2018-03-12

The Incredible True Tale of the Northeast Minneapolis Flag

[They still have that "new flag" smell.]
tl;dr: Northeast Minneapolis has a little-known “neighborhood flag” with a wacky history that dates to the early 1970s. Flags are cool and this one is great.

Get yours today!



Slightly longer version: While clearly not as rich in historical pedigree as the Saint Paul Flag, from a vexilological perspective, the 70s era Northeast flag is superior. Best of all, its origin story is connected to Minneapolis’ most unique parking lot, the “Northeast Bank Parking Lot Park” on Marshall and Broadway. The flag was legit designed by a 10-year-old to celebrate a parking lot, and to me it looks great.

It’s been flying over the parking lot park for forty years, but is rarely seen elsewhere in the neighborhood. Given the crapitude of Minneapolis’ official city flag, and the great neighborhood traditions of Northeast itself, I say it’s time for that to change. Symbolically celebrate Northeast’s quirky history and creative spirit!

Get one today!



[The Northeast Bank at Marshall and Broadway. Note the Northeast flag.]
Long and detailed account: I first discovered Minneapolis’ Northeast Flag while doing research for my 2015 tour of interesting Minneapolis parking lots.

(Note: This is a true story, not made up by me, I swear.)

The first-and-only “Noteworthy Parking Lots of Minneapolis” bicycle tour still ranks in my top three favorite bike tours, and it all began with a moment of discovery and ongoing fascination with one particular particular parking lot by the Mississippi River.

[The Northeast Bank Parking Lot Park in early spring.]


Years ago, when spending the better part of a year cohabitating in Northeast, I used to regularly bike past a weird parking lot that stuck out in Minneapolis' drab surface parking landscape like a wedding cupcake in week-old oatmeal. Later when putting together a tour of the city’s most interesting parking lots, I went down a parking rabbit hole that led me to the Northeast Flag.

I began by calling the Northeast Bank folks and asking about their fanciful car-laden dreamscape.

"How could there be such a thing as a parking lot park?" I'd been wondering for years.
[The original location of the Northeast Bank, at 13th and 2nd, c. 1940. Image from MNHS.]

A week later, I was in the basement of the the Northeast Bank building getting a tour from a slightly bashful banker. She took me into the corner of the community room, where we examined a small collection of news clippings mounted on the wall. They told the tale of the bank’s history, which began in the building that currently houses Dangerous Man Brewing (pictured above).

[Rasmussen's 1991 obituary in the Star Tribune.]
Most of the articles featured the charismatic mid-century flag-obsessed bank president Walter Rasmussen, who was the brainchild of both the parking lot park and the Northeast Flag. Rasmussen seems like a real character, an ambitious kid who grew up in Pelican Rapids, hitchhiked to Minneapolis during the depression, and worked his way up from cashier to bank president. By the time he took charge, he wanted to lead Northeast Minneapolis headlong into its post-war future.

The first step was erecting a new modern building, which he did after re-branding the bank. The  early 60s bank headquarters is still there today, and still features Rasmussen's famous "quilt of 19 flags" exterior sculpture. (See the bank exterior two photos up.) The flag logo, still used today, was meant to represent the eclectic and diverse backgrounds of Northeast's cultures.

[Northeast Bank has long been a champion of flags, dating to its 60s headquarters.]


[Room for polka, bike races, and a place to sleep it off...]
Funnily enough, when he built the building, Rasmussen also dreamed of building a beautiful parking lot. He wanted it to be the finest parking lot in the city, one so wonderful and welcoming that kids would play in it when it wasn't being used for car storage. As described in the newspaper column below, Rasmussen was a pioneer of car-lite culture who "believed motor vehicles should not dominate our lives." 

