Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Legal Eagle Update

So, some antitrust lawyer I am, apparently. While I was wandering around the old factories near the railroad tracks and trying to research the history of Electric Machinery Manufacturing Company, its successor company was in the midst of an antitrust investigation of it's acquisition by GE (they bring good things to life).

The result of that investigation is a consent decree with the Department of Justice that requires GE to divest Converteam's Minneapolis facility. While it's not the one I snapped (as I said, it has been converted), it isn't far away.

I didn't even know there was a deal, but I guess it explains why I had a page view from someone in the UK googling "converteam minneapolis."

Anyway, it's a small world and I thought I'd share.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Keeping the Metric System Down

Back in North Minneapolis, we have Bardwell-Robinson Co., mill works of high grade interior finish. The company dates to 1873, via various name and ownership configurations and locations. These "extensive works" were built in 1885 and were one of twelve remaining companies in Minneapolis involved in the manufacture of sash, doors and blinds listed in Isaac Atwater's, History of the City of Minneapolis published in 1893.

You can get a copy of their Universal Millwork Design book, No. 20, from Amazon if you're willing to spend $99. At least it looks old.

Charles Bardwell, a civil war veteran, built the Bardwell-Ferrant House, featuring, no surprise, fancy woodwork and moldings. Despite periodic attempts at preservation, the house has been through some tough times. His son, L.J. Bardwell was born in 1872 and eventually came to be president of the company after his father's death in 1892. L.J. was active in Republican politics, but I've yet to be able to connect him to Winfield W. Bardwell, who ran for judge in 1836 with the slogan "Ask your lawyer -- he knows!" If that isn't sage advice, I don't know what is. (It looks like they are not related, but the slogan was too good not to include)

Not to be forgotten, the Robinson family has it origins in County Cork, Ireland, where my great-great-grandfather was born before immigrating (like many, many others from one of the poorer parts of that country). Like Judge Bardwell, H.A. Robinson (son of the Robinson that is one of the company's namesakes) was a mason. Hmm.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Foreign Lands: Austin With A Tarpaulin? Behave!

Sometimes in this "business," signs defy your expectations. Before I Googled (sorry, Larry Page, but I'm going to continue using it as a verb), I didn't think I'd be able to find out much about Powers Dry Goods. I figured it would be a long forgotten, single-location retailer in St. Paul that the internet never heard of.

But no. Its even got its own wikipedia page. Powers was a department store, founded under a different name, but renamed in 1881 when it was acquired by the Powers brothers of St. Paul. In 1903, The New York Times (pdf) announced the arrival (to something) of Mr. Knox and Miss Holland of the company as buyers. At it's peak it had 7 locations in the Twin Cities.

It was acquired again by Associated Dry Goods in 1920, which itself was acquired by Donaldsons. Minnesotans of sufficient age will remember when Donaldsons and Daytons were the two rival department stores, when each of the "dale" shopping centers around the metro area was anchored by both. Those days ended when the company was acquired again in 1987 and all the locations were converted to the Carson Pirie Scott brand, which didn't work out so well. After bankruptcy, Daytons ended up buying them (an interesting development from a competition perspective), but like nearly all department store tales these days, the story ends in a ultimate acquisition by Macy's. All hail the conquering May Company!

This sign is at 4th & Wacouta in Lowertown. It's previously been featured on Writing On The Wall and Flickr, while Nokohaha has an old postcard of the Minneapolis location and some additional history. The Historical Society gives us visual evidence of the sale of war bonds to ladies in Minneapolis (no word on whether the counterman went to stag parties at the Calhoun Building) and of a monstrous, man-eating, precursor to Disney's Flounder ostensibly created as a Christmas display in 1949.

Finally, yes, I'm try to set new lows in dorky post titles.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Rather than over-emphasize the bars of Cedar-Riverside, which are surprisingly post-worthy for a single neighborhood, I thought I'd combine them in a single post. In addition to these three, I had a shot of the legendary 400 Bar, which local mythology says was a key venue for Bob Dylan during his brief University of Minnesota days. The picture was pretty bad, though, so I must have deleted it. As you can see from the webpage, the place is not exactly a looker anyway.

Anyway, Grain Belt and the former Viking Bar are our first entry. Lileks jokes about the sign being in Dutch, but at one point it said "From perfect brewing water." As he notes, this bar used to have a fairly rough reputation, but apparently some good music. I lived nearby during my freshman and sophomore years, but never tried to drop in. This Flickr user got a great shot that shows that the former owners have gone fishing. It sounds like they at least had a good time on the way out.

