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 Architecture

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 -

SHUT UP! TELL IT TO THIS HISTORICAL SOCIETY!

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.

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.

Reinventing newspaper comics

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 16, 2014 - 12:48 PM

They’re mostly awful, except for that one you like. The trouble is, everyone likes a different one. I think we can be done with Peanuts, but no. The Peanuts people probably hate Mr. Boffo, which is the only strip that makes me laugh. I read other strips and have an internal reaction that approximates indulgent mirth, but that’s rare. Dennis the Menace? No. Beetle Bailey? No. After half a century it might be time to give the strips a gentle pat and say farewell.

Can the genre be saved? Well, Chris Ware is going to try.

Chris Ware, the artist behind the multiple Harvey- and Eisner-award winning Acme Novelty Library and Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth, has teamed with The Guardian paper to demonstrate what a world-class artist can do with a whole lot of newsprint over the fall. His new graphic novella, The Last Saturday, is being published serially in the paper's pages over the fall, and the first installment was released over the weekend.

I wish it wasn’t this.

Those little-pictures-connected-by-lines are so much work. And the payoff, in this instance, is so slight. Before you scoff and shout PHILISTINE and tar me as someone who doesn’t get Ware, I have Acme Novelty Library #2, which came out in 1996, and every volume since. You want to debate whether the Rusty Brown sequence is better than Jimmy Corrigan, let’s go. You want to argue Big Tex vs. Rocket Sam: you're on. (Big Tex was better, and had that multi-panel homage to the old Sunday "Gasoline Alley," which told the story through a shifting prism of seasons; after all the hardy-har indignities Tex suffered at the hands of Paw, it was a sign of how Ware could nail you right in the heart without even showing a single character.) But I was dismayed by a lot of Building Stories, which seemed inert, laborious, and self-consciously packaged to celebrate Print in a way that couldn’t compensate for the morose, colorless main character, but just ladled on the Sad with a trowel.

That said, it’s bookmarked. I just hope he hasn’t given up on Rusty Brown.

ARCHITECTURE Who's up for some ruins? The remains of Borscht Belt resort hotels. The Homowack bowling alley shot is almost painful. As for the Homowack itself - oh, stop snickering, this isn’t 7th grade - here’s a postcard I have from its glory days.

When was the last time you saw a hotel with a bowling alley?

Letting Strangers Wake You Up

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: September 8, 2014 - 12:29 PM

And I don't mean being kicked as you slump in a doorway, sleeping off a binge. Meet Wakie, the app that lets strangers call you and tell you it's time to get out of bed. NextWeb:

To use Wakie, you have to be prepared to sign in using your phone number. Wakie promises that your number will remain ‘safe and anonymous’.

Wakie’s community consists of Wakies (callers) and Sleepyheads (yup). If you want an alarm call, you just set an alarm time through the app, and when the wake-up time arrives, you’ll be connected to a Wakie of a similar age and the opposite gender. With that condition enforced, Wakie suddenly meanders on a slightly different trajectory, but we digress.

No, can’t see any opportunity for mischief there. Screenshot from The Next Web:

It got $1 million in the latest fundraising round. As one of the comments notes, apps are turning into concept art.

LITERATURE This Guardian piece is . . . beautiful. 

Seemingly unembarrassed by the incongruity of mounting a vehement defence of a detective story in which all the characters are teddy bears, Harper initially penned a series of comments (many of them over a single night between 1am and 4am) in which he quoted passages from the book, hoping to persuade Cohen that his criticisms of its "workmanlike" prose or "juvenile" plot were unjustified.

The author, in his defense, quotes his book extensively, insisting it has the lyricism of Keats and Fitzgerald. The thread - which is seven miles long - ends with the site’s editor closing comments because he said the author drew in details about people in (the critic’s) personal life.” Over an ebook. About detectives. Who are stuffed animals.

