A wander through decaying history

A week and a half ago, on April 25th, I got to see a piece of Minnesota history that I hadn’t even known existed. In downtown Minneapolis there is a building that was built as an armory for the Minnesota National Guard back in 1935-36. It still stands, and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980’s.

It looks kind of like the Superfriends' Hall of Justice! (Photo credit: Tim Kiser. Used under CC BY 2.5 license)

The armory was built with a Public Works Administration grant, and is in the PWA Moderne style. Over the years in addition to serving as a National Guard armory, it was a venue for civic events. It’s been used for concerts, sporting events and political conventions. It even served as the primary home court for the Minneapolis Lakers for a season. Prince and Aerosmith both shot music videos in it – the 1999 video in 1982, and the I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing video in 1998. The majority of the building is now unused except for the main floor which is being used as a parking garage.

The Armory full of parked cars. (Photo credit: Tim Kiser. Used under CC BY 2.5 license)

When you go into the building it looks like the parking area is all there is to it. But there’s so much more! I was meeting photographer extraordinaire Kyle Cassidy & my friend Jenn, who was assisting him, there. When I got there the parking lot attendent told me that he wasn’t sure where Kyle & Jenn had wandered off to, but he took me to the back corridors, through a door held shut with a chain that we had to duck under, and up a dark stairwell with a few rays of dust-filtered sunlight showing the way.

It. was. so. freaking. cool!

I’d texted Jenn that I’d arrived and so she met me with a flashlight & led me up to where Kyle was shooting Teratoma from the North Star Rollergirls. I fell instantly in love with the broken down building with its cracked floors, peeling paint and dead birds. I so desperately want to get back into this building with more than just an iPhone to shoot with. I want to see more than just the few rooms I saw in my hour or so there.

Here are a few of the images I got with the iPhone camera.

There was a sink, and toilet paper, but no toilet.


This pigeon was long dead by the time we encountered him.


I don't think the elevator is going anywhere.

This was the ceiling. The paint was peeling off in sheets.

Big empty room.

This mural was painted just a few years after the building first opened. The artist was Sr. Lucia Wiley.

"History of the Minnesota National Guard" by Lucia Wiley; WPA, 1938

To get more info on this cool building and to see some more pictures of it, here’s a link to James Lileks site where he talks about it.

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