Monday, October 26, 2009

A Night of NoMi Art and Politics! (Part 2 of 2)

Guest post and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman; Don Samuels event photos the Hawthorne Hawkman, other photos by "Ranty."

Pictured above is the spread at Don's campaign event Saturday night. Notice the container at the very top? That's the lychee mint salsa by yours truly.

That night, we were regaled by the story of how it all began with Don running for city council for the very first time...

Unlike at the Delisi's groundbreaking, these two videos are edited. There was plenty of conversation back and forth, and without editing we'd be looking at 20 minutes, easy. So these are condensed down a bit.

and here's part 2:

Don also introduced a friend of his, David Wheeler. David is running for the obscure position of the Board of Estimates and Taxation. Along with David Wheeler, I think the best candidate out there for this board is Carol Becker. Both David and Carol want to keep the board independent from the city of Minneapolis; a stance that they don't share with Don. To me, this is proof that Don can work with those whose opinions are different. Plus, I'm a policy wonk and just loved seeing issues like this being brought up.

Once the speechifying was finished up, I went back to bask in the artwork of Ken Farkash and see who else showed up at "The Dinosaur House." Pictured below is south Minneapolis super-activist Brian Finstad (who we're trying to lure to NoMi! Whatever block he and his partner wind up on will be TRANSFORMED, I can assure you). I'm talking with a high-ranking Minneapolis Republican-Carleton, I think. All I know is that I run into him at parties every so often and I get drunk and then Republican ideas start to sound pretty good some of the time. I even claimed I'd vote for a Republican governor before I support Matt Entenza or Mark Dayton; but then again, I say that when I'm sober too.

Here's Jacques, the inspiration for one of Ken's pieces of art:

And Ken had one item that I have to include here. Interactive art.

And I didn't even get a chance to attend "Hot Jazz, Harlem Night," at the newly renovated Capri Theater on Broadway. Didn't I tell you at the beginning of part 1 that there just aren't enough hours in the day to take in all the great things in NoMi?

Can These Houses Be Saved?

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Three properties in Hawthorne are at various stages of demolition or acquisition by the city of Minneapolis: 2719 Colfax Avenue North, 2714 4th St North, and 2416 4th St North.

I went to look at these houses and here is what I found...

2719 Colfax Ave N did not come up in public searches as a valid address, but it appears to be a duplex attached to 2717 Colfax Ave N. It looks like a lot of structures in Hawthorne: A house that was once a large, single-family residence that has now been spliced into a rather unappealing duplex. From looking into the windows of this place, it has the typical gray carpeting that seems so popular among slummy properties. But it also seemed to have a fair amount of redeeming factors. The back door had a hole in it, and this is what I saw from there:

CPED is considering purchasing this property, and residents with an opinion one way or another are encouraged to contact CM Hofstede at No deadline was listed for comments on the message to me. It's hard to tell from a cursory view of this place, but I would hope it could be saved. It needs work, to be sure, but I don't think a demolition in this case serves the neighborhood.

Next up was 2714 4th St N. This is a tax-forfeited property and it appears to be occupied. Because of that, I took only a photo of the exterior from the front. It's the second picture shown "above the fold" on this post. This house needs some love, but is easily the nicest of the three. If the city or a development partner acquires this one, it definitely needs to be saved and not demolished. Neighborhood comments to CPED ( are due by noon on November 4.

Finally, we have 2416 4th St N. This property will go before the Nuisance Condition Process Review Panel on November 12th. Comments are due to one week (November 5) before the hearing.

Like our first property, this one looks like it had (and still has) a lot of character, and was victimized by a terrible siding job and plenty of landlord neglect. While no question has been brought to the neighborhood about CPED acquisition, there is at the time of this writing a for sale sign out front. Here are a few more pictures of what I saw:

Again, this house appears to be neglected but salvageable. The question is, who wants to save it? And have we set up our NSP funding in such a way to allow any or all of these structures to be acquired AND SAVED by the city or development partners? Admittedly I have not been inside any of them and the interior may make the demolition question an open-and-shut case for tear-down. I've said this before though, and I'll say it again: These houses in other parts of the city would not have been allowed to deteriorate to their present conditions. And if they had, in many other parts of the city I believe their chances of survival would be much higher.

