Two years ago, Todd Heintz was walking through downtown Minneapolis after attending a convention when he passed the historic Armory.
The Art Deco facility, built in 1935, was about to be restored as an entertainment center. But the veteran’s memorial flagpole outside it was in terrible shape.
So Heintz, who served in the U.S. Navy in Iraq during Desert Storm, sent an e-mail to an aide of Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin. He immediately received a return call and sent pictures of the memorial to the aide.
That started the ball rolling on a campaign to restore the memorial. McLaughlin and other county officials got advice on a new design from the Veterans Employee Resource Group — an organization of veterans who work for Hennepin County — and a diverse group of residents.
And on Tuesday, about 25 people gathered in freezing weather to rededicate the memorial flagpole.
“I thought it was critical to make sure people remember the role of veterans and the Armory,” said McLaughlin. “We shouldn’t let history fade away.”
Three plaques representing the branches of the military at the base of the flagpole had been stolen, and the base itself appeared to be damaged by skateboarders, said Heintz. Planters around the flagpole were overgrown and the surrounding area was full of weeds, he said.
The refurbished memorial has a new flagpole and plaque, concrete pillars with medallions representing the branches of the military, and lighting. Action Construction Services, a minority-owned business, completed the work.
“It looks really nice,” Heintz said.
Until the mid-1970s, the Armory was used by the Minnesota National Guard and for trade shows, political conventions, boxing and wrestling tournaments.
From 1947 to 1959, it also was used by the Minneapolis Lakers, the pro basketball team that later moved to Los Angeles.
In later years, the building served as a film site for several music videos, including Prince’s “1999” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.”
A preservation effort saved the Armory from demolition in 1993 when Hennepin County wanted to build a jail on the site. The building couldn’t be torn down because of its historical designation, McLaughlin said, but at the same time the county was unable to find a buyer for it.
It was later converted into a parking garage before its current owner turned it into an entertainment center. But McLaughlin said there wasn’t a lot of interest in maintaining the flagpole.
Thousands of people walk by the Armory each week who probably don’t realize its history or that there even was a memorial beside it, he said.
“It’s one of those little footnotes to pay attention to in our community, as things evolve from 20th-century depression era to 21st-century use,” McLaughlin said.