[A broken door, barred to the world. It sits on the sidewalk like an omen. 'Do Not Enter', it says. 'This Space is Lost.]
On the corner of University Avenue and 15th, it sits. Rather, it looms, rising above the Victorian chimneys of Folwell Hall, the shambled fraternities, the huddled streets of Dinkytown. It looms above it all, its dark iron dome silently waiting for your inevitable death.
You see, something is wrong in the Dinkydome. Businesses open and die like insects. The massive brick structure seems out of time, out of place. The stores inside it grit their teeth in desperation, clinging to solvency like kittens to a branch. The building eats its own, and nibbles at your soul. Nobody can sit inside the Dinkydome without feeling a cold clammy sensation on the back of the neck. It is anxiety, insecurity, a sense of overwhelming suspension...
For high overhead, the dome looms. It is haunted, spooked, cursed. Or it is a broken space, a hollow space, empty of life. It is dead. The building sits like a corpse, looming over the street far below...
But why? What happened here? What caused this building to go so terribly wrong? Was it always this way? Did someone leap from this high dome-side balcony, landing terribly onto the be-napkin'd floor?
When it was built, the building housed a Bible College, and a certain eschatoogical sprit still lingers inside its brick walls. Is it God? I think not. Rather, I can sense biblical wrath, hovering inside the public restrooms... You can still find religion today, somehow, as the third story office space is ridiculously inexpensive and houses the least among us, like church groups and Army recruiters.
I used to go to the DinkyDome quite often when I was younger, attending the U of MN as a high school senior. There was something exciting and chaotic about the space, its chaos and disorder. At the time, there was an excellent pizza place where you could get big slices of interesting pie, and the typical Chinese restaurant, the Taco John's, the world's most depressing Indian buffet. (As of a few weeks ago, they'd gone and been replaced by an Armenian joint, the Espresso coffee place run by the really nice man...)
But I was young back then. It turns out that the sub-dome foodcourt was always a terrible place. The way the space is arranged, with all the tables and chairs lumped together in one big blob, makes it impossible to feel comfortable. Almost everyone will immediately sit around the outside edge of the space, and when it fills up one has no choice but to sit somewhere in the chaotic middle, trapped and surrounded beneath the impending dome. Further off to the side, an alterior space with equally dismal chairs and tables waited for you, nothing well lit, nothing to comfort the soul. Eating at the Dinkydome was like attending a Bible College. You had to sit up straight and pay attention or you'd find yourself with a lot to confess.
[The only good space in the building was in the coffee shop, where the light poured in the large 2nd story windows.]
Back in the 1950s, famous urban design critic William H. Whyte did a study of modernist public plazas in New York city, looking at how people used the spaces in front of office buildings to sit, hang out, and talk. One of the most important things he found out was that plazas and spaces needed to be level with the street. Steps, either up or down, tended to greatly depress and diminish the amount of traffic entering a building or space.
William Whyte would have hated the Dinkydome. In order to get into the space, you have to climb what a terribly awkward set of stairs, leading up into the high second story food court and under-dome space.
[Every time I climbed these stairs, I cursed myself.]
Of course, it's all gone now. The building's been bought, and is being remodeled to fit into some sort of giant student housing complex.
Good luck to them. I can't help but believe that the new student building will be one of the worst things in Minneapolis. Too many accursed students have gone into and out of this building's domed balcony, too many hungover bodies have dragged themselves up these mammoth staircases, too many bad styrofoam plates of sesame chicken have been digested... No matter how thoroughly they gut it, there is no salvaging this place.
Dinkydome, Rest in Pieces.
[The Dinkydome always reminded me of the Hiroshima Dome, the only building to survive the US's Fat Boy atomic strike. Both buildings have a magical, doomed quality. Each building will outlast us all.]
It's true. I've walked or cycled past this building more times than I can count, but I've only been inside a handful of times. I curse that second floor entrance. It's such a shame, too, because I really do think it's a beautiful & quite substantial building... but a good food court it is not.
So Bill, what should be done with the dome, then?
Much like in Hiroshima, it should be allowed to crumble in place, slowly decaying, preserved as a ruin. It will mark the long-lost past of the University. Tourists will flock to wonder what happened here. A whole mythology will spring up, flowering in the night like a cactus.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Bill. It makes we wonder if we (unknowingly) shared some experiences together in that space. I frequented the DD over the 1994-1998 academic years. Espresso 22 was the space to which I was always drawn as well.
I like your suggestion to let the Dome be preserved as a ruin à la the Hiroshima Dome. That would be quite the contrast with the modern mixed use mid-rise planned for the surrounding properties to the rear of the DD.
Thanks for an excellent analysis! That building really sucks; they should tear it down and do something else. Something with ground level retail, IMHO.
A neighbor gave her first piano recital there back when the building was, I'm told, a theological seminary. The structure certainly fit its prior intentions better better than the recent ones. Who knows what karma remains in the place for its next use?
After reading that article, who would want to go into the Dinky Dome? Way to make it depressing!
I miss the Dinky Dome and its sesame chicken. The walk up the stairs helped to work off the calories!
Yeah, Dinky Dome! Looking forward to your comeback!
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