I look at these houses and I see the potential for rehabilitation and preservation. If I am wrong, people can comment on this thread or contact me directly at I hope our elected officials and public servants look at these houses and see the same things I do.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Night of NoMi Art and Politics! (Part 1 of 2)

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

There just aren't enough hours in the day! NoMi poet Bryan Thao Worra had another reading on Saturday and I was already double-booked. I made my famous lychee mint salsa and was off to "The Dinosaur House" to bask in the amazingly fun artwork of our newest resident-artist Ken Farkash...

Ken's art is fun and whimsical and on top of admiring the artistic quality inherent in each piece, it's hard to look at this stuff and be in a worse mood than you were beforehand. The first piece shown above is called "Saturday Afternoon Matinee." Without further ado, here are some pictures of his collection:
This one is actually my SECOND-favorite piece, but it is rather hard to pick. It's called "Moral Rebellion."

I like the "Spring Man" hero thing going on here. While I'm not sure what the hero's actual contributions and powers are, the beacon shining in the sky shows that clearly SOMEONE needs his help...

Maybe "Moral Oblivion" called out to me because I'm currently reading "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters," (side note: I do NOT recommend reading Jane Austen without a co-author. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" turned one of the greatest literary classics of all time into something you'd actually want to read.) The protagonist here is floating around in an oppressive world and still doing his own thing. To me, the oxygen hose leading up to the surface indicates that there is something that sustains him and keeps him going. But what?

"New Life" reminds me of the annual "clean sweep" activities throughout NoMi.

In "The Sky is Falling," the moon is laughing at Chicken Little as he is about to throw a little bit of himself at our hero, thus proving his dire claims to be eerily, yet humorously accurate.

"Jacques' Dream" shows us why dogs are bound to chase after squirrels, and brings to mind an obvious reference for me.

"Unicycling in the Desert" is Ken's personal statement on his art and career. We had interesting discussions about what that means, but I'd rather point this out and then let the reader ponder the meaning of the art and title.

"The Conversation" is my favorite one, although I really enjoy a lot of the quirkiness of other pieces. This work started as a simple exercise in perspective. But once you add the title, it leads one to wonder what the two people just outside the borders of the art itself are discussing. Plus, do I need to point out that it contains coffee and cigarettes? Ah, the stuff of life.

"Boo Boo Gets the Last Laugh" is a lesson Ken learned about how even when it appears that a goat likes you, you can never be too sure...

"Dragon," was a tattoo that Ken made for someone, and it turned into artwork as well. I'm enough of a Marvel comics nerd that to me it looked more like Ghost Rider. (Click here for an idea of the image that came to mind.)

Then it was off to see Don Samuels, but I'd be back.

42nd Ave. Station Features Live Bands And (OMG!) Biodegradable Plastic Cups!

Photos By John Hoff, Jeff Skrenes

Here are some photos and videos taken at 42nd Avenue Station shortly after it opened. This coffee shop has clear, fast wireless internet, a great selection comparable to major coffee shop chains and--oh, be still my green, green heart--BIODEGRADABLE PLASTIC CUPS!

Unfortunately, 42nd Avenue Station has pretty much ruined me as a customer for any OTHER food service establishments. See, ever since I used their biodegradable plastic cups, now whenever some other business hands me a regular plastic cup I think...

..."Geez, why are you using regular plastic? Why don't you use GREEN plastic?"

I'd sure like too see this "green plastic" trend take hold in American society. Imagine roads free of plastic litter because, gee, the litter breaks down into compost when exposed for several months to rain and sunlight?

Since 42nd Street Station is really green, I'm going out of my way to promote and patronize this business. Our emerging NoMi lifestyle is green, and getting greener every day. To paraphrase Lennie "The Heckler" Chism, there is a kind of green I'd like to bring to North Minneapolis:

EVERY kind.

Drug-o-topia Continues To Spiral Downward...

