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If It's October, It Must Be Minneapolis: In & Around "Mill City"

by Stephen Kelly, regional editor

The Minneapolis RiverCity Trolley is a great way to tour the downtown, the River Parkway and nearby lakes. Unfortunately, the "season" runs June 1 to Sept. 3! It used to run to Oct. 26. As Joe Jacobs might say--and did when his boxer, Max Schmeling was TKO'd by Jack Sharkey in the 1932 heavyweight title fight--"We was robbed!" Bus or train rides in the downtown zone are only $.50 at all times. See "light rail".

One of the things I like to do before visiting a city is to see what is making news there. It may not be a particularly insightful way to get a feel for a city, but it is interesting. As I write this, July 6, the top listing on Google for Minneapolis news is the public school system stockpiling $1.6 million, instead of spending it for hiring more teachers to reduce class sizes. A PTA president was quoted by the local media as "a bit shocked."

Your home away from home while in town--the Minneapolis Convention Center (MCC) in the heart of downtown. Three rounded meeting areas in the rear of the auditorium rotate to create separate soundproof meeting spaces.

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park is the largest glass-domed garden in the region. In 1974 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The garden occupies approximately one-half acre under glass and includes the seasonal Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden and the Enchanted Garden and Frog Pond.

Hmmm... truly shocking! If that is a example of trouble in "River City," I just might consider relocating--if it weren't for years of hearing Garrison Keilor's "News from Lake Wobegon" lead off with how Minnesotans were coping with the miserable weather.

Every city has a skyline and this one belongs to Minneapolis. The H.H.H. Metrodome is in the foreground, home to the Minnesota Vikings, who will play while we are in town versus Detroit, Oct. 8th at high noon. The H.H.H. stands for Minnesota's favorite son Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr. (1911 to 1978), 38th U.S. vice president (under Lyndon Johnson). Humphrey served in the senate, was mayor of Minneapolis and to my horror (as an 18-year-old college freshman) lost the presidential election to Richard Nixon in 1968.

This scribe lives in Southern California, a short trip from Pacific shores, a place where a bit of rain causes consternation and any humidity on a warm day is regarded with horror. Speaking of weather, I just caught a few minutes of "Fargo" on TV last night. It was the scene where the bad guys are reported headed for the Twin Cities and a local man decked out like an Eskimo is shoveling ice off his driveway and explaining to a police officer about a suspicious, funny-looking fella he'd encountered. The officer is wearing a hooded parka of such depth that he appears to peer out from a cave. At a lapse in conversation they both glance up at the slate-grey sky and agree some "cold" weather is on the way.

ABOVE & BELOW: Per the PR, the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn. is the "largest, fully enclosed retail and family entertainment complex in the U.S.," and "seven Yankee Stadiums would fit inside." (I don't think the Bronx would allow even one Yankee Stadium to leave.) The mall is located on the former grounds (stadium) where the Minnesota Vikings and Twins played. Ah, the sacrilege. Where former Viking great quarterback Fran Tarkington used to scramble looking for a receiver down field is now the mall's indoor seven-acre amusement park--30 rides, 30,000 plants, 400 trees and nine eateries. This is not your typical mall. Some 4,200 couples have been married here. The mall's center is a seven-acre park with a roller coaster and carousel. It also has a 1.2-million gallon walk-through aquarium. Oh, and don't forget the 500 plus stores, 60 restaurants and 14 movie theaters. Preliminary development plans for Mall of America Phase II is a 5.6 million square foot mixed-use center of retail (more stores!), three hotels (one with a water park), offices, residential and entertainment venues and a skyway to ... IKEA.

In 1994, the Stone Arch Bridge was converted into a pedestrian and bike trail. Visitors can walk across the bridge to take in the views of St. Anthony Falls. The bridge links Mill Ruins Park on the west and Father Hennepin Bluffs Park on the east bank.

What else is in the news?

  • Friday, July 7 was the inaugural meeting of the five-member Minnesota Ballpark Authority, a public panel that will own the new Minnesota Twins ballpark in downtown Minneapolis. The stadium won't open until 2010, but hey, the prairie wasn't tamed in a day.
  • A Minneapolis business man is giving his kidney to his Chicago limo driver.
  • Target Corp., the Minneapolis-based retailer, reports June sales up 11.3 percent.
  • A Minneapolis man is mowing lawns for free to get exercise.
  • Minneapolis named among the top-five brainy big cities in the U.S. by Bizjournals, based on educational attainment. Seattle was tops (47 percent of adults hold at least a bachelor's degree). For Minneapolis, it is 37 percent. Miami was at the bottom with 16 percent. Hmmm ... a hypothesis: Warmer weather=more beach time=less book time.

