Mural on Kmart depicts fight to keep Nicollet open

An artist associated with the mural on back of the Nicollet Avenue Kmart said it depicts the neighborhood's fight against the closure of the iconic street. (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

South of downtown Minneapolis, Nicollet Avenue hosts a diverse mix of restaurants, coffee shops and ethnic grocery stores that reflect the neighborhood. But the artery connecting north and south Minneapolis ends abruptly in an empty cul-de-sac before 29th Street. Those willing to squeeze through a space between two fences will find themselves standing before a huge mural covering most of the back of a Kmart store. The Kmart is a focal point of a 1970s redevelopment that bulldozed several commercial buildings and interrupted Nicollet.

“The neighborhood was never enthusiastic about having Nicollet blocked,” said Marian Biehn of the Whittier Alliance. “At the time that Kmart was completed, there was a decision made to offer an olive branch to calm the neighborhood, so it was decided that a mural would be painted on the north side.”

The city of Minneapolis is negotiating to try to reopen the street. A symbol of the fight to keep the street open in the first place may be lost.

A panel in the mural representing the neighborhood's opposition to closing Nicollet Avenue (MPR photo/Jon Collins)

A proposal for the mural in 1978 argued that Kmart’s participation in the mural would be “an enormous gesture of goodwill that cannot be equaled by other public relations efforts.

“It is a means to begin the healing process in the neighborhood, to erode the serious divisions that currently exist,” according to the proposal by a group called City Art Productions. “[T]he mural project is a way for the neighborhood to lay the issue of the closing of Nicollet Avenue to rest, once and for all. The mural will bring to closure the hard feelings that have existed.”

Longtime Whittier resident Marilyn Lindstrom was one of six artists who worked on the mural. She and others in the neighborhood opposed locating the Kmart store over what she calls “the central intersection of our city and of our neighborhood.”

She said some Whittier residents were offended that there wasn’t a store entrance on the north side of the store.

“Even after we lost the struggle of trying to save Nicollet Avenue, and save all of those beautiful old buildings and stores and part of the city, Kmart really didn’t listen to the neighborhood’s concerns,” Lindstrom said. “We didn’t want the back of the store,  that’s normally out in the suburbs facing a corn field, facing our neighborhood.”

A group of community members selected the mural design from a handful of submissions.

The intersection of Lake Street and Nicollet Avenue in 1951. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society)

The first panel shows a man in a suit, representing big business, walking through a neighborhood. He passes a battleship representing the struggle over the closure of Nicollet Avenue. He then begins to close the door. The final panel shows just the brick wall.

“You see this man in the suit closing the door on the neighborhood, that’s really what is happening there,” Lindstrom said. “For us it meant closing the neighborhood and becoming the wall, just a grey wall.”

If the city does succeed in finally reopening Nicollet Avenue, Lindstrom would like to see the mural remembered.

“You can make a really nice long-lasting photo, and then it can tell the story as we saw it, as the artists who participated in our community, we could tell that story on a small plaque or next to it,” Lindstrom said. “I think it would be a really interesting and  important part of history.”

A spokesperson for Kmart didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.