Photo By John Hoff, with Hawthorne Hawman's Camera

I've written previously about Jeff Skrenes' former address at 2218 Lyndale Ave. N., a place we nicknamed "Drug-o-topia." Jeff lived there for a while but left because, well, it's not good for a neighborhood housing director to live at a property where drug dealing is taking place. (Click here for details about Jeff's evacuation)

The property fell upon even harder times after Jeff left and... of the scummy occupants was arrested for (allegedly) being involved with meth, click here. (I guess Jeff giving his downstairs neighbors his old couch didn't exactly turn their lives around, but at least I didn't have to carry that son-of-a-b**** up the stairs)


In the past month or so the property has been condemned for lack of utilities. I took this picture in early September with Jeff's camera, (sharing our gear in the revitalization struggle, all band-of-brothers-like) but the image only recently came back into my hands when I downloaded Jeff's camera after the Peace Ball, click here for video of that event.

Seeing this image of 2218 Lyndale Ave. N., I thought it might be useful to do this little post, just to keep documenting the long, slow, agonizing descent of this property.

I should point out the place is very nice inside, with wonderful old woodwork. If 2218 Lyndale Ave. N. comes on the market, hopefully some revitalization-minded person will snap it up. Even Jeff Skrenes himself has thought about how nice it would be to own "2218," despite living through some of the worst times the property has experienced in (probably) more than a century of existence.

EcoVillage Planting

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I woke up on a Saturday morning just in time to see the the steam rising off of the mulch pile into the beaming sunrise. That alone filled me with enough energy to start the day off--who am I kidding? I needed coffee, and lots of it, to get going.

Once that was taken care of, I was ready to work...

Other folks from Hawthorne, Energyscapes, and PPL, were way ahead of me though. It was a good thing we had the roto-tiller. The area where we were planting had its fair share of housing remnants - chunks of wood and asphalt abounded. It made me wonder what the ground was like in the hundreds of other vacant lots where houses had been demolished.

And even though dealing with the devil seems like soooo last year, I thought of how many chunks of 3024 6th St N we were digging up, as well as the pending demolition of 3020. On the one hand, I was reminded of the victory of shutting down a known drug dealer who was poisonous to the community (although he's still around, at 3007 3rd St N). On the other hand, the two houses that belonged to him were both viable structures at one point and should have been saved. With the arson at 3020, this feeling of victory was quite literally pyrrhic.

At one point, the tree roots and asphalt fought back and a shovel became an unfortunate casualty of the day:

Once enough digging was done, planting was underway. We put in Jacob's ladder, spiderwort (which sounds like it would be used for some kind of potion), New Jersey Tea (not to be mistaken for Texas tea), and many other types of native plants.

Then it was time to break for lunch. We went to 2419 4th St N, which is on the market for $79,900. With the myriad types of assistance available, this is a terrific buy. Let's bump that price up to an even $83,000 and assume that the seller will cover closing costs as a result. Hawthorne has assistance totaling $2,490. My understanding is that this property has been vacant long enough to qualify for the Minneapolis Advantage program according to these guidelines. That's another $8,300 in assistance. Then there's another $8,000 thanks to the Pohlad Family Foundation. Assuming a 5% downpayment, that gives you a loan amount of $60,060. Conservatively assuming a 6% interest rate, this gets you an estimated PITI payment of $530. Stay in the house ten years, and all that assistance is FORGIVEN. How can you pass this up?!

Here are a few pics of that house:

Granted, this isn't a rainbow ceiling fan, but still...

(Two disclaimers: The tax credit may or may not be renewed, and you must close before the end of November to qualify for that. Furthermore, it is not an assistance amount that comes into play at the point of purchase. Second, check with your loan originator and Realtor to confirm that you and the property qualify for each assistance program.)

After lunch, it was time to get back to more planting and landscaping. As much as I enjoy biking or going to the gym, this is a far better workout. At the gym, I move weights around, and when I'm done those weights just go back to the same spot. Today, though, I'm sore because I spent five hours making my neighborhood a better place. That's far more rewarding.

After finishing up here, I stopped by the Polish Lady's house and was treated to a congratulatory beer, a few shots of "Polish Pop" (vodka), and some homemade polish sausage. I'd show pictures, but really there is no way to pose with Polish sausage in a family-friendly way.

