Twin Cities nostalgia: Downtown memories and a few current wishes.

  • Blog Post by: Barry ZeVan
  • February 21, 2013 - 5:53 AM

I've had the honor and privilege to live in the Twin Cities for a non-consecutive (explained below) total of 35 years, almost half my 75-1/2 years, definitely longer than anywhere else in my life. Farther into this tome, I'll explain why this has become more "home" than anywhere else, and also some thoughts about how Minneapolis, especially, could rebound even more than it has, to the vibrancy it enjoyed in the early 1970s.

First, some background: It was 70 years ago today, February 20, 1943 (a Saturday that year), I first performed on the air. It was on KDKA radio in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. KDKA was the world's first commercial radio station, and owned at that time by Westinghouse Electric Corporation, which was also headquartered near Pittsburgh in a town named Turtle Creek. I was a singer, at age 5-1/2, on a weekly Saturday morning program named STARLETS ON PARADE. The show consisted of young children singing mostly in a chorus, but occasionally a solo would be part of the mix. I had only a couple solos, for good reason :), but was still glad to be part of that group. To say I was terrified during my first time in front of a microphone would be an understatement, but my Mom told me I'd eventually get over the jitters. It took a while, but I did. (I remember all the words to our theme song, but lest you've already fallen asleep reading this, I'll spare you the extra verbiage!)

Since then. the broadcasting and entertainment business have had me working in (chronologically) Pittsburgh (duh); New York City; Philadelphia; Helena, Missoula, Butte, Anaconda and Kalispell, Montana; Lethbridge, Alberta; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Honolulu, Hawaii; Seattle-Tacoma, Washington; Las Vegas; The Twin Cities; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Stamford, Connecticut...with Paul Douglas on the Satellite News Channels, ABC-TV's answer, at that time, to CNN; and back to the Twin Cities after an almost ten-year absence. I was fired only twice, i.e., from my first local radio job in Helena, because being a board operator in concert with being an announcer was too complicated for my non-mechanical brain, and once from a local radio station here because they were changing formats. Otherwise, I always quit for greener pastures. The most stupid "quit" was from KSTP-TV (just for more income in D.C.), which leads me to remember the Twin Cities as they were in late November, 1970, when I drove into the Cities from the South on I-35, to begin my work at Channel 5.

As previously mentioned, The Foshay Tower was the tallest building in Minneapolis, and the foundation hole for the IDS Building had just been dug. The first restaurant at which I ate was The Nankin. It was the introduction to the then "real" Minneapolis. The next restaurant meals in that first week were at Murray's (thank goodness it's still here, and I won't get any free meals for mentioning the name here), Charlie's Cafe Exceptionale and The Haberdashery. The latter, situated in the downtown Radisson Hotel, had, in my opinion, the best hamburgers in the universe, not just the world, and the atmosphere, sawdust on the floor and all, was as cosmopolitan and "hip" as any similar eaterie in New York. Same for The Flame Room at The Radisson, when the first-class Golden Strings performed nightly. I think their truly first-class leader, Cliff Brunzell, is still living, and probably still playing that violin with as much panache and flair as he and the others did in those 1970s halcyon days. 

In sum, both Minneapolis and St. Paul (cant forget St. Paul's The Blue Horse, Gallivan's and Don, The Beachcomber, the latter in the St. Paul Radisson) were quality cities of a differet nature than they are now, again in my opinion. Both downtowns bustled with excitement and sophisticated fun. In Minneapolis, especially, Hennepin Avenue was thriving. Maybe it was just a period of time when that sort of metropolitan ambience, with "Minnesota nice" more prevalent, simply reflected the decency and popularity of what everyone then described as "the quality of life" here. The Mary Tyler Moore Show's being set here wasn't by accident. These ciities were the epitome of wholesomeness and non-snooty class. Everything was done correctly, and The Cities were the home to giant industries and businesses respected globally. Some of those businesses, of course, still exist, albeit with a few of them under the same umbrella (General Mills/Pillsbury, etc.).

While driving on Hennepin Avenue early this morning, it was good to see the revitalized Shubert Theater, now The Cowles Center, but it was juxtaposed with an almost empty Block "E" and several other buildings or businesses that had "gone under". Obviously, a struggling economy impacts what most people can or can't afford to do, and the fewer the consumers, the sooner the businesses cease to exist. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to come to that conclusion, of course.

Can we ever return to "those thrilling days of yesteryear" (paraphrasing and borrowing a line from "The Lone Ranger"). Stated as an admitted idealist, I somewhat realistically think with the proper backing by those who have the financial wherewithall and foresight to help make it happen, the empty storefronts and sparse office building occupancy can become the antitheses of those bleak descriptions and tangibly demonstrate to those not alive here in the 1970s how truly vibrant these cities can really be once again. Cities champions like former Star Tribune columnist Barbara Flanagan and more recently, heartfelt individual drum-beater for downtown Minneapolis, "L.A. Nik", believed, and believe, these cities, especially the downtowns, have been, and can be again, among the most exemplary for quality city life as any in the world. 

Thanks for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts. Because of minor surgery pending, I may not be "on camera" with my STAR TRIBUNE webcast (A SENIOR MOMENT) for two or three weeks after next Monday, but if the scars heal more rapidly, I'll be back with that webcast sooner than later. 



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