Highlights from the interview with Lou Linden

Portrait of Louis Linden

On Architecture and Industry

LL: This is the last generation of industrial buildings to be ornamented. When you leave, we’ll go outside and you can look up. There are these great Romanesque arches. There are carved faces with little carved lions and clowns and shit. And the whole two-block long factory complex was all built at the same time. And it’s all ornamented in the same fashion. And that went away immediately after that.

This portion over here—this addition to the Copy Cat Building—was built in 1906. And if you look at it, that ornamentation is gone completely. It’s totally utilitarian. This is kind of the end of the 19th century, when your industrialists demonstrated their power and their sophistication by decorating. Even the factories are decorated.

And the brick work, it’s exquisite brick work, it’s just really quite remarkable. It really is one of the last pure brick piles. You know, basically this is a hollow shell. The floors are supported with cast-iron posts that hold those steel I-beams. But structurally, it’s all masonry. There’s no structural steel in these walls at all. And there is no pre-cast concrete. Interestingly, the Copy Cat Building has a lot of cast concrete floors. This building does not. And I’m not at all sure why.

But this really is, I think of the whole complex, far and away the most attractive building. And, indeed, it is really the most manageable in terms of its size. It’s only about 40,000 square feet, the whole building. And that makes it possible for a small number of impecunious artists to own it and keep it going.

Audio clip from oral history interview with Lou Linden

On the Decision to Buy

LL: I had been in here for about five minutes before I said, “You know, Nancy Sue, you could hang a fucking airplane in here.” And I had the airplane!

AF: [laughs]

LL: I was flying gliders at the time, and my flight instructor had pieces from two TGY4 training gliders from WWII. And I measured it off and I said, “TG4Y would just fit in here.” And, you know, I was hooked.

I’d always wanted a space like this, ever since I was in college. In about 1966 or 1967, in Minneapolis, on the west bank of the Mississippi River, right across from the University of Minnesota, where Bob Dylan used to hang out and play in the early 60s, there was this old firehouse that housed a bookstore, McCosh’s Books.  Old Mr. [Melvin] McCosh was like 85. He was retiring, closing up the bookstore and selling the firehouse. And I desperately wanted to buy that firehouse, because my father had grown up in that neighborhood. And I remember him telling me stories about what he was a tiny little kid, watching the horses tow the fire engines out of that firehouse. You know, vroom, vroom, vroom, the smoke coming out of the things. There was this volume, just something cathedral-like about it. I just adored it. But, you know, I was a scholarship kid. I mean, my day was complete if I could afford 75 cents to buy a fish sandwich for lunch. There was no way in the world that I was going to be buying real estate. So, it just went away.

So this really fed into that whole thing about huge volumes of space. And we said, “Well shit, we could knock this sucker out in about six months and move in.” And I was real tired of living in a rowhouse. We’d been living in a South Baltimore rowhouse for about 15 years, and I was sick of it. So we made an offer.

And there was at least one other couple that made an offer on the space. And they selected us. Not unanimously. But they did select us, on the condition that I would become the building manger. The fact of it is a number of them knew me from… Once Nancy Sue was over here, you know, you become friends with people. And having grown up in the building trades, I could do plumbing. And if people had a plumbing problem, they call me.

When I was practicing law, I always used to tell this joke about the lawyer whose sink gets stopped up. So he calls Bubba the plumber to come fix it. Bubba comes over and tears all the shit out from under the sink and sticks his head down there and his butt crack up in the air and does his plumber thing and fixes it. He gets it all done and it works, and he writes out an invoice and hands it to the lawyer. The lawyer goes into fucking sticker shock. “Jesus Christ, Bubba, this is more an hour than I make as a lawyer!” And Bubba thought for a moment and says, “Yeah. It was more than I made as a lawyer, too.” And I never ever imaged that I would become that joke. But I did.

AF: [laughs]

LL: So, they decided having a lawyer who could do plumbing and running the building was not a bad thing. So Bob [Levine] was well and truly sick of having been the building manager for probably about eight years. So that’s when we moved in here. No, well that’s actually when we started working on the place. It turned out it took more like two years to fix it, not six months. We moved in here in 2008. And it’s been a marvelous thing. I just adore this building. It’s my own private historical preservation project. I think I’m really the first person who came to this building with a distinctly historical preservation attitude towards it. And I’ve kind of been going down my list of things to do to try and preserve the historic fabric. It really is a historically significant building. Because of course, Crown Cork and Seal were the people who invented the bottle cap. And, if you think about it, the modern beverage industry couldn’t exist without the bottle cap.

Audio clip from oral history interview with Lou Linden