Sunday, April 29, 2012

No, Not Verisimilitude

I didn't know it at the time, but apparently I should have refrained from breathing as I biked by this sign.  It's a little faded, but you should be able to read "Western Mineral Products Company" on the bottom.  That's gotta mean that they produce something wholesome like calcium to fortify your children's cereal or maybe delicious, pure mineral water.

Wait, what?  This building at 1720 Madison St. NE, back in the Nordeast Arts District, is a superfund site?  As it turns out, this building was a plant that turned "Libby Ore" from Montana into asbestos insulation from the late 1930s to the late 1980s by heating the ore until it "popped" into fluffy material suitable for insulation. Even better, they used to offer waste "rock" for free to the surrounding community, potentially creating a whole neighborhood of cancerous fun.  While it operated, at least 130,000 tons of the stuff was shipped by rail to this location. The product here was sold under the Zonolite brand, and may well still be in your house.  You'll not be surprised that all this resulted in at least one lawsuit.

The W.R. Grace Company bought this building in 1963.  According to them, they're still enriching lives to this day. The company actually originated in Peru in 1854, where it was founded by William Russel Grace, who fled the potato famine in Ireland.  One has to wonder if he knew what he was getting into.  The Grace company website still seems to have a product sheet for Zonolite, but I don't know if that means it's still available for purchase.

I once heard the "mesothelioma lawyer" was the most expensive ad term you could by from Google.  These folks were apparently a little more specific and decided to go directly for "Western Mineral Products."  I thank them for the background information.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Maybe The Sign Of The Unfriendly Host Would Be Funnier?

It's been awhile since we had a beer sign, so let's get back to it.  This one isn't particularly local, but it seems like there is something appropriate about a security camera keeping an eye on a step latter in front of a sign for a beer from Wisconsin.  I'm pretty sure someone dressed head-to-toe in red will come rushing by and trying to run off with the ladder at anytime.  They can use it to try to sneak into Camp Randall or something.  Better dead than red.  Friends don't let friends go to Madison.  All that sort of jazz.

This building, at 2913 Central Ave., apparently used to be bar or something, with this sign on the alley in the back.  Today it looks mostly abandoned, aside from its outdoor hardware storage.  If you peak between the rungs, you might be able to see that Heileman's Old Style is "The sign of a Friendly Host" at "March's Inn."  March's doesn't seem to have left much of a footprint on the internet, so I can't tell you much about it.

Which leaves us with Old Style.  As I mentioned, the brand's origins are in Wisconsin (death to Bucky!).  Those currently responsible for marketing the brand don't seem too interested in telling us anything about it (You're selling a brand like this and you're not playing up the nostalgia?  Really?)  The story takes us in the complicated history of American brewing.

Gottlieb Heileman emigrated from, surprisingly, Germany at some point in the mid-1800s, and made his way to La Crosse where he founded the brewing company that would ultimately bear his last name and first initial in 1858.  His son-in-law successor was in charge when they started making Old Style as their "premium" brand in 1905.  Later Russel Cleary (where there's a Cleary and a Gottlieb, can the Steen and Hamilton be far behind?) started a series of acquisition and consolidation in the 1970s and 80s , which ended up with the company controlling quite a few of the old line beer grands, including Grain Belt, before being taken over itself and passed around for awhile.  These days, Pabst controls both "Heileman's" and "Old Style."

Monday, April 16, 2012

He Had A High, Squeaky Voice

Amazingly, this isn't actually a ghost.  Roberts' Shoe Store still exists and still sells shoes.  But those signs are just too good to leave out.  It's right next to the last trio, right at Chicago & Lake.  Roberts' offers "Happy feet for all the family," with helpful musical notes that sure make the sign looks like it's from the Singing In The Rain era of the early 1950s.  I can almost hear Bing Crosby singing the jingle.

The store was founded by Nathan Roberts in 1937, and carries very, very large All Stars.  It's also apparently the place go if you like really, really old shoe fitters, as their's averages 32 year experience.  Old Nathan bought the store after the previous owners went bankrupt in the Depression (the Great one).  And yet everyone in the neighborhood was apparently working at the time.  Hm.

What is now the Midtown Tower, and now houses Midtown Global Market used to be a Sears (if you look closely you can still see "Sears Roebuck" over the doors), is down the street.  Sears closed sometime before 1982 as part of the neighborhood's overall decline before a more recent resurgence.

Check out some old pictures of the building in 1956, 1956 at night and 1951.

Maybe even better than the Roberts' sign is the one to the immediate right of the tree in the middle, which says "Meats."  Maybe I'll go by again to see if I can get something more identifying, but I like it anyway.  There might be another sign just above that too, but I can't read it.  There is definite paint on brick though.

Finally, take a gander at the awnings on the Lake Street side:

UPDATE: Sam's question in the comments got me looking for a recording of the jingle from the first sign,  which took me to an old recording of a radio show from local legend Steve Cannon from 1957.  Around 8 minutes in, there is a singing weather ad from Roberts' followed by copy from Cannon.  Unfortunately, they don't seem to sing "Happy Feet for All the Family."

