Article from the Northeaster, September 25, 2003. Presented here with the kind permission of the author (thanks Laura!).

Memories of Apache Plaza

A look Back At "Center of Community" inspires tribute website

by Laura Malm

While many are looking forward to new developments at Apache Plaza in St. Anthony, for others, the area is a cherished backdrop for many memories. North Minneapolis resident Jeff Anderson feels both sides, and has decided to commemorate his childhood mall with a tribute website.

Located at www.apacheplaza.com, the website includes historical pictures and information, construction history and several vintage advertisements from such stores as Ben Franklin and Montgomery Ward. The site features current pictures of the mall and links to related websites. Anderson’s project started after he heard Apache Plaza would probably be demolished. He did a web search looking for information on the mall and found virtually nothing. Shortly after, he decided to make his own website about the mall for personal reflection, and as a source of memories for others.

The website was launched July 18, after Anderson spent a short time doing research. “I contacted Apache to see what they could give and spent a day taking pictures, and in a week, I had enough information to start the site.” He says he has become enthralled with putting the pieces of the mall’s history together. His first visit was when he was three or four years old, and he remembers following his mother around while she did errands during the late 1960s.

The ground breaking for Apache Plaza was April 18, 1960. On October 19, 1961, the mall was opened to the public. According to a 1996 CityPages article, the mall’s opening included a helicopter entrance of then Governor Elmer Andersen, a guarded display of $1 million dollars in cash and a drawing for a four passenger plane.

The plaza originally cost $11 million and was the second largest shopping center in the state, topped only by Southdale in Edina. Its climate control made it an ideal place to go shopping, without worrying about the varying conditions of Minnesota weather. Anderson has scanned the first brochure used to advertise the mall to the website. It says Apache Plaza provides, “year-round sunshine shopping in air-conditioned comfort.”

Anderson says the concept of Apache at the time was new. “All your shopping needs were all in one place that supported air conditioning. You could drop off dry cleaning and get a haircut. I think it was marketed to women. There was a wig shop, a nail shop, a hat shop and a maternity shop. For the time it was very revolutionary. There were not many enclosed malls.”

According to an October 1992 Northeaster article, the land where Apache was built used to be farm land. Ken Lee owned and farmed the land until taxes and expenses for sewers and roads increased so much that farming wasn’t sufficient anymore. Ray Plank and Truman Anderson formed Apache Realty Company and bought the land. Apache was the creation of Apache Corp. and architect Willard Thorsen.

An early community article describes Apache as “futuristic in design. The massive enclosed center court is the world’s largest--bigger than a football field. It is 350 feet long, 150 feet wide, three stories high.” The article continues to explain the mall and says, “The shopper is, in effect, shopping in one huge store with everything he needs under one roof.” It claims Apache was specifically designed with the community in mind because it has a community hall. “In the center court there will be a continuous program of exhibits and events of community-wide interest.” It was quickly branded as being “The Center of the Community.”

Anderson says it was the center of the community for several reasons. At the time it was quite a large chunk of land to be developed. This, combined with it’s location in St. Anthony received attention. He says Apache always held events and activities such as beauty pageants, petting zoos and Tomahawk Days, which later changed to Apache Days. He also says the way the mall is designed, the center area is significant, and also is a reflection of it being the center of the community. “I think it was one of its strengths,” he says about Apache being part of the community. “Apache was so much a part of the time.”

He describes the old Apache as, “very colorful and bright with architectural pillars, colored glass, with a floor that had colored inlay. It had open, bright space with plants and a fountain.” He says he remembers it as, “a comfy, friendly place to hang out. It was busy, very active and family oriented. It had a neighborhood feel.”

Apache Plaza thrived for many years, but a current visit to the mall would provide little insight into its once vibrant activities. Anderson has several ideas of why people lost interest. Rosedale opened in 1969, and many Apache customers moved their business. In 1984, a tornado struck the mall causing it to close for several months. Anderson says he thinks this caused people to find alternatives and they never quite returned. Over time, some of the larger department stores closed. Anderson says when JC Penney closed in 1993 it was, “the final nail.”

He describes Apache Plaza today as “kind of mixed.” He says it is very clean with security and post office people walking around. On the other side, the mall has obvious water damage and the stores are mostly empty. He says, “It is a sad, deserted mall. Sometimes the only sign of life there is that someone has been cleaning.” He says the vacant shops look like they are waiting for demolition.

According to the City of St. Anthony, the mall is less than one quarter leased. The city has looked at proposals and is working on finalizing plans for the area. According to information on the city’s website, there will be a mix of commercial and residential space in the redeveloped areas. The retail stores might be grouped around the Cub store to provide a commercial hub. Information about redevelopment is available at www.ci.saint-anthony.mn.us. Anderson has looked at some of the plans and says the new renderings look, “Barnes and Nobley.” He says he believes the city is doing the right thing financially by redeveloping, but he would like to see the mall preserved in some way. “I think they should tear down most of the mall and preserve the center court. When you tear down history, the community loses something.”

Anderson says his website is doing well so far. He has received 1,100 hits since its launch and gets five to seven new people a day. In the future, Anderson says, he would like to continue his research about Apache Plaza by including more interviews, particularly with people involved in creating the building, or who worked in the shops. He would also like to make the site more interactive by possibly adding a discussion board. Eventually he says he might consider writing a book.

“Apache is an incredible example of idealism of the time and shows the change of culture through time to today.” He says he thinks the mall’s architectural value is important and that it is lost because of the money situation. He said he also believes this is a relevant argument against preserving it.

Anderson has received e-mail responses from as far as Seattle. He says the most popular time to visit the site is over the lunch hours and again later around one in the morning. Whenever the visit, Anderson says, he made the site because, “some (people) long for a piece of the past and memories.” He says for him, it’s helped him connect to his own past.

People who have a story about Apache Plaza can visit the site for contact information and a guest book. For more information abut redevelopment plans, visit www.ci.saint-anthony-n.us, or call the Northwest Quadrant Hotline at 612-706-1350.

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