to explore the growth of pro wrestling in this era as well as the mild-mannered Nebraskan, Jim Raschke, who settled in Minnesota and raised a family that includesTwin Cities journalist Heidi Raschke.
As of Monday noon, there were 219 backers pledging $27,286 to help fund completion of the movie. The campaign officially closes on Tuesday.
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