Best Of :: People & Places
On October 18, 1988, the Star Tribune reported that citizens and civic leaders assembled on a notorious stretch of Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis "not to praise Block E, but to condemn it," gathering for a flashy demolition celebration marking the impending destruction of several buildings lining the street. They sang these words to the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird": "Pack up all your crime and porn/Block of scorn, be reborn/Bye Bye Block E/Moby Dick's is beached at last/Problems vast, now are past/Bye Bye Block E." Many in the city had high hopes for the new Block E project, which they believed could bring in more mainstream commercial business (and fewer shady customers). But those who appreciated Minneapolis's grittier urban side, those who browsed the shelves of Shinders or hobnobbed with the unsavory characters of Moby Dick's, were less enthused. And do they today feel vindicated by the failure of the "new" Block E? Not quite. They're still longing for the days of Old Minneapolis, and nothing embodies this nostalgia better than the Facebook page of the same name, which describes itself as "a place to share photos and memories of pre-October 18th, 1988, Minneapolis." But the photos aren't limited to that well-known shot of old Block E: Brady's Pub, Rifle Sport, McDonald's, Moby Dick's. The collection explores all corners of Minneapolis, from its earliest days to the unfortunate bouts of renewal that did away with the likes of old Block E and the Gateway District, from a snapshot of David Johansen's in-store appearance at Oar Folkjokeopus to one of a homeless woman on Minneapolis's circa-1930s skid row. No one here can stop or aggravate us/No more hard-luck stories will deflate us/Say goodbye to urban blight/Now we'll light up the night/Block E, Bye Bye.
With dining and entertainment options like the quirky Trylon Microcinema, the deliciously affordable Midori's Floating World Cafe, Gandhi Mahal's temptingly aromatic Indian food, Peace Coffee's dine-in Minnehaha shop, and the British Isles-inspired Merlins Rest, Longfellow is a neighborhood that's been coming up in the world these past few years, all the while holding tight to its working-class sensibilities. But the neighborhood seems larger than just that, and rightly so; the adjoining 'hoods of Cooper, Howe, and Hiawatha have jumped on the Longfellow bandwagon and are often lumped in with it. Within this larger "Longfellow" you'll find the brand-new Forage Modern Workshop, Parka restaurant, Hymie's Vintage Records, the oh-so-cute Corazon gift shop, the Minnehaha Free Space, Turtle Bread, a brand-new Blue Door Pub location (or, more accurately, a long line waiting to get in that blue door), Mother Earth Gardens, E's Emporium, Elevated Beer, Wine and Spirits, the Riverview Theater, Leviticus Tattoo, Craftsman restaurant ... phew! Need we even mention four of the community's greatest amenities — the river to the east, the Greenway to the north, the Hiawatha LRT line to the west, and Minnehaha Falls to the south? Throw in the League of Longfellow Artists (LoLa) Art Crawl, now entering its fifth year, the area's lovingly maintained bungalows, an impressively active community council, and a moniker chosen in honor of a very romantic poet, and south Minneapolis has itself a real winner.
To introduce a visitor to the best that Minneapolis's urban side has to offer, climb up through Jean Nouvel's masterpiece building and then out the equivalent of 12 building stories toward the Mississippi (you can stop for coffee at the Guthrie's Level Five Express along the way). Take a seat on the steps outside, drink in hand, and show off our city's core. Look, you can say, this is the great river, and that's St. Anthony Falls, which is why the city exists. Those are the mill ruins, and look at the shiny new buildings popping up on both banks. And best of all, here, what we're sitting on, is a world-class cultural institution that values public space enough to set up this deck as a hangout. Once your guest is sufficiently awed by Minneapolis's many facets, continue the tour by heading to the Mill City Farmers Market, strolling over the Stone Arch Bridge, or taking in some theater.
