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Rediscovering Minneapolis after decades away

MinnPost photo by Judy Keen
The Electric Fetus is still around, though it moved from its original West Bank location to 4th Avenue and Franklin in 1972.

When I moved back to the Twin Cities this summer I made a pilgrimage to the neighborhoods I frequented when I last lived here as a college student in the 1970s.

It was not a surprise to discover that many traces of the Minneapolis I knew then are gone.

The Mud Pie, the first vegetarian restaurant I ever encountered, is now The Bulldog. In the same block of Lyndale Avenue South, Treehouse Records now occupies the space where the iconic record store Oar Folkjokeopus opened in 1973.

Before Uptown was Uptown, South Lyndale and the residential streets surrounding it were the epicenter of our social lives. Most of my friends lived in big group houses along Bryant Avenue, Aldrich Avenue and Park Avenue.

I lived with my roommate on the second floor of a white house on 15th Avenue South, not far from Deaconess Hospital—which has since been erased from the landscape.

The white house is still there, though, and that neighborhood feels much as it did four decades ago: an urban blend of residential and commercial with a diverse population. The porn theater down the street that we avoided walking by is long gone, though, as is the grocery store on Franklin Avenue where we stocked up on cheap food.

Idealizing places

Larry Millett, an architectural critic and writer in St. Paul whose books chronicle the history and changing shape of the Twin Cities, says we all tend to idealize the places that were important in our lives.

“Cities are organic entities,” he says. “They grow and change inevitably.”

Many of the changes that have occurred during my absence have been positive, Millett says. Starting in the late 1970s in the Warehouse District, the historic preservation movement picked up steam and led to the rescue and reuse of beautiful old buildings.

More people moved to downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, he says, and in the late 1970s and 1980s, both cities made big investments in improving their riverfronts.

Other changes are worrisome, Millett says. “Minneapolis has become a more divided landscape of rich and poor than it used to be,” he says. For example, the North Minneapolis area where he grew up has slipped into a troubling pattern of poverty and crime, he says.

“A neighborhood can tip quite quickly” from one personality into another because of disinvestment leading to declining property values, he says, while “some teeter on the edge for awhile.”

East Lake Street, where during college I worked the overnight shift at an Embers restaurant that’s no longer there, is showing signs of emerging from economic doldrums: A few restaurants and businesses have opened recently—a trend that can lead to more investment in the area.

Nostalgia and change

I admit it’s partly nostalgia that makes me lament the changes in some of my college-era haunts. I remember Mama Rosa’s, a West Bank restaurant that served big plates of Italian food, as a destination for occasional splurges.

We rarely spent much time in downtown Minneapolis—shopping at Dayton’s was something this college student couldn’t afford—but when my parents came to visit I often suggested a visit to the Nankin Café, a grand place with balconies and more plentiful food. It closed in 1999 after 80 years in business.

I have fond memories of the Westgate Theater in Edina, too. The cult-favorite movie “Harold and Maude” played there nonstop for more than two years after the film’s debut in 1972. The theater, which was at 4500 France Ave. S., closed in 1977.

Some vestiges of my 1970s Minneapolis remain. The Electric Fetus is still around, though it moved from its original West Bank location to 4th Avenue and Franklin in 1972, and still has the same vaguely illicit scent of incense and vinyl that it did 40 years ago. The Black Forest Inn, which opened in 1965, is still around, too.

Treehouse RecordsMinnPost photo by Judy KeenTreehouse Records now occupies the space where the iconic record store Oar Folkjokeopus opened in 1973.

Some of the characteristics of Minneapolis that made me long for it when I lived in downtown Washington, D.C., and downtown Chicago are immutable.

The lakes are still sparkling surprises whenever I drive by one. From the air, the canopy of trees makes the city seem inviting and peaceful. There still are beautiful homes on big lots nestled next to retail and commercial neighborhoods.

The evolution of Minneapolis has given me new places to discover and explore. The arts district in Northeast Minneapolis is a place I’ll return to often. I don’t really know downtown well anymore, but I’m wandering its streets again.

When I returned, I was certain that my husband, Tom, and I would live in downtown Minneapolis. Although I had spent very little time in St. Paul, that’s where we ended up—on the edge of Lowertown and a couple blocks from the Mississippi River.

