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Town Talk Diner becomes East Lake Street’s third historic landmark

Town Talk Diner becomes East Lake Street’s third historic landmark
CPED Staff
The sign is the most significant feature of the façade, dominating half of the original storefront.

Minneapolis’ Town Talk Diner fills the gap between two East Lake Street structures that had been standing for 40 years before Paul Pearson built his restaurant between them in 1946.

“It was probably just an alley,” said Chris Vrchota, a city planner who did the research (PDF)  on the diner leading to its designation last week as a local historic landmark. “It was kind of unique.”

Back in 1946, location was everything.

Two blocks to the west of the Diner was the Minneapolis Moline tractor factory, which was hiring the GIs returning from World War II.

East Lake Street was a busy boulevard with streetcars, buses and cars, and that may explain the need for the large sign over the tiny diner: Pearson had to attract customers.

The sign is the most significant feature of the façade, dominating half of the original storefront, according to Vrchota. The aqua-green background is covered with 13 letter boxes filled with tiny white lights and spelling out the name of the diner.

The sign is likely the reason the diner itself has survived so long, according to his report, which notes that it has never been altered and is still in fairly good condition.

At the time, it was not unusual for a business name to be designed into the exterior of the building, he said. The Foshay Tower, for example, still bears that brand near the top of what was once the tallest building in Minnesota. The Young Quinlan Building also has the company name as part of its original façade.

The Town Talk Diner façade below the lighted sign is metal and glass — in the style called Streamline Moderne -- and includes vertical ribbing along one edge and smooth surfaces. There is also a built-in planter box by the door.

“It got the name as a streamlined evolution of Art Deco,” said Vrchota.  Oother examples of the style, he said, are the Uptown Theater on Hennepin near Lake Street and the Hollywood theater at 28th and Johnson Street Northeast.

The study of the property notes that the original structure appears to be unaltered and retains its integrity but has been compromised by the addition of a second floor in 2003. The report suggests that the addition diminishes the impact of the sign and façade.

The Pearson family owned and operated a number of Minneapolis restaurants, starting in 1938 with the Town Talk Café in south Minneapolis which was moved to the Town Talk Diner in 1946.

In the l950s, the family added another Town Talk Diner on Hennepin and operated Pearson’s Drive-Thru on Hiawatha and Pearson’s Restaurant at 50th and France (which closed in 2011).

The diner, which has had several owners through the years, has been closed since January 2011.  The inside of the building was not available for assessment, but a counter with stools can be seen through the windows.

East Lake Street now has three official historic landmarks. The other two are:

• The Old East Lake Street Library, near 29th, which was the first to be designated (1997). The one-story structure, with a style described as utilitarian, has been used as commercial space.

“This is so important for maintaining the character of the Minneapolis neighborhoods,” said Council Member Gary Schiff, who represents the East Lake Street area between Chicago Avenue and the Mississippi River.

• The Sears Roebuck & Co. Mail Order Warehouse and Retail Store, which was built in 1927 fronting on Lake Street. Sears closed both businesses in 1994, and the building stood empty until 2005, when the Midtown Exchange opened.  That same year, the building won designation.

Fire Station 13, at 42nd and Cedar, is not on Lake Street but is part of the neighborhood. It was designated a historic landmark in 2003. It’s currently being used as office space.

“It was eligible because it was designed in the shape of a bungalow,” said Schiff of the station, which opened in 1923 at a time when nearly 5,000 new residential units were built in Minneapolis. The fire station closed in 1979.

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Comments (2)

Nothing could be finer than hash browns at the Diner...

Maybe it was around the late fifties as students off-campus, we'd stop at the Town Talk Diner seeking good food for a change after school cafeteria so-so predictable...

Now Elle the head waitress ( wish I knew her real name), a middle-age matriarch manning the grill and territory behind the counter, would be consistently harassed in a jovial exchange of barbs..."Hey Elle, mind my hash browns..turn them over before they burn!...no,we don't want no burnt ones,hey!"...

Nonchalantly Grill Queen would ignore them strutting by without a glance, tending to the new customers... and at the perfect time she would give the hash browns a flip; a golden brown masterpiece. Best hash browns in town and although didn't know it then, must have been the regulars from Mpls Moline?

Could say too, as Al's Breakfast is to Dinky Town students, so Town Talk was to blue collar regulars and so many more.

If only one could gain historic preservation, pop in on a time warp and establish recognition for the cornucopia of conversations, we would have a most rewarding replay; a reasonable amount of trivia so recorded I suppose...yet so much more?

Origins of Town Talk Diner

Paul Pearson (Jr.) is still around. Son of the founder. Last I heard, he was working in management with Brueger's Bagels. The way I recall it being told to me, Paul Sr. came back from WW2 through San Francisco and saw how they were scrapping everything from all the suddenly surplus US Navy ships.

He came home to Minneapolis, rented a semi with a flatbed trailer and went back to San Francisco. Bought a full stainless steel short order kitchen off a submarine or destroyer for fifty bucks, loaded it on the trailer and brought it home. The location he picked had been a shoe shine parlor - just a sort of brick shack between two actual buildings. Took the front off the shop, slid his stainless steel coolers and grill all in one piece up against the east wall. Built a counter with stools. A tiny pay phone booth (open; no door) way down on the back end.

What you saw was what you got, but they had the finest hash browns in town, and the sassiest waitresses. The Grill Queen held forth until about 1985 or so, when Paul Jr. finally sold the place to the two daughters of a St. Paul letter carrier. They ran it, quite well, for several years before
moving on to another place over in Northeast Minneapolis. Then came the deluge of modern
gourmet cooking and fancy cocktails...

Hardly any of us do enough physical labor to justify The Special at the old-fashioned diners any more. Two eggs, however you want them, usually drowned in butter. Two slices of toast, the same way. Sausage patty or bacon. Coffee.

Go ahead and faint at the cholesterol count - it was a great way to start the day, shoulder to shoulder with people who knew how to work with their hands and razz each other. Nowadays, you can hardly find anyone who knows which end of a pliers to hold, and nobody can handle
anything that even hints at mockery of the overly serious self-centered jerks that can't order coffee in less than three minutes.