Is there anything more essentially Minnesotan than Laura Ingalls Wilder? Okay, so Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, and even New York (home to husband Almanzo) also claim her. But only we have Walnut Grove, her family's onetime stamping ground lionized by Michael Landon, Melissa Gilbert, and the rest of the gang on the long-running television series. Tourists from all over the region, especially those who have checked off visits to all her Midwestern homes, make the pilgrimage to this sleepy southwestern Minnesota town every year to attend its summer pageant, check out museum memorabilia from Ingalls Wilder's life (both actual and televised), compete in the annual Laura and Nellie lookalike contest, and pick up their own slate and pencil, rag doll, or bonnet in the adjoining gift shop. The family lived here twice when Laura was seven and 11, and only for short periods of time before moving on to Iowa and South Dakota in search of better opportunities in what were challenging times for westbound pioneers. While home sites like that in DeSmet, South Dakota, offer a greater chronological glimpse into the family's life (and figure more significantly in the book series), it's impossible not to feel a rush of nostalgia as you walk "On the Banks of Plum Creek" — which you actually can do — and stand over the remains of the Ingalls family's actual hillside sod dugout, noticing a number of landmarks mentioned in the book of the same name.
Cue up Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and drive north on a cold November day to Two Harbors' Split Rock Lighthouse, a Minnesota Historical Society site restored to its 1920s appearance. Shipwrecks from a mighty 1905 November gale prompted the construction of this lighthouse, perched precariously atop a 130-foot cliff overlooking Lake Superior. Completed by the U.S. Lighthouse Service five years later, the site today features tours and a museum offering a peek into the difficult conditions under which the lighthouse was built, and under which its workers over the years resided with limited access to the comforts of supplies and friends, living alone amid the brisk winds and solitude. Visit during the warmer months to explore the beautiful hiking paths that wind down toward the lake, or plan to stop by the annual November 10 beacon lighting commemorating the sinking of the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald. A film about the Fitzgerald is shown continuously during the afternoon, with the lighthouse closing temporarily at 4:30 as the names of the 29 lost crew members are read to the tolling of a ship's bell before the lighting of the beacon. This is the one time each year visitors can climb to the top of the tower and see the beacon lit and revolving.
Located at Cedar Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis's Phillips neighborhood, Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery is truly notable, but not because you'll find stones labeled Ramsey, Sibley, Pillsbury, and Rice, as you might at Lakewood Cemetery to the west or Oakland to the east. Here, only about one in nine graves still has a marker, and many of the markers remaining have barely stood the test of time, falling victim to vandalism and the effects of pollution and the weather. Established in 1853, it's the oldest surviving cemetery in the city, the only one in the state assigned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, and the home to prominent territorial pioneers, veterans of wars ranging from the War of 1812 to World War I, and many of the city's early African-American settlers and those with ties to the local abolitionist movement. Over half of the cemetery's 20,000-plus residents are children (some of whom were preemies cared for in nearby Wonderland Park's "Infant Incubator"), and while the cemetery is about as Scandinavian as was the city at the time, unlike most resting grounds of its era it was never racially segregated — its founder, Martin Layman, was associated with an abolitionist church. But its role in Minneapolis history doesn't mean money has poured in to help with upkeep, a barrier that comes with maintaining an old cemetery that lacks a steady stream of income from new burials or an attached church. Enter the Friends of the Cemetery. This nonprofit group has worked to supplement meager city funds and raise historical awareness by hosting fundraising concerts within its gated walls to raise money for upkeep. Jeremy Messersmith performed in the first year, after finding inspiration in the cemetery for his 2010 album The Reluctant Graveyard, and raised some $30,000 in the process. And last summer, Duluth-based superstars Low performed in front of the circa-1871 caretaker's cottage. At the time it was established, this plot of land was situated outside the city's boundaries, and folks would take day trips to laze with family members dead and alive in the prairie landscape. It's wonderful that community members can gather here in the boneyard still today, though now it sits amid the urban bustle.