Next up is Palmer's Bar. I've also never been, but with those signs, how could I not include it here? This place is literally in the shadow of the "crack stacks" off Cedar. But there has to be a story behind the dandy gentleman depicted on two sides, right?

The most recent Yelp! user to weigh in helpfully tells us that it's a great place to "get shitty," so, yeah, it's got that going for it. It's also listed on something called "thrifty hipster," although I really gotta question just how hipster a website that appears to value the availability of Heineken can really be. Last week I was at Nomad World Pub (no Heineken, thankfully) across the street, and I have to admit, there did seem to be a stream of hipsters on ironic bikes heading in the direction of Palmer's. Although come to think of if, the hipster crowd probably thinks that dude with the mustache is one of them.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Foreign Lands: Foreign Landmarks

For post #70, I'm breaking the rules a bit. Not that you guys would know, as these rules aren't written down anywhere, but I felt I needed to confess anyway. I'm not supposed to put foreign signs up here in the the premier, round-number spots. But right now that rule is in tension with the rule that every tenth posts is supposed to be something that can be legitimately called a landmark. It's a conundrum.

Anyway, I will console myself with the fact that it is at least beer. And, thanks to St. Paul's apparent lack of local loyalty, it's also beer we haven't covered before. So we've got that going for us. Which is nice.

It's the old Jacob Schmidt brewery. Jacob Schmidt immigrated from Bavaria in 1865, and after stints working at the Hamm and Schell breweries, moved to St. Paul and started brewing in 1884. After the original brewery burned down in 1900, they moved to this location on W. 7th St. The company stayed independent until 1955, before the first of several subsequent acquisitions. Schmidt stopped brewing at this location in 1990.

There have been subsequent attempts to make a go of it again, including by the Minnesota Brewing Company in 1991. They brewed the Pig's Eye, Landmark (as you can see, this landmark is also conveniently labelled "Landmark") and Grain Belt brands here until shutting down for good in 2002. Today there is talk of re-developing the space.

Be safe out there, because Big Jim is coming (apparently the American sportsman is afraid of him). Good thing you don't need a glass.

ETA: I can't believe that I let you down, esteemed reader, by failing to make the obvious Mongo reference. I wonder if the Candy Gram trick would work on Big Jim.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Perfect Harmony

Coke's "It's the real thing" slogan seemed familiar to me, so I was surprised that it can apparently be dated fairly specifically to 1969, leading into the famous "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" ad and song. I would have thought that such a famous slogan would lead to an abundance of online trivia, so I was a little surprised when I didn't get much beyond wikipedia and that image searching lead me pretty directly to two Flickr entries for this very sign. It's on Washington Ave. N. near Broadway.

My Google image search also turned up this, which I had to use because it features "Buddy Christ" from Kevin Smith's Dogma. I can't tell for sure, but while the site seems sincere, I would guess that the author knew the source of this image. But it's more fun to think that he wasn't in on the joke.

On an unrelated note, it seems the Witt's mystery needn't have been quite so puzzling, at least if I had been able to ask the folks who decorated the Lund's in Nordeast. I snapped this iPhone shot of the vintage photographs behind the cashiers:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Foreign Lands: Trout Or Seat Covers

We're back in St. Paul, not far from our favorite many-signed wall, with Jax Manufacturing Co. and friends. At first, I couldn't help but think of the exciting trout "fishing" opportunities of Jax Cafe, in particular because a friend was recently ignorantly mocking Minnesota fishing by referencing trout fishing in a stocked pond, but I think this is something different.

Writing On The Wall has already been here, noting that there are actually several layers of signs here. I'd like to explore the partially-covered signs, but I can't make out enough to go down that route, so I guess I have to stick to Jax. Unfortunately, I haven't got much on them either, except that some of them made seat covers for "autos" in 1940.

No surprise, but I'm not the first to snap it at 253 E. 4th St.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Muse News

This is illegible, but it's one of the paint on brick events that first got me thinking about this little exercise, so I thought I'd throw it up here. I've got nothing to say about the unreadable sign itself, so, with apologies to Jason Mewes, I thought I'd use this space for some updates on territory we've already traversed.

