2019-02-27

Join Me for a Walking Tour of the Minneapolis Skyway System, Saturday March 9


I am proud to announce that I'm leading another Downtown Minneapolis Skyway tour with the Hennepin History Museum. It'll be Saturday, March 9th. This is a great tour, and I lead it in proper passive/aggressive love/hate Minnesota fashion.

The last one was back in 2016, so if you missed it, now's your chance for a repeat. Here's my write-up of it from then. In the skyways, not much has changed. The` Government Center skyway is missing right now, and there are some new skyways by the Vikings Stadium / Downtown East / East Town area that we might or might not get to, depending on the enthusiasm and vim of the group.


Skyway history is something of an obsession of mine, and we'll be walking around downtown through all the different types of skyway environments, everything from parking ramps to retrofit corridors to parking ramps to all kinds of atria.
What: Downtown Minneapolis Skyway Tour with the Hennepin History MuseumWhen: April 16th at 1pm (tour will last approximately 90 minutes)Where: Meet at the IDS Center, prepare for a roughly 2 mile indoor/outdoor walkWho: Space is limitedHow much: $12 members / $15 non-members

Some of the things we'll be seeing include:
  • The place where the idea was hatched (c. 1956)
  • The site of the first skyway (c. 1962)
  • The oldest existing skyway (c. 1963)
  • The longest skyway (c. 1970s?)
  • The skyway through the jail (will research)
  • The most beautiful skyway (c. 1988, arguably)


Get your tickets today. Space is limited. I hope to see you there!






2019-02-25

This Week is Your Last Chance to Soak in Big V's Exquisite Dive Atmosphere

[The eclectic interior of Big V's in the early winter afternoon.]
If the walls of Christensen's Big V's Bar on University Avenue could talk, I'm sure they'd say "Hey get this carpet off me!"

The weird brown carpeted walls of one of Saint Paul's oldest bars is just one of the many delightfully bizarre features you'll still find inside the long narrow and ancient bar, that is slated for remodeling, renaming, and renewal at the end of the month.

Big V's has a storied legacy in Saint Paul as a music venue,  but its history goes much father back than that into the 1880s. There's a secret abandoned bowling alley in the basement that I've never seen, but there's also plenty of strange stuff on full display up in the regular confines of the place that you can still witness for yourself, at least until Wednesday night.

The carpeted walls, the strange and antique faded teal, grey, and brown color palette, the smattering of hand-written signs ("Bartenders are responsible for any checks they cash!"), the mid-century light fixtures, and the delightfully real wall menu are all part of the fun at this wonderful place that is sure to be remodeled into a more boring but more vital future over the next few months.








They are having a big blowout show on Wednesday night, and I am told to expect early 2000's levels of fun. This is one of the only bar stages in town on which I personally have performed, and if you buy me a drink at Big V's in the next few days, I'll tell you all about it.

Get thee into the spacious vacuum of Big V's bar for your final round. For now, it's still cash only, as all great dives should be.

Here's my writeup of Christensen's Big V's from my in need of an update, Noteworthy Dive Bars of the Midway guide book:

Listening to Tom Waits sing Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis on the Big V’s juke box during the holidays is an exquisite treat, like an aperitif at a waterfront café in a Provençal village at sun- set. Only the opposite. 
For many years, Big V’s and the Turf Club just across chaotic Snelling Avenue performed a teeter-totter of Saint Paul rock and roll. Many nights of the week, you could go see a show at the Turf (“the best remnant of the 40s”) and, if one of the bands in the set didn’t suit your fancy, simply walk a block to Big V’s instead. Back then there was music most every night on the rickety back stage of this long rectangular room. Almost without fail the act would be less predictable, less arranged, and less polished than its corresponding cross-the-street act. I’ve seen nut sacks on that stage. 
These days, Big V’s seems almost a tombstone for its former selves, a hushed collection of Midway drinkers killing time. Le plus ├ža change. Yet in another way, like a contented grandparent, the bar has reached new heights of being down, the frantic ebullience of another era replaced with a weathered determination like the face of a farmer. You can read the history of the Midwest in its lines. 
The bar itself overflows with dive decor. The heart of the heart of the dive district, doors down Snelling Avenue and (naturally) next to a decrepit second-story sober house. The green ceiling hangs but- tressed by odd wooden beams. On the wall opposite the bar, close to the crown, and old sign from the pre-Christensen days whose dingy letters spell out a menu of depression-era price points: limburger cheese sandwich, fifteen cents. The walls are literally carpeted, a palimpsest of odd fads. One corner is covered in rock posters from the early 2000s. The brown carpet is presumably a 70s relic, useful for when the young were bouncing off of them. And there is indeed a “Big V” behind the bar. 
Above the bar just to the right of the Miller sign hangs a sketched black-and-white portrait of a man in a beret, simply framed. It’s a drawing of a late regular who, so it is said, maintained the peace at Big V’s during the darkest days of the 80s and 90s. I am told he (and his name I cannot recall) carried with him a revolver while he drank and hung out, and through carefully aimed intimidation and friend- ship managed to avert many of Big V’s biggest emergencies. Those were different times, I am told, but his shrine lives on. Imagine that each weathered picture or hanging knickknack could tell such stories. In fact, they probably can. 
If you go to Big V’s on a Tuesday evening, you have a 50/50 shot at hearing the jam session, typically a few guys with guitars working through changes of Great American rock. These days the Green Line whirrs by every few minutes, and this side of the street, a row of run-down dusty two-story buildings opposite the dusty strip malls and drive-thru fast food across University. 
A few years ago, the building next to Big V’s burned down, and now a vacant lot sits beside the bar, edged by chain link like a missing tooth in the smile of a bum.

