Welcome! Another week of making things up and telling insignificant tales, passing along some bit of information about the past you can promptly forget because it’ll never come up again but might, just might, add context to something you learn down the road. Looking ahead at the queue, the mix is exactly what you have come to expect - which means it’s time to knock it all into a cocked hat. You there, boy, that hat - cock it. Now place it on the ground. GENTLY, GENTLY. There. Here’ s a groat for your troubles, run along.

But before I toss the above-the-fold section into that hat, a picture I am proud to call Minnesotans Being Typical. It's a bus stop.

I was standing outside tlaking to someone, and we noted this sight with amusement and pride. Then the bus pulled up, and it was headed for the suburbs. That's why it's not Minneapolitans at Their Best. City folk tend to clump.

Now the day is knocked into the aforementioned cocked hat (okay where does that come from. Googling. "A more likely derivation is that 'to knock someone into a cocked hat' was simply to pummel them so badly as to alter their normal appearance." Interesting) with an utterly unrequested architecture article on Monday. I had this sitting around, and then it was rendered moot by circumstances. Since I have five articles due in the next 72 hours, I'm going to have to fall back on some canned content today, but we're bakery-fresh on Tuesday.

This actually may turn out to be a regular feature, so I'd better whip up a banner . . . there.

Let me tell you about how this fancy piece of royalty was replaced by a pinstriped twin, and how everything came to naught - as it usually does. But nothing stays empty forever.

First, this one had to burn.

The Tribune Building Fire of 1889 was the worst blaze in the young city’s history. Seven stories, gutted. Seven men, dead. Five newspapers crippled at a stroke: it wasn’t just the Tribune that lived there, but four other journals, including the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Minneapolis office.

A writer dropped a butt, perhaps. A pressman tossed an oily rag and it landed on a radiator. Something caught. Fire bloomed. Sometime after 10 PM James Igoe, a telegraph operator in the Tribune office, broke into the line with a code that made all the other operators stop and listen.

“There’s a fire on the third floor of the Tribune building,” he tapped. “And I’m on the seventh.”

Before the night was done one man would attempt to escape by hanging on a firehose; he fell to his death. Another died on a fire escape, its heated metal too torrid to touch. One man shot himself, the story has it. Igoe, who sent out the wireless message, died in the blaze. The floors collapsed and the walls crumbled, but the newspapermen who got out promptly assembled the next day’s edition, published with the help of the Globe newspaper in St. Paul. The Daily Tribune lived up to its name.

The building, though, was dead.

While the bricks cooled, investors assembled to plan its replacement. Of course there would be another building - this was prime real estate, Fourth and Marquette. The new building would be better, but not another flashy tower thrown up fast. It would be fireproof. It would be called - of course - the Phoenix.

Nowadays you hear Phoenix, you think Arizona. But in 1891 the cultural reference was not only obvious, but good marketing. The bird that rose from the fire. The replacement looked like the old Tribune building, with some changes: instead of a roof populated with pointless ornamentation, it was flat, because flat was modern. And modern meant fireproof.

Fireproof, in those days, was a bit like calling a ship unsinkable. They didn’t have the fire-suppression systems we take for granted. Elevator shafts fed flames with a ready supply of oxygen and a means of travel between floors. Fireproof meant they used materials that would put up a fight. Fireproof meant you had a better chance if some idiot on the fourth floor tapped out his pipe in the wastebasket.

Three years after the Tribune crumbled, the Phoenix was finished. It cost a cool half-million. It was one of the tallest buildings in town, for a while, and reflected a restrained sophistication in office-tower architecture inherited from the skyscraper boom in Chicago and New York. The bottom two floors were clad in white stone, with square broad plate-glass windows on the second floor - a rational, functional style that replaced the romantically Romanesque arches of the Tribune building.

For the investors, a success. For architects who knew what was possible? A snooze.

Just a few years earlier, the First National Bank building on Nicollet had redefined what skyscrapers could be. Unlike the heavy masonry of the Masonic Temple, or the busybody facade of the West Hotel, the First was light and glass. The steel frame construction method (patented by the Father of the Skyscraper, local lad Leroy Buffington) did away with thick load-bearing walls. Less stone meant more room for glass. More glass meant buildings that floated and shone.

The Phoenix did neither. The Phoenix was a machine for collecting rent.


Photos from the early 20s show a somber building shrouded in soot, its white stone dulled by decades of pollution. The second floors windows are lettered - gilt, no doubt - with the stolid names of the money men. H. P. Dornberg, who was president of Minneapolis Fire Insurance. (You wonder if the Phoenix owners bought a policy, just in case.) H. W. White, a go-getter who ran three real estate firms and died at the age of 36. North American Telegraph Company, a local concern that took on Western Union - and lost. A barber pole on the corner was the only hint that the building was not entirely devoted to counting dollars.

After just a few decades, it looked quiet and old. Stifling in the winter, broiling in the summer, with the ghosts of cigars in the hallways.

The mood on the corner changed by the 40s. The stone was scrubbed clean, and gleamed again. Sorenson Drugs opened up on the corner, hung out the Coke signs, filled the windows with merchandise. The modernization of downtown’s first-floor facades hadn’t yet begun, so the Phoenix didn’t pretend to be something shiny and new on the ground - it was still the same old sober citizen, surrounded by its peers. A bit taller. A bit richer.