The Polish pop came in handy as I took a break to learn a few more hooping tricks before an evening of NoMi revelry...(to be continued in the next Hawkman post)

Photographic After Party, Design Planning Session In The Hawthorne Eco Village...

Photos by Jeff Skrenes

Hey, it's ME, Johnny Northside. Remember me? The guy who actually runs this blog?

Yes, once again I've been away for a while earning a paycheck by driving a truck to multiple states. My two-week journey took me to South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana.

And, as of this moment, I'm still "up north" and out of town, tending to a freezer unit over the weekend and waiting for another trucking run on Monday, hopefully only to Des Moines, Iowa and back. But that's money and I gotta go.

It's like I tell my friends in North Minneapolis....

I love you but I LOVE THE ROAD. Don't make me chooooooose.

During my long journey, I was forced (FORCED, I tell you!) to live on boudin balls and crawfish pie in Louisiana. Thankfully, while I was on my gastronomical tour of Dixieland, the Hawthorne Hawkman did a great job keeping readers informed of various events in NoMi.

Here in NoMi, those of us who are active in neighborhood revitalization have the kind of war-buddy, "band of brothers" closeness one might find in an army platoon. Part of that closeness involves freely using each other's gear; whether it's a blog, a lawnmower or a digital camera. Recently, I downloaded dozens of photos from somebody's camera, and found great pictures of a design planning session in early September at the Hawthorne Eco Village.

I said to myself, hey, these photos are too good NOT to publish. Even though the gathering happened more than a month ago, our tremendous progress in the Eco Village is always worth celebrating.


In the photo at the top of this post, Abbie Loosen of PPL (on the right) looks on as residents (including Pam "Pattycake" Patrek and "The Polish Lady") devour great food from Bangkok Market.

Bangkok Market constantly supports Hawthorne Neighborhood events, including the recent Hawthorne Neighborhood annual meeting. Their spring rolls and shredded papaya salad are perpetual favorites. Below, some of the food at the Eco Village gathering in early September.

Below, everybody loves looking at plans for the Eco Village and dreaming of the future, whether the plan is rendered in a drawing or little wood blocks. Me, I'm partial to the little wood blocks.

In the two pictures below--and this is what gets me the most excited about this whole event, not even kidding--the plastic cups used were made of bio-degradable material produced from corn starch polymer. This kind of plastic can also be found at 42nd Ave. Station, NoMi's newest and hottest coffee shop with FREE WiFi, woo hoo.

Just as the government has tried to mandate better gas milage in vehicles, and created incentives to develop renewable energy, I think the government needs to look toward phasing out plastic food containers made from (Middle Eastern) petroleum, and phase in biodegradable containers made of renewable local resources such as corn starch. Well, what better place than our future Hawthorne Eco Village to raise consciousness about these futuristic products?

The Eco Village is a small mirror of North Minneapolis itself: crime used to be out of control, but now the crime rate has plunged and life has become (mostly) peaceful, wholesome, and oh-so-affordable. History is being written every day through our struggle, and these photos are a piece of that history I didn't want to fall by the wayside. Thanks, again, to Abbie Loosen for putting together this great event and a special thanks for the use of bio-degradable plastic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Watson Storming the Stage!

Guest post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the band Watson

In case anyone doesn't already have plans tonight (and if you already do, I hope they involve this great show), I'm helping spread the word about the most famous NoMi band, Watson.

WATSON will be storming the stage of the Fine Line next Friday, Oct 23rd!! We are the opening band for a double CD release show featuring 2 great local bands – Capital Sons, and The New Congress. Since half of the bands playing the night are releasing CDs, we figured we’d join the fun and release our newest single “You Are The Only One” for FREE at this show. That’s right, it’s FREE!!! A limited quantity will be produced for the show, so be sure to get there early to secure your copy of the newest Watson release.

(Do not click "

EcoVillage Demonstration Garden Planting Tomorrow!

Guest post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Image from Project for Pride in Living, Inc.

