100 Years of History

I have always wanted to live in a house that was over 100 years old. In many cities, that’s hard to come by because they have either demolished all the old homes, lost them to natural disasters, or the cities themselves are just not that old. When I bought my first home it was a bungalow built in 1930, but now, about 10 years later, there are a plethora of homes over 100 years old available. All the bungalows that were built during the 1920's and 1930's are now coming of age and about to celebrate their 100th birthday.

 My bungalow with a little castle flair

My bungalow with a little castle flair

The home I purchased in Minneapolis was built at the end of 1923 by owner and carpenter Axel Peterson. The estimated cost was $2,600 with a completion date of June 1, 1924. Axel lived in the home after it was finished with Leonard Peterson, a clerk for Vicklund and Wallin. It is likely Axel was the type of carpenter who built a house and lived in it long enough to finish the next house, then moved out. By 1925 the stucco bungalow was a boarder’s home, with Olaf Tolos, helper at Crown Iron Works Company, Andrew Rong, helper at William Brothers Boiler and M Company, and Ole Melby, tailor at E.M. Moran and Company residing there. Located just a few blocks off the trolley line on Johnson Street, it was an ideal location for working class residents.

The longest standing residents moved into the home in 1927. Thor E. Tarnstrom, salesman for Kullberg Manufacturing Company, became the home owner. The Tarnstrom’s were from Sweden. Thor married Flossie E. in 1930 and the couple stayed in the home through at least 1942 when their son, Robert T. Thornstrom first appeared in city directories. On May 9th, 1944 Thor passed away at the age of 53, leaving behind his wife Flossie, and kids Robert T and Marion E. John Oscar Tarnstrom was mentioned in the obituary and was likely Thor’s brother. John had a stepson, Eugene A Patterson, who was residing at the home with him in 1954. John passed away in 1958 at the age of 57.

The home was passed down to Linda J Tarnstrom who married Kent T Hawkin’s Jr. in 1970. The home was sold by 1970 to Irene L Sutton (age 20) and Thomas E Weske (age 24) who married on September 1st of that year. The home was put up for sale by owner in 1976 and described as a “lovely 2 bedroom and finished stucco home 25x15 fully carpeted and draped with a double garage in an excellent location.” The house was not quick to sell and was still in the classifieds in 1977. This time the home was descried as “move-in condition with shopping, school and bus not far.” The owners were listing the house for $30,000, a far cry from what I bought it for in 2017.

Throughout each owner, the home went through drastic changes. It started out with beautiful oak hardwood floors. The kitchen floors were then covered with a layer of orange laminate tile, then green laminate tile, then brown laminate flooring. The kitchen cabinets were replaced and the sink location moved. Carpet was also added at some point when wood floors went out of fashion. The built in shelves dividing the living room and dining room were also lost.

 Hideous carpet before...

Hideous carpet before...

 Beautiful hardwoods after.

Beautiful hardwoods after.

All these changes are little scars on the home, showing evolving trends and different styles that each family brought with them to the home. 100 years later, I have chosen to return the style to as close to the original as I can. I removed all the layers of laminate tile in the kitchen, pulled up the carpet, and returned the hard wood floors to their original glory. Some changes are hard to undue, as the beautiful built in cabinets are long gone. It is my hope that this home lives on another 100 years, but it will be interesting to see what it looks like after another few families leave their mark.

 Kitchen floor montage of before, during, and after the wood floors were finished.

Kitchen floor montage of before, during, and after the wood floors were finished.

300 Years of NOLA

I do not travel nearly as much as I would like, so when the opportunity arose to visit New Orleans for the National Planning Conference I jumped on it. I was only in the city for about four days, but I covered quite a bit of ground, while still attending sessions during the day. The two things that helped me accomplish both was waking up at 6 am every day and running through the neighborhoods.

 Morning run on Lafayette Greenway. The smoke was coming from a second hand furniture building that burned that morning

Morning run on Lafayette Greenway. The smoke was coming from a second hand furniture building that burned that morning

The city only has 391,495 residents (according to 2016 Census estimates), almost 22,000 people behind Minneapolis. What was so fascinating is the activity that New Orleans had at all hours of the day, every day of the week. Minneapolis does not have nearly the activity, especially during the weekdays, but somehow has more people. New Orleans benefits from the density they have built up over the last 300 years.

Minneapolis has some neighborhoods with homes five feet from each other, but NOLA takes it to the next level. Entire neighborhoods are built with shotgun style homes sitting a mere foot or two from each other. They create duplexes out of what Minneapolis considers a small single family home. There are areas with bigger lots that allow for a small yard, like in the Garden District, but nothing I saw rose to the level of the expansive lots surrounding Lake Harriet in Minneapolis. To achieve a similar density Minneapolis has been constructing apartment complexes all over the city. We are also considering allowing four-plexes in any neighborhood, a solution that is very controversial, but would appear to be the standard in NOLA.

