A pictorial history of Uptown

A Southwest college student and his sister chronicle an area’s evolution

For most college kids, summer vacation is reserved for work or plenty of rest and relaxation. But CARAG resident Thatcher Imboden, a 22-year-old University of Minnesota senior spent his summer in libraries and museums researching what became an homage to Uptown.

Imboden and his 26-year-old sister Cedar Imboden Phillips produced "Uptown Minneapolis" — a stunning pictorial history of the area. The new book covers the CARAG, East Calhoun, East Isles and Wedge neighborhoods (roughly between 22nd and 36th streets from Lyndale Avenue to the eastern shores of Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun).

Imboden and Phillips are both Uptown natives, though Phillips now lives in Washington, D.C. She helped write much of the book via e-mail. Both said they wanted to write the book because they saw a need for a comprehensive Uptown history. "We’re pretty attached to the area," Imboden said.

The book is part of the "Images of America" series by Arcadia Publishing, publishers of regional and local history books. The 2,500-title series focuses on pictoral histories of urban American areas.

The first line in the book’s introduction is a quote from local pop star and one-time Uptown business owner Prince: "Everybody’s going to Uptown, that’s where I wanna be." That sentiment seems to ring true throughout the area’s history.

Documenting Uptown’s changing face

"Uptown Minneapolis" begins in the days of Lake Calhoun settlers, such as Samuel Pond. It also includes photos and the history of a resort built in 1877 on the lake’s east shore called Colonel William King’s Lake Calhoun Pavilion. It lasted only a decade before fire destroyed it.

The authors also delve into the area’s park and recreation activities, which then, as now, drew many people to the area.

The Lurline Rowing Club on Lake Calhoun in 1877 — whose members are pictured to the left — became a prestigious club in its day. The equestrian classes from the horse stables at 29th Street & Emerson Avenue South were popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Uptown’s residential development is also fascinating, especially for current residents. The book includes several photographs of Uptown homes — many still standing — including some from the 1850s. Imboden said they found a great old picture of their CARAG family home but decided to leave it out of the book in lieu of others.

The book also includes the building of roads, the Walker Library (old and new), churches and synagogues. Imboden said while many public and religious institutions helped them find pictures, researching infrastructure was tougher, especially finding out exactly when the city extended Lagoon Avenue past Hennepin Avenue. (Imboden still doesn’t know but estimated that Lagoon cut through sometime between the 1950s and 1970s.)

For the siblings, tracing the history of area public schools was especially interesting since they went to school in the area and their mother still works as an educational assistant at Jefferson School, 1200 W. 26th St.

Imboden, who has worked for eight years as an office assistant for Southwest High School’s Community Education, said the school system provided fascinating photos of buildings long gone, such as the Calhoun School on Girard Avenue between Lake and 31st streets. It served area students from 1887 to 1975, when it was torn down.

In subsequent chapters tracing the area’s signature business node, the book paints a poignant picture of Uptown as a constantly morphing hub of Southwest.

The book shows photos of Russell Lund starting in the 1920s as an employee at Uptown’s Hove’s Grocery store. In 1964, Lund took over what Uptown shoppers now know as Lunds Foods, 1405 W. Lake St.

The book also details the creation of Calhoun Square, 3001 Hennepin Ave. S., in the 1970s and 1980s, on the site of the former Calhoun School. The battle over "Updale" centered on community concerns that the structure would be too suburban.

While many photos are from public collections such as the Minneapolis Library, Hennepin History Museum and the Minnesota Historical Society, there are also many photos from private collections.

Imboden said those who helped immensely included Calhoun Square founder Ray Harris and the Legeros family, who formerly owned the famous Rainbow Caf/.

Exposing the past for the future

This is the first book for the siblings, but they say, given their attachment to the area and their education and work experience, the project is logical.

Phillips has a masters degree in early American culture from the University of Minnesota and has been working with historical institutions in Virginia and D.C., although she longs to return to Minneapolis.

Imboden should graduate in May with a degree in urban development; he said researching Uptown’s history fed his interest in urban and transportation planning, as well as redevelopment.

"We have to know where we were to understand where we want to go," he said.

For example, parking is not a recent problem in the area, he said, noting 1920s newspaper articles that talked of congestion and traffic. The city is still studying parking availability in Uptown and how to improve it. "You can’t even talk about things if you don’t even have an idea of what was there," he said.

Arcadia Publicity Manager Stephanie Keller said, "It’s sort of unusual [to have young authors], but if they have strong writing skills and a connection to the area, we’re willing to work with them."

(Keller said Arcadia also has recently released "Reform Jews of Minneapolis," a history of the local Jewish community.)

Imboden said the writing process was very quick; they hatched the idea for a book in March, started in May and finished putting it together by mid-August.

The initial print run is 1,200 copies; Imboden and Phillips say they spent between $800 and $1,000 of their own money, mostly to acquire photos, and will get paid royalties based on sales. They say they don’t plan to write another book, content that they have helped preserve the history of the place they love, from which future generations can learn.

For more information about "Uptown Minneapolis," visit Southwest bookstores. For information about other Arcadia publications, visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.