In April 1957, the Minneapolis Star ran a series called "Minneapolis 1967: What Future Awaits?"
It gave the readers a look at the city 10 years hence, "based on current plans and ideas from our civic leaders," as the promotional ads said. It was written by Daniel Upham and Paul Veblen (a distant relative of Thorstein Veblen, the man who came up with the idea of "conspicuous consumption").
In this case, it was conspicuous, enthusiastic destruction. When the proposed wrecking balls stopping swinging and the new world was in place, Minneapolis would be the most modern city in the country, a place that had the foresight to leave the past behind.
In 1957, many (if not most) of the people living in the Twin Cities were dismayed by the condition of downtown. The Gateway district was old and stained: garish bars, flophouses, liquor stores. It was regarded with shame, a millstone around the neck of the Mill City. The rest of the buildings downtown were old and sooty. All the action was streaming out to the 'burbs.
So the civic leaders drew grand schemes, and "Minneapolis 1967" gave readers a glimpse into a possible future. This is how the city would have looked if the plans had gone through — and what actually happened.
The plan would have largely demolished the rundown Gateway area and given it a new moniker.
"The fresh, new buildings of the Golden Gateway. We used to call it the lower loop — remember? The name vanished with the blight."
One of the names (and buildings) that wouldn't vanish was the Nicollet Hotel, which would have been refurbished. According to the plan, all the rooms would have terraces, and there would be a mechanical conveyor to bring books from the new library to the hotel guests.
Nearby would be an insurance building, with 12 stories "sheathed in bright pink and gold mosaic tile." The top floor would not be for executives, but would have an employees' club for dinner and dancing at night, the city lights glittering below.
Along Washington Avenue, the plan called for two- and three-story shops, "exclusive men's and women's stores" to replace the "pawnshops, bars and flophouses." The Golden Gateway would also have a series of small parks or plazas.
What actually happened: The Gateway was indeed leveled. But only a few buildings were erected. Alas, no gold-and-pink 12-story tower.
The plan called for an extensive investment in transit. In fact, it envisioned that in 1967, you'd be "whooshing over the landscape in the Minnetonka monorail. It's taking you on its 10-minute run from Excelsior to the Minneapolis transportation center."
The transportation center also served the buses. And because the bus lines were extensive, ran frequently and cost only a nickel to ride, they would lure drivers out of their cars and onto the buses, saving downtown "from strangling in its traffic."
Another idea for reducing congestion: helicopters. The transportation center would have a helipad serving "an average of 78 copters a day … most of the big birds carry passengers and mail to and from the airport."
The plan assumed that Wold-Chamberlain Field (now known as Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport) would keep its name and add a "new terminal building, a 6-million-dollar city-within-a-city," to accommodate both airplanes and helicopters. It would boast "a moving sidewalk that glides us to the general passenger lobby. If you want to get away from the hubbub here, you can sip coffee in one of the two adjoining restaurants."
What actually happened: We ended up with light rail instead of a monorail or commuter helicopters. The airport does have has moving sidewalks — and many more than two places to get coffee.
Parks, plazas, skyways
A park, dubbed Aqualand, would be plunked down between Nicollet and Marquette avenues and 3rd and 4th streets, according to the plan. The centerpiece, a fountain, would sparkle "like a diamond on the emerald-velvet lawn." From the park you would be able to see a new 32-story hotel made of "shiny aluminum and glass," with a heliport on the roof, of course.
Aqualand would include an escalator to "Nicollet Plaza, an air-conditioned heaven," a second-floor shopping area. It sounds a bit like skyways, but it was much more ambitious:
"If you're around 90 years from now," the series said, "you'll find all of downtown raised on a great plateau, with parking and service roads underneath."
Making the dream of "Minneapolis 1967" come true relied on demolition.
"None of the buildings you see now will exist then. The plan will go into effect slowly, as new structures replace them. Downtown interests have pooled their resources in a giant corporation to buy and demolish" the core of the city.
It even called for a new City Hall and courthouse.
That's right: They wanted to tear down City Hall, a castle-like structure that's one of the most distinctive of the historic buildings still standing downtown.
What actually happened: There was no Aqualand park, no massive fountain. The idea for Nicollet Plaza may have been the germ for two separate downtown institutions: the skyways and Nicollet Mall. In short, downtown was saved from the dreamers.
The introduction to the "Minneapolis 1967" series quoted architect Daniel Burnham, who said, "Make no small plans." It's a line often used to defend sweeping change — the kind of change that rarely worked out well in postwar American cities.
These days, we seem to be content with small plans, tinkering and tweaking, a zoning modification here, some street reconfiguration there. A roundabout, or two.
But you can't blame the authors of "Minneapolis 1967" for trying. If a newspaper did a series today about the wonders of Minneapolis in 2031, and all it predicted was more bus and bike lanes, you might wonder: Is that all we can dream? Why not a helipad or two?