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Minneapolis Riverfront in the Days of Disco


The now-demolished Great Northern Depot in downtown Minneapolis could inspire many posts on railroads, how changes in transportation technology changed the role of railroads, and how that allowed planners to re-purpose land at the core of cities, specifically Minneapolis, since this depot stood at the gateway to Northeast Minneapolis. Those changes were driven by economics and politics.

But I’m not ready to launch into any of those. I just happened across an archive of photos of the Great Northern Depot from the 1970s. It was one of those times where I was following the intertracks without a destination in mind, and found a treasure. For railfans and history buffs, at least.

Mainstream preservationists and historians—if that’s not an oxymoron—seem mostly interested in façades. I’m more fascinated to understand how the buildings worked.

1978 view beside Post Office looking upriver toward GN Depot

Where the locomotive is has become West River Parkway. The beige building on the left is the downtown Post Office. The greenish arched bridge on the right is the Hennepin Avenue bridge that was replace by the current suspension bridge. In the background, behind more bridge approaches, is the front of the Great Northern depot. That site is now the Minneapolis Federal Reserve building.

With the photo being from winter, it makes the scene appear extra bleak and uninviting. I can understand why people want to reclaim riverfronts for recreational purposes. But this was honest, muscular blue-collar working riverfront. To me it is at least as beautiful as the parks which replaced it. Which raises points about cultural values and the philosophy behind a lost way of life.

At least we still have the pictures.

Hand-printed notice of closure of the GN Depot, March 1, 1978