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Old Minneapolis memories return through social media

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Minneapolis hasn't always been so great about protecting its past, but social media is bringing back memories for thousands now that a Facebook page featuring old images of places and items from the city's past is posting little pieces of 'Old Minneapolis.'

In the 1960s, roughly 200 buildings were destroyed within the city's borders -- 60 percent of them in the old business district.

What survived has since become very precious, especially for those who are old enough to remember what has been lost and young enough to fight to keep it from happening again.

Nostalgia is a funny thing because it can make you homesick even when you're already home, longing for the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the distantly familiar.

For Jesse Jamison, the memories date back to when he was 13 and would take a bus from Brooklyn Park to the big city of Minneapolis.

"Oh, it was just fantastic," he recalled. "Old Block-E was still there."

That was the beginning of his long love affair with Minneapolis. So, when his daughter told him about this new thing called Facebook, he found an outlet for his obsession by starting up a page called "Old Minneapolis" where people could share pictures and memories of all things the city has seen come and go -- the lost diners and forgotten bars, buildings gutted by fire or razed by ignorance.

The old Metropolitan Building was torn down in 1961 -- along with much of the Gateway District, which was Minneapolis' own Skid Row.

Surfers who scroll through the page can find a picture of the Gay 90's back when it was straight, or stumble across a bill from a tonsillectomy performed at St. Mary's Hospital for $26. They'll also see familiar faces -- and strange one too, including the police mug shot of a mysterious young woman.

The photo of the incarcerated Mona Lisa launched 73 comments. What was her crime? What was her fate?

There's a little bit of everything, but nothing before a particular date. The year 1998 saw a turning point of sorts, according to Jamison. That's when he says the gritty gave way to the banal -- a new form of urbanism that didn't have much in the way of new ideas.

"There were places on the old Block-E that weren't in the suburbs," he said. "Then, when they rebuilt it -- movie theaters, everywhere; Borders books, everywhere -- but there was no Moby Dick's anywhere. No Brady's, or Rife Sports."

Yet, the pictures also convey a longing for a time that never really was. Back then, Hennepin Avenue was dirty, congested -- and yes, there was crime. Still, many can also see the future of the city in the pictures of years gone by.

"Nobody's a bigger fan of nostalgia than I am," said Patrick Coleman, head of acquisitions for the Minnesota Historical Society. "I really wallow in it."

Coleman said he thinks the Old Minneapolis page is more than a trip down memory lane. To him, it's also a cautionary tale.

"Why, why isn't the gas station on the corner?" he asked. "Why isn't there a street car intersection with all the lively businesses there?

Nowhere are those concerns more evident than in north Minneapolis, where small mom-and-pop stores have simply vanished.

"They were like a neighborhood downtown," Coleman said. "A lot of those fabulous little business districts were on the intersection of trolly lines -- and when the street cars went away, the economy folded."

In just two years, the Facebook page has garnered more than 10,000 likes -- and some die-hard Facebook friends. Among them is Alan Freed, a radio producer who now lives in Los Angeles but is still homesick for a city that's gone.

"It's interesting to look at it in the 30s, 40s, 50s -- when it hit its peak and it almost felt like New York," he said.

The social media site has the capacity to make the old suddenly new again, and there is talk of bringing back those street cars, getting people out of the skyways and back on the street.

Perhaps one day, a younger generation will feel sentimental about a Starbucks or wistful for a McDonalds -- who knows?

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