 Some of the narrow shotgun style homes

Some of the narrow shotgun style homes

New Orleans is visibly driven by tourism. The number of hotels and restaurants in the downtown area appears to outweigh offices and other economic industries. The city was definitely hit hard by Hurricane Katrina, but has bounced back. Articles questioning whether they have reached a tipping point with tourism are now the norm. NOLA is the number three U.S. city for inequity and has an unemployment rate of 27%, twice that of the national average. While the downtown core and Garden District were hip and interesting, running through the ByWater neighborhood painted a different picture. There was more trash, vacant lots next to run down buildings painted with graffiti, and more potholed streets.

 Artwork in one of the parks commemorating Hurricane Katrina

Artwork in one of the parks commemorating Hurricane Katrina

Nearly 50,000 new jobs were added in the metro area between 2010 and 2014. But 7 out of 10 jobs added in those years paid less than the average local wage,
— Brookings Institution Study

Since Hurricane Katrina, job growth in hospitality and retail eclipsed growth in industries like water management and digital production that are more desirable to city leaders and would provide better living wages. It would also contribute more resources to solving the problems of water management the city is facing. What makes New Orleans so unique is also what puts it in danger. While other coastal cities are opening up their waterfronts and replacing former industrial development with parks and natural landscapes to combat the rising tides and climate change, NOLA is slow to follow. There were a few places where it was easy to get to the waterfront, but it was very disconnected and not always accessible. If it was, the entire area was usually hardscaped. 

 One of the better river parks for accessing the water

One of the better river parks for accessing the water

Overall, the city has a rich, proud history. The areas it is most known for, like Bourbon Street, were bottom on my list of most interesting and fun places to visit. Lesser known Royal Street was more charming and Frenchman Street had a better jazz and bar scene in my opinion. The people were also very kind. We Minnesotan's try to say were nice, but all the people I interacted with were friendly and easy going. Sometimes the easy going part made ordering food take longer than expected, but sitting on any one of their outdoor patio spaces and watching the street life made it more enjoyable.

 Bridge over the tracks to get to the Crescent Park and Trail. I had no idea the park was there until I saw someone else go up the bridge.

Bridge over the tracks to get to the Crescent Park and Trail. I had no idea the park was there until I saw someone else go up the bridge.

For anyone thinking of visiting NOLA I would recommend the following:

Parks: Lafayette Square, Woldenberg Park, Jackson Square, Louis Armstrong Park, Crescent Park and Trail

Restaurants: Creole Creamery (best ice cream), Daisy Dukes (dinner), Jimmy J's Cafe (great breakfast place), Commerce Restaurant (tiny breakfast joint with friendly staff), Cafe Du Monde (for beignets and coffee), Frankie and Johnny's (great dinner spot)

 Commerce Cafe where the staff is the most friendly, welcoming bunch of people I've met

Commerce Cafe where the staff is the most friendly, welcoming bunch of people I've met

Bars: Columns Hotel (great cocktail drinks in a beautiful historic building); St. Joe's Bar (makes a great blueberry mojito), the Rusty Nail (interesting patio/parking lot)

 

The Bars of Northeast Minneapolis

I'm fascinated by the way cities used to look, with the corner grocery store, hardware store, restaurant, and of course bar, tucked into neighborhoods, spaced  about a mile apart. The resident of the 1920's city could walk to get everything they needed or take a trolley if they needed something just a little bit further. Peppered throughout my neighborhood in Northeast, Minneapolis are dozens of small two story buildings, but most have been converted into apartments. There are several though that have maintained their original use, the buildings with first floor bars.

Curious, I decided to look into their history and found that many of these bars have been around since the early 1900's. Today we have bars that sell beer from local breweries, but back then the breweries were building bars to sell their own beer. Located at 225 Main Street NE was a first floor bar with a sign reading Gluek Brewing Co's Beer. Shaw's at 1528 University Avenue NE was built in 1901 by the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. Jimmy's at 1828 4th Street NE was built in 1900 by Minneapolis Brewing Company (today known as Grainbelt).

 The Polsky Saloon in 1919 at 225 Main Street NE (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

The Polsky Saloon in 1919 at 225 Main Street NE (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

There are exceptions to this trend. Our neighborhood favorite, Grumpy's (2200 4th Street NE) was built in 1906 by owner August Wihleim and Mayslacks (1428 4th Street NE) was built by owner George Kujawa in 1900. Both were your standard neighborhood watering hole.

