One last push to save Porky’s

Just as the rest of us were getting nostalgic about the imminent demise of Porky's drive-in in St. Paul, the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota drops this bombshell: It wants to save the 1950s icon.

The group says it had planned to name the drive-in on its annual 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list. Then came the news that Porky's last day would be Sunday, and that the owners were working to sell the property to the neighboring Episcopal Homes senior housing complex.

The preservation alliance says in February it wrote a letter notifying Porky's owners that the property had been nominated, and was hoping "to work with the present and prospective owners to find alternatives to demolition."

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The preservationists contend Porky's is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places -- and the law requires review for those properties if the redevelopment plans involve funding from federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

According to a statement from the alliance:

"So the impending closing of Porky's and sale of the property to Episcopal Homes does raise some red flags. Tearing down the building without formal consideration of alternatives might be considered "anticipatory demolition" that could jeopardize access to future federal funding for new development on the site."

Erin Hanafin Berg of the preservation group tells me Episcoplal Homes has relied on HUD funding in the past.

And she says there's no question Porky's -- known for its neon pink pig sign and greasy-good onion rings -- holds historic significance.

"It is a very iconic emblem of the automobile age, which is really made University Avenue what it had been," she says. "There's not a lot of drive-ins in that good condidtion throughout the Twin Cities."

The site became eligible in 2004 when Central Corridor light-rail planners conducted a review of historic sites along the avenue, Hanafin Berg says. The Metropolitan Council is required to prepare National Register nominations for Porky's and 22 additional historic places sometime before 2014, when the first trains are expected to roll.

Preservationists are interested in seeing whether the drive-in could be relocated, Hanafin Berg says.

"We need to be able to have that conversation," she says.

The news is interrupting our nostalgia trip over the burger joint, built in 1953. An editor at MPR News got his first job there. He says he was promptly fired after one hour. Porky's loss was our gain, political editor Mike Mulcahy!

We featured Porky's back in 2008 as part of a project on the changing face of University Avenue. My piece focused on the historic car culture along the avenue, which would soon give way to light-rail. In the summer months, Porky's became a magnet for muscle cars and old-timers reliving their youth. As far as I know, parking lots to the east and west along University Avenue still draw other motor-heads, including Subaru enthusiasts.

Porky's was a symbol of that car culture -- and its demise symbolizes the changing times.

Of course, Porky's was also a place where matches were made. Larry and Rosey Kasella told me how sparks flew when they first met:

Rosey was a 19-year-old carhop delivering burgers to boys in their cars. Larry arrived in a 1951 Ford two-door hardtop. He'll never forget the first moment he saw her.

"Back then, the carhops all wore white sweaters -- tight white sweaters," he recalled. "I says, 'Hey, that's for me.'"

But Rosey remembered it differently.

"No, you didn't. You said, 'I'm gonna marry her someday.'"

"Yeah, actually, I did say that," Larry said. "I said, 'That's the lady I'm gonna marry.' And two years later, we got married."

If you haven't had a chance to try Porky's onion rings, fear not: the Pioneer Press reports that the owner's son is taking his secret recipe to Tryg's, his restaurant in Minneapolis.