Block E (Minneapolis)


Block E (Minneapolis)

Block E is the name of a block on Hennepin Avenue in downtown Minneapolis that is also bordered by 7th Street, 1st Avenue North, and 6th Street. It is considered part of the Downtown West neighborhood in Minneapolis, but the block is more of a gateway between that neighborhood and the North Loop, commonly known the Warehouse District. It is two blocks south of the Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue light rail station on the Hiawatha Line.

1850 - 1950

In its early days, Block E was part of an early suburb of mansions and row houses. The Jefferson School, one of Minneapolis's early elementary schools, was located at First Avenue North and Seventh Street, on the present day site of the music club First Avenue. The mansions at the corner of Hennepin and Sixth were visible in postcards up to the 1920s when small commercial buildings completely replaces the old houses.

During this time, the commercial and political hub of Minneapolis was known as Bridge Square. It was small and centered around the convergence of Hennepin and Nicollet Avenue. Most of the early commercial activity in Minneapolis took place there.

However, Bridge Square lost its status as the hub of Minneapolis by the turn of the century. Retail demand roared down every major street downtown. It was this increase of demand that changed Block E from a residential block to a commercial one. The Jeweler's Exchange Building, located near the intersection of First Avenue North and Seventh Street, was built in 1913 (it was six stories high). The Shubert theater (the Alvin Theater for a time and The Academy after that), was built in 1910 on seventh street, across from present day First Avenue.

The block was crowded by buildings built at the turn of the century and during the roaring twenties, the only survivor being the Shubert Theater (now on Hennepin between 5th and 6th streets). Arcade galleries, pool halls, ice cream stores, credit agencies, and theaters were common establishments that served both the high-end retail workers to the south on Nicollet Avenue (now the Nicollet Mall) as well as rail and industry workers to the north.

1950 - 1988

The impact of automobiles, whose effect began to be felt seriously in the 1950s, became apparent in this time period. Parking lots began to demolish and replace the two to five-story buildings from the turn of the century, especially at the intersection of 1st Avenue North and 6th Street. These buildings did not survive because they were small (see external link #1 ) and were not a part of the historic Warehouse district, which began further east by the Mississippi River.

The entire block became known as a place for drunks, crime, and prostitution by the 1970s, especially on Hennepin Avenue. One of the most famous bars, Moby Dicks, was known for its "Whale of a Drink" (as well as being one of the best/worst dives in town). "Unsavory" establishments, mostly bars and stores for pornography, replaced former retail stores.

However, this block was one of choice places for punks and became a breeding ground for punk music and the Minneapolis sound, and was also known for its cheap rent, drawing such establishments as Rifle Sport Gallery. Operators of Shinders, the famous Twin Cities newsstand and book store chain that began at Sixth Street and Hennepin Avenue early in the 1920s, split into two companies and locations, each one framing the Hennepin façade of the block as bookends might at opposite corners. Following the demolition of Block E, Shinders a block down the street to a site at 8th and Hennepin, formerly a Burger King restaurant. This location closed permanently in 2007.

Other establishments along Block E included The Rand Hotel, Brady's Pub (a somewhat more civilized atmosphere than Moby Dick's), and a franchised McDonald's restaurant.

A three-second shot of the Shubert/Alvin/World theater can be seen in "Purple Rain". The theater is the only surviving structure from Block E, having been moved a block north to a new location on Hennepin Avenue. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest structure ever moved on rubber-wheeled dollies. [http://www.bkbm.com/projects/shubert.php]

By 1987, the city council of Minneapolis voted in favor of demolishing the entire block, giving local establishments a limited amount of time before they had to move. Moby Dick's and Rifle Sport Gallery did not survive the move, and have become local legends since then.

The city had an official celebration of their decision, during which they symbolically smashed up the adult stores, exploded "balloons arranged to look like sticks of dynamite", and even sang a song to the tune of "Bye Bye Birdie":

"Pack up all your crime and porn,Block or scorn, be reborn,Bye bye Block E"

"Moby Dick's is beached at last,Problems vast, now are past,Bye bye Block E"

"No one here can stop and aggravate us,No more hard-luck stories will deflate us,Say goodbye to urban blight,Now we'll light up the night,Bye bye Block E."

Demolition was scheduled and carried out in the teens of November in 1988.

Citizens who enjoyed Block E, in all of its squalor and reality, also had a celebration. Called "The True Tribute and Farewell to Block E", the celebration was held at First Avenue and showcased photographs, films, and salvaged signage of the block.

1988 - 2001

For over a decade, the block was a surface-level parking lot. The only structures on the entire block were the Shubert Theater and a two-story Billboard Advertisement. Many plans and discussions were held over the development of the land (which had a high value), but it was not until the late 1990s that a plan was actually carried out. The Shubert was moved next to the Hennepin Center for the Arts by the Minnesota Shubert Performing Arts and Education Center, and the Billboard was removed to make way for development.

2001 - Present

movie theater. The five-star Graves 601 luxury hotel occupies a majority of the block's frontage on First Avenue, and is 22 stories high. Local upscale restaurant and night club Bellanote is on First and Sixth Street. Other chains include Jimmy John's, Starbucks, and GameStop.

The new Block E is accessible from street level, and loosely models itself after buildings which previously existed on the site (specifically on Hennepin). The development also serves as an important link in Minneapolis's skyway system, connecting Target Center to City Center.

Supporters of the project expect that the new Block E will bring back retail that has historically left Hennepin Avenue for other enclosed malls clustered on the Nicollet Mall as well as in suburban malls. In re-establishing the "character" of Hennepin as a Theater District, the new block E also attempts to promote itself as "Block Entertainment".Fact|date=August 2008

Citing poor business and concerns over crime, Borders, one of the original tenants, closed their Block E location as of February 2, 2008. Another tenant, the club Escape Ultra Lounge, closed in July 2007. Crime has increased on downtown streets since the project was completed.Fact|date=August 2008

References

External links

* [http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=gravenues601hotel-minneapolis-mn-usa Emporis.com site for the Graves]
* [http://citypages.com/databank/25/1220/article12071.asp Q: When is a Mall Not a Mall, A: When It's Block E]
* [http://collections.mnhs.org/visualresources/image.cfm?imageid=72478&Page=3&Keywords=first%20avenue%20sixth%20street&SearchType=Basic Looking down First Avenue North towards sixth street]


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