Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Update on the skyway way

I was stunned to see that I am still getting hundreds of hits on this blog a month, despite my absence.  Let me explain my absence a bit.

Last year I began to feel crappy in July.  It persisted and got worse.  While I, as any good middle class hypochondriac would, expected cancer, etc, the doctors were baffled.  Each specialty I consulted with had their favorite problem that they tried to attach to my odd list of symptoms, but none were convinced and none tried to push me to really invasive procedures.

In January after six months of increasing misery, I contacted Mayo clinic on my own and through a series of fairly rapid encounters was told I had constrictive heart failure.  This is not classic heart failure, which occurs with the blockage of arteries.  This is an odd duck disease that can elude accurate diagnosis for years.

Long story short, I was unable to walk much at all due to extreme shortness of breath by August last year, and my final post in July was written sitting in a coffee shop in Edina.  After that, I was lucky to get up and make it to the car from the sofa, and to my desk from the car, and back home again.  I was swollen with fluids in my torso and legs.  It precluded my skyway adventures completely. You might say I couldn't put my heart into it anymore.

March 6 I showed up at St. Marys for an operation that removed the scarred tissue that constricted my heart.  I have been convalescing for a bit over six weeks now.  This involves walking the treadmill a couple of miles a day when I can.

Now, the funny thing is, that I started walking the skyways to get a mile or two in a day without having to use the treadmill we had just bought.  That was the reason for this blog in the first place.  Now that I have experienced full-on open heart surgery, I was grateful for the safety and convenience of the treadmill in the basement as I regained my balance, stamina and general mobility.

Soon I will be returning downtown.  Maybe in a week or three.  When I do, I will definitely hit the skyways again, with a fresh set of eyes and no expectations/

Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first skyway, which crossed Marquette between 6th and 7th Street S, you might expect to hear more about them. But you probably won't.  I suspect the topic is embargoed by the local powers that be, who have published the Minneapolis plan out to the year 2025 and who seem to find the skyways a bit of an embarrassment these days.


But another inspiration for "The Way of the Skyways" were the observations of the Chinese sage Lao Tzu.  He didn't write his Tao Te Ching around 300 B.C. to promote retail and entertainment in the provincial capital where he lived. He addressed the deeper issues that human soul will encounter in their journey on this planet.  And for me that journey can continue in its full mystery on the elevated walkways of this city.

In his own words:

"A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving."
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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Skyways as social media or advice to a young politician.

Social Media have been in my face a lot lately. From trying to follow my older sister's death through posted snippets on Facebook to listening to my wife's reflections on the addition of social media to their company's pr portfolio -- social media has played an unexpectedly intimate role in my day to day.
At the same time, I have dialed back my personal and professional involvement in social media considerably. After three years managing to keep about 1500 twitter followers following me, maintaining a blog or two, and keeping track of a widely dispersed family through FB, I have shifted my free time interest to Flickr.
It coincides with my committment to film photography as the hobby du jour.
So having taken a few weeks off all social media, blogging etc now, I am suddenly struck by the parallels between social media and the skyway system. But more to the point of my title, what about the skyways AS social media.  What insights can we find here that help the aspiring politician know how to approach the future of skyways, or the skyways as a potential campaign issue?

I wanted to explore this a bit, so I took out a piece of paper and decided to make a list. The very act of writing on paper was so disconcerting that I raced back to the keyboard to do a core dump as usual, instead of actually thinking anything through.

So what have we got on social media?
1. Social media are more media than social.  This isn't a drawback, and it doesn't place the blame for unsatisfactory social relationships on social media.  It just means, that if you don't know how to socialize, you aren't going to learn on FaceBook or Twitter.

2. Broadcast and narrowcast media amplify flaws in communication.  If you say something stupid to one person you know, they have probably heard it before and the net effect is small to nothing.  If you say something stupid to 5000 twitter followers or 5,000,000 YouTube watchers, well, there you go.  This tells us that social status is a brittle commodity in our society.

3. We don't know that media amplify strengths in communication.  You might turn a perfect phrase in a tweet and it could sink through the attention cracks of a vast number of literate followers for no particular reason.

