|Photo Tours, Travelogues, And Random Topics|
Odd Twin Cities — The Suburban Edition
A Photo Tour Of Odd, Unusual, And
Sites In The Twin Cities Suburban Areas
||Here are a collection of odd, unusual,
and interesting locations in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul suburban area
that I have stumbled over in the past 20 years since I have moved to the Twin
Cities. If you know of other similar stories or things in the area that are
just plain odd, please let me know.
Note—click on each photo to see the full size image.
This is the golden temple of the Eckankar's, a modern version of the
religion of ancient Egypt and the Pharaohs. It is built in the shape
of a pyramid much like the great pyramids that still stand outside of
Cairo. The Eckankar's bill themselves as a religion of light and sound.
Opponents refer to them as a new age cult. Either way, I find it difficult
to follow how an ancient Egyptian religion came to be headquartered in
And directly across the street is Paisley Park, a modern day temple
built by a Prince, Prince Rogers Nelson, to celebrate his own greatness.
In its first ten years of operations, Paisley Park was used to record
many pop artists, and also as rehearsal space for a number of major
rock tours. It has been closed to the public since 1996 as Prince now
records every waking moment of his life for documentary purposes.
This structure was built in the summer of 2005 on the north side of the
MSP airport just off of 28th avenue. It features an elevated pad, a
circular ring of lights, and a cone-shaped center pylon. The only rational
explanation is that the MSP is now on the cutting edge of supporting
passenger UFO operations, and this is the UFO landing pad.
In reality, this is a VOR, a device used for air navigation. It sends
out highly directional beams of radio waves. A receiver in an aircraft
can follow these beams (called radials) just like a automobile driver
following the center line of a highway. The airport VOR was located in
the southwest area of the airport, but that land was taken up by the
new north-south runway. Why the VOR is placed on this kind of structure
is a mystery to me. All other VORs that I have seen are at ground level.
During the energy crisis in the 1970's, a new style of house was
developed to take advantage of the natural heating and cooling effects of
the earth. Called Earthshelter, three walls of a house would be built
into a side hill, and the fourth wall would be exposed. The earth would
maintain a constant 60 degree temperature, making it easy to heat or cool
In general, earth shelter houses were considered to be on the fringe of
traditional housing, something that you only saw in rural areas. But in
1978, a local Minneapolis architect designed and built a block long row
of earth shelter homes. These interesting houses are located on the
frontage road to I-94 east of downtown Minneapolis. Tens of thousands
of people drive by everyday and never realize that these unique houses
are even there. Even better, the earth in front of the houses not only
saves energy, it is a great sound insulator to dampen the freeway noise.
Every city has a building that kills businesses. In many cases, it is
a restaurant. I recall a building in Madison that had restaurant after
restaurant open up, all of which failed in a year or so.
This building is the same thing, except on a much larger scale. It is
the building that kills corporations. Located in Eden Prairie off of
Highway 212, this was the home of Lee Data. Lee Data was a successful
maker of clone terminals for IBM mainframes. About the time they built
this building and moved in, the mainframe market started downhill, and
Lee Data never really caught on to the PC market. They rapidly went
out of business.
Next up was Northgate. They were a huge maker of IBM PC clones.
In fact, they were the Dell of their day, running head to head with
Compaq in the marketplace.
As they made it big, they moved into this building as their new world
headquarters and manufacturing plant. About that time, the computer
clone industry moved to southeast Asia, and both Gateway and Dell ate
Northgate's lunch. Northgate soon went out of business.
Then came Best Buy. At the time, they were a regional electronics
superstore going head to head with Highland Superstores and Team.
Best Buy moved into this building as their new headquarters with hopes
of taking their concept national. Instead, a disastrous decision to
get into movie rentals and computer problems brought them to the brink
of bankruptcy. Best Buy survived only because they were a public company
and could sustain huge losses until they got things sorted out.
