Saturday, June 11, 2011

Taking leave of Seven Corners

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For 18 months, I have been present for at least part of most days in the Seven Corners district of Minneapolis. With the conclusion of my employment by the Southern Theater, a district mainstay since 1910, my future visits will be infrequent.

As an amateur historian with an exaggerated sentimentality, I have allowed the historical Seven Corners to occupy a personal mindshare out of proportion to its present reduced circumstances. The ghosts who inhabit the area insist on being noticed and remembered. 

Seven Corners, 1952.
For sure, the anomalous distinctions that gave rise to its name have been bulldozed and paved-over. To a casual eye, Seven Corners remains nothing more than an innocuous intersection that serves as the illogical meeting point of Washington Avenue, 15th Avenue South, 19th Avenue South, and Cedar Avenue. 

For decades, Seven Corners served as a crossroads for the Swedish and other immigrants who flooded Minneapolis in the late 19th century and the early 20th. It provided single room housing for single men, who worked as laborers in construction and the nearby flour mills, and for single women who worked as domestics. While no original churches remain, many structures that housed saloons in the neighborhood still stand, and many still dispense a variety of spirits to ease the pursuit of social intercourse or of psychological survival.

During Seven Corners' history, it became one of two Minneapolis residential neighborhoods to which Jewish and African-American citizens were restricted through the use of land covenants, and in which the poorest of all citizens could find affordable housing. The other neighborhood was that of the near North Side, along 6th Avenue North, in which my paternal grandparents lived.

When the Southern Theater opened in 1910 at 1420 Washington Avenue South, it had been built primarily by the Swedish immigrant community, and named after its sister venue, the Southern Theater located in Stockholm, Sweden. Next door, at 1430, stood Gluek's saloon. Then, as now, Gluek's incorporated the six-pointed Star of David into its logo. Gluek's remains a mainstay of Minneapolis' Warehouse District on 6th Street, just north of Hennepin Avenue.

Today, the Town Hall Brewery occupies the former Gluek's building. The building is owned by Dudley Riggs, founding impresario of the long-running Brave New Workshop comedy venue in Minneapolis.

If not friends, I have become "business acquaintances" with most of Town Hall's personnel. I will dearly miss Matt, Andy, Mithab, Chris, Steve, Rachel, Marty, and others, along with their customers. The establishment insures that Seven Corners remains a crossroads for those who enjoy original, local brews.

One block away, construction is under way to build a new light rail line between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. The train station, a block away, will carry the name "West Bank Station." Matt and I have pursued a campaign – so far fruitless – to convince the powers-that-be to name the station "Seven Corners/West Bank" for the simple reason that "before West Bank, Seven Corners was."

The bureaucrats of the Metropolitan Council, with their soulless, fancy-dancy notions of modern usage and lack of appreciation for historical perspective, have had none of it so far. Nonetheless, we planted the seed, and our hope springs eternal.

I will miss Seven Corners, its buildings, its people, its ghosts, and their stories. They will live in my heart as long as it beats.

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