4. People with few or no people skills will tend to do more harm than good in social situations of any consequence, but that simple fact hasn't figured into the design of any social media. The new meme of "curating" information is addressing this issue by finding ways to badge curators according to the value of their info product.  Facebook hasn't started a weighting system that will help you know if a stranger is a fool or a knave, however.  As far as facebook goes, nobody knows if you are a dog on the internet.  Still.

5. A reasonable conclusion to be reached from observing the social media revolution over the last decade is that they are effective at decentralizing existing information power, while they don't offer a values-based core on which to build a new information power base. This meme is making its rounds as "Social Media are good at revolution but they are no good at governance." They only offer a technology, which is pretty agnostic when it comes to socializing, or social values, or anything else involving consciousness, morality, intent, etc.  They can't really help make better decisions.  If they could, we could just elect Justin Bieber as president and move on to more important things.

6. Human nature requires a power structure.  It prefers a local, stable power structure that can mediate with larger, more volatile structures.  This power structure is instituted and maintained by yin energies that are flexible and attentive -- they  manifest as emotional currents that move in large rivers, but which have rapids, local eddies, and can overflow their banks on a periodic basis. Another way of saying that is "if mamma ain't happy ain't no one happy".  The yang component of the power system is instrumental.  Another way of saying that is that men are tools.

So what are the parallels to skyways here?

1. The skyways are more practical than stylish.  They are, thereby, more instrumental (yang) than status and power oriented (yin).  They appeal to men for their efficiency and solid design, and appeal to women for protection and efficiency, not for fun, beauty, style.  The corollary of this axiom is that skyway issues won't help get a politician into power.

2. A skyway system will not create a good street life in a city, but it won't suck the life out of an existing street life that is authentic.  And it certainly can't be blamed for a street life that doesn't exist.

3. Skyways are a brilliant example of public-private collaboration toward a greater good.  Just because they are brilliant doesn't guarantee anyone will recognize this in time to save them.

4. We don't purposefully screen out anyone from using the skyways.  They are as accessible to the criminal and psychopath as to the average citizen or civil leader.  There is an incidental tendency to screen out poor people, the homeless, etc but it is not a feature of the system or the interface to the system.  Attempts to create a criteria, or profile, of unacceptable users of the skyway will be resisted on principle, and also taken as a bid for power by the class of person defining the criteria.  There is a kind of cultural schizophrenia lurking in this fact, but that isn't our issue here.

5. The skyways are not about power.  Land is power.  Contracts are power.  Shifts in demographics create new power bases depending on land use.  Skyways join places the same way ligatures join notes in a score.  They are important to the sense and continuity of the composition, to the transitions, but they are not the notes themselves.  A politician interested in power must concentrate on the spaces the skyways join, and the people that are deselected or selected to move through them.  The skyways should be allowed to continue to take care of themselves.

6. Urban dynamics have been measured by economic means for centuries, and by entropic measures of distance and changes in value for decades.  By these measures, the skyways are practically invisible.  The new urban politician must create useful metrics from the intuition of amenity...the sense of what is liked and likable.  That will create a power base on what has been called affinity in the anthropology books.  Over the long run, affinity is the glue that holds communities together.  Another word for it is friendliness.  And we haven't gotten our heads around that most basic of social qualities yet when it comes to politics, economics, technology.  But we will.  It's human nature.
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Friday, June 10, 2011

This way that way skyway

I am never far from the skyways. My fascination with them has narrowed and compressed into glimpses. When I think it is time to move back out into the world, I catch a glimpse of something in the skyways that makes me smile or reminds me of something or holds my attention. So, even though I have thought of shutting down the blog and starting one about interesting backpacks people carry these days, I have decided to keep this on life support and see what happens.

Happy skies.
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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hiatus time in the sky

I have been doing this blog since last February.  It has served its original purpose, but in the meantime it has evolved and morphed into a different kind of project.  So I am going to take a break from Skywayway for a week or two and retool.  In the meantime, I highly recommend my Flickr site: .  That is where the action is for me at the moment.  Thanks for the interest from all over the world and the constant hits which kept me working away at the topic.  Check back in a while, or use this time to explore the parts of the blog you haven't seen yet!

