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Ceridwen

Ceridwen

You kids get off my lawn. 

Map of Mass Transit and TP Healy Buildings

This is going to be of limited interest to most people here, because this is some incredibly nerdy, incredibly local stuff, but it's what I've been working on for the last few weeks. This link goes to a google map that plats houses built by Theron Potter Healy and the trolley lines in Minneapolis for the years between, say, 1875ish and 1910ish. The slider on the left will allow you to populate and depopulate the map with the houses and mass transit lines through the years, showing the direct relationship between mass transit and construction. 

 

But, backing up, allow me to tell a personal anecdote. When I was kid in the 70s, my folks were old house nuts. They bought a rotten old Queen Anne in the Wedge neighborhood of Minneapolis in 1976, and that neighborhood at that point was the burglary capital of the city. Due to their involvement in the neighborhood associations at the time, they became more and more interested in who had built these rotten old Victorians - so often mucked about with in the Depression for necessity (my childhood home had been a duplex at that time) and in later decades due to changing aesthetics.

 

The house I grew up in had every single stick of wood trim painted Pepto Bismol pink before my parents stripped it. When they had the floor of the dining room sanded - which was covered with age-darkened shellac in a uniform brown - a stunning mosaic parquet appeared. Who were these builders? How did their design influence the character of the city? You could see the influence if you drove around - the changing rooflines and floorplans - but they wanted to know the names and dates. The history of it all. Who were the people who made a Minneapolis house a recognizably Minneapolis house? 

 

Though a seriously onerous permit-pulling process, my dad, Anders Christensen, identified one master builder of Minneapolis as the most prolific. His name was Theron Potter Healy. He built well over 200 structures between the years of 1886 - when he moved to Minneapolis from Nova Scotia - to 1906, when he died. Now, the term master builder is often misunderstood - I've been to enough city council meeting to know that - and it doesn't mean that people thought his dungeon master skills were awesome. It's not Master Builder like Master of the Universe. A master builder was a occupation that existed before the split into architect and builder sometime after the turn of the 20th Century; a master builder was someone who designed and built the structure together. It was architect and artisan in one. 

 

I could seriously nerd out here about the shift between the age of the master builder and the White City of the Chicago World's Fair and the Crash of 1893 - I could, seriously - but I'm not going to this time. All I'm going to say is that economics and larger cultural shifts can make some serious changes in the way an individual can work their craft, which can be laid down on paper and stone and wood to see that shift. The history of an individual can be the history of a city in microcosm; this twenty year span of 200 buildings that are created and destroyed by the whims of the changing body politic. It's totally heavy, man.

 

Hey, don't bogart that. 

 

Anyway, I totally love this map. My husband and I have been peopling this map with buildings and overlays for the last whatever. I spent an ugly weekend inputting all the Healy permit data into a spreadsheet so that we could make his buildings show up on google maps. The grey buildings are the ones that have been torn down; the red ones are still standing. My husband got the idea to start platting the trolley lines year by year - to show how the mass transit drove construction - and you can now see how true that is.

 

We still need to work this somehow, but you can see how destructive the construction of Interstate 35 was, which took out whole blocks of Healy houses, whole neighborhoods, whole communities. The surburnization of the American city as a destructive force: driving construction to the suburbs and paving over the city neighborhoods. It wasn't as bad as the gutting of the Rondo neighborhood in St Paul, but it was still pretty bad. At this point I know I'm talking in local code, so I should probably stop.

 

So, the coolest new feature of our little google map is the overlay of historical maps by year, which you can see in transparency over the map of the city. You can see the shrinking and changing of lakes, the changing of street names, the farmsteads slowly overcome by the city grid. Minneapolis has always and ever been the most modern of the Twin Cities, but we have our history, even if we don't respect it like we should. The past is a non-renewable resource, as many of my compatriots keep screaming at city council meetings. 

 

"What's the Healy Project?" my daughter said to me recently. I realized she's third generation house nut, as I spun out an explanation I hoped a seven year old could understand. It's probably hopeless; there's no way she'll understand the importance of preserving our city's history put in any terms a seven year old can get. But I'm doing this for her, in a way, for the next generation. I hope she can walk the blocks of a city with a recognizable city architecture, not torn down for the easy land deal that drives all local corruption, local graft, local blindness. 

 

Anyway, it's a cool map. Please play with the toggles and features. It's a changing vision of a city which is still changing.