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The Central Corridor's funky treasures: A slideshow of offbeat "stops" on the future light rail line

In one magical zone in the Twin Cities, there's a loon made of junk, a chimney covered in shattered glass and ceramic shards, a place to buy tarantulas, and a hotel straight out of the Coen brothers.

It's called the Central Corridor.

The Corridor, especially along University Avenue, is dotted with some of our favorite offbeat things, and we've chosen ten to celebrate with photos by our ace lensman Bill Kelley. Of course, we couldn't begin to list all the places we love along the eventual rail route: the Asiatown restaurants, the bars, the bookstores...So we picked stuff that seemed to us totally one-of-a-kind. We trust that as the Corridor is built up, these treasures will be preserved to remind future generations that dynamic cities need to foster the funky as well as the fresh.

1) Chimney Mosaic by Angela Carlson Talle, 2005: 315 University Avenue W, Saint Paul

This sparkly smokestack rises from the building that houses the Bangkok Thai Deli. Talle has also created a notable mosaic of Barack Obama.

2) Victoria Theater: 825 University Avenue W, Saint Paul

This now-derelict theater was built in 1915 as a movie house--one of the cities' earliest. In 1925 it became the Victoria Café, a nightclub with a house band, Cloutier's Victorians, who made music history with their 1927 recording of "The Moonshiner's Dance," a rollicking novelty song that fused polka and jazz. It was the only song from outside the South to make it into Harry Smith's Smithsonian Folkways collection, Anthology of American Folk Music, which did a lot to spur the folk-music revival of the 50s and early 60s. Kurt Gegenhuber's  blog is packed with his research on the Victoria and the song, and he's helping spearhead a movement to preserve and refurbish the theater.

3) Ax-Man Surplus: 1639 University Avenue W, Saint Paul

Ax-Man is the Captain Beefheart of surplus stores: wilder, weirder, and more, well, theatrical than your standard Israeli-army-shoulderbag emporium. There are spiderwebs made of wire for sale here, keychain-pendant monkeys that cry when you squeeze them, bright orange vacuum clamps, and, for a couple of hundred bucks, a theater-curtain motor. Of the many strange object-collages that decorate the place, our favorite is an octopus made of a gas mask and doll legs that sits on top of a (real, enormous) traffic light.

4) Out of the Woods by Marcia McEachron 2002: University and Fairview, Saint Paul

The giant metal leaves that shade bus-waiting folks at this busy corner--and the leaf-shaped benches under them--typify the whimsical/natural approach of this artist, who installed a huge silver pine cone in Edina in 2008.

5) Midwest Hotel: 2144 University Avenue W, Saint Paul

Inside, it resembles the Charles Bukowski-esque environments reconstructed in art galleries by the California artists Ed and Nancy Kienholz, but it's a real hotel, one of the last of its breed, and it even got a good review on TripAdvisor.com.

6) Red Alert by Al Wadzinski, 2003: north side of University just west of Fairview, Saint Paul

Wadzinski's almost-airborne loon is made entirely of junk found in the Mississippi River: a couple of beer kegs and a lawn mower help define the body, part of a mountain-bike frame does duty as a leg, and there's a stop sign on the big bird's breast.

7) Twin Cities Reptiles: 2363 University Avenue W, Saint Paul

The front half of TCR is a standard-brand pet shop: cat toys, terrarium greenery, bunnies and hamsters. But head back into the low-lit heart of the place to meet the albino Burmese python, the African fat-tail gecko, the pygmy chameleons, and the various tarantulas, each in its little covered and ventilated plastic tray. The vibe here: zoology museum meets heavy-metal paraphernalia shop.

8) Schneider Drug: 3400 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis

Calcutta-born Tom Sengupta has been the owner and pharmacist here since the 1970s. Equally celebrated for his encyclopedic knowledge of medications, his warm connection with customers, and his political passions, Sengupta has made his drug store into a kind of shrine to grassroots progressive politics in the old-school Minnesota tradition, and he's well known in DFL circles.

9) Little Dearborn Parts: 2424 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis

Need a pair of headlights for your 1932 Ford roadster? You can pick them up here, but they might be halogens. Terry Kashmark sells a vast range of reproduced vintage auto parts, and reprinted owner's manuals too.

10) Molecule by Amy Toscani, 2008: Molecular and Cellular Biology Building, University of Minnesota, 420 Washington Avenue SE, Minneapolis

It's said that students passing Toscani's sculpture--one of many public art pieces on the U of M campus--debate whether it represents a real atomic structure or not. According to the artist, it's totally made up: an art-molecule.

Jon Spayde is managing editor of The Line.

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