Comments welcome, ideas encouraged, and remember: critical thinking is at a premium these days.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Commerce in the absence of friendship spells the doom of civility, our heritage in fact.

Several of the themes I have touched on in this blog involve the character of Minneapolis as a city, and the culture and manners of the people who live here.  Here is an excellent essay on some of the early influences on this area, particularly the impact that British policies and attitudes had in our relations with the Native Americans here.  We take the tragedy and folly of the 19th century treatment of Native Americans as a given, but this essay reveals that a far different outcome might have resulted from the French holding on to the area.  The key word is friendship, and the deeper moral dimension it brings to matters of trade and commerce.  Read this.  It is important, and timely.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Everything for Everybody

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Galeries were built in 1846, in Brussels, Belgium. They provided a climate controlled arcade more than two football fields in length.

"Under its motto "Omnibus omnia" (Everything for everybody), displayed in the fronton of its palace-like façade, the Passage Saint-Hubert attracted people of fashion. Brilliantly lit, it offered the luxury of outdoor cafés in Brussels' inclement climate, in an ambiance of luxury retailers that brought to Brussels the true feel of a European capital. In the premises of the journal, March 1, 1896, the first public showing of moving pictures took place of the cinematographers Lumière, fresh from their initial triumph in Paris." -- Wikipedia

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sky Busker

Larry has a "regular" gig in the 4th Ave. skyway. He shows up everyday at the same time and leaves at the same time. Just like a job. Except he gets to make up songs about the daily news on the spot.
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Seen and not taken

Things I saw, but did not photograph, on the skyway today: (all incidents verified by MyOwnEyes reality verification)
1. A live red rooster in the North Star Building.  The design studio on the skyway level hosts animal awareness lunch hour demonstrations occaisionally.  If you look through this blog you will see evidence of the live chicken event from a few months back.  I simply watched the chicken strut around on the terrazo floor for a few minutes, and was enthralled by how beautifully designed this guy was. Imagine if you woke up every day looking this well put together.  You can see his cousin at, thanks!
2. A human powered taxi on 3rd Ave. South.  It was an American version of the venerable rickshaw.  I have taken these in San Diego but it was the first time I have seen one in Minneapolis. The taxi was stopped at a red light and the driver suddenly jumped from his seat and walked back to secure the folding roof of the passenger seat.  A policeman was parked on Seventh and looked as surprised as I was by the incongruous mix of foot and vehicle in a traffic lane.  Our instincts tell us that drivers can't jump from their vehicles to zip things up in the middle of traffic, but our brains tell us "Hey, its a bike, get over it."
3. A small trailer taking bikes from rental bike rack to another.  Why did they need to carry the bikes on a trailer?  Couldn't they have ridden the bikes? Or waited until the Brownian Motion of the bike rentals redistributed them all evenly?
4. Some ladies lunching under the Au Bon Pain umbrellas in the Capella Tower northeast lobby.  There is no longer an Au Bon Pain restaurant on the ground floor -- its moved up to the skyway level, thank you, but the umbrellas add a kind of continental class to the empty lobby. (Hope they weren't waiting for service.)
5. Park Benches in the Baker Building promenade between the North Star Building and One Financial Plaza.  They face a high row of windows which open out onto a utility courtyard with lots of old brick and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning sheet metal on display.  I sat for a few minutes and watched the silhouetted skyway foot soldiers amble, stroll, hike, strut, march, shuffle, sashay, stalk, pace and skitter past me.  No one swooned,sprinted or staggered.  It was a good day.
6. A guy in spiked dreadlocks,  battered combat boots, and a Hells Angels jeans vest over a black leather jacket talking softly and animatedly to a pal in a silky-looking shirt and razor-creased pants, whose haircut cost $60 if it cost a dime.  They were the duo of the day for sheer visual contrast.  It would have made a great photo.

An image fast.

