Says the caption: "New Miss Downtown Minneapolis Sandra Lee Larson on Nicollet Mall. The young men who have passed up a dance with Sandra Lee Larson because she looked to them like 'another dumb blonde' may have made a big mistake. For the pert, blue-eyed University of Minnesota art education junior, who has just turned 21, was chosen Miss Downtown Minneapolis Thursday and she appears every bit as intelligent as she is vivacious."

Appears! Well, that's generous of them.

For decades, contest winners spent a year as the ambassador of downtown. For a few years, the winner got a mink coat. In 1973, Carol Ann Szyplinski got a wardrobe worth a thousand dollars. When their stints ended, they went back to work at Dayton's or Peck and Peck or the phone company. The most successful might have been Danna Stewart, the first Miss Downtown for 1956-57. She went on to a modeling career, made the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, and started her own fashion design line. In New York, of course.

The job was to show up, beam brightly, and do civic things that showed we were a city on the move. In 1963, Karen Johnson posed with dolls displayed downtown to honor the visit by the British ambassador. Larson extolled the city's bold new urban experience. She's pictured above with construction material and when all was done, she threw the switch at the NSP Building, turning on the lights up and down the street.

The job included the inauguration of new skyways. In 1983, Jacqueline Coleman, the first African American winner, presided over the public opening of the "zigzag skyway," as columnist Barbara Flanagan called it, connecting the Hennepin Government Center to the rest of downtown. In 1985, Heather Beal passed out cake to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Skyway News.

Search for "Miss Downtown" in the newspaper archives after 1986, and no mink-wrapped civic princesses appear — only "miss downtown" in another sense: recollections of things that once were, and are no more.