Vintage photos of old Minneapolis' underbelly

Minneapolis was once home to a massive skid row in the Gateway District. Seasonal workers, pensioners, criminals, and alcoholics, dubbed “gandy dancers,” stumbled from bar to bar, bloodied each other in fights, pissed in alleyways, and passed out in cubicle-sized rooms in cage hotels. Church mission workers preached in storefronts in an attempt to save their souls while undercover sociology grad students tried to understand them. John Bacich (a.k.a. Johnny Rex) was witness to it all as the owner of the Sourdough Bar, Rex Liquors, and the Victor Hotel. He captured the humanity, the depravity, and everything in-between in photographs and on film before the area was demolished as part of the city’s urban renewal project in the early 1960s. Bacich’s footage was the basis of a public television documentary Down on Skid Row. Through 25 interviews with Bacich before his death in 2012, Star Tribune columnist James Eli Shiffer compiled the stories and images of this bygone era for his new book, The King of Skid Row: John Bacich and the Twilight Years of Old Minneapolis. Read our interview with Shiffer here. All photographs courtesy of Hennepin County Library.