So, the building that eats corporations has 2 confirmed kills, and 1 near
miss. Today, it sits empty after Best Buy moved out in 2003, waiting
for its next victim.
Note—as of January 2008, Supervalu is moving in this building,
apparently to be a new IT building and data center. Lets hope that
Supervalu does not meet the same fate as it predecessors.
This is an otherwise normal looking railroad bridge. It crosses Snelling
Ave just south of I-94 in St Paul. But at closer look, the closer
span is a much lighter built structure than the railroad span behind
it. If you look closely to the very left of the photo, and the 2nd
photo, you can see that this bridge actually carries a large silver
pipe. That bridge is not a railroad bridge after all, it simply carries
this big pipe.
If you trace the route of this pipe, you find it running along the
railroad tracks going east all the way to the river flats area near the
Smith Street High Bridge. Going west, the pipe goes underground in
the Cretin Ave area. After doing a bit of research, this pipe turns
out to be a very high pressure steam pipe owned by District Energy.
It runs from the NSP power plant in St Paul, and it supplies a single
customer, the Rock Tenn Corporation paper mill on Wabash Ave just north
of I-94 near the Cretin-Vandalia exit. This pipe is the longest single
customer steam pipe known to exist.
High pressure steam is widely used in the Twin Cities. District Energy
supplies steam to over 140 buildings in St Paul, and the U of M has an
extensive steam distribution system. A similar system in Minneapolis
also distributes cooling water to several major buildings for air
Note—as of late 2007, the District Energy power plants are converting
to new fuels, and the steam service will be discontinued. This leaves
the paper mill without a permanent source of energy to run the plant. As
a result, they are facing a plant shutdown.
The Twin Cities grew up as railroad towns. Rail lines crisscross the
cities, many of which have since been abandoned. Minneapolis and some
western suburbs have put these rail lines to use as commuter bicycle lines.
The result are wide flat bike trails that are grade separated from traffic.
In some places, the trails are much like bicycle freeways, complete with
entrance and exit ramps and multiple lanes. The lower photos shows one
such bicycle overpass.
When driving north on Cedar Ave out of Apple Valley, you can sometimes
see a giant golf ball or soccer ball located to the west of the highway.
This thing turns out to be the approach radar for the FAA, used to
direct air traffic between the airport and cross-country air routes that
are controlled by FAA air traffic control centers. This radar station
was way out in the country when it was first built. Today, it is in
the middle of a suburban neighborhood with houses built next door and
across the street.
Often called the World's Largest Snowman, this 54-foot tall snowman is
neither made of snow or is it the worlds largest snowman. It is tall,
but snowmen built by other cities are now taller. It is built of
stucco, and as a result, it can claim to be the world's largest stucco
snowman. It was built in 1974 for the area Sno-Daze celebration. The
annual event featured a large snowman for many years, but the winter of
1974 had almost no snow. As a result, the local Jaycees built this
stucco snowman. It was later moved near highway 36 so it would be
seen by passing traffic. Highway 36 is being rebuilt in a trench in
front of the snowman, so traffic can no longer see the giant snowman.
Maybe they will move it yet again.
This is the sign for the Best Buy store in Edina, located just behind
Southdale Mall at 66th and York. What is unusual is that this is the
Best Buy that time forgot. It is still set up in the Concept II style
where they had a showroom and back warehouse, except that the warehouse
has since been remodeled into more store space. The building is very
small for a Best Buy, and the parking lot is so small that it wraps
around the building. Other Best Buy locations have been rebuilt twice
since then, and they are currently using a layout called Concept V.
The answer is that this was the Best Buy store that founder Richard
Schulze's wife Sandy managed. Sandy was very much part of Best Buy, and
a key partner in building Best Buy into a retail powerhouse. Tragically,
Sandra Schulze was diagnosed with cancer and died just as Best Buy really
hit high gear. As a memorial, Best Buy maintains this store in the same
condition it was when Sandy last ran the store, complete with the old
Best Buy Superstore logos and signage.
