A local archivist offers a guided tour through Minneapolis gay history

  • Article by: RICK NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 19, 2014 - 11:11 AM

Follow along as archivist and author Stewart Van Cleve shines a light on a little-known side of the city’s past.


This photo, taken at 3rd Street and Hennepin Avenue S. in the 1950s, shows Hamburger Heaven, a greasy spoon that replaced the Onyx, the earliest recorded gay bar in Minneapolis. It was popular in the 1930s.

Photo: Hennepin County Library,

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Just in time for Pride Twin Cities, Preserve Minneapolis is presenting “Queer History: A Tour of Gender and Sexuality in Minneapolis.”

The nonprofit, which organizes summer walking and biking tours of historic Minneapolis neighborhoods, turned to Stewart Van Cleve to lead the first-time excursion.

Wise choice.

Van Cleve is the author of “10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota” (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) and the creator of the just-debuted YesterQueer. The free app — a portable, design-your-own guided tour — is available on IOS and Android devices.

We talked with Van Cleve, who works in library and information sciences for the Metropolitan Council, about the challenges of chronicling lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history, the gay side of the long-demolished Gateway District and how the city has reinvented itself.


Q: Are you basing the tour from material in “Land of 10,000 Loves”?

A: It’s funny, even though I’ve been studying and writing about this for years, I still find out these amazing tidbits of information. It’s an ongoing puzzle.

I just found out the other day about a restaurant named Richards Treat [in downtown Minneapolis, from 1924 to 1957]. It was owned by two women. They were business partners, and they lived together. You can’t tell if the relationship was sexual, but reading their letters, it’s so intimate, and it’s pretty clear to me that they were a couple.

But when you read about Richards Treat, that relationship is barely mentioned. People are still uncomfortable about queer history. Do you need absolute evidence? Or is that even the point? Does it make Richards Treat a site of historical interest for the LGBT community? I’d say yes.


Q: You published your first book two years ago, when you were just 24 years old. What’s the story behind that?

A: I was working as the assistant curator for the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies at the University of Minnesota. Jean Tretter had collected thousands and thousands of items related to queer history, but he’s not necessarily an organizer. That’s where I came in.

I started working there when I was 19, and all of this stuff was completely new to me, even very recent history. The book is really a reflection of the organizational system of the Tretter Collection. That’s what you do in an archive, you give people a sense of what it is, and then let them do their research.


Q: Have you had much experience leading tours?

A: Not like this, no. I used to guide tours through Andersen Library, and the Tretter Collection, but that’s small, it’s one room. And I also have my poor friends, who have to listen to me natter on and on.

The tour is exciting for me, because I keep trying to inform people about this history in as many ways as I possibly can. It’s going to be fun because I usually don’t get to see or even talk with readers. I’m picturing myself walking backwards and saying, “And we’re walking, we’re walking, we’re walking.”

  • related content

  • This photo shows the second gay pride march on the Nicollet Mall in 1973. Image courtesy of the Tretter Collection in GLBT Studies.

  • A 1929 image of the Palace Theater on Hennepin Avenue, since demolished. Once neighbor to what is now the Gay 90’s, the Palace was the original home of the Brass Rail when it opened in 1922.


    With: Stewart Van Cleve.

    When: 10 a.m. Sunday.

    Where: 1st St. and Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $8 per person, www.preserveminneapolis.org/wpfile/tours/june-tours/

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