Sunday, September 24, 2006


Now here's something you don't see every day--at least not in the last 15 or 20 years...A Woolworth's sign.
They're remodeling Concord Plaza, a shopping center in south St. Louis County that dates back to about 1963, and as they tear off the previous facade (which appears to have gone up in the '80s) to make way for the new one, the original brick facing is revealed for the first time in years.The first "ghost sign" to be uncovered belonged to a defunct department store called P.N. Hirsch--but I didn't have my camera on me when I saw that stage of remodeling. A few days later, half of the old Woolworth's logo had been uncovered--and it was revealed in its entirety later in the week. (I haven't found the closing date of the Woolworth's yet, but I do know it survived at least into the mid-'80s.)

Apparently, the shopping center's facade was of red brick; when it was repainted in a lighter color, the painters simply masked around the signage--leaving the store logos basically stencilled on when the signs were removed later. Hopefully, the marks of more long-gone stores will be revealed as the construction continues!

Now leaving Minneapolis

After our morning coffee, we had to get a daytime shot of the old Ritz Theater--which is now a dance studio—and this great old bar sign just down the block.
We had a long drive ahead, but we were able to pull over a few times when a particularly fetching mid-century artifact beckoned. Blooming Prairie, MN, retains this snazzy sign, though the store itself has gone out of business.
In Lansing, I was startled and creeped out while photographing the sign pictured below. I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot, and the moment I stepped out of the car, a speaker underneath the eaves began blasting the irritating Disney tune “It’s a Small World After All.” I can only hope that, unlike the Disney theme parks, Lansing Corners Fine Foods does not have the song on an endless loop.
I’ll wrap up this travelogue with photos of two of Iowa’s most visually stunning small-town cinemas, both of which just happened to be along our route: The Charles in Charles City (see its previous sixties-licious marquee here)…
…And the almost surreal Watts in Osage, which injects a little Dr. Seuss into its Googie.
That’s what we did on our summer vacation. Whew.

Our next scheduled trips are a quick jaunt to Champaign/Urbana, IL (to see the Silversun Pickups!) and a December flight to Austin, TX. In the meantime, there's plenty to see and document in the St. Louis area...if I can find the time, that is.

Saturday in Minneapolis

Finally, almost a month after the previous post--and two months after the photos were actually taken--I might be about to wrap up the Minneapolis trip. Here's Saturday, as I remember it...

On a friend’s recommendation, we had breakfast at Hell's Kitchen, a downtown restaurant run by a big fan of English cartoonist Ralph Steadman. The d├ęcor and menu graphics bear the influence of Steadman’s splotchy, rather gruesome style—but the food itself is much more appetizing. (Hey, when does Gerald Scarfe get HIS brunch joint?) There can be a pretty long wait at Hell’s Kitchen on a Saturday morning, but the 45 minutes of downtime (accompanied by a long-range pager given to us by the hostess) gave us a chance to roam several blocks of the central business district.

The elegantly tapered Foshay Building was Minneapolis’ tallest structure for 45 years, and the story-high letters at the top are still backlit at night.

The neighboring AT&T tower, rather than tapering, fans out a little at the top.
Peter’s Grill, which had been in business since 1914, went out of business a month before our arrival. It may or may not be revived; an undated article I found indicates that it has new owners. I trust that whatever happens, someone will take good care of this wonderful old sign.
We don’t have an IKEA back home, so whenever we’re near one we jump at the chance to check out all their latest stuff. Our previous IKEA experience took place in suburban Seattle on a weeknight just before closing time, and that certainly didn’t prepare us for IKEA in Minneapolis on a Saturday afternoon. It’s across the street from the Mall of America, and it was a madhouse. We weaved through the crowd, bought a lamp and got the hell out.

We couldn’t waste time because we had to get to the Walker Art Center, which was running a big Diane Arbus retrospective. We’ve all seen her work here and there, but having it all together in one big exhibit leaves a profound impression: THE EYEBROWS, MY GOD; THE EYEBROWS.
Did women in New York in the early sixties all have such overwhelmingly inky brows, or did Diane just seek out the ones who did?

The art museum was fantastic, and we stayed until closing time. Its focus was on modern art, and there were plenty of Pop artifacts, fascinating abstractions, and wacky mixed-media pieces. There was also a temporary installation devoted to Cameron Jamie, whose anthropologically-focused works include studies of backyard wrestling and commercial “haunted houses.” Jamie’s fans include Charlotte Caffey (Go-Go’s) and Jeff McDonald (Redd Kross), who loaned the museum a “coconut head” decorated by the artist.

When you’re at the Walker, you just have to go across the street to the sculpture garden—but it was so awfully hot that after viewing Oldenburg’s celebrated Spoonbridge and Cherry, we retreated to the air-conditioned car and made our way to the fairly cool Metrodome for the evening’s Twins game.

I liked the dome more than I thought I would; it’s not as loud inside as I’d expected, despite the infectious enthusiasm of the fans. As it’s taking me forever to finish posting these vacation notes, I’ve forgotten who the Twins played, but I’m pretty sure they won.

After the game, we visited venerable ice cream institution Sebastian Joe’s—which offers some very unusual flavors—and photographed a little neon. Twin Cities liquor stores, in particular, seem to be VERY serious about their neon. Check out this beauty!
Unfortunately, we were roaming the city at closing time, and two more gloriously-lit liquor stores turned off their neon just before I could get a picture. Fortunately, Brede—a tradeshow contractor near our hotel—keeps its sign blazing 24/7.
NEXT: I can finally wrap this thing up, with a couple more Minneapolis pix and a few scenes from the drive home. Sorry this is taking so long.