Dear John

An architecture tour you can take with your pants around your ankles

· "At Stasiu's [in northeast Minneapolis], guys are always pulling their girlfriends into the men's room to show them the urinals. They're originally from the Nicollet Hotel and they say Al Capone might have used them."

Hands down, Noran's favorite bathroom is the fourth-floor women's room at Macy's. She loves the fact that it has survived the slow, miserable slump from Dayton's to Marshall Field's and now to Macy's, and openly delights in the art-deco "Free Toilet" sign that marks the gateway from the roomy sink area to the stalls. It's an elegant lounge, an oasis, really—a place where many downtown denizens have sought refuge. In other words, this place to smoke, chat, and chill is as significant a historical spot as the Grain Belt sign, the Foshay Tower, or Mickey's Diner.

"There are no historical photos of bathrooms," says Noran. "When they record interiors of places, they don't record the bathroom. Who cares, right? It's a bathroom. But to me, when you go out someplace, that's one of the things you talk about if it's at all different. You say something about it. If the sink was a little weird or the flusher did something goofy, you go back to your table of friends and say, 'Hey, you gotta go check this out.'

Rebecca Noran at Macy's
Jim Walsh
Rebecca Noran at Macy's

"People have asked me, 'What do you find beautiful in bathrooms?' All I can say is that the State Theater actually hung on to a bunch of toilets, sinks, and urinals. They're lavender and mint green. They were in the basement of the Orpheum, and they lugged these huge fixtures up the stairs for me, and now they're in my show."

Places to Go: Bathrooms of the Twin Cities opens Saturday, September 30 (opening reception: 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.) and runs through December 30 at the Hennepin History Museum; 612.870.1329 and www.hhmuseum.org

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