Progress in the EcoVillage has been moving forward by leaps and bounds this year; from crime dropping significantly when the apartment complex of anarchy went down to homes being available for rehab, to new construction being just about ready to begin.

But some plans have changed around, and neighbors are gathering tomorrow morning from 8 to3 to...

plant a demonstration garden on the area where "Phase I" will be built. Phase I will consist of townhomes in a courtyard setting, but the construction of that is far enough away that neighbors want to see something happen here in the meantime. So we're planting this garden (click for the JNS pdf site and a larger version of the image above).

The illustration shows what the southeast corner of 31st Ave N and 6th St N will look like once we're done with the plantings. The flags will give volunteers an idea of the layout as we get everything set up. Although it kind of reminds me of a certain time-wasting computer game.

By all accounts, the weather should cooperate, and folks are encouraged to come and help out for whatever time they can. Come and help transform NoMi!

Even MORE NoMi Downpayment Assistance!

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

The photo above is from a press conference in Hawthorne celebrating the success of the Minneapolis Advantage program. Piggybacking on that downpayment assistance is a whole slew of neighborhood incentives. I just received word that one such program is expanding...

The following appeared on Facebook from The Pohlad Foundation just expanded the $8,000 Home Buyer Assistance to include both the 55411 Zip Code (Willard Hay, Near North, Hawthore and Jordan) & 55412 (Cleveland, Folwell and McKinley) This is $8,000 Down Payment Assistance - 0% Deferred Loan (no monthly payment) forgiven after 7 years of continued ownership & residency. Available through Neighborhood Housing Services of Minneapolis, Inc. @ 612-521-3581.

This is such good news that Chipper the Entrepreneurial Squirrel stopped gathering nuts momentarily to tell me how happy he is.

For those who may not know, Neighborhood Housing Services administers funds for many of the neighborhood assistance programs in NoMi. The ones NHS doesn't cover are housed at the Center for Energy and Environment (including Hawthorne's downpayment assistance and rehab assistance programs).

So we've got historically low home prices and interest rates here. The Minneapolis Advantage allows for up to $10,000 in assistance, many neighborhoods offer up to $5,000, the Pohlad Family Foundation is chipping in up to $8,000, and Obama's tax credits (which MIGHT expire in November) also help out with up to $8,000. That's as much as $31,000. What are you waiting for? Check out NoMi today!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hawkman Unmasked and Exlpained

Guest post by the Hawthorne Hawkman (Jeff Skrenes), image from

Earlier this year, I confronted a property owner who was doing illegal excavation. In the comment thread of that JNS post, someone called me the Hawthorne Hawkman for the very first time. I liked the sound of it, and the name stuck.

However, having a neighborhood as part of my nickname (especially the one I work for) poses some potential problems. This gets a little sticky when I wade into the political arena. So what follows is an explanation of how that works...

First off, although my Johnny Northside moniker has "Hawthorne" in it, my statements are not the official views of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, its residents, members, or staff, unless explicitly noted as such. This is especially true of my political statements.

Second, there is a difference between Jeff Skrenes, private citizen and Jeff Skrenes, Hawthorne Housing Director - just like there is a difference between what a candidate running for office does on the campaign trail and in their private or professional life. My critique of one candidate or endorsement of another as a private citizen in no way affects my willingness to work with that candidate in their professional capacity and in my actions as an employee of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council.

Furthermore, if as a private individual I have spoken out that I feel a certain candidate is not suitable for the office s/he seeks, that will not affect my willingness to work with that candidate in my professional capacity if they are elected. I expect that desire to work for the betterment of Hawthorne and north Minneapolis to go both ways. One hallmark of a good public servant is the ability to reach out to those who did not support that candidate during the campaign.

Where things get a little tricky is the possible perception that I may be writing political statements while "on the clock." My schedule, like many who work in neighborhood non-profits is extraordinarily fluid. I rarely work a traditional 9-5 workday. With comp time that accrues and is used, early morning, late evening, and weekend events, my workweek is difficult to pin down and is rarely the same twice.

Plus, I live in the Hawthorne neighborhood, which is great for when I need to "punch out," and run home for a bit to do personal things (like blogging about politics).