Here's Rasmussen's vision for the parking lot park:
Out in Edina, Bloomington and South Minneapolis, a park is taken for granted. Up here in this hard-core industrial area, there aren’t any…. [In the parking lot park] we'll have picnic tables and encourage area workers to eat out here in good weather. There's room for dances, queen contests, bike races -- whatever the neighborhood wants to do. We’ll let our park grow and won’t dictate what happens to it. We know people will find their own uses. There's a bar across the street. If somebody gets drunk over there some night, they can sleep it off over here in the park. We won’t mind. That’s better than driving home drunk, don’t you think?
The parking lot park was finally built in 1973, ten years after the bank building. It was the culmination of Rasmussen’s life-long dream of combining parking for cars with spaces for young people to play, drunk people to sleep, and arm-wrestling people to arm-wrestle.


[This is real.]
During the kick-off celebration for the new parking lot park, Rasmussen invited ubiquitous Star Tribune urban interest and architecture columnist Barbara Flanagan to cover the festivity.

As recounted in her column, when describing at the park, Flanagan asked a crucial question:
Old bricks set in sand in the old-time manner provide a circular 'town square' plaza. Rasmussen thinks political candidates should love it. Above the plaza are three flags -- the United States, United Nations and the green environmental flag.
Where is the "northeast" flag, I asked? "That's a good idea," said Rasmussen. "Maybe we should design a northeast flag to fly over our annual arm-wrestling championships here next spring."

And with that, the Northeast Flag was born. Soon after the parking lot park opened to the public, Rasmussen held a contest to create a new flag, formed a flag selection committee, and within a year the winner was chosen.

[Ad for the 1974 Northeast Flag design contest.]

Amazingly enough, the winning flag design was crafted by a ten-year-old Northeast kid named Tony Di Giovanni.

(Side note: the Northeast flag process represents a neat inversion of the golden rule of flag design: a flag should be simple enough that even a child can draw it.)

Rasmussen celebrated the unveiling of the flag with a polka festival in the parking lot park, and throughout 1975 he went around gifting flags to various civic institutions like the Police Department and the Edison High marching band.

Sadly, the Northeast Flag did not catch on, and today you rarely see it flying. One flies over the parking lot park, of course, and I have heard that there’s one on display at 56 Brewing on the northern edge of the neighborhood.

Given the increasing interest in vexillology, economic growth in Northeast, and the always thriving sense of pride in the neighborhood, I think the Northeast Flag is poised for a comeback.

I recently got some Northeast flags made, and they’re now available!

I expect this batch to sell out quickly, so order yours today.

Note: The flags are perfect for wall hanging, but are a bit one-sided in that the colors on one side are brighter than the other. I will be looking at getting more in the future.   

Here's the link!


PS. Oh my! Here's a link to the official song of the Northeast Flag, the "Sven Ivan O'Myron Wisnewski" polka.

Yes, this is real. Thanks to Greta Kaul and Hymie's Records for the link!

[More historical photos follow.]



[The Northeast Flag: synonymous with premarital cohabitation since 1975.]

[You know, for kids!]

[The Northeast flag celebrating its 40th birthday in 2015.]

9 comments:

Elliot Novak said...

This is ridiculous and I love it. It's why I keep coming back to this blog!

I also appreciate the newspaper headline "Some urge cohabitation as test for marriage." Classic.

Rob said...

This isn't the flag story I'm looking for.

Bill Lindeke said...

Find me a better flag story, Rob! I'll be waiting...

Rob said...

The flag I had in mind is a jumbled bag anachronistic symbolism and has aged worse than Mickey Rourke.

Jeff Metzdorff said...

Buying one today to hang at Mill City Running!

Also, you can find one always flying outside the Xcel Riverside Generating Station on NE Marshall.

- Jeff

Susan Witek Whitaker said...

Tony DiGiovanni was the 10 year old who created the N.E. Flag design. He was my classmate at Holy Cross school. Our whole class designed flags for the contest. We were thrilled that Tony won the contest. So long ago and yet I remember it like it was yesterday. :)

Landon said...

Bill, do you happen to have more flags?

Bill Lindeke said...

HI Landon:

Might be a couple weeks, but I have some more on the way.

best.
Bill

Bill Lindeke said...

They are in stock now!

https://tcsidewalks.bigcartel.com/product/northeast-minneapolis-flag-2-x-3-wall-flag