Stadium Games

For once, the weather man was right. This has been a highly usual winter. But it has nothing to do with the lack of snow. More frightening than 40 degree Februaries is the reality that the Minnesota Timberwolves have garnered more press in just the last month than they managed over the last five years. Sure, some it (most of it) has to do with a suddenly competitive team and Spanish sensation Ricky Rubio, but they also remain relevant thanks to everyone’s favorite local issue: stadium politics. Mayor R.T. Rybak, in his plan to keep the Vikings in Minneapolis, is also attempting to fund a renovation of the Target Center, which, although only 22 years old, is showing its age. Public-funding-for-sports-nonsense aside, this is hardly the first time Minnesota’s professional basketball team has faced some arena issues, and with the Los Angeles Lakers (formerly of Minneapolis) in town last Monday, it seems as good a time as any to revisit their former homes.

The Minneapolis Auditorium:

It has to start on a sad note, doesn’t it? The Minneapolis Auditorium, located at 1301 2nd Avenue South, was torn down in the 1980s to make room for the Convention Center (which, in a twist of fate, would lose excess tax revenue in order to pay for the proposed Vikings stadium/Target Center update.) Its design seems to evoke some elements of the City Beautiful movement, although it retained much of its Midwestern-barn shape.

There is no doubt, however, that it stuck out from its surroundings: bright, long and new, it felt like a building destined to host political conventions, sports and Elvis. And it would. The problem for the Lakers was that, as a building that hosted a wide range of events, scheduling conflicts would arise. And when they would, the team would move across town to the Armory.

The Minneapolis Armory:

Now there’s a recognizable building. Although the Armory was built only nine years after the Minneapolis Auditorium, its architecture is completely different. Gone are the wide entrances, overhangs and polished stone; in are Art Deco curves and windows, along with a few eagles and “U.S.” markers. It is, after all, an armory. While the Minneapolis Armory’s livelihood has been threatened (the county once wanted to tear it down for a new jail), the building still stands…as an indoor parking lot. There are no shortage of proposals to find a more noble future for the building (one recent idea was to transform the space into an indoor farmer’s market), but until that day comes, it’s just nice to know it’s still standing.

The Lakers largely left Minnesota due to their inability to find a consistent home court. But if Juliet were to ask St. Paul, “what’s in a name?” he’d politely respond, “everything.” There’s a reason Minnesota’s sports teams are named after the state and not one of the two Twin Cities; the city’s didn’t like each other, and to name a team after Minneapolis was to ensure no one in St. Paul supported them. That wasn’t a huge deal for the Millers or Saints, but for the Lakers, it became a problem. Especially when they had to play games across the river.

St. Paul Auditorium:

The books will tell you that the Lakers would occasionally play at the St. Paul Auditorium. The question is: which one? Typing in “St. Paul Auditorium” to MNHS’ image database reveals photographs of this builing:

But that building isn’t Roy Wilkins. Even more, when you walk by the back end of Roy Wilkins, the signage above the doors reads, “St. Paul Civic Center.” But the Civic Center — at least the hockey arena — was torn down in order to build the Xcel Energy Center. So what’s going on?

The previous photo is dated 1910, with the St. Paul Hotel in the background.

And here it is again in 1965. Same archways, but this time with a gaudy “auditorium” sign and what appears to be Roy Wilkins next door. Appears, at least. So what happened to the real St. Paul Auditorium?

I don’t know. But, for the purposes of this article, the Lakers likely played in the part of the building that still exists (the seating in this 1932 hockey photo matches that of the Roy.) Unless it all still exists. I just don’t know.


Update: Huzzah. A photo of the “St Paul Auditorium Construction,” dated from 1931. Never mind that there are “St Paul Auditorium” photos from 10 years before that. Creative naming was not a strength of previous generations. Just ask your uncle Bill. Or your uncle Bob. I rest my case.

Update Two: They exist, side-by-side and colorized. But where did the other half of the auditorium ultimately go?

There is at least one more stadium a Minnesota NBA franchise called home. The Timberwolves date back to 1989, while Target Center wouldn’t open until 1990. As a stopgap measure, the Timberwolves played their home games at the Metrodome. You don’t need pictures of the Metrodome, but video is available here. And who knows? With the Metrodome’s future more uncertain every day, maybe we should take some time to study its place in Twin Cities history.

Sean Kittridge is the digital media intern for PAM. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

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