 John's Bar at 2500 Marshall Street NE in 1953 (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

John's Bar at 2500 Marshall Street NE in 1953 (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

All of these bars were built in the early 1900's and still operate as such today. Despite have different architects and builders, they shared the same basic building designs: two-story rectangular brick building with the bar on the first floor. The costs to construct ranged between $1,500 for Mayslacks to $5,500 for Grumpy's. What is interesting to note is that while most small scale buildings of the time were done by local craftsman, most of these bars were designed by architects. Shaws and Jimmy's were designed by architect S.J. Bowlar and Grumpy's by architects Kirchhoff and Rose.

 Shaw's, known as Dusenka's at the time, after a fire in the second story (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Shaw's, known as Dusenka's at the time, after a fire in the second story (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

We lose more of our history to development pressures each day. Restaurants come and go, retail shops struggle to make it. All the neighborhood grocery stores closed up decades ago. The bars however have managed to weather over 100 years of change in how we live in our cities. We may not have the population to support the neighborhood grocery store, but the bars are holding strong. They remain a constant for the neighborhoods surrounding them, showing that not everything about the way our neighborhoods operate has changed.

The Experimental City

A few weeks ago I took advantage of living in a city that has a population to support the routine showing of documentary films. I went to see The Experimental City presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul that featured a Q&A with director Chad Freidrichs and Todd Lefko, member of the Minnesota Experimental City Authority afterwards. The documentary revived the story of the Minnesota Experimental City project from the 1970's, a project intended to solve issues of population growth with futuristic ideas.

Planning schools teach Le Corusier's Radiant City and the Garden City movement started by Ebenezer Howard, but the Experimental City (MXC) by Athelstan Spilhaus from Minnesota is left out of the mix. The MXC project was not a small scale endeavor. It received several hundred thousand dollars of federal funding to create a subcommittee and fund the research. If it had made it to construction, the estimated costs were $10 billion for construction (about $65 billion today). It could be that this project was overlooked in the history books because it came at a time when big projects were normal. We were sending people into space and building a massive highway infrastructure project. What was so special about a brand new city designed in the most efficient manner possible for 250,000 people?

 Members of the MXC Committee during a meeting (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Members of the MXC Committee during a meeting (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

The MXC project began in 1967 with an idea of Athelstan Spilhaus to create the most efficient city possible. He enlisted Star Tribune editor Otto Silha to help pitch the project and the two established a twelve person subcommittee to steer the process. The goal was to build a new city for about 250,000 people that was about an hour from a large city; near a large population but not close enough to be affected by it. After looking at numerous sites, the group settled on Aitkin County, Minnesota (northwest of the Twin Cities metro). The committee members thought the small rural and poor population would not mind a new city plopped down in their backyards.

 Sketch of the Utildors, the underground system of vehicular movement that frees pedestrians from traffic above

Sketch of the Utildors, the underground system of vehicular movement that frees pedestrians from traffic above

The residents of Swatara, the town affected by the the plan, did care. They walked over 150 miles from their homes to the state capitol in St. Paul during winter to show their disapproval of the project. It is unclear whether their show of outrage was successful or not, but the project did fall apart within a few years. They lost a key supporter in the white house when Minnesota native Hubert Humphrey lost the presidential election in 1968 after serving as the vice president from 1965 to 1969. 

 Residents of Swatara as they marched from their homes to St. Paul, over 150 miles (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Residents of Swatara as they marched from their homes to St. Paul, over 150 miles (image courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

Whatever the reason, the project lost funding in April 1973, one year prior to the anticipated start of construction. Their plans for a dense urban core surrounded by nature with some tall apartments on the perimeter was never built. Swatara stayed rural and the cities continued to sprawl outward at a devastating pace. As Todd Lefko stated in the Q&A afterwards though, many ideas did come to fruition that were part of the project including autonomous vehicles (their system was much cooler with the ability to drive the car but them hook into a track system that took over once in the city), online shopping, and working from home.

 Sketch of the Dual Mode Guideway Transportation System

Sketch of the Dual Mode Guideway Transportation System

While some people might say we dodged a bullet, I still think it would have been pretty neat to see a city develop from the very beginning as a sustainable, green, dense urban core. Cities like Minneapolis are fighting to reduce our carbon footprint and create more walkable urban neighborhoods. It is far more difficult to reverse development trends than it is to design that way from the beginning. 