ABOVE & BELOW: The Hiawatha Line offers light-rail service to 17 stations between downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America in Bloomington (south). Both passenger terminals at the MSP International Airport are served by light rail.

Historical Perspectives

As a child traveling with the family along America's scenic byways in the 1957 Ford Station Wagon, we became accustomed to all piling out of the car to take family portraits at state signs ("You are now entering ...") and also stopping at historic site markers. We got pretty good at finding all the "Historic Site" signs, what my father referred to as "hysterical sites."

French architect Jean Nouvel, his first U.S. project, designed the nine-story Guthrie Theater. The first play for the Guthrie's first season in its new $125 million riverfront complex is directed by David Esbjornson, a native of Willmar, Minn. Esbjornson and the Guthrie are presenting the world premiere of a new adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (July 21 through Sept. 10). That Esbjornson is directing Gatsby may not be coincidental. Some believe Fitzgerald's character Jay Gatsby was based on Willmar native Cushman Rice. While we're in town Neil Simon's "Lost in Yonkers" is playing. The Guthrie offers two restaurants and expansive views of the locks, dams and St. Anthony Falls from a cantilever bridge that juts out over the river. (Guthrie Theater, 818 South 2nd St., Minneapolis. Box office: 612.377.2224)

The confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers are definitely hysterical, and you don't need signs to grasp its significance. Since prehistory, people have settled here and buried their dead on the bluffs. The only burial mounds now evident are those of the Kaposia and Dakota tribes. These six burial mounds can be viewed at Indian Mounds Park atop Dayton's Bluff east of downtown St. Paul.

ABOVE & BELOW: The Minnesota's State Capitol building in St. Paul boasts the gold-leafed copper and steel statuary "Progress of the State." Sculpted by Daniel Chester French and Edward Potter, the four horses are said to represent earth, wind, fire and water. The "wind" part we understand, as there's plenty of hot air in state legislative houses. The Capitol complex is to the north of I-94 just minutes from downtown St. Paul. It is accessible from the east and west on I-94, and from the north and south on I-35E. Tours of the complex begin at the Capitol's information desk at the end of the corridor to the right of the main entrance.

The Mill City Museum is built within the ruins of a National Historic Landmark, the Washburn A Mill. The museum chronicles the flour milling industry that dominated world flour production for nearly a half-century and fueled the growth of Minneapolis. More than 12 million loaves of bread were made daily from the wheat milled at the Washburn A Mill during its heyday, 1880 to 1930. The mill seems a bit jinxed. It exploded twice (1878, 1928), and in 1991 when it housed a few tenants and many homeless people, it went up in flames. (704 South 2nd St. 612.341.7555)

Of course when the white man, one Zebulon Pike, first espied the crossing rivers in 1805 he "bought" the bluff lands overlooking the rivers from the Dakota. This strategic vantage point in what was then considered the northwest frontier hastened the building of Fort Saint Anthony in 1819 on the bluffs, sturdily constructed from the local limestone and renamed Fort Snelling in 1825. Stationed there was the Fifth Regiment of Infantry. Indian villages were in close proximity to the fort and several fur companies headquartered here.

You can explore downtown with a bird's eye view from the more than seven miles of glass-enclosed skyways spanning 72 blocks.

The new Minneapolis Public Library houses the fourth-largest public library collection in the country. Its five stories also provides computers, meeting spaces, fireside reading dens, a children's library, gallery space and cafe. The building, designed by architect Cesar Pelli, features a green roof.

The first white settlement was Old Mendota ("meeting of the waters" in Dakota).

Two river landings on the Mississippi just below Mendota became the beginnings of one of the Twin Cities--Saint Paul. Minneapolis grew outward from the only water fall on the Mississippi--Saint Anthony Falls. Here in 1822 a lumber mill was built and two communities developed: St. Anthony on the northeast side of the river and the village of Minneapolis on the southwest bank of the river. St. Anthony became part of Minneapolis in 1872. Lumber and milling grain built the city. Minneapolis is still called the Mill City, a reflection of its industrial roots. Cadwallader Washburn used the water power of St. Anthony Falls to built one of the largest milling companies in the world. After merging with other millers on the river, the company became General Mills in 1928.

