The resident who beat the boom

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May 3, 2004 // UPDATED 1:26 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Ellen P. Gabler
Ellen P. Gabler

Meet Clifford Hermanson, who paid $21,000 for his first Downtown condo three decades ago and still loves living here

If all the young hipsters moving to Downtown stick around for three decades, they might have Clifford Hermanson's laundry list of memories.

Hermanson moved Downtown half a lifetime ago to be close to his job; he's now retired. Ignoring a two-year flirtation with living near the University of Minnesota, he's never left.

Hermanson moved here when many Downtown residents lived in flophouses or single-room apartments and has persevered to see the upscale boom of today.

If there were a Downtown-only

version of Jeopardy, the man who bought The Crossing's first condo -- he was the only resident for two weeks -- would be the big winner. Hermanson knows the year almost every major Downtown development broke ground, has an entire skyway map burned into his brain and can name nearly every restaurant that has been knocked down within the past 30 years -- including Frank Sinatra's old Downtown haunt.

He sometimes even trumps the information kings of the city --

recognizing almost always when the Star Tribune or Skyway News have an address or date just a little bit off.

Embracing change

Even though the hand-painted furniture, oriental rugs and hundreds of porcelain cats have remained fixtures in Clifford's condo for the past 23 years, his 10th-floor view is nothing like it used to be.

Standing on his 121 Washington Ave. S. balcony looking towards Marquette Avenue, Clifford used to be able to see an entire block away, to the old Federal Reserve Bank building and its plaza where people sat on their lunch breaks. Now, tall, white buildings owned by ING block his view of the remodeled, renamed Marquette Plaza.

But even though Minneapolis is growing up, that's not all bad, Clifford says. After all, the white buildings block the sun so he can keep his blinds open longer.

When he first arrived, there were more "undesirables" and a bigger danger walking across acres of parking lots between the riverfront condos and Downtown core. There were all of eight skyways then; Clifford says their proliferation has provided a safer way around.

His belief: you have to have a certain kind of attitude if you're a true Downtown resident.

"You have to go with the flow. You adapt to the changes," Clifford says. "Some of them you embrace. Some of them you fight. And when the fight is lost, you either ignore it, or you deal with it."

Clifford first moved Downtown in 1973 as a newly promoted national credit manager for Pacific Gamble Robinson Co. He'd been a traveling auditor up to that point, and was prepared to settle down in St. Paul when he realized he'd be living 14 miles away from his workplace on Downtown's fringes.

He read in the newspaper that the 500-apartment Towers, 17 S. 1st St., was converted into the largest condo development west of the Mississippi River. He became the first "outsider" to buy a condo, paying $21,000.

Seven years later, he sold his unit for $42,000 and moved near the U, but soon realized that his real home was Downtown. That was in 1981, when The Crossings first went up for sale.

"The city was gung-ho about getting people to move Downtown," Clifford says. "'Condominium' was a brand-new word for the Twin Cities ... it was all the rage."

Although interest rates then were between 12 and 14 percent, the state and city government secured 29-year loans at 8.5 percent to entice the new Downtown-living crowd.

Ever the early adopter, Clifford was the first Crossings resident -- and the only one for two weeks. The building was so new that he used the exterior construction elevator to move into his 10th-floor apartment, and his only company was a security guard at night.

"There was bare pavement in the halls, and no wallpaper," he recalls. "And every time you got in the elevator, it would take you to Floor 19 before anyplace else. It took them months to get that fixed."

A truly successful housing boom was still two decades in the future, but the deal paid off for Clifford. He spent $65,000 for his one-bedroom apartment and has lived there ever since. Recently, a neighboring apartment sold for $173,000.

Changing faces

Since Clifford has lived Downtown, seven presidents -- Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and the other Bush -- have moved in and out the White House.

Restaurants, music, traffic and even the people have moved in and out of Downtown as well.

Clifford says the five-course meals of the '70s went out as the traffic came in.

Happy hour apps and take-out tacos just don't sit right with him.

"The younger crowd likes the fast food, breeze-in, breeze-out type of thing," he says. "They don't go for the same full-course dinner we were used to. That's what dinged it up for the older crowd."

The Radisson Flame Room -- where a group named the Golden Strings regularly serenaded the crowd -- was among Downtown's finest dining spots before it was knocked down for the new Radisson in the '80s, Clifford says. Murray's, 26 S. 6th St. is the only really old-time restaurant still around, he says, and today's stomach-gurgling Mexican restaurants don't hold a candle to the Casa Coronado that is now Block E, where Frank Sinatra often dined when he was in town. "He thought it was one of the finest Mexican restaurants he encountered in his travels," Clifford said.

However, the food Downtown hasn't gone entirely to pot -- Clifford went to the Capitol Grill, 801 Hennepin Ave. S., just last week, and says the Hilton Hotel, 1001 Marquette Ave., isn't too shabby either.

Nightlife is still the same, although there are more bars and much different music. It was big band and early rock 'n' roll that got Clifford going then -- the music now is just too loud, he says.

Since the '70s, the city's layout has also changed. Back then, Clifford says, Hennepin was strictly nightlife. Nicollet: strictly retail; Marquette: strictly banking; 2nd Avenue was restaurants and insurance. Now, everything is "mixed up."

And it's not just the buildings, music and food that sport a different look -- people Downtown are different, too, he says.

It's a wider age group living and working Downtown, Clifford says, including the old, young, handicapped and homeless. In the '70s, mostly people in their 30s, 40s and 50s were Downtown residents. Today, one of Clifford's neighbors is a recent college grad in her early 20s; a neighbor who just moved out was 92.

"It's all about change," he says. "Things around here are always changing."