Formerly Known as Old Arizona
The Whittier Neighborhood is a true hub in South Minneapolis where all kinds of people have gravitated to throughout the years - artists and performers, makers, family-owned small businesses, and of course an amazing variety of great food options!
The original business located within Old Arizona's walls was called Twin City Scenic Company. Operating from 1895-1979, this historic scenic studio created theatrical products for Vaudeville and a variety of theater productions, opera houses, fraternal organizations, educational auditoriums, civic events, and commercial venues. A fire in 1980 brought an end to that first chapter.
Arizona Scenic, a company comprised of scenic painters from Arizona, rented a portion of the building in the early 80's and provided the television and film industry with backdrops and props until they filed bankruptcy and closed the doors. The building was abandoned, slid into advanced stages of disrepair and was referred to as that "old Arizona studio"... thus its name.
It became a scenic studio once again and was also used for countless events, photo, and video shoots. A few highlights include a Boys II Men photoshoot, a Prince music video, and many Hollywood wrap parties.
But the thing Darcy and Elizabeth are most proud of is that for 16 years, it was the home of free after school and arts programs and employment opportunities for over 1,800 teen girls from the surrounding neighborhood. Everything was offered in an affirmative setting, giving young women a safe space and connecting them to one another and new experiences.
The Arizona Bridge Project began in the spring of 1995 when 100 girls showed up for the mini-classes that were offered. Later, the program expanded and a Youth Advisory Council worked with Old Arizona staff to design classes that appealed most to these young women; some of the many courses offered were kickboxing, fashion design, and dance classes with professionals. A group of the girls even got to meet an early 90’s icon while she was rehearsing for a Pepsi commercial in the space.
Our location holds another wonderful part of the neighborhood’s history. The easiest way to tell people where we are is to say “28th and Nicollet,” but in fact, we are closer to the intersection of Nicollet Avenue and a little-known side street.
Over four decades ago, when the Kmart on Lake Street blocked Nicollet Avenue South, this one-way street, Cecil Newman Lane, was added to allow traffic from 1st Avenue South to Nicollet.
Born in Kansas City, Cecil was the grandson of enslaved persons and moved to Minneapolis in 1922, finding work as a night porter on the railways. Cecil was the first Black president of the Minneapolis Urban League and an influential leader in the community. In 1934, Newman published the first edition of the Minneapolis Spokesman, and not long after that, the St. Paul Recorder was released. Newman was also an activist for his community.
Later, he would also convince the owner of the Minnesota Twins to desegregate spring training.
In 2007, the two papers merged and now enjoys a living legacy as the oldest Black-owned newspaper in Minnesota and one of the longest-standing, family-owned newspapers in the country. Today, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder is helmed by his granddaughter, Tracey Williams-Dillard, who serves as CEO/Publisher. You can support MSR’s important work by becoming a subscriber!