I'll never forget that Christmas, or any of dozens of other memories of this once great bar. Farewell to an old friend! At least it's remaining a bar. Let's hope for another century of camaraderie and vim.


[Bartenders are responsible for any checks they cash.]

2019-02-22

Reading the Highland Villager #228

[Villagers galore at a West Saint Paul grocery.]
[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]

Headline: Second six-story building eyed for site near stadium; Plan includes market-rate apartments and restaurant
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A developer wants to build a mixed-use building by Snelling and University Avenues. The site is currently the Furniture Barn store and a vacant building, both one story. There are low-income and homeless people in the area, and churches nearby. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking. One person questioned the need for market rate housing in the area, rather than affordable housing. [AFAIK, there has been no market rate housing built on University anywhere between the far west part of University Avenue and downtown, in the last few decades, maybe even fifty years. This would be the first in a long time.] Quote from the developer: "the apartments will be marketed to people who do not own cars." There will be a "bike lounge." [My whole world is a bike lounge.]


Headline: Citizens debate future direction of St. Paul; Commission sifts through over 1,000 comments on 2040 Comprehensive Plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Saint Paul is updating its Comprehensive Plan and people sent in comments or commented in person. [I was impressed with the comments!]


Headline: Wellington scales back six-story housing project; MnDOT parcel deemed too costly by developer
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A [totally different] proposal to build a six-story building by Snelling and University will not have as many stories or will be slightly smaller than previously thought. MnDOT is asking a lot of money for their parcel of land, or at least the developer thinks so. Quote form the article: "The property is listed on the MnDOT website for a minimum bid of $1.15 million; it was purchased by the state in the early 1960s when I-94 was built and has been vacant ever since." [Um, the public agency which condemned a huge swath of Saint Paul and displaced thousands in the name of "progress" while also destroying a huge part of the city's tax base is now asking for a lot of money after sitting on the land, which provided zero tax revenue for the city, for fifty years. Just sell the land to the developer and get it back on the tax rolls and providing housing for people!] It will have 40 or so fewer apartments than before. [The Villager article includes my point about zero market rate housing being built!] There is very low apartment vacancy rate and demand for new apartments. [PROTIP: If you build more housing, there will be more housing, which will help keep housing affordable.]


Headline: Council delays vote on Concordia U purchase; City officials hesitant to let Midway bldg. become tax-exempt
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A university wants to buy a large building off University Avenue using city resources and the city does not want to give them the bonding money for it. The city seems pissed at the Port Authority for making the bond request on behalf of the school. [TBH this whole thing is so complicated and in-the-weeds and inside baseball that only a true finance nerd could care.] There is some question about which parts of the building the school might lease and which parts would pay taxes. [I don't understand why the school would want to have offices on both sides of the freeway.] The building is worth over $5M. The issue of the city's "get nonprofits to pay for stuff by asking really politely" (PILOT) program comes up.Quote from CM Brendmoen: "somehow we have to pay the bills." [TBH it seems a weird hill to die on, as this building is kind of strange and boring and uninteresting. I am sure CMs know something I don't. Like maybe the PILOT thing is not going well, as I predicted it would not..] CM Prince is quoted discussing the issue of campus boundary rules.


Headline: Public sounds off on Crosby-Hidden Falls Park master plan
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Parks Department wants to make a little-used park along the river more used by improving some things. [The trails there are SUPER BUMPY and need help.] There was a meeting about it. Erosion is an issue. The park floods a lot. Some ideas are restoring the trails, putting XX ski trails in [yes please], connecting things to the park up on the bluff. [Sounds good. Connecting to the river is a big thing Saint Paul could do to improve the city.]


Headline: Watergate boaters fear park improvements will infringe on marina
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: People who live in houseboats are worried about having too many people in the woods near the boats. [Watergate Marina is a fascinating place. See also this epic City Pages story about it. Fun Fact: if this story somehow becomes a minor Saint Paul scandal, it could be called "Watergategate."]


