For you, and only you, I walked to the Library today to take pictures of an ugly pile of nothing with some green rebars sticking out. Actually, no, for me. Once I start shooting a building’s construction, I have to go back once a week at least. But to get there I had to pass through an enormous complex that’s being stripped of its 80s design.

I’m not sad. I am.

The other day a young reporter from a local radio station came by to do an interview on the Mary Tyler Moore location story, and we went to IDS. (Waving now at the Bleatnik who said hello, thereby impressing the reporter: why, he can’t leave the office without being mobbed!) (I don’t think she thought anything of it, to be frank) It’s the apex of 70s architecture, the IDS, but it’s timeless. It doesn’t age. They could ruin it if they wanted, but they know better.

The Opus Towers are different. The Opus Towers - the 5th Street Towers, as they're known - are the apex of 80s architecture, inasmuch as they are . . .



At least on the inside. Outside they're lighter. Behold:

I've always liked these two. It's the curve - quite novel at the time, at least around here. 1984 and 1988.

Can't do anything about the exterior, and no one would want to; they're a handsome grouping. It's the inside. All that mauve; all that brass. It's being gutted, planed off, brightened, and perfected: what was an impressive space in its time is now a mauseleum. I can't help but think it's for the better, as much as I hate to see styles of the past removed because they've fallen out of favor.

So I'm taking pictures - which is hard, because of SECURITY. Excuse me sir. I badge them with press creds, but I know it's futile; have to get home office approval. I had a security guard stop me from taking pictures in the lobby of the StarTribune building, for heaven's sake.

What I never forget when I walk through the building is TNC in Jimmy Figg's.

Which brings us to Angstiama multiforma.

I said I would explain that, didn't I? Angstiama multiforma.

My spell-checker flagged multiforma, as well it should - it’s a word I remember from the days back at college, when a roommate got creaky and rashy and had trouble moving. This would be Jack, the Brilliant Philosophe, the Armenian in the Basement, the guy who set the intellectual tempo for all our late-night conversations at the Valli. He had a degree in Philosophy. He landed in Minneapolis because he had met a girl on a train - very romantic. He was a few years older; he didn't drink; he had no patience for BS; he was a reasonably decent pinball player, and when he was jolly he was a boon companion with an infectious smile. Man, you were happy when Jack smiled, because when he went dark he was the most studiously depressed person you can possibly imagine - he would sit alone at a table, drinking coffee, chaining Marlboros, staring cold holes in the air. When he got up to get a fresh pack from the machine - chank-chunk - he would rap the pack on the back of his hand.

You didn’t engage Jack when the dark mood was upon him.

His problem was this: he was doing nothing with his life and he knew it, and saw no way out.

For a while we lived together in the Crazy Uke’s place, a house his dad built. This was three and a half decades before the AP decided it would be grand to go after the old man as a WW2 war criminal. Young Victor lived downstairs, and this was decades before Victor would become a private detective, and then an Orthodox priest. It was the winter before I would have the Time of Three Girlfriends. We were just all living there, going to school, or not.

So Jack got sick, and when he couldn’t walk because of the rash, we took him to the doctor. He got an eager young intern who said, this might be a zebra. I think you have Steve Johnson’s Disease.

Jack thinks, well, how did Steve turn out? You don’t want a disease named after a guy because that means he was the first and they probably didn’t fix it. Jack was also amused by the Midwestern banality of the name, being a California man. (It's actually Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.)

I think the technical description was epithemia multiforma, or something like that; meant “inflamed skin with many variations,” or, as we called it, “Red Eclectic.”

So that’s where Angstiama multiforma comes from. Angst with many sources and manifestations.

Jack moved away, went back to Cali, got a job with the state; last saw him in 1995. He had married and was happy and had dogs, and he still put away the Marlboros. I told him how much he was our intellectual lodestone, how I think of him every time someone brings up John Rawls, how I still remember one of his epigrams (“Everyone lives on the brink of ignorance, propped up by a piece of esoteric knowledge that sets them apart”) and his desire to write a novel that was completely outside of modern mores and references, but had the contemporary world suddenly enter the story like a winter storm blowing open a door. I think the last time we spoke was when Mehdi, the long-lost Iranian, came back to Minneapolis for a visit and we all convened in the shell of the Valli. Someone called Jack and the phone got passed around.

He’s in “Graveyard Special.” I should send him a copy.

They’re all in that book. I miss those guys. I miss that time. I miss that place.

Even though it’s still there. I took Astrid - you know, Peg Lynch’s daughter - to the restaurant that fills the space where the Valli was. Because Peg probably walked these streets when she went to the U. I’ll take Daughter there some day, before she goes off to college.

ANYWAY that's not where this ends. When I was walking around downtown with the young radio reporter I was giving her a lesson: what was here before this was here. She was interested, and thought it was cool - the idea that everything here occupies the space once inhabited by a completely different world was intellectually exciting, and that's the start of knowing a place.

