We all know how we feel when we lose a Local Hobby Shop, if you check out any of the forums there is always someone lamenting the loss of another LHS closing down. We returned from another business trip last Tuesday, Thursday on a whim I picked up a copy of the local paper ( I had cancelled my subscription about a year ago as I read several different sources on my Ipad ) and on the front page of the local section was a story about a local club that has to vacate it’s space without knowing where they will go.
The Twin City Model Railroad Museum has been in existence since 1934. Originally housed in the St. Paul Union depot until they had to move because of it closing down. In 1984 the St. Paul Port Authority offered the club space free of charge in a newly remodeled Como Shops car shop that was set up as a shopping/entertainment center. Next door in a remodeled machine shop was the Children’s Museum. Also in the area were business offices, hotels and residential housing. All heated from a central location, the area was known as Energy Park. The shopping center itself was known as Bandana Square.
One of the stipulations placed on them by the Port Authority was that the club would have to be open to the public on a daily basis. Admission was free, but donations asked for. I remember finding them early on and stopping by on a regular basis to watch the progression as the club built the layout. In 2003 the Port Authority sold the Bandana Square complex to a private management company.
One of the first things that the management company did was to let the club know that they would have to pay rent like everyone else. The club had to switch from free admission to paid admission. It wasn’t much but it probably hindered some from stopping by.
As rents rose, some of the small shops and restaurants moved out, new ones moved in and tried to make it. With a shifting occupancy and some vacancies, traffic to Bandana Square dropped. In addition to this, the Children’s museum moved to a newer and larger space in downtown St. Paul. The management company started to shift it’s focus to office space and now it is a medical office building. With a lack of traffic and becoming more of a destination the club struggled with meeting their rent.
And now they can’t make rent with available traffic and they have to leave.
My kids have grown up with me dragging them along with me to see the layout as it grew and neared completion. My boys never caught the model railroad bug ( though they are always asking to see progress downstairs as they appreciate what goes into building the layout ), only my daughter was interested in model railroading and was happy to tag along or hang out with me as I worked on past layouts. So I was very saddened to see that I would not be able to share this with my grandson.
I also realized that I had never taken any pictures of the club’s layout. Why would I, it’s been around for 81 years and would be around for years to come.
So with my wife in tow this time ( no, she had no problem with tagging along, she has always appreciated what goes into building a layout of any size and knows what goes into every little detail ), I headed out to capture the layout as they will have to shut down by October 26th.
Below are the pictures I took as well as a trackplan of the layout. The layout itself was featured in a Model Railroader article in 1999. Also, though I took somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pictures, the ones with the trains in action didn’t turn out. The lighting was not as bright as I would have liked, I prefer to shoot without a flash if possible, and the trains were running a little fast (I’m sure to hold the attention of those who don’t understand scale speeds) , so the trains were a bit blurred as they moved past. I will add commentary about those things a do know about.
You will notice in the above photos the painted backdrop scenery. The club installed the backdrop and had painted it a light blue ( oh doesn’t that sound familiar ), an artist stopped by one day to see the layout and volunteered his services to paint the backdrop if the club so desired. You can bet that they hopped right on that offer as no one in the club wanted to do it. I always felt sorry for the guy as much of they scenery and buildings were in place at the time.
The Stone Arch Bridge ( yes we capitalize it here in Minneapolis ) is an iconic structure. A club member and his father first built the basic form for the bridge and then hand cut 5000 pieces of basswood for the bricks on the bridge. He then cut and laid the ties on the bridge for the track.
I had not wanted to broach the subject with any of the members of the club as I felt they were pretty discouraged about the situation. But listening to them talk to others, it sounds as if they have found or are close to securing a new location for the club and layout. I can only hope so and wish them the best. Though I can share model railroading with my grandson on my home layout, there are others who may never be introduced to the hobby without someplace like the Twin City Model Railroad Museum.
Best off luck guys.
And Happy Railroading…