The Downtown Journal has a handy interactive map about what's going on in property development, which touches on several of the buildings we've covered. In no particular order:

The Pillsbury A Mill has a new proposal for loft style apartments (no surprise there). No word on whether or not this is the kind of "piecemeal" redevelopment that worried some.

The Nicollet is still off, and the developer isn't talking.

Our mysterious distributor of mystery products, which the Journal calls the Marvel Rack building, has a new restaurant owned by the governor's sons, with plans for additional retail.

Next door to Witts, which used to be a Chevy's, could now be getting a deli. That seems fitting for the area.

Also in neighborly news, this time in the space next to the Grain Belt Brewery, the city is looking at proposals for residential and/or mixed use development (my vote, as always, is for the latter).

Finally, it's not really an update, but for me the best news is that the on again, off again Lunds in my neighborhood is back on again. I could really use a place to stop for groceries on the way home from work (that isn't Target).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bet He Had A Rad Helicopter

Back in the warehouse district, could this be an early prototype of iconic Minneapolis Skyways? Presumably, C.J. Duffey had offices and/or warehouse space on either side of the street, and really, who wants to go outside during a Minneapolis winter?

Even though it sounds like a 1980s cop show sidekick, the company is a paper wholesaler and "sister company" to Falk Paper. Perhaps old C.J. got sick of being assistant to the regional manager (note: yes, that's a gratuitous Office joke) and decided to break off from the mother ship.

The company's address is on Washington Ave N, but walkway here is over 3rd St. There's another sign on a different part of the building. The clock tower in the background is City Hall.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

There's No Crying In Roller Derby

Buildings' uses changes over time, and so do their signs. Right around the corner from the one for the gruesome collectors of animal bits, on the same building, we have Bingham Rollers. That's right, the famous champion of the 1920s and all time roller-derby great, Gloria Bingham, and her rag-tag band of bone-crushing compatriots used to have their offices here, conveniently next door to the Metrodome.

Either that or they used to sell rubber-coated rollers (sounds kinda naughty, right?) here. I'm guessing about the "sell" part because it isn't a very big building, so it doesn't really seem like a manufacturing facility. I think this company was Samuel Bingham Rollers, which had a 175 year history before being acquired by Finzer Roller in 2004. Or maybe it was just paid advertising. Unfortunately, the folks who wrote the press release really weren't interested in telling us much about Bingham, nor does it seem likely that they had antitrust counsel involved.

You can see both this one and Mack, May Co. on Flickr.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Better Get Jethro's Favorite Recipe

If you look closely, you can tell that it says, "Mack, May & Co." on top, and "Hides, Pelts" and other illegible things below. Thanks to Fins, Feather and Fur, the official bulletin of the Minnesota Department of Conservation, from April of 1928, we know that these folks apparently wanted you to send them your pelts, because, after all, they specialize in Muskrat! Never fear, though, they also dealt in wool, "in the grease." I don't know what that means, but let's just agree that it doesn't sound appealing.

This time I'll leave the lame jokes to others. The sign's on the back of 900 S. 3rd St.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Foreign Lands: One Wall; Several Signs: The Final Countdown

As our friends at Writing On The Wall have always recognized, this all is the side of the Master Framer's building. Naturally, they have their own sign. It's more than a little faded, but they have been offering custom picture and mirror frames, and restorations, since 1959. They are open during the light rail construction, which will one day allow me to ride in air conditioned (and perhaps more importantly heated) comfort across the Mississippi and over to Lowertown. Open, mind you, but not troubled to repaint their sign.

Monday, August 1, 2011

I Need A Nap

It's tantalizingly close to being legible. Obviously, they sold box springs, studio lounges (whatever that is) and spring filled mattresses. It may now be Twin Cities Paper Supply, and they may have obscured the sign on purpose (if so, a pox on them I say!).

I was about to give up, but I think I've got it! It's Land-O-Nod! (From the stuff-o-stuff school of branding, with at least one other local adherent). Google delivered that much, but having figured that out, I've not got all that much more to say. They apparently made mattresses (who woulda thunk) and got a trademark in 1965 for "chiropractic" that resulted in litigation with their rivals and an 8th Cir. opinion in 1983. I don't know what happened to them, but given that I haven't heard of them, they probably didn't last too much longer after that.

You can see what might have been a factory, warehouse or just show room at the intersection of Broadway and Tyler near Central NE.