Headline: Proposed rezoning for new tea house stirs up controversy on Grand
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: An vacant former hair salon building on Grand Avenue wants to be rezoned so that they can serve tea and ice cream. The family who owns the nearby ice cream shop don't like the plan. The issue of the sanctity of the existing Grand Avenue "BC" zoning was brought up by advocates for the existing ice cream shop. The City Planner thinks the rezoning makes sense.

[Note: still no sign of the "News Roundup" section, which was full of say 4-6 interesting tidbits of local urban development and land use news. I guess it's been axed, and I suspect the paper is winnowing things due to profit concerns or some such, as is the way of print media these days. See also: Downtown Journal.]

2019-02-15

Twin City Doorways #46

 [Cedar Avenue, Minneapolis.]

 [La Jolla, CA.]

 [South Minneapolis.]

 [San Diego, CA.]

  [San Diego, CA.]

  [San Diego, CA.]

  [San Diego, CA.]

 [San Diego, CA.]

2019-02-13

Twin City Shovelers #7

 [Location forgotten.]

 [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [A Line, Saint Paul.]

  [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

 [West Bank, Minneapolis.]

  [Downtown, Saint Paul.]

[West Side, Saint Paul.]

2019-02-08

Sidewalk Poetry #59: MN City

The cheapest rooms are always two blocks from the Greyhound Station
When I’m sitting on Hennepin avenue watching,

They have eyes like the sky.

He reaches into the pools of their eyes; the lakes, the rivers
flowing down Hennepin, up Seventh, on the Mall, in the IDS.

Lonely and scared day. Ice.
We are burning and do the love.
"Hi," he says, "How are you?"

Monuments grew downtown. Are growing. Dream money.
And those with no dreams are given housing. Housing grows
around the edges of the structures and the structures grow
towards the sky and birds of startled eyes flit in the shadows.

He prowls downtown picking up the girls from the small towns;
the farms, working in the offices, the stores, the waitresses,
students. Little white birds of love.

Wounded eyes of history. Light.
Touch in the shadow of the steel beams.
Bright eyes; fields of harvest, fields of flowers,
fields of wildness beside roads.
Dark adventure of morning. Alien landscape.
Creatures of herding anon. And none. And none. Touch. Touch.
Light.


[From Roy McBride's, MN City.]

2019-02-04

Reading the Highland Villager #227

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.]


Headline: Ryan's revision of Ford site plan receives broad public support
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The company that wants to develop the old Ford factory is asking for some changes to the zoning code the City put in place a little while ago. There was a public hearing and people testified and most, if not all, were positive. Article details the requests from the developer, which include single-family homes, more parking, and other things. The neighborhood group likes the plan changes too. Neighbors are concerned about traffic. 


Headline: Racial segregation hits close to home in new play
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A theater company is doing a play about the history or racism in Saint Paul. [It seems interesting and a story that really needs to be told.] 


Headline: City drawing up design standards for Ford redevelopment
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city is looking at ways to control how buildings on the Ford site look. Things that will be on the list include materials, windows, driveways, etc. Some people want modern looking buildings, while others do not.


Headline: Funding lines up for Lexington Pkwy. reroute
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The Met Council is going to give a grant to the city to realign Lexington where it meets W7th and Shepard Road to make it less dangerous. Neighbors are pleased. Article includes details of the new route that will be a useful connection for lots of different people. There are also new senior housing buildings going in at the site.


Headline: Event center planned for Dayton Ave. Church
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version:  An abandoned church could become an event center and a daycare.


Headline: Concordia's purchase of Central Medical hits snag
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A school wants to use government bonding to buy a tall building by I-94. The City Council is worried about the loss of property tax revenue, which would be something like $50K per year. [IMO we don't need to subsidize schools or nonprofits buying buildings...]


Headline: Riverview streetcar debate persists; West End holds roundtable on transit January 30
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The County wants to build a streetcar / light rail thing on West 7th and there was a meeting. Neighbors are concerned about high costs of the project, and how long it is taking to complete.


Headline: Ward 4 folks trash organized system
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: Some people who don't like having the city of Saint Paul "organize" trash collection had a meeting to complain. CM Jalali Nelson was there and listened. "The system isn't working for everyone," she said. Neighbors are concerned about not being able to share trash bins, not being forced to recycle, or having to pay too much. [In six months almost nobody will even notice the system because it will be working so well and much more convenient than the previous libertarian thing.] 


Headline: Comments sought on landscape plan for Historic Pilot Knob
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A Dakota sacred site in Mendota Heights is going to be made nicer and more accessible. There are plan to add parking lot and better trails and entrances. People can send in comments. [This is a very special place and I kind of like it how it is, but it would be great if more people would know about it and go there.]