They say you need a fast lens to get images in low light.  I am performing an "image fast" that requires no lens.  Starting May 1st in the morning, I have left my cameras on the desk and confronted the world with my bare eyes, barely open.  It is an eye-opener to see without lenses for a while, to see without frames and without film, even though I wear glasses.  Many intriguing and lovely images have slipped my reflexive twitching shutter finger these last couple of days.

Without anything to take pictures with, I look inward.  There are many miles of skyways inside, an accumulation of many months of peripatetic meditation.  I close my eyes now, and step off into the memory grid.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

TCF atrium

Flag in the skylight, sculpture against the brick wall.
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The end

If you want to go to the furthest outpost of the skyways south, you walk through the Convention Center, go back up to the skyway level from the northwest corner, and follow the last little leg of skyway out as far as you can parallel to 13th St across Nicollet. The system deposits you at the Hyatt Regency. This piano greets you from the balcony. The painting of a piano above it is pretty edgy stuff for the skyways. Keep going along the balcony back north, and you exit on the access ramp, which you can follow down to Nicollet for a nice walk downtown, or to Loring Park.
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Four roofs

Four signature roofs of the Downtown skyline seen from the Orchestra Hall skyway.  Can you name them, left to right?

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

Now that would make a nice wedding present

Classic Jaguar on the Nicollet Mall. On the day of the Royal Wedding...a coincidence?
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A face only a toff could love

This vintage Jaguar sedan (I am guessing early 40s, although I have heard they didn't update the design during the war) was on display on the Nicollet Mall today.
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Jaguars on the Prowl on Nicollet Ave today

Vintage Jaguars lined up on Nicollet Mall today near Orchestra Hall. Hey who parked that Ford near the beasts?
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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Spontaneous Joy

A warm Minnesota greeting to all the world from the skyway level of the Hennepin County Government Center.

Skyway people and the politics of bleakness

The closed, boring environment of this skyway serves as a utilitarian backdrop to the people moving from point a to point b.  If you are looking for something, there are few clues to help you find your way.  There is nothing to entertain or delight you here.  It is a prefabricated environment stripped of leisure or pleasure or distraction.
When you get to where you are going it is just another nowhere on the way to somewhere.
There is your car, surrounded by absence.  It doesn't threaten you, and within a few minutes the whole passage from cell to freeway will be forgotten. We have come to take these elisions of sense for granted.  The experiences of featureless, entranced movement through anonymous space creates gaps in our psychic fabric.  Our internal landscapes are erased, bit by bit.  Anything can fill these holes.  Fears, promises, the assertions of urgent people who want to borrow your attention and faith for a while to build pyramids of mass emptiness...anything can fill these holes.  Tomorrow, it will be the Royal Wedding.  Today it is the birth certificate.  Yesterday it was the weather going rogue and terrorizing whole states.  These wild disparities seems connected by the visual continuity of television, which is the information equivalent of the skyway, connecting emptynesses, providing passage of attention from abandoned place to abandoned place.  Or as the computer operating system marketing rhetoric puts it: "Where do you want to go today."

The people are full of life, and the potential for joy and fascination.  They are dense fabrics of memory and hope, feelings and dreams, needs and abilities.  Why do we throw our landscapes up with the haste of scenery designers?  Why did the program of Modernism in the urban world strip out the texture and push the utility forward with such a vengeance upon the human spirit?  Was it a kind of gnosticism, a despair of fulfillment in this world that can only be a waystation on the way to the next world? 

The people are full.  The cities, alas, seem empty. 

Government Center Fountain

Discussion at the end of the day on the Public Service Level. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The skyway perspective lesson

When you learn to draw,  you learn to locate the vanishing point, where all parallel lines converge on the horizon in your scene.  There are many vanishing points in the skyway system.  Some of the skyways have vanishing points as ineluctable as black holes in the birth time of the universe itself, others have gentler doorways and doglegs that draw the eye off the main line of depth, convergence, disappearance.  These are three vanishing points from my trek the other day.

Elle at the salon

I ducked into a salon to get my hair setting wax with sesame, an Aveda product I can no longer live without. I lived a long time without product in my hair.  Now I am one of the productified masses. At the register,  Elle posed for a portrait, and gave me a coupon good for $10 off my next visit.