 

Maribou Water Gardens

Over 10 years later, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the devastating effects of the Levee failures. That disaster proved to the world that building walls and pumping out water is not a long term or permanent solution. Water must be managed on site, with features such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, cisterns, and underground storage tanks. It takes projects installed throughout the city to protect it when a large storm hits. One of the projects New Orleans is working on to help low lying neighborhoods is the Maribou Water Garden.

The Maribou Water Garden was part of the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan. Greater New Orleans Inc. developed the plan in 2010 to address the challenges brought by their climate which drops an average of 60 inches of rain annually. The garden project is changing the way New Orleans thinks about water. Instead of pumping it out and blocking it with levees, they are keeping it on site. The attitude change is necessary because pumping and levees alone cannot project the city. It only creates more problems like subsistence when the ground begins to sink from the excessive pumping. 

 Subsistence problems created by excessive pumping (chart courtesy of nola.gov)

Subsistence problems created by excessive pumping (chart courtesy of nola.gov)

Along with hiring a new Resilience Officer, New Orleans has also created its first Resilience District. The Gentilly Resilience District, located in the Filmore neighborhood, is where the Maribou project will be constructed. The 25 acre vacant site was donated to the City by the St. Joseph Congregation. The congregation is supportive of the project because they feel it will shift the way "humans relate with water and land." 

 How the Maribou Water Garden will look after a 10 year storm event (image courtesy of nola.gov)

How the Maribou Water Garden will look after a 10 year storm event (image courtesy of nola.gov)

The design of the Maribou Gardens includes diversion and temporary storage of rainfall up to 10 million gallons. The sandy soils will help to infiltrate and clean the water as well. The site will serve as an educational center and outdoor classroom. The 25 acre site is expected to capture 140 acres of runoff, create 745 acres of improved flow, and increase the pumping capacity of station #4 by 2,900 acres. All the water that stays on site allows for more room in the current system to capture runoff. 

 (Site plan for the Maribou Water Garden (plan courtesy of nola.gov)

(Site plan for the Maribou Water Garden (plan courtesy of nola.gov)

The project budget is $12.5 million dollars and is funded by federal grants awarded to New Orleans in January 2016. The project is projected to start construction in summer of 2018 and be complete the following year. Despite the huge impact this project will have for the Filmore neighborhood once complete, the City will have a long way to go. At a size of almost 350 square miles, it would take almost 1,600 projects of a similar scale to capture all the runoff. There is not enough land to capture it all, but the City is headed in the right direction.

 International examples of how a stormwater retention feature can double as a recreational feature (image courtesy of nola.gov)

International examples of how a stormwater retention feature can double as a recreational feature (image courtesy of nola.gov)

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

Saint Paul Winter Carnival: Another Distraction to the Fact that its Winter

As I have mentioned in past posts, Minnesota is a state that does not let winter affect their ability to have fun outside. A recent example of this is the Saint Paul Winter Festival, which wrapped up its 132nd season yesterday. I attended my first (and only) Winter Carnival two years ago, right after moving to the Twin Cities. I tried to attend twice this year, but the traffic jams created by the Dave Matthews Band Concert and a Wild Hockey game deterred me (next year I will map out a better transit route to avoid the parking situation altogether).

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Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Life in the Super Bowl 52 City

Hearing about Super Bowl 52 began months ago for me because I both live and work in the host city. As a city planner the phrase, "it has to be done by the Super Bowl" was heard more times that anyone could count. I luckily had less to do with the planning than some of my colleagues that deal with permits and licensing, but it was easy to see the city gearing up faster and faster as the event neared.

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Breweries Are Taking Over

Breweries Are Taking Over

Whenever the topic of breweries is brought up, I always hear "when are we going to finally over saturate the market with breweries?" While it may seem like there are a lot, the market share of local craft beer sold pales in comparison to national conglomerates. Only 12 percent of the market is craft beer with two companies holding 50% of the total beer market. There are two factors that have spurred the rise in local breweries over the last decade though: consumer taste and government regulation.

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Festivals on Lake Harriet

Festivals on Lake Harriet

During the winter, we get an extra 1,439 acres of land in Minneapolis that is less accessible in the summer months. When our 13 lakes freeze they can be used as extra space to walk your dogs, cross country ski, and fly a kite. The last activity probably seems a little odd, but the Minneapolis Park Board has been sponsoring the Kite Festival on Lake Harriet for the past 17 years. 

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Gruen's Grand Plan

Gruen's Grand Plan

A recent newspaper article about the ABC parking ramps in downtown Minneapolis made reference to the Gruen Plan in Fort Worth, Texas. The brief description outlined Gruen's proposed ban on all cars from downtown Fort Worth to provide a better pedestrian experience and revitalize the area. Having lived in Texas for a few years, I found this a radical idea for the city, especially because it was a plan derived in 1959, a time when the car was king. Intrigued by this reference, I decided to delve deeper.

