Dear Ernest …


Dear Ernest…
It was only recently that I discovered a place that I knew….was yours!
Today I went to surround myself in it. I prayed that another place where you
created and taught would survive…

More soon…until then Our Lady of Victory is so transcendently glorious, this WILL survive.

The War of Light against Darkness

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I went to the river today. An experience of layers. Enlightenment and the power of nature…where the presence of heritage and history are strongest and then the distractions of human behavior fueled by liquor and language, the constant traffic indistinquishable from the sounds of the river. The presence of ugly monoliths, whose residents enter and leave by cars driven to underground parking ramps. They are completely isolated from nature.

Being in this place requires rejecting the layers of distraction and a choice to focus on the layers of nature and enlightenment.

Saint Anthony Falls, the birthplace of Minneapolis, turbulent and wild, a place that man exploited but could never entirely control or tame, even now. Closest to the river, its voice is strongest, the rapids leapt and frothed in vigorously beautiful triumphant violence. The trunks of the sacred oaks inclined away from the restless roads, raucous bar patrons and apartments and extended their arms towards the river. Their leaves shook like a shaman’s rattle directing its sound southeast and heavenward toward a flight of granite stairs. At the top of the stairs is the oldest church in our city, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

I’ve always wondered about those stairs. Were they the concept of an architect, approved by Riverplace developer Robert Boisclair, in his mind a way to provide the bar and restaurant patrons a rather challenging ascent to the apartment towers and townhouses, or was the staircase also some unspoken acknowledgement of his mortality, the radiant presence of the church too powerful to ignore, even as his structures towered over it and the construction from the Riverplace parking garage cracked the church’s foundations.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church’s website has this narrative of their history:

Earlier this year, the owners of the old buildings that have housed Nye’s Polonaise; a supper club and home to polka culture announced that they were going to close. Developer Schaeffer Richardson had a plan to demolish the orange brick buildings so full of historic character and kitsch and replace them with yet another glass and steel apartment building even more enormous and taller that their other building nearby.

The demolitions would destroy two unique neighborhood landmarks. The construction would threaten the structural integrity of the church and conceal it from view and cast a shadow of darkness over her.

Saint Anthony Falls, perhaps one of the first and most important historic districts in our City which inspired the hopeful protections of Local and National historic districts and stringent design guidelines, which were ignored in the 1980s and effective for awhile during economic recession until today, as glass and steel apartments rise again.

Add to this the City’s newest director of Developer Relations in CPED, a former employee of the developer and someone who alternately feuded or flattered “the historic preservation people” back in the day when we still had the power to stop some of the destruction.

Farkitecture Follies award #6
The battle of the archangels of light: Michael and Gabriel to protect Our Lady of Lourdes church from the  destruction and greed of fallen angels Azrael and Satani of evil and darkness, and their corrupt accomplices at Minneapolis City Hall

And now a word from our sponsor

Its Sunday May 31st and so “Preservation Month” comes to an end. I could have posted Farkitecture Follies awards each day this month. Tragic and enraging. News emerged about over 600 vacant apartments in downtown town Minneapolis. May this vacancy rate be MUCH WORSE. May the extremely oversaturated market implode and crash inward and downward upon itself and save two buildings in particular.
And now for the final Farkitecture Follies award of May 2015.

Theater of Ghosts


On a very busy and congested street in urban Uptown is a building that resembles a cathedral in a Mediterranean fantasy, the Grenada Theater.

On a Spring day observing it from a corner across the street it seems enormous and elegant, silent and abandoned. Stores and restaurants, a neighboring bookstore are bustling, the sidewalks crowded, the streets a constant stream or traffic.

The theater’s sandstone and fanciful facade should be restored. Its marquis bulbs lit and signs announcing the next performance should be there. The economic recession of the mid 2000s took its toll on the theater and despite all the efforts of the proprietors to offer entertainment, the theater went dark, was listed for sale and was acquired by a mysterious Florida investment company.

Plans were proposed to convert the theater to a retail space. It’s floor would be leveled and the screen removed. It would be a theater no more. Several years have passed. Nothing has happened. What may happen, as new developments continue to over-run the neighborhood, is speculation.

The theater was designed by Leibenberg and Kaplan in 1927. It is said to have a “Spanish Churringueresque Revival style facade with Spanish Baroque design”   Locally it could be the last of its breed, the only one of its kind.

It is an atmospheric theater with balconies, statutes, and fake evergreens. The curved ceiling was painted sky blue. The Brentograph projected twinkling stars, clouds, and a sun and moon moving across the ceiling.

This theater should be restored as a theater with live music, performance and events. Instead the crowds pass it by. The economy has recovered. People would spend money here again.

It is a tragic beauty held hostage by greed and indifference.











Farkitecture Follies #5 A vacant theater in a vibrant urban neighborhood owned by a mysterious entity that abandoned their plans to convert it to retail,  won’t restore it as a venue for live music and performance, and leaves the unique Liebenberg and Kaplan theater, empty, neglected, abandoned and dark…an anonymous item in an investment portfolio.