I didn't get around to the Fifth street towers, but if I had I would have talked about TNC at Jimmy Figg's. TNC was "Thursday Night Club," when the Minnesota Daily newspaper staff went out to drink. There was no Saturday paper, so our work was done on Thursday. When I started going it was held at Jimmy Figg's, which was a "Theater Lounge" with a small stage and a piano player who took requests and had a big bowl for tips. It was closed and demolished for the 5th Street Towers, and we moved on - but nothing ever had the quality of Figg's. It was another generation, another time, a place where ties and hats and Manhattans and the genial manifestations of lubricated adulthood ruled. I saw the last of it, and then it was all gone, all of it.

Here's what gave me a pause, though: when I started writing this, I couldn't remember the name of the place. Jimmy, yes, Fegg? Figg? Webb? It was surprising, because although I've thought of the place and the name as I've walked through the lobby, I haven't said it out loud in years. In decades. I couldn't get it. It wouldn't come.

HEGGS I finally said out loud. Of course. Jimmy Heggs died at the age of 90 in 2001. I haven't spoken for years to the editor who first took me there, and that's one of those thigns that hurts, because it was a rare falling-out. She had a roommate; Jack dated her briefly. Jack never went to Hegg's.

No one goes to Hegg's anymore, becaause they can't, and now the look of the building that replaced it joins the nightclub in the realm of discontinued spaces.

At least our city is still dynamic. Below you'll see what happens . . . when everything fades away.

More of the work of C. H. Wellington, cartoonist mislaid by history.

I don't get it. I just don't. Who is the person for whom it will be worse? Was it a fad to wear watches around your ankles? Were watches just too loud? What?




Week #2 of the splendors of McKeesport, the Tube City. Downtown was once a bustling locale; Fifth Avenue was the main shopping street. Things were good; developers could afford to put brick facades on the back of the buildings.

It's not very good now. It's a long parade of failure, a catalogue of busted history.

When downtowns fall but there are still inhabitants and shopkeepers, it looks as if everyone's hiding, fearful to go outside.

I keep reaching for words to describe this place, and nothing comes. It reminds me how Fargo's downtown emptied out, and how it makes you feel angry and impotent.

Fargo came back, but that's not an option available to all.

That sign. All it said was APPLIANCE PARTS. Not the most glamorous or exciting thing to see at night.

But if it light up again, locals would be thrilled. And surprised: why? Is the store back? Who fixed it up? Why are there lights on in the old store? Why am I the only one who sees the old town as it used to be? Why is Rod Serling standing over there, talking to a camera?

It's the glacier of modernism pushing all the rocks and treees away.

It's like a superbug swept through, and everyone dropped where they worked.

Looks as if there was a basement elevator. A staple of the old streets once, but there'll be a day when no one remembers them at all, and they're just odd things in old movies.

A fine modern facade, covering up something old, promising new conveniences:

Floors and Christian books! For rent now.

Next door:

I wonder what the place on the right was; the lobby goes straight downstairs.

And I wonder why some never took the name off the front when they closd up. It looks as if they just walked away in disgust.

Hey kids this will be a fun place

It has an angry yelling Disney character and Scooby Doo! It has to be fun

Mom will be back eventually

Can't say about Dad




Even the back is interesting.

In 2010 someone asked the town for permission to turn it into a church and recording studio. The town said no.

Board member Dee Connor said a church would mean no new tax revenue for the city when it is spending state funds to upgrade Fifth Avenue.

"It is a major renovation for the town," board member Bill Richards said of the Hometown Streets project. "New gas lines, new sewer lines, everything."

Really? These streetview pictures are from 2016. Not a lot seems changed,


You know what assists growing businesses? Businesses that are growing. Places with names like this usually sound like handout operations. But that building! Look at those Deco detals.

The mechanical / organic style is straigtht out of the Chanin building. I wonder if a company stamped it out en masse but only sold them to one customer per market.

There's just no end to the disrepair:



Say, you look a little peaked. Maybe you'd want to go to the . . .


Yes, it says "Medical Center."


Once upon a time it was clean and modern, but I imagine it still had that Clinic Smell.

It's odd how this one hasn't seem to suffer:


I'll bet it's showing its age. And I'll bet it was renovated here and there, and lost a lots of its original modernist charm.

Then there's this.

Just push it down and walk away already.


Stop the presses:

That was the style for decades: black and white. And eventually red all over, I guess. The paper went bust in 2015 after 131 years.


  The paper would ring chimes to tell the time.


I got that from this video, which is a fitting place to end this entry.


That'll do! Won't it? I mean - gah. For some sites this would be a week's worth of stuff. Banal, and wordy, but still - a week's worth! AND THERE ARE TWO RESTAURANTS. For you, of course. I do all this for you.

Utterly unrelated reminder: Patreon something-or-other coming next week or something. I have to figure this out.


blog comments powered by Disqus