The Flanagan Memo: Shape up the Uptown, give streetcars a chance

  • Article by: BARBARA FLANAGAN
  • Updated: August 6, 2010 - 1:49 PM

Re, the Uptown Theater, streetcars, a big miniature house and that glorious new ballpark.

First, another plea to shape up Minneapolis' Uptown Theater, that splendid structure at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue.

It comes from a reader, Mary M., who notes that "only two lights in the Uptown sign are in order" and that "the fine building needs a paint job and better care."

True, my favorite theater looks tacky most of the time nowadays, and it shouldn't.

The Uptown had offered a grand example of how to maintain a handsome landmark. It opened in 1913, and after a fire in 1939, there was a streamlined remodeling job. Jacob Liebenberg and Seeman Kaplan were the architects.

Incidentally, although Jack Liebenberg designed dozens of theaters throughout the Upper Midwest, he once told me that the Uptown, although a redo, was a favorite. He especially liked its inside mural, which was inspired by the New York World's Fair.

Let us hope that in the upgrading of that corner, the Uptown will be given a spruce-up.

• • •

As for streetcars, well, I vote in favor. Growing up, I rode them everywhere. And when in 1954 the cars disappeared from the Twin Cities, I mourned a bit. Buses are fine, but they can't compare with a rickety-rackety streetcar.

The Twin Cities area enjoyed streetcars for many years. In 1916, the system extended from Anoka to Hastings and from the area west of Lake Minnetonka to Stillwater.

The line's genius was Thomas Lowry, who had his own private car. The late John Pillsbury Sr. once told me that some of the younger residents would borrow Lowry's streetcar for a trip to St. Paul, for example. In the 1890s, it was the only way to go.

Now the Minneapolis City Council has voted to ask for some federal money to check out the streetcar idea again. Specifically, the thought is to build one line on Nicollet Avenue from downtown to 46th Street. It would extend to northeast Minneapolis on Central Avenue.

The project, if approved, would reopen Nicollet at Lake Street, where a former city council allowed a Kmart to block the street.

Now, Tom Lowry is memorialized in Lowry Hill, where Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues meet, and by a mighty sculptured monument at W. 24th Street and Hennepin. The work was a thank-you gift to Lowry and our town from members of the business community.

• • •

Eastcliff, the official residence of the president of the University of Minnesota, overlooks the Mississippi River just south of the Lake Street bridge.

It is an elegant white house with a pool and tennis court, big enough for the university functions held there regularly.

When the family of Edward Brooks gave it to the university in 1958, it retained at least one item -- a very large miniature copy of the house. Granddaughter Julie Brooks Zelle had it stored away and returned it to the university, but after years of apparent use by children and grandchildren, it needed work.

Then Barbara Bramen Bentson came on the scene. Bentson, of St. Paul, is famous for her creative way with historic miniatures, among other things. She got a group together and went to work.

The committee is trying to come as close as they can to renewing the miniature as the 22-room house was when Edward and his wife, Markell Brooks, moved their family to Eastcliff in 1922.

When I saw it, work was progressing, but creating a house with all of its trimmings takes time and great skill. You should see those tiny chandeliers, for example. This will be a prize.

Sometime soon, the house will be returned to Eastcliff, and then it will be your turn to see it.

• • •

Finally, I have been to the new Twins ballpark! On the recent appreciation day for armed services members (complete with parachutists landing on home plate), I saw a game, and it was grand.

Our grandson, the 14-year-old pitcher in the family, was with us, along with a friend of his who also plays ball. They announced that they approved of the place. It is difficult to find fault.

My only complaint, and I am not hard of hearing, is the public address system. Where we sat in the middle behind the Twins dugout, the sound was fuzzy.

Other than that, it was great -- easy getting there, going in, getting to the excellent food and such. And our seats were perfect.

If I were to ask for anything more, it would be for a retractable roof. Ah, well, we can always bundle up like we did in the good old days.

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