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Back Space

"So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Images and thoughts inspired by local history and memory
Your tour guide, Laura Weber, Minneapolis, MN

If walls could talk—a history of Northrop Auditorium

As the completely restored and reimagined Northrop Memorial Auditorium prepares to open its doors in April, it also took the time to record its storied past through this timeline of over 100 images and a narrative history (a PDF found at the end of the timeline).  

Built in 1929, designed by Clarence H. Johnston Sr. and Frederick Mann, Northrop is an iconic building, a center of arts and culture for the entire region, and a campus gathering spot. 

A shorter version of the history will be included in program of the opening performance of the American Ballet Theatre April 4. 

This has been one of my favorite projects to work on yet!

King’s Fair and the Seward neighborhood history project

People who live in Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood are self-aware and proud of their ‘hood’s thriving urban vibe. Seward’s energy derives from street life along Franklin Avenue and its location bordering the Mississippi River. It’s close to Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota. Seward is also fueled by the diversity of its residents—immigrants from East Africa, long-time residents whose father or grandfather worked at the Minneapolis Moline plant that once stood on East Lake and Minnehaha Avenue, or the graduate students who come and go.

Seward has had a long-standing neighborhood history group. Thanks to the catalyzing influence of a Legacy grant, Seward writers (and a non-resident ringer or two, including me) have created a book-length manuscript with chapters tracing Seward’s story from the days it was an outlying “suburb” to today’s restaurants, coops, parks, and politics.


Writers from the history group will be part of the scene at King’s Fair in Seward’s Matthews Park this Saturday, September 21. As the TC Daily Planet reports,

The fair is named for Colonel William S. King, president of the first “Minneapolis Exposition” which operated from 1877 to 1882 on what was once a large fairground in Seward. “King’s” fair was such a huge success that it even began to compete with the Minnesota State Fair, although it was eventually outdone by its competitor and closed after 1882. When some Seward historians discovered this fascinating piece of history, in 1979 they resurrected King’s Fair as a biannual neighborhood festival.

Dick Westby is the history group’s driving force and, as the video in the Daily Planet describes him, the “mayor of Seward.” He’ll be in costume on Saturday. Check it out this Saturday!

Powers: Great book department, good clothes, lunch counter in the basement. My grandmother sold jewelry on the main floor in the 1960s. (Powers by then subcontracted with her employer, National Jewelers, which also had a Nicollet Mall store.) Thanks @hclib for the photos and history.


Powers Department Store, 1950s

The above image is of a 1950s Aquatennial parade on Nicollet Avenue. Recently notable as the home of the World Street Kitchen food truck, the former lot that was Powers Department store is being transformed into a new luxury apartment building by Opus Corporation.

S.S. Kresge opened a store at 415 Nicollet Avenue in 1919.  It transitioned to a check-out lane service in 1956, a foreshadowing of the company’s later K-Mart stores. By the late 1960s Kresge had abandoned its two downtown stores on Nicollet Mall including one that burned down in 1968 and was replaced by the IDS tower. The Kresge store building at 415 Nicollet Mall was razed in 1976 and replaced by a McDonalds (vacant building next to the parking ramp) which will also be razed for the apartment building. 

The S.E. Olson department store opened at 417 Nicollet Avenue in 1893.  By 1901 A.J. Powers assumed ownership of the department store and changed the name to Powers Mercantile Company. Donaldson’s, another downtown department store, bought Powers in 1985 and closed the 417 Nicollet Mall store in the fall of 1985. Opus bought the building and it housed the University of St. Thomas Minneapolis campus until 1991. The building was torn down in 1993 for a temporary parking lot (at the time there were rumors of a downtown Target on the site).

This color image is from a Municipal Information Library (the old City Hall library) slide collection we are in the process of digitizing.  We’ll be sharing more gems in the future.

This Star Tribune newspaper article on Citizens’ Alliance leader C. Arthur Lyman being added to a wall of slain police offers in Washington 78 years after his death during the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 has generated 29 online comments to date, and is listed as one of the most commented-upon recent stories.

Lyman was not a police offer, but a businessman who came downtown to the Warehouse District in cleated mountaineering boots to beat back striking workers. I don’t condone his beating and death in the least. There was tragedy on both sides, but the ruling class-sports imagery of those cleats speaks volumes. 

Thanks HCLib, for the sleuthing. I knew it was a bakery for many years but now we know more. And I agree, the food is great!


Grand Cafe, 3804 Grand Avenue South

I recently had a great brunch here and had time to admire the ceiling while waiting to be seated.  It was screaming “former grocery store” to me but I thought I would do a little investigating at Special Collections.

Turns out a wood frame store was built at the location in 1911.  It contained C.E. Larson’s Shoemaking shop at 3806 Grand and Swan Jacobson’s Fuel (Coal) Delivery business at 3804. 

Classing up the the joint in 1925, Nels Bruce built the brick building that houses the current Cafe.  A grocery store was located at 3804 Grand Avenue until 1934 when Harry J. Casey opened a bakery. 

More recent bakery owners were Tommie and JoAnn Mudd, who ran the Grand Bakery for 37 years, retiring and closing the bakery in 2001.

The Bakery on Grand expanded the offerings of the traditional bakery and was known for it’s cuisine as well.  The Bakery on Grand closed at the end of 2005 and was replaced by Grand Cafe.  Also replaced was the bakery case, in it’s place a counter was installed. The Cafe evolved into being a dinner and brunch destination, weekday breakfast service was dropped. The Grand Cafe opened in June 2006 and has been much acclaimed since.  In May 2009 it was featured in Bon Appetit as a notable bruch spot on a nationalwide list.  

Rebuild for the next hundred years! This story explains how. Losing the oldest building on campus would be a tragedy. We’ve lost two other buildings in the Old Campus Historic District in the last few years. This one is in the center of campus, in the center of the district.

In the interest of completeness, an account of the demise of Norris Gym on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.

Beautiful site!

Lovely, thought-provoking, elegant site Laura!

"Swinging Crowd Greets Nokomis Library"

That was the headline for Minneapolis Star columnist  Barbara Flanagan's account of the Sept. 1968 grand opening of the Nokomis Library in Minneapolis—the first new branch library built in the city in 37 years.

That’s just one tidbit from the talk I’m doing on the architectural history of Nokomis Library, on Thursday, Sept. 22, 6 p.m., 5100 34th Ave. S. The library reopened a few months ago after a major renovation. The event is presented in collaboration with the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (MNSAH).

If you’ve read this far, you are probably dying to hear more from Barbara’s column. Here you go:

The live ones were at the new Nokomis branch library this week. Wow, what a scene! I thought for an instant that every TV set in town had broken down.

When I navigated the obstacle course outside through bikes and barking dogs, I found the jumpingest bunch of book lovers in town. Most were under 13. And nobody was shushing them.

Another facet of the Vietnam War experience: women who served as nurse-officers. Their saga is told in the new book by Kim Heikkila, Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Nurses in Vietnam (Minnesota Historical Society Press). My profile of book and author appears in Fall 2011 issue of Minnesota.

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