In some photos of the Phoenix, you see a sign in the corner: TRIBUNE. The paper moved across the street, joining the other papers on Fourth, a stretch known as Newspaper Row. After the Tribune fire, papers wanted their own buildings.

You can understand their logic.

If it had survived, it would be a treasure, no doubt rehabbed into a fine hotel. But the Phoenix fell in 1961. Urban renewal, fueled by Federal funds, leveled the old cores of downtowns across the country. The Gateway district in Minneapolis, home to the city’s oldest and richest architecture, was clawed down and paved over. If the Metropolitan building’s gorgeous light court didn’t deserve to be saved, what hope could a tired senior like the Phoenix have?

The entire block went down for a Sheraton-Ritz hotel, but the Phoenix was sacrificed for something both prosaic and abstract. The slender tall building was replaced by a squat modern parking ramp with a zig-zag facade. Four levels of brute pink rock over a glass-wall liquor store.

The Phoenix’s ground floor wasn’t exactly welcoming, but you could read the doors and windows as familiar streetscape elements. The ramp was almost a piece of abstract art, and no one mourned it when it was leveled in 1990.

The corner was returned to its original state: vacancy.

Of the three big buildings that had occupied the plot, the Phoenix lasted the longest. Now a new apartment tower rises again on the spot, this time from asphalt instead of ashes. It would have been apt for Opus to call their new development the Phoenix, and not just because of the site’s history.

After decades of disuse, the Gateway stirs again, stretches, and reaches up.


Week two of the excuse for cheesecake:

Burke dropped off the radar in 1931. Lina, who was apparently going for the Island Girl look, has a rather large entry on Wikipedia.

Basquette also was noted for her several marriages, including her first, to the much older noted producer, Sam Warner, founder of Warner Bros. film studio

And how did that end up?

After appearing in The Godless Girl, Basquette found her popularity declining and she was offered fewer film roles. She was unofficially blacklisted in Hollywood due to her legal battles with the Warner family, which was trying to take custody of her daughter with Sam Warner in order to rear her as Jewish, and challenged settlement of his estate.

Sam was dead by then, done in by bad teeth. Really: he had "several abcessed teeth," and the infection spread to his brain. After four surgeries on his brain - in 1927, not a year you'd want to have a brain operation - he fell into a coma and died from penumonia caused by sinusitis and bum choppers. So see your dentist, regularly.




Ah, what the heck. I had something else planned for today, and it actually had the same lead actor. But I watched this Friday night, and it completes today's general theme, which is bricks piled on top of other bricks.

It's 1932. Perhaps people in the movie-going audience would like to see something about the empty, shallow lives of big-city folks, and how their greed and stock manipuation ruins them all?

Apparently not; the movie lost money.

Behold, the 100-story Tower of Tomorrow:

Looks larger than the 102-story Empire State, doesn't it?

It’s only a few years from the Twenties, but everything has changed. This building is from The Future. And the Future is now.

We’re not here for the story, because this isn’t a review. (Until it is.) One of those movies where six plots cross and weave in one grand location. In this case, the Seacrest Bank building.

You might think that’s someplace real. I don’t know. The glass is the same as the Empire State Building.

The days are long gone when the Civic Betterment Board would sponsor anything like this:

Matte shot? Possibly.

It’s only a few years from the Twenties, but everything has changed. This building is from The Future. And the Future is now.

The Twenties never made it this far; the Thirties are going all the way. The Twenties, either brocaded or Deco, were still ornate; the Thirties stripped it all down.

a recording studio, complete with glass-topped desk and square sofa:

Check out the Bank Teller Cage of the Future:

Driving the lives of all, the Stock Ticker Machine:

Let's wander through the lobby. (Sound is too low for some reason, but you're not missing anything.) Is she looking at us? Or is she looking at the cameraman, and they kept the shot?

A few acting notes. The evil-but-charismatic financial manipulator who commanded this tower to be built, and wants to own it completely: Warren William, one of my favorites.

His wife shows up now and then to collect some money before she goes off and leaves him to his affairs. That's Elda Furry. Really, that was her name.

But you know her by another name.

Hedda Hopper (May 2, 1885 – February 1, 1966) was an American actress and gossip columnist, notorious for feuding with her arch-rival Louella Parsons. She had been a moderately successful actress of stage and screen for years before being offered the chance to write the column Hedda Hopper's Hollywood for the Los Angeles Times in 1938. In the McCarthy era she named suspected Communists. Hopper continued to write gossip to the end, her work appearing in many magazines and later on radio.

Moderately? She must have made 50 movies. The parts weren't all that big, but if you've made 50 movies and spanned the silent / talkie divide, you're doing okay.

It all ends badly for the people you want to end badly, and some of the people you don't. Young Love prevails. I have to wonder if audiences at the time thought this was too much - the exaggerated despair and the little hop.

Again, no sound due to encoding issues. Not sure it needs it. The film is quite talky - but some moments don't need sound.


It's not bad at all - and the scenes of a stock panic must have still given audiences a shiver.

Or a smile, if they hadn't bought anything on margins, despite what the boys down at the barbershop said.


That'll do; see you tomorrow, where we'll see James Coburn eat a yam.



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