YOU HOGS You should not go to Food Festivals and you are a boorish drunk glutton if you do. Slate

Looking down from the relative safety of a balcony at the L.A. House of Blues, where I was researching a blog post for L.A. Weekly last year, I was reminded of the end of Nathanael West’s short 1939 novel The Day of the Locust, in which a horde of spiritually famished L.A. grotesques, urged on by a gleeful barker, turns violent and destructive at a movie premiere. A celebration of eating turns strange and a little horrific when the overeaters-next-door are so caught up in their pursuit of porky goodness that they eschew manners and propriety, stirred by a barker’s exhortations and emboldened by their anonymity.

Except that there wasn’t a riot at the food festival, and the “Locust” riot was caused when a character stomps on a child, and then everyone turns on the killer, but on the other hand, the character was named Homer Simpson, and Homer liked pork, so it almost fits.

Related fit of disapproval: NYT reports that a town turned into itself a setting for an ad.

Workers have been busy in this bucolic, out-of-the-way ski town: The streets have been painted blue, as have the light poles. Blue props and fencing have been hauled in, rendering the place almost unrecognizable. And as final preparations take place for a three-day party, many residents are fuming, cursing the town for approving a clandestine deal to let a giant beer company turn it into a living advertisement in exchange for $500,000.

“This is a mistake,” said David Rothman, 55, who moved to Crested Butte 20 years ago, of the decision to let Anheuser-Busch take over the town to film a beer commercial. “Frankly, it’s vulgar and it’s cheap.”

Probably. It’s also temporary. A half-million dollars to be a backdrop for an ad seems like a lot of money. The situation was described thus in the Paris Review:

If you’re looking to become productively, righteously, vindictively angry, read this piece in the Times about Crested Butte, Colorado, a town that will become, this weekend, an advertisement for Bud Light.

Oh, for heaven’s sake. Save your productive righteous vindictive anger for something that contains actual harm.

One can react only with scorn, and then one must trot out that shopworn but ever more vital statement of Philip Roth’s, from 1961:

No, one mustn’t. One might, and one probably will.

“The American writer … has his hands full in trying to understand, describe and then make credible much of American reality … It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents.”

They painted a town for a commercial and then they cleaned it up and went away. If it had been for something other than a beer ad - say, if the town had been gussied up to look like a Library, or sold for a festival whose objectives and philosophy matched or flattered the town’s self-image - there would be no hysterics. No Roth quotes.

NO SIGNAL Here’s a novel idea.

While being glued to a mobile device has become a dangerously common part of 2014 life, a couple in Vermont has reaped financial rewards by rejecting 21st-century technology at their bakery, August First.

Wife-and-husband team Jodi Whalen and Phil Merrick banned laptops and tablets from their Burlington-based bakery earlier this year, after determining that laptop patrons spent much more time, and much less money, at the eatery than the average customer.

The fun begins in the comments, where some people believe that they have a claim on a restaurant’s table that exceeds the needs of the owner to cover the costs of doing business.

HISTORY If you’re unfamiliar with the nomenclature or history of the Danish Kings of England, this is a good places to start: ancient Ring Fort discovered.

. . . some historians contend the fortresses were constructed by his son Sweyn Forkbeard, the first Danish King of England, as a military training camp or barracks from which to launch his invasions of England. Sweyn Forkbeard seized London in 1013 and was declared King of England on Christmas Day of that year.

Didn’t last long, alas. Forkbeard is an interesting name, but his father had one that was more enduring. Yes, it’s named after him. But what did it mean?

Wikipedia has this:

Harald's nickname "Bluetooth" first documented appearance is in the Chronicon Roskildense from 1140.[13] The usual explanation is that Harold must have had a conspicuous bad tooth that has been "blue" (i.e. black, as "blue" meant dark).

Another explanation, is that he was called Thegn in England (corrupted to "tan" when the name came back into Old Norse) — in England, Thane meant chief. Since blue meant "dark", his nickname was really "dark chieftain.”

A third theory, according to curator at the Royal Jelling Hans Ole Mathiesen, was that Harald went about clothed in blue. The blue color was in fact the most expensive, so by walking in blue Harald underlined his royal dignity.

The icon for Bluetooth, by the way, are the runes for HB. And now you know. 

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