Real people. Souls with faces.

Using the Leica has added a new dimension to my photographing the skyways.  The digital cameras were too unresponsive to try to get certain moments on film, so I settled for scenes.  With the Leica I can respond more intuitively to the changing tableaux of faces, gestures and postures.  The people I see and photograph become more real, more individual.  It is a fitting time for that, with accusations flying among the insiders that the skyways are full of zombies...faceless and proletarian, soulless replicants.  Look at these faces and you see souls.

The last, really last snowfall of the season

A bit of white clung to the grey and black city as late as April 15 this day.  We were on our way to a record year, but I don't think we made all time history.  On a global scale the tragedy in Japan overshadowed our prolonged winter misery.  On a personal scale the impending death of my big sister Zoe has put the inconveniences of our climate into a humbling perspective.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The odd utilitarian romance of the Mill City

This sign down by the river was repainted in the last 20 years.  Before that, it had a charming desquamate appearance -- huge flakes of paint slowly deconstructing the identity of an enormous box.  By repainting it, the civic-minded sentimentalists rescued our drowning history.  But what did they save?  While the elegance and sensuality of the West Hotel or the Metropolitan Building fell beneath the brutal ambition of the Urban Renewalists in the 60s, this featureless warehouse and mill survived.  It is an enormous grinder, a huge pocket.  It ground up and stored a billion of bushels of wheat.  It has the charm of a blender or can opener, of a packing crate. Or casket, in which the competence and dull ambition of another century lies mummified.

We are obliged to like it, because we were robbed of what was more spiritual, more human in scale, and more sustainable in its reflection of our inner lives.  We are dwarfed, and affectionate, and stagger around clawing at random bits of an unknowable past, here, by the river.  Good for us.  Let's give ourselves a prize.

The city from the inside out

When inside is outside and outside is in.  Looking into the US Bank atrium from inside Chipotle. At the end of the lunch break, there are few figures to break up the chrome and glass vistas. The gloss and emptiness of the space is emphasized.  It is a difficult landscape, and the spirit does not settle into the geometry easily.

A knife-wielding businessman runs into a pal in the Crystal Court.  It breaks up the office routine, and forces a consideration of what security looks for.  At this very spot, an armed guard stops me because I am holding a camera. I don't know too many people who could run around downtown with a 12" knife unsheathed and not attract official attention.  I am sure it is a collector's item of some kind.  I am sure he knows what he is doing...because he looks the way he does, right? Turns assumptions inside out.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The skyway viewpoint

I have been reading the landmark collection of Berenice Abbot's New York City photos, executed under the auspices of the WPA in the late 1930s.  This photo reminds me of one of her street shots near Union Square, a choreography of isolated pedestrians emphasizing the urban grid and the randomness of human activity.
The randomness is only an illusion, of course.  Everyone has a purpose, and that sense of purpose is reflected in the city faces.
Standing in this skyway between the Crystal Court and Macy's, you see the bustle of the city syncopated to silent music.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Geometry and short lunch breaks do not tell the story

The poet Wallace Stevens says that space is not filled with objects, it is filled with the meaningful relationships among people.  The same can be said for the skyways.  They are not objects containing and linking more objects and objectified people.  They are containers and connectors of relationships, past present and future.  I walked them yesterday on the look-out for anyone who fit the description of "zombie."  I didn't find a single human being who was dead-eyed, cold, grey, controlled by external forces of evil.

If strangers do not stop to interact casually with you on the skyways, it is because they have short lunch breaks, and often have to bring fast food back to their desks. 
Yesterday I saw several young families with children in strollers or in tow.  They didn't look lifeless.  Kids really dig the skyways, both for the vantage over the streets and sidewalks that give them plenty to gawk at, and the open space and revolving doors that challenge their sense of adventure.  Skyways aren't built to amuse children, of course.

What has been missing from the discussion in public so far is the compartmentalized social aspects of downtown.  Outside of major sporting events, you don't have areas where there seems to be a real mix of populations, except down by the Target store on Nicollet Mall.

There are residential areas that are far removed from the entertainment areas.  And most of the skyway system serves the working commuters who represent a narrow spectrum on the band of urban demographics.  Is it fair to call them zombies?  Is it fair to judge the people who you see using the skyways because they don't have much time when you see them?  We don't have an idle urban culture in least not in the visible form that is signature of Paris or New York or LA. But  the focus of criticism I have heard so far seems to be on the colorful aspects of cafe culture or the location-determined economics of impulse shopping.  Really?  Is that what we are trying to encourage above all else?

There is something else here that needs to be said.  The skyway critics aren't even talking about the real skyways. They are talking about a shibboleth called "skyways" that exists in cocktail party conversations and sound byte colloquiems of news anchors, political candidates and flyoverland elitism  -- the skyways of habitrail mindlessness, of midwestern parochialism, of unsophisticated rubes. If you go out and start walking around, you won't find those skyways on the real map.

How much time have the critics spent on the skyways?  Have they looked around with the simple curiousity of a child, or the discipline of a cultural anthropologist, or the creativity of an artist, or the vulnerability of an handicapped or elderly person on their own?  The best stories I have heard have been about people forced to find themselves, and, finding themselves on the skyways, they found a lively city to see and reflect on, not just chrome and glass.

Let's quit talking about the skyways in cartoon terms.  It is a disservice to the workers who benefit consistently from their utility, and it is an disservice to the intelligence of looking beyond the cariacatures. Look for yourself: see the faces, the real artistry of the building interiors, the real effort of the entrepreneurs that line the arcades between bridges.

If Videotect started the conversation on a kind of goofy, energetic note, let's find ways to keep it going. That would be a good thing.  It would do justice to the real quality of human relationships that are forged here in the midwest, the kind of qualities that make the skyways ultimately worth thinking about.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Skyways and Poetry in the same breath

An anthology of poetry by states' poets laureates has been published recently under the title "An Endless Skyway."  If you are struggling with the phrase "states' poets laureates" don't feel bad, because it took several minutes for me to figure out that this referred, literally, to poets who represented their respective states as Poets Laureate.

Anyway, the idea of poetry and skyways is instant dissonance for those who see the skyways as pure utility, the invisible shortest line between two frozen dots in the winter, and the air conditioned indulgence of fresh-averse cube zombies in the summer.

So just to prolong this moment, I have composed an instant poem in honor of the Videotect winning theme of "Zombies on the Skyway".

"Skyways: Yes, but..."
Dedicated to Mayor Rybak.
(I have added some grit and patina, vocabulary-wise, to whet the appetite)

I think that I shall never say
the Sky's more lively as a way
Than Street, sidewalk or alley
The walking dead through glassy shell
traverse their AC'd path from Hell
to desk and back. Don't dally
In the chromed Intestine coiled
Midst city belly.  Surging, roiled
clots of souls on furlough splay
Across the grid.  What cheer or joy
is, is not about  the second story.
The first story's yet untold  today.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The aimless urban microcosm

Mayor Rybak claims that 51% of his response to the skyways is dominated by zombies.  "The night of the living dead" is his reference.  He wants to put external stairways between the skyways and the streets to break things up a bit.  He says he needs the "grit and patina" of the streets.   

Britt Aamodt, who did a radio documentary on the skyways, admits that her take on the skyways was dominated by her reaction to her job downtown.  When she left her job, then came back to the skyways for their own sake, it changed her thinking entirely.  This blog tries to inspire people to leave themselves open to a world of experience available on the skyways. 

Things happen.  People wait.  Life has a mind of its own.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rand Tower

1929 Deco glory on Marquette Ave. in Minneapolis.  What did these characters represent, the geniis of flight, the angel with Cuisinart blades for wings?  When the tower was built, it was the second tallest in Minneapolis, second to the Foshay, and held its own on the skyline for several decades.  Both buildings opened as the national economy cracked and split open, spilling out the depression, the chaos of the war.  But for a brief moment, it was prom night in the American Century. And what a future they dreamed then.