Loeb and behold

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August 27, 2002 // UPDATED 1:29 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Richard Carney
Richard Carney

His family's ghosts hover over Downtown's newest development

As the latest major change to Downtown\'s landscape, Block E, nears completion, I find myself in a reflective mood.

A couple of years ago, I lost my paternal grandmother to cancer. It was seven years after the same disease killed her husband and only months before the same disease/different version ended my mother\'s life. As a result of my grandmother\'s death, I volunteered to step in as the keeper of the family archives.

Thankfully, my grandfather was a pack rat. Even though he purged scads of stuff (such as 30-plus years of the Minneapolis White Pages), the storage closet was still a treasure trove of photos, movies, letters and diaries that offered a snapshot into not only my family\'s past, but the city's, too.

For example, on what is now part of the Star Tribune property there was a building at 621 S. 3rd St. that housed a store fixture and cabinet manufacturer named Midwest Showcase. My grandfather worked there in \'38 and \'39, so indicated on a Minneapolis Civil Service Exam Application form he filled out in 1956. (The form included question #12: \"Are you a member of any political party which advocates the overthrow of our constitutional form of government in the United States? If so, name the organization.\" He answered \"no.\")

Among the materials were several incomplete planners/diaries of my great-grandfather, Thomas A. Carney, who was, by all accounts, quite a character. He died a year before I was born; I only know him through stories and some 8-mm films from a few family weddings where he was seen in the background smoking hand-rolled cigarettes on the steps of the church.

He hunted duck in a coat and tie and changed his name from Charney to Carney when he arrived from the Ukraine (he figured an Irish last name would make it easier to find work than the German-sounding name he arrived with). He made and sold homemade auto wax and furniture polish, and no one seems entirely sure when or where he was born.

In the front of one of his personal planners he filled in his vital statistics with the following:

\"My will may be found... in my pockets.\"

\"My doctor is...myself.\"

\"My lawyer is...myself.\"

\"My clergyman is...no good.\"

Later in the same planner, March 6, 1954 (he would have been around 73) is this entry (I have corrected spelling and added some punctuation):

\"I got cigar stand from Mr. Nygard. Paper fixed in Columbia Heights at price $750, includes stock & fixtures. At Loeb Arcade, 5th & Hennepin. Rent $55.00 month, pay my own lights.\"

My great-grandfather, for all I know, may have sold soda pop, cigarettes or magazines to any number of famous Minneapolitans. After all, the Loeb -- once home to WDGY radio -- was located in the heart of the Downtown action. I imagine my small-framed 73-year old great-grandfather, a lit heater in hand, handing a Pepsi and a Sporting News to Minneapolis Laker basketball star Vern Mikkelsen as he headed to one of the \"three passage elevators with safety devices and electric signals\" [as described in the Minneapolis Journal, Sept. 3, 1914].

The Loeb Arcade is now one of Downtown\'s many lovely surface parking lots. It was built in 1914 and, like many buildings of that era, long gone (razed in 1967).

Thanks to Larry Millet\'s "The Lost Twin Cities," the Minnesota Historical Society\'s archives, and the website lileks.com, Loeb Arcade photos are readily available.

Take a look at the interior: the skylight, the terra cotta facing, the mosaic floor, the curved design (the arcade was actually built around an existing corner building). It\'s all gone.

In late 1913, when the Loebs of Duluth financed this venture, the Arcade\'s estimated construction cost was $300,000. An ad in the Minneapolis Journal Nov. 8, 1914 indicates that the actual cost came in at $750,000. Plugged into the westegg.com \"inflation calculator,\" this figure puts the cost of construction at a shade under $13 million in 2002 terms. (The city alone forked over $39 million to subsidize Block E).

Our former mayor labeled Block E \"a bold proposal\" -- though picking Block E's \"boldest\" part is like choosing which store brand is the tastiest creamed corn. I\'m sure that everyone with an interest in Downtown\'s history and landscape has a particular extinct building or structure whose loss they lament more than any other. For me, it is the Loeb Arcade, and the family ties that went with it.