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Building Nordeast

Building Nordeast

The area of Northeast Minneapolis, commonly referred to as Nordeast, comprises 4,564 acres and 12,197 buildings. It has been surveyed a number of times by the City of Minneapolis, the first of which was back in 1981. Within this area, 204 properties are considered to have potential as a local historic landmark. Despite the number of eligible properties, this area of the city has the fewest designated properties. What we do have up here is a lot of buildings significant for their religious and social organization as well as the famous Grain Belt Brewery (originally Minneapolis Brewing Company). This area is also host to a number of residential developments from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

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Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House

The best time to go on a historic house tour is around the holidays because they are filled with elegant decorations common among the time period the house was first occupied. Not having had the chance to visit the Alexander Ramsey House in Saint Paul yet, I decided to book a Victorian Christmas tour of the house. 

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Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

Hollidazzle and the Winter Open Streets

I attended Holidazzle for the first time last winter, but missed the excitement and activity because it was early on a Saturday afternoon. This year I went on the Saturday that coincided with the first Winter Open Streets event, drawing quite a large crowd and making the event more active. It was fun walking around Loring Park, where Holidazzle has been held for the past several years during construction on Nicollet Mall, to experience all the sites, sounds, and smells. 

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The Holiday Train

The Holiday Train

One of the benefits of living in a Midwest city that still operates a thriving rail system is the Holiday Train. While not quite the Polar Express, the Holiday Train still draws a large crowd at each stop it makes as it travels across North America. Despite the freezing cold temperatures last year, I was able to attend the event as the train rolled through Minneapolis. The stop is located in Lions Park, dividing the cities of Minneapolis and Columbia Heights. I had no idea that it was an actual park until this event. It is more a leftover patch of grass in-between the street and railroad tracks.

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What is a Well Building?

What is a Well Building?

Most people have worked in an office with poorly regulated temperature, where it seems that whatever the weather is outside, its the same inside. The office also probably had terrible fluorescent lighting, a severe lack of windows, and the ability to waft the terrible smelling tuna someone brought as their lunch throughout the building. These buildings were all designed to cram as many people into a building as possible without regard for how the office environment would turn out. For some design professionals, this does not make sense which is why they are turning towards WELL Building certification.

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Bird Art for my Yard

Bird Art for my Yard

A few months back I was in the Commons (a new downtown Minneapolis park) having coffee with some friends when I noticed an interesting sculpture. I glanced at it briefly, long enough to find it unique, but then we continued walking. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally realized what that sculpture was and its intended message. Those same friends told me about an event at the University of Minnesota campus where they were giving out pieces of a dismantled sculpture. After stopping by and grabbing two (a bird house and feeder) it finally dawned on me that the pieces they were giving away were part of that sculpture I had seen in the Commons.

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Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Passive House: an economic and environmental solution to building

Anyone that owns an old house knows that while they are charming and full of character, they are notoriously inefficient. I love my old bungalow, but it is nearly impossible to keep at a consistent temperature or save on energy costs. Despite being a solid structure that has lasted 100 years without major failures, there was no need to keep it sealed for efficiency. All summer long the windows would have been open because air conditioning was not available. 

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The World of Clocks

The World of Clocks

Growing up, we had a grandfather clock that sat in our dining room. I was so fascinated with it, making up stories in my head that it was a magical portal to another world. I would make sure to keep it wound up to chime on time. My best friend and I even kept our super secret friendship pact hidden at the base of it. We thought it would be safe, hidden where no one would look for it. 

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The Mysteries Behind Daylight Saving Time

The Mysteries Behind Daylight Saving Time

As tomorrow approaches, we anticipate the end to daylight saving time (yes that is correct, it is not savings) where we gain an extra hour of sleep and can stop going to work every morning in the dark. While I love one extra hour given each fall, I would gladly give it up to stay on daylight saving time year round to have an extra hour of light each evening in the winter. Living in a cold climate filled with snow, it would help the winter blues to have a little extra sun after work. Despite participating in DST for the past almost 3 decades of my life, I never knew much about the history and it turns out, what I did know was all based on misconceptions.

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Ten Things I Learned From IMCL

Ten Things I Learned From IMCL

The International Making Cities Livable Conference held their annual conference the first week in October in Santa Fe, New Mexico this year. Each year a new city is selected based on the innovate approaches that have been implemented by their local governments. Dozens of countries were represented at the conference this year despite political tension, immigration bans, and natural disasters that kept many from traveling. Despite the lower than usual attendance, the sessions were well rounded and provided a wealth of information on how to make our cities more livable.

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