Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Private buildings in Minneapolis to throw their ‘Doors Open’ this weekend

Minneapolis City Hall is a “Richardsonian Romanesque” building.
Minneapolis City Hall is a “Richardsonian Romanesque” building designed by Frank B. Long and Frederick Kees. It was completed in 1905.
Marianne Combs | MPR News 2019

Have you ever passed an interesting building while driving through town and been curious about what goes on behind its closed doors? An event Saturday and Sunday is made for the curious to take a peek behind closed doors throughout Minneapolis.

The public is free to tour hundreds of private spaces, from historic mansions to factories to performance venues to apartment buildings to places of worship. The event is called “Doors Open Minneapolis.” Kelly Fischer is leading the charge through her organization, Rethos, and she joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer with a preview.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: I'm a person who loves old and quirky buildings. I always wonder about the stories historic buildings could tell. So this event this weekend coming up, perfectly suited for me and those who are curious, who want to peek behind closed doors throughout Minneapolis. The public is free to tour hundreds of private spaces, from historic mansions to factories to performance venues to apartment buildings to places of worship.

The event is called Doors Open Minneapolis. Kelly Fischer is leading the charge on the event through her organization, Rethos, and she's with us right now. Kelly, welcome to the program.

KELLY FISCHER: Hi, Cathy. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: I can't imagine that folks can just tromp into hundreds of buildings throughout the city, or is that actually part of the deal?

KELLY FISCHER: That really is part of the deal. So visitors can just show up at any one of the 105 venues for free. They can sign up when they get there, and then they can just go to whichever venues they please. They can either plan ahead and select all the venues they want to visit ahead of time or just show up and see where the journey takes you.

CATHY WURZER: So will the public get to see things they would normally not see if they were to attend a concert or a worship service or something like that?

KELLY FISCHER: Absolutely. So we have plenty of venues that are closed to the public most of the time, but some that are open for things like concerts or restaurants and the like. For example, if you visit the Cedar Cultural Center, you'll get to see their green rooms, which they normally don't show.

You'll get to see the kitchens and backrooms at restaurants such as Kramarczuk's that you'll really get to see how they make the sausage. You'll see backstage at Orchestra Hall and the many different theater venues that we have involved, the Projection Booth at the Main Cinema, and places like the JB Hudson space at the Dayton's Project.

CATHY WURZER: So someone listening might say, sounds cool-- what's the point?

KELLY FISCHER: Sure. So Doors Open is all about getting to see spaces that we walk by every day, right? Places that connect us and that we don't know really what their purpose is or what it looks like on the inside. So this is really an opportunity to connect people to the buildings that they see frequently and learn about the many amazing places that make up our city. And it's really a chance for those spaces to be able to tell their story and how they fit into the fabric of Minneapolis.

CATHY WURZER: OK, I want to hear more about some of these places. Specifically, I'm a big fan of Lakewood Cemetery. I see it's on the tour. If I go to Lakewood, what will I see?

KELLY FISCHER: Absolutely. They have four participating buildings. Of those, I know the amazing memorial chapel that they have, which has stunning mosaic work. They have a brand new welcome center they're showing off. They'll have a mausoleum available. And then you'll get to take a general tour of the cemetery. There are some famous families buried there, like the Mars Candy family. So just a great opportunity to learn some history in kind of a cool place.

CATHY WURZER: I grew up on Lake Street. I see you have the Coliseum Building on the tour.

KELLY FISCHER: Yes, that's one of the ones we're very excited about. So the Coliseum Building, for listeners, was built in the 19-teens and has always been a hub for Black entrepreneurship and business. It was damaged during the uprising after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, and it is now being restored to include some of its original architectural features.

The outside of the building is largely the same. And then it also is incorporating some interesting features from when it burned in 2020. So it feels like a very relevant venue for the past, present, and future in Minneapolis. We're honored to have them involved.

CATHY WURZER: Good. I'm so glad that you have them on the tour. There are some buildings that look kind of meh from the outside, right? Pretty nondescript. But inside, of course, that's where the magic is. Any buildings you would say that are on the tour that fit that bill?

KELLY FISCHER: Absolutely. So the first one that comes to mind is the Minneapolis Traffic Management Center. It is run by Minneapolis Public Works. And from the outside, it just looks like a regular brick building. But on the inside, you'll learn all about how Public Works manages traffic and stoplights and the roads all throughout Minneapolis. It is just a fabulous place to visit.

And then the Minnesota Library Access Center is a space underneath the Anderson Library with the U of M. It's the subterranean caverns that have high density, high volume storage. Just a really fascinating space that you'd not normally get to see. And you get to enter sort of a vault to see the space.

And then the other couple of places I would mention are Homewood Studios and Plymouth Avenue Art Studio. They are right next to each other on Plymouth Avenue. And they, again, are in a regular brick building, but on the inside, just chock full of artist studios, really fun demonstrations and opportunities for kids to do crafts as well.

CATHY WURZER: I understand that some of the places open for tours are not even really buildings. Can people really peek under a manhole cover?

KELLY FISCHER: They really can, yes. So, you're correct. Some of them are just spaces, as opposed to structures. So the manhole cover will be lifted on Nicollet Mall. Folks will be able to see what the inside of the sewer looks like from a camera that Public Works folks put down into the sewer system. They do such a great job of talking about the work that they do and how the sewers work in Minneapolis. So we highly recommend stopping by that one.

Peavey Plaza is also involved. On Saturday and Sunday, they will be doing some occasional tours of their Fountain Pump Room, which will be kind of cool. And then the Loring Greenway, which is designed by the same architect as Peavey Plaza, is involved as well.

CATHY WURZER: Clearly, there are so many owners of various spaces that must be interested in this. Is there a reason that so many of them decided to be on the tour? Is it something about their buildings or just how they view their building's place in the history of Minneapolis?

KELLY FISCHER: Sure. I work very closely with all of our venues, and I think what they all share in common is that building owners and operators, the organizations that inhabit these buildings, all have a deep love for Minneapolis. They very much appreciate the community, and they really want to be a part of it.

And as I mentioned, this is a great opportunity for them to really share their story and tell the public what it is that they're all about, and just really an opportunity to participate in something a bit bigger than themselves and be part of this awesome collective that's opening doors during the weekend.

CATHY WURZER: Does it also tend to solidify the importance of historic preservation? Because if you know something about a building, it's harder, in a sense, then, to tear it down.

KELLY FISCHER: Absolutely. So our organization, Rethos, specializes in historic preservation and telling the stories of old buildings. So connecting people to these places is not only great for the people in being able to connect with oneself, stories, culture, and a place over time, but also is really just a great way to cultivate an appreciation for these buildings, make sure that they stick around and that they continue to be homes to all of these awesome organizations and businesses that make up our city.

CATHY WURZER: Well, Kelly, I've enjoyed our conversation. Good luck this weekend. It sounds fantastic.

KELLY FISCHER: Thank you so much, Cathy. Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Kelly Fischer is the heritage tourism manager at Rethos, which is putting on this weekend's Open Doors Minneapolis event. This is Saturday and Sunday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. To get a full list of the hundreds of venues you can tour, just go to doorsopenminneapolis.org.

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