On your marks, get set ... fall down! Did you know that Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak and some of his friends play Segway polo? Well, you too can experience the Segway (sans mallet) as you motor along the 5 to 7 mile Magical History Tour(TM) of Minneapolis. You begin by putting on a helmet. Atop the Segway you tower an additional eight inches above the lowly pedestrians! You receive training on how to operate your mobile transport, then set off for the Stone Arch Bridge, Upper Lock and Dam, Hennepin Ave. Bridge, Mill Ruins Park, St. Anthony Falls (don't lose Segway control here), Mill City Museum, Gateway Park, Saw Mill District, and Boom and Nicollet islands. The tour takes about three hours. The last price I saw quoted was $69.95. (Starting point: St. Anthony Main, 125 Main St. SE 800.749.5584)

More recent history, the 1950s and 1960s, saw major downtown redevelopment and the razing of some 200 buildings. Saint Anthony Falls, the water power so pivotal to the birth and development direction of the city, has a long history of deterioration, both man's and nature's doing. This barrier to commercial navigation was overcome by an upper and lower dam and locks built between 1948 and 1963 by the Army Corps of Engineers. (Trivia note: The brother of former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura has been a dam operator here for many years.)

"Minnesotans are polite, well behaved and willing to join committees."--Garrison Keillor, "Prairie Home Companion" broadcast at the Minnesota State Fair, 2004

What Not to Miss--Local Opinions

ABOVE & BELOW: Vincent Van Gogh's "Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun" (1889) is among the 80,000 art pieces spanning 5,000 years of world history on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). The MIA collections include Ancient Art, Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft, & Sculpture, Asian Art, Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Paintings & Modern Sculpture, Photography, Prints & Drawings, Textiles and more. During our stay the MIA has a free exhibit called "Marks of Intention: Abstract Art on Paper, 1945-2005." (2400 3rd Ave. South 612.870.3029)

The MIA (Minneapolis Institute of Arts) recently renovated and expanded its building. It now houses the largest collection of Japanese art in the Midwest!

The newly finished downtown library has a green roof, which is of interest to landscape architects. Como Park in St. Paul has beautiful Japanese gardens and other gardens, including a small, free zoo.

A favorite activity of many locals is dinner in Uptown, maybe at Chino Latino or the Duplex, followed by a walk around one of the nearby lakes: Calhoun or Lake of the Isles. Highly recommended! Brits Pub is a local favorite, with an English bowling lawn on the outside patio and darts. Rossi's Blue Room is a bit pricey but worth it, with a live jazz band and delicious appetizers. Solera on Hennepin Ave. has fantastic tapas and great atmosphere.

--Jessica Sellers, marketing specialist
Industrial Fabrics Association International, Roseville, Minn.

Walks along Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet (pictured) and Minnehaha Creek are recommended by the locals.

The H.W.S. Cleveland (landscape architect and critic on city planning, 1814-1900) designed park system and walks along Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet and Minnehaha Creek are very enjoyable. Halprin's Nicollet Mall, the Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, Friedberg's Peavy Plaza (poor condition these days) and Loring Greenway, and of course the Federal Reserve and Schwartz's "masterpiece" at Federal Courts Plaza. This can all be hit in a pair of walking tours.

There are some cool neighborhoods, starting with the Warehouse District downtown and St. Anthony on Main just to the north where along the way you can visit the Mississippi Riverfront, see the Stone Arch Bridge and Mill Ruin Park. Downtown St. Paul is great and experiencing a renaissance from the Xcel Energy Center. On a smaller scale, Linden Hills near Harriet (try Sebastian Joe's for Ice Cream), 50th and France area of Edina (Tejas for upscale Tex-Mex or the Edina Grill), and Grand Ave. in St. Paul are great for an evening on the town. Hit Billy's and the Wild Onion. You can find top-notch recreation, such as warm-water fishing, fly fishing in trout streams, mountain biking, hiking, canoeing, boating, camping, rock climbing and golf all within a hour of downtown. Canoeing, kayaking, and even sailing can be done on Harriet and Calhoun, as well as some top notch urban fishing. Many of the suburban lakes offer good fishing and boating, with the top of the class being Lake Minnetonka. Anderson Lakes Parkway or the Minnesota Valley Wildlife Refuge in the south suburbs are great places to hike or bird watch, as are the Anoka parks to the north. Minnesota's Karst (limestone country) starts at the far SE suburbs and extends to the border. Here you will find gorgeous bluffs with hiking and biking trails, rock climbing, and supurb fly fishing in the valleys below. The Japanese Gardens at Normandale College and the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum are great places to visit. The pervious paving demonstration at the MLA is of interest.

--Scott Bilben, RLA, former Minneapolis resident
Greenway/Riparian Restoration Coordinator
Audubon Dakota in Fargo, N.D.

The Walker Art Center expansion, designed by Herzog & De Meuron, has nearly doubled the size of the highly regarded museum. Features include new galleries, gardens, performance space, educational facilities, rooftop terraces and Wolfgang Puck's 20.21 restaurant. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, part of the center, is open daily and free. (1750 Hennepin Ave. Tickets & info: 612.375.7600)

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June 16, 2019, 10:29 pm PDT

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