This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Minnesota History

The last Downtown East building goes down

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 9, 2014 - 12:25 PM

Pause for a moment to say farewell to one of those unremarkable buildings you never notice until the machines show up and claw it to rubble.

It had a name:

All those bricks, hand-laid; that sign, hand-carved. The view from the front door on Wednesday afternoon looked clean through to the building on the other side of the street:

A few remnants of its past hung on for decades - here's the old alarm bell, with a board that probably had instructions on who to call it the thing was screaming FIRE or BURGLARS.

It's not an ornate building, but they did what they could with a tight budget:

Even the most modest buildings needed a few classical touches.

An ancient ghost ad on one side, punctured by windows - which were replaced by smaller ones, lest all that light distract people working inside:

In the end, scraps and rubble.

More tomorrow, or rather less; it'll be gone by the end of today. A parking ramp and hotel will rise on the side, making three full blocks under construction downtown. There was nothing about this one that made the preservationists take to the barricades, but it is regrettable to lose another old modest building, even if the replacement is more useful and throws off more tax revenue.

But try telling that to the litttle boy who was watching the demolition with his father yesterday, goggling at the great claw pulling the structure apart. It was the best thing he'd ever seen. Only a T-Rex kicking it down would have been better.

There was another Weatherball

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: October 7, 2014 - 12:15 PM

Another what, you ask? Well. If you google Midland Bank nowadays the Hotel Minneapolis pops up. The hostel is housed in the Midland’s former building, which was originally the Security Bank, which is . . . nice to know, I guess; impresses visitors. Yes, that structure was once called something else. Some folks ‘round these parts still remember the old Security Bank. They had these tan-colored passbooks with a nubby finish. “Course, most banks at the time had black, but Security, they went for the tan -


In any case, I don’t care about the Security Bank, the Midland Bank, or anything else to do with the structure. It is a pedestrian building of little interest, except for the restored interior. Here’s some pictures from Norwest’s archives of the lobby, premodernization; take a look at this Full-Service Robot Teller of the Future shot from the early 70s. But all this is irrelevant to the revelation I had the other day when looking at some old matchbooks, and yes, I know that the words “revelation” and “matchbooks” are rarely found in the same sentence, for good reason.

Anyway. From the Hennepin County Library, which has a plenitude of sundered links these days:

That’s not the old Midland bank building. It’s the LaSalle building, demolished for the IDS. Emporis says: “The La Salle Building received a new Art Moderne facade, designed by Larson & McLaren, in 1948 to replace the original facade of terra-cotta.”

The matchbook:

It had a weather ball. There was another Weatherball.

Sit right down and you'll hear a tale

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 24, 2014 - 12:13 PM

A tale of a fateful . . . menu. Yes, I will get as many blog entries out of that NYC Library menu site as possible. Today it’s the North West, a steamship from the Northwest Company line. (It operated in the North Central region.) It’s an example of a forgotten part of Minnesota history: the passenger steamships that plied the Great Lakes, brought to you by a consortium that included - of course - James J. Hill. Details from the front of the menu:

The menu begins thus:

Seems like a lot of money for celery.

As for the ship, it had a grim end. Lots of passenger ships had sad endings; makes you wonder what will become of the enormous liners that sail the seas today, providing they don’t have a skipper who runs them into a rock. The North West had a fire, which the crew of any liner will always tell you is the worst-case scenario. I suppose so, but it always seems a bit counterintuitive, since the ships are surrounded by fire’s greatest enemy. It’s not as if you can run out of water to extinguish it. (Yes, yes, I know that’s stupid. But still.)

From a page about the ship and the Northern Steamship Company:

An explosion of oils in the paint room of the Northern Steamship liner, "North West," lying in her winter quarters in the Blackwell Canal,n orth of Tifft Street, early this morning started a fire that completely destroyed the upper works and interior of the big steel steamer.

Her sister ship, the "North Land," moored alongside the "North West," received a bad scorching but was dragged out of the path of the flames by the Fireboats Potter and Grattan.

Officials of the company who were early summoned to the fire estimated the total loss approximately at about $600,000. Ample insurance, they say, covers it.

Both the 'North West" and the "North Land" were scheduled to be placed in commission on June 21st, and outside the commissary departments both ships were fully stocked and ready for the coming season's business.

The fire started shortly before 4 o'clock. Four watchmen were employed on the ships and each of them made hourly rounds. One of the watchmen passing along the upper decks heard a muffled report below and peering over the rail he saw a pointed jet of flame dart from one of the port holes of the paint room. He called to the other watchmen and then jumped down to the runway alongside the ship and made all haste to the big flour house of the Lehigh Valley Railroad, a full 100 feet to the north. There he said an alarm was sent to Fire Headquarters through the railroad company's private box.

After that? Here’s another page on the ship:

Burned to a shell 1911. Cut in two to transit to the St. Lawrence in 1918; forward half lost in transit. Aft end united with new bow and renamed Maplecourt. Returned to the Lakes after WWI but taken out again and during WWII torpedoed with all hands February 6, 1941.

