The infancy of the Southwest Journal

In January 1990, a 12-page, tabloid-sized newspaper appeared in Southwest Minneapolis for the very first time — dropped on the doorsteps of Linden Hills residents and stacked in drugstore and supermarket newsstands in the neighborhoods north of Minnehaha Creek.

Printed in black and green ink, the cover of the Southwest Journal’s premiere issue featured a photo of a flock of geese feeding beside Lake Calhoun and a stylized drawing of the Como-Harriet trolley. The headline above the publisher’s introductory column declared: “Marching into the future with a new newspaper.”

Three decades later, the paper is still marching into the future and its early issues make for a fascinating time capsule. 

In 1990, commercial recycling began in Uptown with a $16,000 grant from the county. Lake and Lagoon avenues were turned into one-way streets in the hope of easing traffic congestion and “discourag[ing] motorists from cutting through surrounding neighborhoods.” Residents protested construction of the high-rise Calhoun Beach Club Apartments. Construction began on a $3 million expansion of the Washburn Library.

Writers reported stories on airplane noise complaints, auto thefts, magnet schools and the uncertain fate of light-rail transit. Real estate features gave tips on prepping your home for sale and making the choice between remodeling and moving. Ads from Broders’ and Sebastian Joe’s promised half-off focaccia bread and ice cream that’s “INDESCRIBABLE!! LICK! after LICK! after LICK!” Poetry editor Yvonne Hunter evoked the feeling of “Southwest in April”: “Hoppity, hippity,/ slippity, sloppity;/ some Southwest springtimes/ are not quite so hottity!”

The paper’s early issues featured plenty of sophomoric diversions.

Staff roamed the streets, snapping residents’ photos and asking them off-kilter questions: “Do you believe in angels?” “What would you do if you were the last person on Earth?” “What is the most terrifying kitchen appliance in your house?” (“My computer,” replied a man pictured without a shirt. “It’s showing me how slow my learning curve is.”)

In the opinion pages, a sardonic figure with the pseudonym “Bart Johns” held forth on “the latest craze in women’s swimwear, the G-String.” “I would imagine there is a lot of winter whiteness on many of the local behinds, and sunburn is bound to be a problem,” he wrote.

In its youth, the Southwest Journal was a chaotic, informal operation, with a small team of half a dozen or so writers gathering each month to brainstorm story ideas in the Linden Hills kitchen of co-founders Janis Hall and Terry Gahan.

The paper’s staff had a sense of fun and freedom but also of civic duty and ambition.

In her column introducing the paper to the people of Southwest Minneapolis, Hall chose to start with a quote from Will Rogers: “All I know is just what I read in the papers.”