This is a very odd little McDonalds Restaurant located in the parking
lot of the Centennial Lakes Plaza off of France Ave in Edina. The
building almost looks like a PhotoMat store or a JavaHut drive through.
What it actually does is serve as the drive though for a much larger
McDonalds that is located in the mall. The satellite drive though
has the order taking machine, a drive through window, beverage machines,
and a ice cream machine. The rest of the food is made in the main
location in the mall, and is sent out to the satellite using pneumatic
message tubes. The fast speed of the pneumatic tubes allows for food
orders to be filled very quickly.
Update — It appears that this McDonalds closed in early 2011. It
is very unusual to see a McDonalds location close. Part of the plaza
is being redeveloped for a new Whole Foods Market.
What does jewelry have to do with White Castle Hamburgers, and why is it
located on Lyndale Ave? The story goes back to 1926, when the White
Castle Hamburger chain entered the Minneapolis market. Their 8th location
was built in 1927 at 616 Washington Ave SE. White Castle had a history of
problems with renewing land leases for such small locations that they built
their buildings to be portable. They could be disassembled, moved, and
put back up in just a few days. That happened to this location in 1936,
so the store was moved to 329 Central Ave SE. White Castle decided to
build a modern restaurant near that location in 1983. As a result, this
building was no longer needed. Local historic groups raised money and
moved the building to 3252 Lyndale Ave S, refurbished it, and rented it
out to small retail shops. It is currently open as the Castle Jewelers.
So, this is what happens when you put too much water in one of those
spherical water towers. Or at least that is what looks like has happened
to this water tower located on US-10 in Blaine. In reality, this is a
huge 1-million gallon water tower, and it was built with a donut shape
cross-section. Normally a water tower of this size and shape is built with
legs on the outside, and you don't notice the unusual indent in the bottom.
In this case, with a single center support, the water tank looks like it has
collapsed down onto itself. While the multi-leg version of this design is
common, the single support version is very rare.
This is the famous Nordic Ware tower in Saint Louis Park, located next to the
Nordic Ware kitchenware factory. Given its location, it must have something
to do with manufacturing plastic or maybe is a water tower for the plant?
Actually, the tower predates Nordic Ware by 50 years. It was built in 1899
by Frank Peavey and Charles Haglin as an experiment to see if a reinforced
concrete silo could be used to store grain. The tower was built to a height
of 60 feet using steel hoops as reinforcement. The tower was filled with
grain and was allowed to sit through the winter. When the grain was tested
the following spring, it was found to be cleaner and had fewer insect and
rodent problems. Some predicted that the tower would explode when it was
emptied, but no such thing happened. The tower was further built to be
125 feet tall, but was never used for grain again. The builders went on
to found the Peavey Corporation, which is a large grain elevator operator.
The experimental tower in Saint Louis Park was a model for the large grain
elevators that they would build in the 20th century.
Nordic Ware now owns the property, and uses the tower as an advertisement.
The structure is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With
the opening of the new Lilac Way Park at the southeast corner of the MN-100
and MN-7 interchange, the base of the tower is now visible from a public
This odd shaped building sprouted along the north side of the I-35W and MN-62
Crosstown Commons in late 2005. It is the home of Peters Billiards, the largest
game room superstore in a 5-state area. They were notified in 2003 that their
existing building would be taken as part of the highway project planned for
late in the decade. The replacement building was built to look like a giant
pool table. The silver panels simulate the pockets on a pool table, and the
building slants outward at the top much like a bar or arcade style table.
These two buildings are the gate houses and guard shacks for the former
Armour meat packing plant in South Saint Paul. The meat packing plants
are long gone, and the last of the stockyards closed in 2008. This is all
that remains of what was once the largest stockyards on the planet. It is
amazing how fast this 120 year history of livestock sales and processing was
wiped from the map.