We moved to D.C.’s Penn Quarter just as it was blossoming into a center of dining and shopping in Washington and to Chicago’s South Michigan Avenue at the beginning of its transition from sleepy warehouse district to a hopping residential destination. We have the same urban pioneer feeling now in downtown St. Paul—the area feels like it’s on the cusp of exciting changes.

Whatever evolution lies ahead for the Twin Cities, I have a touchstone on the Minneapolis skyline that will never disappear: the Foshay Tower. My grandfather, Lisle Vickerman, was an ironworker who helped build the Art Deco masterpiece in 1929. Every time I glimpse it, I feel like I am home.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 08/27/2013 - 02:15 pm.

    Same experience!

    After 40 years in California, I was happy to move back to the Twin Cities — and one of the first things I did was make a pilgrimage to the (relocated) Electric Fetus, which evoked quite a rush. And yes, alas for Mama Rosa’s and the Nankin! And the poor West Bank — once so funky and fun, now so sterile and cold … things change.

  2. Submitted by Robert Beauchamp on 08/27/2013 - 02:39 pm.

    Welcome Back Judy!

    Reading your piece took me back as well. Places I frequented in that era that are still around include Dudley Riggs Brave New Workshop, Al’s Breakfast, The CC Club, and the Uptown Theater. Overall MSP has changed significantly for the better in the intervening years. New favorite places include Psycho Suzi’s, Eli’s on East Hennepin, the new Guthrie and the St. Paul farmer’s market.

  3. Submitted by Glenn Miller on 08/27/2013 - 03:18 pm.

    Missing the ’70s food scene?

    Any article that focuses primarily on missing Minneapolis’s food scene of the 1970s is one that will be met with a cocked eyebrow. The angle on this story seems all wrong to me… it either needed to trumpet the incredibly diverse food scene that Minneapolis currently enjoys — especially in comparison to the 1970s — or it needed to wax nostalgic on missing one’s 22-year-old self, especially the wide-eyed naivete of thinking that Mama Rose’s and Nankin were fine dining.

  4. Submitted by Lora Jones on 08/27/2013 - 03:57 pm.

    Nostalgia for a restaurant goes beyond “good food”

    and seldom even requires it. What you remember is who you ate with, and the circumstances surrounding the occasion. The Nankin was special for having been there for so very long that my mom (Augsburg class of 1942) could remember (occasional) meals there. By the mid-70’s the freeways had carved “her” Twin Cities into irregular and often illogical chunks and smelly diesel busses had replaced the streetcars and trains — but the Nankin was still there.

  5. Submitted by Susan Herridge on 08/27/2013 - 06:05 pm.

    West Bank sterile and cold?

    Are you talking about the West Bank area of the University of Minnesota? While its true that Breakfast at Mama’s and the friendly hippie bank are gone, its full of beautiful lively bustling East African businesses, as well as the Cedar Cultural Center, Mapps Coffee and Midwest Mountaineering. Sterile is the last thing I’d call it.

  6. Submitted by Ty Reed on 08/28/2013 - 11:10 am.

    Sterilel and cold?

    I’d agree with Susan. The West Bank is still one the best cultural/independent areas in the city with all sorts of businesses and funky eateries/bars (The Wienery, Palmer’s, Triple Rock, Hard Times, Acadia etc…)

  7. Submitted by Gary Jensen on 09/25/2014 - 10:57 pm.

    Thoughts of Minneapolis

    I recall living on 6th Ave S.E. and visiting my friend who lived in an apt on 4th st in Dinkytown. I believe it was the same building that Bob Dylans brother lived in and also possibly his inspiration for the Positively Fourth St. album. We would pile into my MGB and cruise Mr. Nibs and Duffy”s. This was early 70s and the joints were rocking. After that , we’d end up at the CC Tap on Lyndale for some giggles.
    I moved to Colorado shortly thereafter , but, when in town, I’d make it over to my good friend Robbie Stair”s Mud Pie.Restaurant. Robbie and I met at Mankato State College. I miss the Mud Pie, CC Tap , Nibs, and Duffys. All part of the scene at one time.

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