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 Bygone Boiler

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 24, 2015 - 12:09 PM

At Hunt and Gather the other day, this logo plate was sitting on a shelf in the far corner of the basement:

It's beautiful. But what was it attached to? A boiler, perhaps one in a rural school; that seems to have been one of the markets they served. There's not a lot on the internet about the company, save some lawsuits digitized and uploaded to sit unread for the entirely of human history, but archive.org had a pamphlet - and here we begin with some 1930s marketing. TERROR IS STRUCK:

I wonder where that house is. Probably still standing, unless it was in the path of 35W. Here's the couple who are worrying about their obsolete home:

You never see people this worried in ads anymore. Things are generally A-OK in ads. She seems less bothered by the Obsolete Home Problem, though. Perhaps she's going to suggest a Waterbury. An ad from a 40s magazine includes the logo:

But if it was a Minneapolis company, where was it?

Ah, that helps. Wonder what's there today. 


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Well, what do you know. It's not a factory today - it's used for art galleries, as far as I can tell. But next time the Art-O-Whirl takes you there, you'll know why it's named what it's named. 

What's wrong with this picture?

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 23, 2015 - 2:52 PM

I try to avoid nostalgia for the sake of lamenting and complaining, because it suggests your brain shut down after you passed 40 and assumed the permanent scowl of someone who views everything with ignorance and contempt. Why can't we take the trolley down to the Gopher theater and talk about Dave Moore? Things were better then.

Well, in some ways, sure.,The Gopher theater was beautiful in its day, but it was a grimy grind-house when I arrived in Mpls to go to the U, and downtown was something you did once or twice a month as a field trip.  Minneapolis and St. Paul lost a lot in the the last three decades, but we're better off, overall. Downtown is better. The riverfront is better. The freeways are better. If you're a light-rail enthusiast, you have two lines and more to come. If you're a sports fan, you may lament the loss of the Met, but c'mon: Target Field. And so on, and so on. Change is a given but improvement is not, and we're not only getting better but gaining recognition by the sources that count the most - surveys and magazine articles, of course.

That said: consider The Weatherball. If the subject makes you scratch your head, consult this account at Forgotten Minnesota, a nifty blog about just that. Watch this jingle:

Now consider this, which I spied at Hunt & Gather Antiques.

It's for a branch office; wonder where it's been all these years. But. What's wrong with this picture? I'll put the answer down below.

Illustrator's cliche: show the reflective nature of a globe by drawing a window mirrored on its surface. Except this was a giant orb atop a tall building. There would have to be a massive, enormous window floating above downtown. 

"House of Cards" found a Minnesota relic

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 13, 2015 - 12:40 PM

Eagle-eyed viewers who watched the season finale of “House of Cards” may have noticed a small scurrying mouse, because that’s what an eagle would be looking for. A human being with a sense of retail history might have been surprised to see this:

That's the original Gambles logo. But - but they’re gone. Aren’t they? Yes, they are - as a chain, anyway. As Wikipedia puts it:

In 1980, Gamble-Skogmo was sold to the Wickes Corporation of California. The purchase was highly leveraged, the combined companies struggled, and in 1982 Wickes filed for bankruptcy. In the subsequent reorganization, the Gamble-Skogmo empire was sold off in pieces or, in the case of Aldens, closed. In 1986, Bert Gamble died. Tempo and Buckeye Mart stores in Ohio and Michigan were sold to Fisher's Big Wheel in the late 1970s, with the remaining Tempo stores transferred to the Rasco Variety Store Division.

Bonus: in ’68 they bought Red Owl. For a while, the company operated out of this building in downtown Minneapolis:

Anyway, they didn’t slap an old brand on an empty store. It’s a real place, and it’s in Vegas.


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VotD If you could bring to life a character many kids know only as a meme, that’d be great.

It’s a wise move, but I don’t think it’ll stop anyone from moving to Slack. Because Slack has “buzz” and Hipchat has a stupid name.

Skogmo, though: that was fun to say, once upon a time.

Looking for ghosts

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 11, 2015 - 12:10 PM

But first, some movie remake news.

 Tim Burton will do a live-action Dumbo. Expect Johnny Depp as a quirky, strange clown who purses his lips and looks out of the corner of his eyes a lot.

You too can get spun up over unnecessarily gendered Ghostbuster franchises! Here’s how. Share with like-minded friends who’ve run short of things to be incensed about.

Big Hero 6 sequel: in the works, it seems. Good. The first was charming, even if it did lean on the Evil Mr. Business trope a bit.

The Alien 5 news is all over the road; first everyone was excited because Neil Blomkamp said he wanted to forget 3 and 4 ever happened, and then he said no, that’s not it exactly. The Mary Sue:

Blomkamp won’t be “undoing” Alien 3 or Alien: Resurrection, but all signs do point to him bringing back at least one character from their untimely demise. At Pensacola Comic Con last weekend, Michael Biehn was allegedly asked by a Reddit user if he planned to join the Alien 5 cast, “to which he replied, ‘Looks like it!’ and smiled.”

Which would be great, because the start of “Alien 3” was stupid and cruel. Nothing like ruining everything you took away from the end of the previous movie.

STREET ART Via Coudal, a site devoted to old urban sign typography gleaned from Shorpy posts. 

Did Minneapolis once look that rich? Sure. But an aerial view of the city hall district shows how much the city had been scrubbed by the 50s. The billboards provide the only color. Here's a detail:

Logo literacy test: what's the one in the middle on the bottom row?

Another detail:

That one can be glimpsed today, if you use your imagination:


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Let's boost the contrast and see how much remains:

Every city is full of ghosts.

This building is missing something.

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: March 2, 2015 - 12:03 PM

As part of its effort to digitize everything, Google has digitized a batch of old Minnesota pharmacist magazines. I stumbled across them once, neglected to bookmark, and have no idea where they are. They’ll pop up if you Google an old name or business. But I did screencap a few ads, including this building:

That's the Sibley front. Google Maps:

Here’s where it gets interesting, depending on how you define the word. Here’s Street View.

Notice anything odd? The building is missing a wing. There seems to be an empty space where it used to be:


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There’s a story there, and I have to find out what happened. Why would they knock down a wing?

VotD Oh, by all means, drive 60 MPH while following a car at a distance of 18 inches. It’s not as if anything unexpected might happen, requiring a quick decision.

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