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First a church, then a hall, now Burma Shave building meets the wrecking ball

An E. Lake Street building that dates back to 1892 and housed two notable businesses may be demolished because it no longer retains its historical integrity, the Heritage Preservation Commission voted Tuesday.

The commission by a 6-2 vote authorized the demolition of 2019 E. Lake St. It was either built or was moved to the site in 1892 for Vine Congregation Church, then used as a Scandinavian meeting hall.

But it gained its most notable tenant around 1925, when the Burma-Vita liniment manufacturing company moved in. About the same time, the company began posting the first of 7,000 sets of rhyming jingles along roadsides promoting its new brushless shaving cream, called Burma Shave.

Burma-Vita followed the Winget Maufacturing Co., which made women's apparel including a bloomer-like item patented as kickernicks and bonnets. The firm was unusual for its time in that it had a female president.

Minneapolis Public Schools sought the demo permit after levelling houses on the rest of the block for its planned  93,000-square-foot building for adult basic education and a program for older special education students. It said the building and parking will take up the entire block paralleling Lake just north of the South High School athletic field.

But pushback against the district over the project isn't over yet. Parents at South plan to meet with several school board members Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at the school to press their case for improving what they call inadequate athletic facilities. Improving those facilities was part of the project as recently as a year ago, but was dropped.

Steve Sandberg, an area resident who led the anti-demolition effort, was disapppointed that a city staff report belatedly acknowledged the property's contributions to cultural, economic and social history, yet the commission approved the demolition.

His reaction? "The City of Minneapolis and our public school system is missing a big chance to connect us all to our past history, where the struggles of Scandinavian workers, of European immigrants, of buildings that were repurposed and even moved rather than being torn down, a woman-owned business at the time of suffragettes employed women and prospered, and the nationally famous Burma Shave company got its start and for 15 years grew to prominence. We won't get a chance like this again."

The building has had several additions and window alterations, and its stucco was covered over more recently with white vinyl. "There's just not enough integrity to bring you back to any one history," said commission member Ginny Lackovic. "It's just a little bit too late for this building."

Erin Hanafin Berg, representing the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, passionately disagreed, arguing that time is needed to investigate whether the wood-frame building could be renovated. 

But Adam Tomczik, a Corcoran neighborhood group board member, said blocking demolition would leave the block in the same blighted status it has had since 1999.

The commission did order that the school district summarize the building's history in a publicly accessible location nearby. Commissioner Susan Hunter Weir, one of two panel members to vote against demolition approval, suggested that some of the company's old roadside jingles be stamped into sidewalks. 

(Photo above: The building at 2019 E. Lake St. in 1929, from Hennepin County Library.)

Bike ticket study urges end to citing sidewalk cyclists in business areas

(This memorial was created in 2013 at E. Lake Street and Cedar Avenue after a cyclist riding on Lake was struck by a vehicle driven by a man later convicted of driving while impaired. Staff photo by Jerry Holt.)

A recommendation that riding a bike on sidewalks in business districts be decriminalized in Minneapolis is getting a cool reception from relevant city officials.

The recommendation is one of several by authors of a study of a limited database of police reports arising from incidents in which police cited cyclists for traffic law violations. It found black bicyclists to be disproportionately ticketed for riding on the sidewalk or without lights at night in comparison to their share of the city's population.

Study director Melody Hoffmann said the recommendation takes into account that in many instances cyclists are issued tickets for riding along streets such as Lake Street where it's more risky to cycle. Some of the city's major commercial arteries such as Lake, Franklin and Central also ranked high for vehicle-bicycle collisions in a 2013 city study.

It's generally illegal to ride on the sidewalk in a block in which more than half of the frontage is in commercial use.  That rules out most of downtown, Uptown, commercial areas near the University of Minnesota, and long stretches of streets such as W. Broadway or Central Av. NE. But using the sidewalk outside of business districts is legal.

But several council members say they're not buying the recommendation. 

"I don't see a strong case being made for decriminalization," said Kevin Reich, chair of the Transportation and Public Works Committee. Jacob Frey, one of two council members representing most of downtown, also disagreed with decriminalization. The other, Lisa Goodman, said she didn't know enough about the recommendation to comment.

Uptown area Council Member Lisa Bender, sees the issue of sidewalk riding as indicative of a need to expand bikeways: "Generally, the tension I see is that in commercial areas where we prohibit bicycling on the sidewalk for good reason, to avoid conflicts with pedestrians, there often are not safe bicycle facilities. And, like anyone else – drivers, people walking or taking transit – people traveling by bicycle are trying to get to stores and other destinations. Over time, building out our network of safe and protected bicycle routes should help give people traveling by bicycle a better alternative than choosing between the sidewalk or a busy road."

The city's new public works chief, Robin Hutcheson, said that pedestrian safety is one concern arising from the recommendation, and she'd like to get the police response to concerns raised about disparate treatment.

Even the organization for which the study was commissioned, the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, is taking a cautious view of decriminalizing sidewalk riding. It is adding pedestrian advocacy to its bike portfolio. Executive Director said that concerns over racial equity in ticketing need to be balanced with the safety of sidewalk users.

The prohibition is embedded in both state law and city ordinance. It's intended to separate faster-moving cyclists from pedestrians.

Reich said he agreed with Hoffmann's suggestion that there be targeted outreach to cyclists riding on walks. She said sometimes cyclists are unaware of the ban, or that nearby routes with less-intense traffic sometimes offer safer alternatives. She also suggested studying citations again to follow up on a new directive under which police started collected race data for traffic stops, and trying to collect data on the race of cyclists in annual counts. Fawley noted that areas where sidewalk riding is banned are inconsistently marked.

Ironically, the sidewalk riding issue is arising as Hennepin County is reconstructing five blocks of Washington Avenue downtown in which cyclists will be encouraged to use a new sidewalk-level path.