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

Lost Bars of Hennepin

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: February 2, 2015 - 12:10 PM

​Interesting piece at MinnPost on the collision of preservationists and urbanists in Dinkytown. I think it was a mistake to turn down the hotel proposal; the building it would have replaced was nothing special. But the larger point about saving the neighborhood’s character by keeping enough of the undistinguished old commercial structures is valid; at a certain point, you’ve lost everything that made Dinkytown what it was. But then you have to ask whether a neighborhood is ever settled, and whether we’re freezing it at an arbitrary moment. The Dinkytown of yore - Dylan was here! - is irrelevant to most modern occupants, and it might be nostalgia for its post-war / pre-00s days that keeps it from being something more to its current residents. BUT its current residents are transitory; should the neighborhood be sacrificed to accommodate people who pass through in four years and move on? And so on.

Which brings us to this all picture.

It’s about nine inches long. Scanned at 600 dpi, it yields all sorts of bygone information. Signs like this would be revered today; back then, they were Blight.

Back then the area was filled with transients, and no doubt places like the Hub were rather . . . fragrant. The windows seem designed so you couldn't see in side, and if you were huddled indoors over a Gluek, all you could see of the outside world was the big blue sky.  If you needed something to soak up the hooch, there was Han's  next door:

If any of this had survived to the present day,  no one dare tear it down. The buildings might be integrated into larger structures. But tear it down they did, and it took decades for the area to recover. 

Billboards were blight, too:

I'd still take that over a parking lot. Regular meals! At all hours!

So the preservations have a point. If most of the buildings on that block had been torn down, the street would have lost its character, and while it was ratty and down-at-the-mouth, it could have been reclaimed. In the end we got housing and Whole Foods, and the area is revived. But nothing at all like it was. But the urbanists have a point as well; left alone the block would have been a dump that dragged everything else down with it. There has to be a way to save the street and build up the blocks, and if that means landmarking two corners of Dinkytown and letting the others change, everyone's unhappy and everyone's served. 

Worst new word of the day

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: January 23, 2015 - 12:27 PM

Should a house be saved because someone famous lived there? Moot question for Ray Bradbury’s house. LA Times:

The house that Ray Bradbury lived in for 50 years in Los Angeles' Cheviot Hills neighborhood was torn down this month by "starchictect" Thom Mayne, who bought it for $1.765 million and plans to build a new house on the lot.

What happened? Why did fans of the author of "The Martian Chronicles," "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and "Fahrenheit 451" not get a chance to make their case that the house be saved?

Because . . . they didn’t own it? You can’t make the heirs sit on the property forever because Ray wrote books in one of the rooms.

Yes, the article said “starchictect”, which I presume is a portmanteau of Starchitect and Chic. Ugh.

Related: While researching a matchbook from Seattle - yes, I know, a blogger’s life as thrilling as all the rumors suggest - I got lost in one of those review sites where tales of bad visits can provide epic accounts of hotel horrors. Most people liked the Max, formerly the Vance, but a few guests thought the rooms were a bit small. The manager responds.

Thanks for staying with us and for taking the time to let others know about your experience via Google+. We are stoked to hear that you loved our location and our amazing beds! They are heavenly.

Stoked? When did the Responsible Adult Community turn into Spicoli?

Additionally, you are right about our rooms. They're smaller that what you'd find at a branded hotel but we rather like it that way. It makes us different and gives us an opportunity to share our history and story. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it as much as others.

Well, you can’t please everyone. Most of the reviews are positive, but another fellow notes you can stand in the middle of the bathroom and touch all the walls. The manager - and I’ll give these guys credit for weighing in to answer kudos and complaints - doesn’t drop some boilerplate, but revises the response a bit.

Now things get snippy.

thanks for staying with us and for taking the time to share your thoughts. Our rooms are definitely on the smaller side. Our building was constructed in 1926 so the funky room sizes and layouts tell you a lot about our history. Ultimately, we rather prefer it that way. I'm sorry our story, history and focus on supporting our local vendors didn't resonate with you. Again, thanks for giving us a chance and we wish you safe and adventurous travels in the future.

The Funky Room Sizes and Layouts don’t tell much about the history, aside from its construction date. I avoid staying in old hotels unless I know the bed does not take up 70% of the room. Because when there’s no room and the bathroom has no counter space, you rarely think “it’s tiny, but the way the support local vendors is resonating so hard right now I can’t think of anything else.”

Anyway, some people like these hotels, especially when they’ve been made Hip and Modern, and renovation is preferable to knocking it down the way Minneapolis trashed all its old grand hotels. Your taste may vary. I stayed in a Klimpton in DC a few months ago - a former apartment building, I think, and a post-war one at that. It was Hip and Modern, which in this case meant the room had a big picture of a young guy with black glasses smiling smugly as he played the piano, and I think it’s only a matter of time before someone punches it. He was just so pleased with himself.

VINTAGE The Flyer Arcade, courtesy of Coudal. Old arcade machines and pinball as well. It has no Gorgar. though. Needs more Gorgar.

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.

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.


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