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Finding Minnesota: Capturing 'Old Minneapolis'

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Do you remember a time when downtown Minneapolis had very few skyways, no stadiums and lots of department stores?

That's how the city looked in the early 1970s. And now, thanks to one man's newly-discovered treasure trove, you can catch a glimpse online, in a local museum and in a brand new book.

Mike Evangelist, 61, is a photographer who grew up in New Brighton, and has been fascinated with the downtown area since he was a teenager.

"The IDS building, I think, is just a fabulous building," he said, "and it looks, I think, as good today as it did when they built it."

He remembers when they built it because he was right there. He was a self-described "nerdy kid" from the suburbs with a part-time job at the downtown post office, and a nice camera.

He would take a bus downtown and arrive early enough to explore the area before work.

"Pretty much everywhere I'd look and everything I'd look at was new and exciting and strange and interesting to me," he said. "And there were department stores and shops from end to end and just constant streams of people shopping, walking up and down."

Some of those "people" also caught his eye -- namely the young women coming and going from the shops.

"Yeah, well I was 17 years old, remember?" he said, "and there were a lot of beautiful girls in downtown Minneapolis, no doubt about it."

Three years ago, he bought a scanner and started going through the old negatives and slides that had been stashed in a closet for decades. That's when he realized what he had.

"It's like finding treasure pretty much every time I sit down to work at this," he said.

He had photos of places that would not be part of the city's future, replaced over time by newer, taller towers.

The old Block E, a colorful corner that captured his imagination back then, has gone through two major overhauls just since 2000.

These were all photos he had taken for his own use, mostly to get some more practice in the art of photography.

"I was trying to learn how to use my cameras, how to use different lenses, different kinds of film," he said.

But when he started posting his photos on Facebook -- on the Old Minneapolis page -- the reaction was overwhelming.

"It captures things that people remember so fondly," Evangelist said, "and many times, it's things in the background of what I was actually photographing."

Now he's building on that power of nostalgia, with a new book: Downtown: Minneapolis in the 1970s.

It's written by Andy Sturdevant and filled with photos from a guy who never expected anyone else to see them.

"And to find that they resonate with so many people who love the '70s, who love the city of Minneapolis like I do, I feel lucky to be able to share them," Evangelist said.

He hopes that buyers of the book will recognize themselves or their relatives in the photos and contact him. That's already happened twice, and he sent each of them a print.

Some of his photos are also on exhibit at the Mill City Museum through April 3rd.

Send us your Finding Minnesota ideas here.

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