Block E, Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960s Print

Block E, Downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1960s Print

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Great view of block E on Hennepin Avenue looking south from 6th Street from the 1960s.

The Shubert Theater (later the Alvin — and the Academy after that) was built in 1910 on 7th Street. The six-story Jeweler's Exchange Building went up next to the Shubert at the intersection of 1st Avenue North and 7th Street in 1913.

The block was crowded by buildings constructed at the beginning of the 1900s; arcade galleries, pool halls, ice cream stores, credit agencies, a grocer (Great Northern Market), bars, restaurants and theaters were among the many tenants. A notable venue, the 620 Club, operated at 620 Hennepin from the 1930s until 1971. Renowned for its roasted turkey, the 620 Club billed itself as "Where Turkey Is King" and was owned by Ernie Fliegel and Max Winter. Fliegel and Winter were friendly with a number of pro athletes who would visit the restaurant and cocktail lounge throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s; during this period Winter brought major league basketball and football to the city as founder of the Minneapolis Lakers (Fliegel was a silent partner) in 1947 and the Minnesota Vikings in 1960.

After 1950, as the rest of downtown gentrified, especially as the part of the Gateway District east of Hennepin was demolished and replaced with modern structures and parking lots, lower Hennepin Avenue became known as a place for drunks, crime, and prostitution. While Block E was not the center of the squalor it was only a few blocks away and over time it became the poster child area for downtown's uglier side. The 620 Club in 1971 gave way to Moby Dick's, which became known as one of the city's most seedy bars. Unsavory establishments, including rough bars, flophouses, and adult movie theaters settled in on Block E in the 1970s and 1980s. The opposite side of Hennepin deteriorated during this period as well, with the Aster and Gopher Theaters — screens that for decades had booked mainstream fare (the Gopher had the downtown showing of "Jaws" in 1975) — switching to adult films. In the 1970s, Block E's Hennepin face was anchored at each end by a Shinder's news vendor; Shinder's began at the 6th Street corner in 1916 and later split into two companies, framing the block as bookends might at opposite corners.

By the 1980s, the block was one of the choice places in Minneapolis for punks to hang out and it became a creative breeding ground for the local punk music scene, in part due to the presence of a record store beginning in the mid-1970s (Wax Museum, then Hot Licks, then Northern Lights). Block E was also known for its cheap rent, drawing such establishments as Rifle Sport Gallery. From the mid-1980s forward, the Minneapolis police had a constant presence in the area; it was normal to see squad cars or a police van parked between the northbound traffic lanes and contraflow bus lane.

Other establishments on Block E during the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s included (but not limited to) the Rand Hotel, Brady's Pub, Musicland, the Venice Cafe, La Casa Coronado restaurant, the Bottle Shop liquor store, Great Northern Market, Luigi's restaurant, National Beauty Supply, Best Steak House, Hollywood Beauty School, Sun's, Phase I, Dun-Rite Cleaners, Lee's Restaurant, Northside Bakery, Egekvist Bakery, Josid Hardware, Asuka restaurant, Gary's Coney Island, The Academy Theater (previously the Shubert and the Alvin), the World Theater, The Jewelry Exchange Building, and a McDonald's "Town House" restaurant franchised by McTeufel Inc.

A three-second shot of the Shubert/Alvin/Academy and World Theaters can be seen in 1984's Purple Rain. The Shubert is the only surviving structure from Block E, having been moved in 1999 to a new location a block north on Hennepin Avenue. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest structure ever moved on rubber-wheeled dollies.

By 1987, the city council voted to demolish the entire Hennepin side of the block, giving tenants a limited amount of time to relocate. Moby Dick's and Rifle Sport Gallery did not survive the move, although the owner of Moby's briefly ran a bar called Melville's on Washington Avenue. The 7th Street Shinder's moved to a former Burger King at 8th and Hennepin, and the 6th Street Shinder's moved to the 900 block of Nicollet Mall. (By 2007, both locations had closed.)

Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

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