This structure, which looks like a monument to Marge Simpson's hairdo, is a
beehive style fireplace. It was once located along highway MN-100 in Saint
Louis Park inside an interchange loop from northbound MN-100 to westbound
Minnetonka Blvd. The beehive disappeared in late 2008. It turns out that
it was relocated to a new park near the southeast corner of the MN-100 and
MN-7 interchange near the Nordic Ware tower.
This structure dates back to 1939. It was build as a grille in Lilac Park,
which was one of seven roadside parks built along Lilac Way. Lilac Way
was the first expressway built in the Twin Cities, running along the path
of the present day MN-100. The WPA built the parks, and the local garden
clubs lined 12-1/2 miles of roadway with lilacs. All but two parks were
lost to highway expansion. Lilac Way was all but gone following the road
work to improve the exits at MN-7 and Minnetonka Blvd. The City of Saint
Louis Park rescued the remaining structures from the old Lilac Park in
October, 2008, and built a new Lilac Park where the renovated structures
were opened to the public in 2009.
I have since learned that a second beehive fireplace survives in Grasser
Park in Robbinsdale. Again, much of the park was taken for or disrupted
by the MN-100 rebuild in the mid-2000s. The fireplace is in the lower
photo. The city of Robbinsdale is working to restore the park and the
other stone work that was removed, including a number of vintage stone
Why is there a red chair hanging from the wall of the amusement park at the
Mall of America? The second photo gives a clue to the story. The amusement
park sits on land that once was the baseball field where the Minnesota
Twins played through the 1981 season. The location of the home plate is
marked with a plaque in the floor in front of the Orance Streak roller
coaster (formerly known as the Rip Saw Roller Coaster).
On June 3, 1967, Twins star Harmon Killebrew hit the longest home run ever
launched from home plate at Metropolitan Stadium. It landed in the second
deck of left field, where it struck and damaged a chair. To commemorate
the event, the Twins painted the chair red, and never sold that chair again.
The red chair on the wall above the log flume ride marks the spot where the
red chair was once located in the stands some 520 feet from home plate.
On a sad note, these photos were taken on May 17, 2011, the day that Harmon
Killebrew lost his battle with cancer.
This is a somewhat unusual McDonalds sign in that it doesn't say McDonalds
on it. It is also unusual that it is on a large sign structure with several
other signs. What makes this location in Lakeville, Minnesota, different is
that the site at highway 70 and I-35 was the very first McStop, McDonalds
foray into the truck stop business. The concept was a McDonalds themed
truck stop that could be rolled out across the Interstate highways of America
such that the golden arches would own this industry.
The reality turned out a little different. The Lakeville location was too far
out of the Twin Cities for outbound trucks to use--they would fill up at their
terminals before hitting the highway. And inbound trucks would simply drive
the few extra miles to make it to their destination. The developer of this
McStop and a few others in the Midwest went bankrupt. The Lakeville location
is now a series independent businesses, such as a Holiday station, Motel 6,
and two small strip malls.
That wasn't the end of McStop, however. McDonalds reformulated the concept,
and a number of US locations have been successful, including Saint Cloud.
The concept was also rolled out internationally where it has been much more
It isn't odd to find an auto glass store located in the Twin Cities area,
especially not in an area full of auto parts and service shops as you find
along highway 5 in Chanhassen. What is odd here is the history behind this
building. It started life as a MN-DOT emissions test station. In the late
1980s, the Twin Cities was not meeting federal air quality standards. As a
result, emissions testing was mandated before you could renew your license
plates. Stations like this were set up all over the metro area.
Over time, the emissions testing program was recognized to be an expensive
failure. Very few vehicles failed the test. That was due to program rules
where only new vehicles needed to be tested. They always passed since they
were built to meet emissions standards. Older vehicles that produced the
majority of the pollution were exempt from testing. As a result, the
program was scrapped in 1999. Most of the buildings were demolished as the
valuable properties were redeveloped, but a few of these test center buildings
still exist some 12 years after the fiasco was put to bed.