I remember Cannon as having the afternoon drive time show on WCCO for years and years, but I didn't know that before that he was at WLOL, which was the hip pop music station of my youth (now long gone).  Listening to him in the 1950s is like a recording from another world.  I particularly liked how he broke in to tell the ladies that it was hot enough that they didn't need wear their seamless nylons.  I'd assume that was a joke, but it still says something about the times.

I'll post another update if I find audio of the jingle.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We've Been Over This Before

I've got three signs on the side of one building in an alley off Lake Street of varying degrees of legibility.  The first one we can make out, and in part because we've seen that yellow-hewed ad style before.  It's Lee's, but this time it's not just overalls.  This one seems to be co-sponsored by something called Jack's Toggery.  

If you're like me, you weren't so sure about that second word.  It sort of sounds like British legal term/slang for alternative sexual behavior.  But I guess maybe it used to mean clothing store in the vernacular.  Somehow, that's disappointing.  So is what I've been able to find about Jack's.  I'd guess there was a clothing store by that name in this area, but I've not been able to turn up any evidence, so, on to the others:

For the next one, we know what they do, but we're missing the name.  Apparently someone around here offered window trimming, show card writing and advertising.  My first thought was that this was a another decorating outfit, but I think that's wrong.  I think these folks were instead marketers.  Maybe they were the original Mad Men.  Sadly, if they wrote their own name on the side of this building, I can no longer read it.

The last one leaves us with the opposite problem.  I think that first line says "Van Camp's."  I can't read the rest, but it seems there is a famous brand of canned beans with that name owned by ConAgra.  I don't think I've heard of them, but that has to be what we are looking at.  Apparently I don't eat enough canned beans.  I've seen Blazing Saddles, so I do not regret it.

The brand dates to 1861 in Indianapolis, and there's a pretty cool collection of Van Camp ads from the period when they were owned by a company called Stokely here.  Local Google results for the last name seem to be dominated by doctors with that last name.   Do you think any of them focus on the gastrointestinal system?

Just for good measure, here's a guy named Van Camp hoisting anchor with some friends somewhere in Minnesota in 1941.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Foreign Lands: At Least They Didn't Trade Santana For It

I was in Lincoln, Nebraska last week, and it turns out they have a nice little "warehouse" area near the railroad tracks.  I got a few pictures while I was there, but (girlfriend's) familial duties kept me from doing a thorough survey. Don't tell my girlfriend (who probably isn't reading this), but I'll probably be back and hope to grab more pictures.

Anyway, here we have the Humber Manufacturing Co., which according to the side of the building seems to have made "engines" and  "threshers."  Unfortunately, I'm not get a lot of other evidence from Google, so maybe we'll just stick close to these cool pictures:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Maybe Sesame Seed Bun but No Special Sauce

Meanwhile back in the warehouse district, we've got the McDonald Bros. Co. a wholesaler of china, crockery and glassware.  It was the business of Matthew McDonald "who for a considerable period was one of the owners of an extensive wholesale and retail china, crockery and glassware." He was born in Pennsylvania in 1848 to Irish immigrant parents and started his china business there before relocating to Minneapolis in 1884. It sounds like they were on Nicollet first, but moved down Fifth Street to this location near First Avenue, where they apparently expanded into retail. Matthew died in 1910, leaving the business in his brother's hands.

Members of the McDonald family apparently prospered enough to house themselves on the lovely Lake of the Isles Parkway, where Frank McDonald, a department manager, lived in 1917. Millard McDonald, one of Matthew's sons who graduated from law school and served in the aviation forces in the first world war, lived over on Blaisdell Avenue in 1910.

The building apparently had a major fire in 1895, which lead to the death of five firemen, at the time the deadliest fire in the history of the Minneapolis fire department.

There's a cool shot here and a close-up on Fickr and here's the building in 1902.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Foreign Lands: Local Product

I thought this blog needed a little gritty reality.  It's been all sweetness and light around here, with the silly jokes and the failing to be funny and all that.  So, let's bring it down folks.  Barbed wire.  Pointy.  Sharp.  Will tear your jeans if they get caught as you try to climb over.  Everyone please take a moment of silence to consider all the tragedies of the world to which this scourge has contributed.

Now that you've shed a tear over thoughts of being a sheep fenced on the wrong side of a field of sweet, succulent grass, we can move on.

Okay, so this one's not all that easy to read, but I'll help you out.  It says Gold Medal Flour.  I'm sure you've read all my posts, so you're probably saying to yourself, "hey! I know all about that product."  Congratulations!  You're so smart.

But this sign has traveled from its namesake's home along the banks of the Mississippi.  I was back in DC last week and found this one along 14th Street, between T and Wallach.  I've been by there many times but never noticed it before. That barbed wire is there because of an ongoing demolition project, so perhaps it was covered up until recently, but I don't think so.  Regardless, I have a feeling this sign will not be visible for long, as where there is demolition in downtown DC there is soon to be new condos.  If I'm right, I will be happy to have documented a bit of history.

Even better, that sign is on the side of the relatively newish Taylor Gourmet on 14th.  Now that's a good hoagie.

Speaking of landmarks, just for fun, here's another DC institution: