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🕰️ Take a drive down Lake Street, 25 years ago

Strung together, these hastily taken photos provide a pretty good time-machine glimpse of what a drive down Lake Street looked like a quarter-century ago.

Longfellow Whatever
8 min read
🕰️ Take a drive down Lake Street, 25 years ago

Sometime during the warmer months of 1998, a lost-to-history municipal worker was sent on a bureaucratic chore: Take pictures of the buildings along Lake Street, among other commercial corridors, as part of the city's 1999 zoning code overhaul.

I recently came across the collection of images, and while they are definitely more science than art — 35mm photos hastily taken from a moving sedan, hand labeled with addresses — I found them strangely captivating. Strung together, they provide a pretty good time-machine glimpse of what a drive down Lake Street looked like in that period: Not distinctly different in character, but not totally recognizable either.

Most of the buildings remain today but most of the businesses don't. Some were knocked out by the wholesale rebuild of Lake Street that stretched from 2006-2008 – a two-fisted punch for businesses that had to absorb the cost of the assessments and the nosedive in business. Others were later lost to another two-fisted punch of COVID and the unrest of 2020. A few (a pager store, a huge Blockbuster) were done in by their technology falling out of favor. A contingent — Honda Town, Viking Cleaners, East Lake Liquor, Don’s Leather, East Lake Animal Clinic, Northern Sun — look pretty much the same as they do today. 

The newly highway-ified Hiawatha Avenue had just been connected to Lake Street the year prior, and the long-sought plan for a light rail was nearing final approval. In another few years the West River Commons would become the neighborhood’s first major redevelopment of the new millennium and kick off a revitalization of the street’s eastern end. As today, but even more so, car dealerships, mechanics, and parts shops abound – holdovers from Lake’s midcentury heyday as the region’s go-to strip for all things automobile. 

In the time scale of a business district, 25 years ago falls somewhere in between historic and recent. Did our mysterious photographer think that so little of what they saw would remain in 25 years? Probably not. Probably, they were just happy to have a field trip from the office on what looks like a nice day, one of countless people over the past century-plus to enjoy the dynamic street life of a trip down Lake Street. Let’s ride along!

All images courtesy of Hennepin County Library Special Collections.

Minneapolis Third Precinct Police Station
MPD Third Precinct, viewed from the Target parking lot
Businesses on East Lake Street
Lake and Minnehaha, looking east from the Third Precinct
Blockbuster Video
Blockbuster Video (now AutoZone)