On Death Row

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Four houses in trendy Yuptown. A few survivors of the neighborhood’s residential past.
Houses near a lake (Calhoun) in a commercial district are an endangered and vanishing species.

The neighborhood evolved into a playground for young adults years ago. Some single family homes remain in uneasy coexistence with partytown. Each year as homeowners leave, their homes are acquired by the landlords of mega rental conglomerates.

These four houses were once family homes. Although the two grey houses on Lagoon look like they’ve been rental properties for awhile, the houses on Irving do not. The green house has a simple and sturdy utility, the yellow arts and crafts house could have had fine woodwork and stained glass. Its field stone chimney reveals this house was special. The developer tried to make everyone feel better by stripping everything out and “salvaging” it. Where did the salvage go? How much architectural salvage actually gets reused?
Items custom designed for a specific house may not easily fit into another.

The developers have their headquarters in the neighborhood and actively advance their plan to conquer, clearcut and build their replica aluminum clad structures that begin to disintegrate as soon as they are built. The supersized energy hog structures fill every inch of land above and below.

The neighborhood association, filled with pro-development new urbanists and a few others who know resistance is futile, let themselves be deceived into believing that the developer will make the changes they suggest, but the changes were put into their minds by the developer. The neighborhood association voted to approve the apartments.

The City Planning Commission listened to the sales pitch for the apartments by a CPED staff person who is a lobbyist for developers. CPED staff withhold information, manipulate the truth, treat their Commissions and Committees like idiots who will robotically approve everything they are told to without a thought about
what they have already approved or pausing to think, “How much is Too much?”

The City Planning Commission approved the apartments on consent.

No one wrote to defend the houses. No one testified to oppose their destruction. The planners spend months meeting privately with developers who flatter and manipulate them promising extravagant tax revenues, employment and who knows what else. The public gets two minutes at a public hearing after the decision to approve the development has already been made.

The public has been excluded from the process. Our testimony is not listened to. We are treated as if we do not exist. Our City officials only serve developers and developer profit, not the public.

At each hearing we listen to the same oppressive deceptiosn repeated over and over again, as if to brainwash us, as if the lies are repeated often enough we will believe them.

The development always conforms to “The Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth” or conforms to the Uptown Small Area Plan…yet the sections in each plan that support historic preservation or preserving neighborhood character are dismissed and ignored.

Farkitecture Follies Award #4 Developers acquire, destroy and clearcut our neighborhoods as they vanish into Uptown, in partnership with City staff who are their bought and paid for lobbyists.

Orth Fights Back!


The Mighty Bricks!

It was a cold and windy February 25th, 2015.
After a two year fight to save the Theron Potter Healy designed and built Orth House, a neighbor’s email notified us that it was demolition day. The big yellow tyrannosaurus rex was already growling and surging forward, its iron teeth ripping and rending into the wood of the Edward Orth house when I arrived.

The sun was bright but not warm.
It was raining sawdust. The splinters sparkled and exploded. A cloud of (some said) lead dust issued forth in toxic plumes. The workers, one a skinny guy in worn out jeans, and the chunky driver of the backhoe of death were deluded with it.

A few of the advocates for the Orth house arrived and departed, unable to watch. Two served as witnesses, recorders and honor guard for the death of the great house.

The battle to save Orth had been difficult, politically contentious. All involved, on both sides, were challenged, traumatized and damaged in the fight. Another battle scar, another death internalized, another loss, that neither we nor our opponents would ever recover from.

The engine surged forward. The head and neck of the backhoe swung round, it smashed and pounded. The sounds resonated back from the surrounding houses, silent witnesses to the death of one of their neighbors who had been a part of their community for so long. Glass and metal shattered, the violent motions and sounds of rending, crunching and devouring violence continued as the powerful aroma of old wood was released. The splinters of sawdust swirled in agonized vortexes generated by the wind and covered our coats.

We kept recording. At one point as the backhoe of death ascended the debris, lifted its neck and head and opened its jagged iron teeth near the tall ornamental brick chimney that had been a part of the house since 1893. Ezra Gray commented that we might have to be ready to run if the bricks came our way.

The teeth bit into the brick and shook the chimney…layers of ashes (or as I thought the spirit and soul of the house) expelled a dying breath of white smoke.

The bricks burst apart and fell on the backhoe…the operator deactivated the beast for a moment and he and his miserable coworker examined the backhoe for damage.

Someone said she wished that just once a house would fall on one of the backhoes (not the workers) and kill IT in just retribution.

Farkitecture Follies Award #3 Developer greed and tired old men who wrecked an historic treasure that could have been preserved in the heart of the Lowry Hill East neighborhood to build ugly clone apartments that are not needed out of materials that won’t last 50 years.

And Now a Word From our Sponsor

Developers begone. Our Easter morning Dawns!