The end result is that some posts were done at a time when I was not working for Hawthorne, but were posted at a time in the day when many others are on the job. This action may unwittingly create the perception that I am making such statements in my capacity as the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council Housing Director. I assure everyone that this is not the case.

However, perceptions can often trump reality and I must therefore make some adjustments. I vigorously stand by my right to make political speech as a private citizen, but I will post blog entries with political statements only in the late evenings. These will be times that I am not working nor can I be reasonably thought to be working. My ability to get information out quickly will be hampered somewhat, but my first responsibility is to protect the integrity of the neighborhood I work for.

West Broadway Development Tour

Guest post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, videos by the guy from youtube.

Unable to contain my excitement about KMOJ and Delisi's, I went looking around on youtube for more videos about what has been happening along West Broadway. I came across these gems, which show how much progress we've been making in NoMi (the new YWCA will be in Hawthorne, I'm proud to say!) and what great things are still to come.

I was going to write narratives with links, but it seemed that every time I said to myself, "Oh, I've got to link to a story about THIS," the video goes there next.

And one thing I do want to point out from the groundbreaking/dedication earlier today: There were quite a few people in hardhats and construction gear. I went up to them to shake their hand and tell them, "YOU are the ones REALLY making this happen!" I noticed that a lot of the workers were minorities, and I asked around about whether that was intentional and/or truly indicative of who is working on this project. I was told that The Ackerberg Group was indeed intentional about picking a contractor that would hire minorities and people from NoMi.

(Do not click "Read More," but do thank those who are bringing change and JOBS to our community!)

KMOJ/Delisi's Dedication at Penn and Broadway!

Guest post, photos and video by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I'm looking forward to John Hoff returning from his road trip. There's just so many great things happening in NoMi that it takes at least two people to keep up. Today heralded even more redevelopment along West Broadway in NoMi. KMOJ 89.9 FM will be coming back home to NoMi and Delisi's restaurant will reopen as well (although it's not known if it will still be called Delisi's or something different).

Longtime Hawthorne board member and all around activist Jim Wentzell has often said his dream is to have "a steak and a Manhattan at Delisi's on Broadway." Well, that dream is going to become a reality, and this blog is making a promise to Mr. Wentzell: you'll get that steak and Manhattan, but we're not going to let you pay for it. I've talked with plenty of people who would be honored to cover that first celebratory meal as a way to thank you for your years--no, decades!--of commitment to our neighborhood.

The festivities got started when...

The emcee, who I think was a representative from Catalyst, introduced the lineup of speakers. As soon as he mentioned that the mayor would be speaking, someone who apparently doesn't even live in north Minneapolis started to shout about...well, who knows what? It was kind of hard to hear him when the WHOLE ROOM shouted him down and told him to stop (he didn't, but thankfully our other speakers had a microphone).

I should point out that fringe mayoral candidate James Everett was in attendance as well, and he at least showed an ability to behave himself in public. Hopefully that gets him ranked ahead of SOMEBODY as we test-drive IRV.

Here's a quick video of some of what Mayor Rybak had to say. I was taking photos during part of it, and missed recording my favorite line. He was speaking about how people said we couldn't bring change to north Minneapolis, how nothing good would come to West Broadway, and "the real voices of the community" stood up and made it happen.

The general manager of KMOJ spoke as well, and likened their return to someone who goes off to college, becomes educated and a better person, and is now returning to give back to their community. Speakers also pointed to the original owner of Delisi's and the ever-present Stu Ackerberg and thanked them for their dedication and hard work.

Mark Stenglein and Barb Johnson also spoke, setting the table for the cleanup hitter, 5th Ward Council Member Don Samuels. My camera ran out of batteries, but at least caught a decent portion of what he had to say.

Commissioner Stenglein often complains about having to speak after Don Samuels, and now I start to understand his frustration. How do you top what was said in that video? Is there a better way to sum up what this event was all about? I'm just going to write out what he said in case you haven't watched:

"It is the good will of everybody in this room, and many who are not in this room, who have CAUGHT the vision for a transformation of a part of this community that has been far too long neglected."