NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Wednesday January 26th 2022

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RETURNING CHAPTER 15: WHAT IS IN THIS PLACE?

By PATRICK CABELLO HANSEL

Our beloved family did not know the history of the garage they were cornered in. It was built as a barn by Sigurd Amundson in the summer of 1900, to store his cart and horse. Sigurd had begun building the house on Ascension Day in 1899 and moved into it on Candlemas Day, 1900 with his wife Evangeline (nee Magnuson) and their infant son, Ronald. Sigurd had immigrated to Minnesota from a small town near Lund, Sweden when he was eight years old. His parents, William and Jeanette (nee Olson) were charter members of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. (The one on 15th Avenue, built by Swedes, not the one eight blocks away, built by Norwegians.) They were buried in Soldiers and Pioneers Cemetery two blocks away, along with three of Sigurd’s siblings, who died at ages 2, 7 and 11 of dysentery, cholera and a work accident, respectively.

Sigurd first sold vegetables, used clothing, and pots and pans from his cart. As the automobile became more prevalent in the city’s poorer wards, he learned how to fix them, and started one of the first garages on the south side. Legend had it that his horse, known to all the children of the area as “Buddy” had run away on a cold Santa Lucia Eve in 1914. Some believed Buddy’s ghost still haunted the swale.

After Sigurd and Evangeline sold the house in 1928, and moved with their four children near to Diamond Lake, the new owners converted the garage into a small woodworking shop. The childless couple made cabinets, end tables, chairs and knick-knack shelves. They sold the house and garage in 1963 to an Augsburg professor, who rented it out to students. By the late 60’s it became the place to buy pot, and was raided several times by the police.

The incarnations that followed included: a halfway house for ex-cons run by an obscure Christian sect, transitional housing for Hmong refugee families, a feminist-lesbian organizing space, and a Pentecostal church. It was foreclosed more than once, inhabited by squatters, became a crack house, then sat boarded up for years, as thieves tore out all the copper piping and beautiful wood work. Brian Fleming bought it in the name of one of his shell companies, Horizons LLC, got renovation grants from the city, solar grants from the state, and fitted it with the fastest high speed internet, top of the line thermal windows and LED lights. It was the most energy efficient house in all of Phillips.

And the garage that had been a barn? The first floor was Horizon LLC’s training center, where teens learned computers and business skills, funded through grants from major foundations. The loft had been converted into a literal sweat shop with sauna and steam room, and trafficked women from Nepal, Ecuador and Bosnia, providing massages and other services. And in the basement, where our family was encountering evil in all its dressed up majesty, was a computer lab behind two leaded steel doors. A Russian national, an Alawite doctor from Syria with a fake Canadian passport, and two of Brian’s high school friends, sat at immensely powerful computers, manipulating bitcoin markets, hacking into companies large and small, and spreading disinformation.

That was the energy that surrounded Luz, Angel and Angelito, the energy they would need to overcome even if they never fully understood it.

To be continued…

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