It looked quite different by then, as this page shows, along with the details of its death:

At 17.52 hours on 6 Feb 1941 the unescorted Maplecourt (), a straggler from station #84 in convoy SC-20, was hit just aft of the engine room by one stern torpedo from U-107 and sank rapidly by the stern about 120 miles west of Rockall. The U-boat had chased the ship for about eight hours and missed with one torpedo during a first submerged attack at 

13.53 hours. The Germans observed how the survivors managed to abandon ship in two lifeboats, but they were never seen again: the master, 35 crew members and three gunner were lost.

Here’s the man who sank it: Captain Gunter Hessler. He sunk 19 ships. He survived the war, and ended up working for the Royal Navy, writing the definitive account of U-boat warfare. More on him here.

None of which anyone could possibly predict when they sat down, opened up the menu, and thought “That’s a lot of money for just some celery,” and settled in for a nice, uneventful cruise.

Great Moments in Urban Renewal

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 23, 2014 - 12:33 PM

A neighbor gave me a box of records last night. Included was the estate-sale catalog, and as it turns out the records were from the Hart Collection. Long story short: guy closes his St. Paul record store, keeps all the stock, and half a century later, 200,000 records are auctioned off to astonished collectors. A 1997 MPR story is here.

The cover of the catalog:

Here’s a detail.

Let's look at one of  the records in the window -

I have that record now. Anyway: I mention this because one of the records had a sales slip, which gave the store's address. Keeping in mind that fine bright storefront you saw at the top, let's see what they built when it was time to Improve the town:

Great job there. Nice work. 

Related, sort of, in the archeology sense: The BBC reports on the incredible new find in Greece.

The discovery of an enormous tomb in northern Greece, dating to the time of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, has enthused Greeks, distracting them from a dire economic crisis.

Yes, that’s exactly how it works. People are sitting around in cafes feeling glum about the economic crisis, and then a newsboy runs in waving a paper: big new archeological discovery! Everyone brightens: finally! Something that will push this ongoing economic crisis out of our minds. I’ll take two, boy.

Inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered two magnificent caryatids. Each of the sculpted female figures has one arm outstretched, presumably to discourage intruders from entering the tomb's main chamber.

Here’s a story on the caryatids. It really is a remarkable find. But who’s buried there?

For the few hundred inhabitants of modern-day Amfipoli and Mesolakkia, the two villages closest to the burial site, there is no doubt: interred inside the marble-walled tomb unearthed near their homes is none other than Alexander the Great.

"Only Alexander merits such a monument," says farmer Antonis Papadopoulos, 61, as he enjoys his morning coffee with fellow villagers in a taverna opposite the Amfipoli archaeological museum.

"The magnitude and opulence of this tomb is unique. Common sense says he is the one buried inside.”

Probably not. He was buried in Egypt, experts say. And a rogue group of archeologists suggest the body was mistaken for St. Mark and taken to Venice in a basket, but that's another story. In related news:

Mounted on a helicopter criss-crossing the countryside, the team's lidar device fired a million laser beams every four seconds through the jungle canopy, recording minute variations in ground surface topography.

The findings were staggering.

The lidar survey of the hills revealed ghostly outlines on the forest floor of unknown temples and an elaborate and utterly unexpected grid of ceremonial boulevards, dykes and man-made ponds - a lost city, found.

Where? Angor Wat. Why was it abandoned? how much remains to be revealed? The Beeb has a documentary coming up on the site and the new discoveries; no idea when it will air on BBC America. Unless it features Dr. Who, possibly never.

Loin and Squab

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 22, 2014 - 12:15 PM

The NYC public library’s collection of old restaurant menus is a remarkable assemblage of graphics and gustatory history. I mentioned it a few weeks ago n this space, and have been dipping back now and then to find items of local interest. Here’s the menu for the 1905 Cinderella Ball:

On the menu:

Loin AND squab? What a feast. As for Nesselrode Pudding: surely it tastes better than it looks. 

A bit of doggeral on the back:

Yes, I guess he did.

UNLIKE Why is Facebook’s “Real Name” policy problematic?

Facebook is different. It’s increasingly a platform for our whole lives, and one that is difficult to opt out of.

If either is true for you, you’re spending too much time on Facebook. By the way, ignore the rumor that Facebook will soon be charging money. It's an old rumor, but it's flared up again, and Snopes has to put it down.

POP IS DEAD Guardian columnist declares that pop music “belongs to the last century,” and the future belongs to Classical music.

For me, pop music is now a form of skilfully engineered product design, the performers little but entertainment goods, and that is how they should be reviewed and categorised. The current pop singers are geniuses of self-promotion, but not, as such, musicians expressing glamorous ideas.

Translation: he got old.

Well, I’m sure that’s what they say in the comments. Checking . . . yep. Well, as far as his critique of pop goes, it’s been so for half a century, and . It’s possible to like both, of course, and those of us who grew up enjoying pop AND orchestra music AND later found the pleasures of jazz know you don’t have to choose. As Duke Ellington said: if it sounds good, it is good.

He expanded the idea elsewhere:

“There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind ... the only yardstick by which the result should be judged is simply that of how it sounds. If it sounds good it's successful; if it doesn't it has failed.

This doesn’t mean pop is equal to classical. Four guys on instruments playing a 2:41 song is not the same as an entire orchestra playing Mahler’s Second. The technique, talent, and time required to master the latter is a thousand times more demanding.

VotD Headline: “I guess this is the bicycle version of the ice bucket challenge.” I recommend you have the sound up.


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