MPLS History – The Street Car System – Part 2

By the time the 1950s rolled around, the streetcar system was showing a significant decline in riders. The city was growing quickly and many people were moving to the suburbs and buying cars to get themselves to work in the city. As Twin City Rapid Transit Company struggled to navigate the changing times, they went through some leadership changes. The company had always used a large portion of their earnings to reinvest by improving and maintaining the transit lines. In 1948, a Wall Street investor named Charles Green gained majority ownership in the company hoping to make some money, but the reinvestment and construction programs were holding profits down. Green, who described himself as a man “always looking to make a fast buck”, urged the other stockholders to oust the company president and put him in charge, which they ultimately did in 1949. Green immediately halted the reinvestment program and announced that the system would be completely converted to buses by 1958. Soon, however, Green was found to have ties to organized crime and he left the company after only two years. His replacement was a successful Minneapolis lawyer named Fred Ossanna.

Ossanna was brought on to keep the streetcar system going, and did for a time before actually continuing the movement away from streetcars and towards buses as well. Instead of maintaining the streetcar routes that were still heavily used and converting the outlier routes to buses, he made the decision to completely discontinue streetcar service and move to buses in two years. Streetcars were to replaced by General Motors-made buses. On June 19, 1954, the last streetcars ran in Minneapolis. The rails were eventually just paved over and sometimes can be seen exposed during road resurfacing projects to this day.

Some of the newer model streetcars were sold to other US cities such as Cleveland and Newark. A handful were also sold to Mexico City, where they were reported to still be in service as late as the 1980s.However, the vast majority of streetcars were actually burned and this is where the story starts to twist.

As years passed, it became clear that TCRT was being plundered for assets. It turned out that Ossanna, along with the VP of the company, were convicted of a number of cases of fraud. They had conspired to wring money out of the company during the transition from streetcars to buses. Ossanna had ordered that the streetcars be burned and the scrap metal and copper be salvaged and sold, at heavily discounted prices, to some of his business friends in exchange for kickbacks. There’s even a photo of Ossanna accepting a check from a man named James Towley with a burning car in the background! Ossanna and his accomplices gained about $1 million dollars from the scheme (in 1950’s dollars). Ossanna also may have accepted under-the-table money from General Motors for his dismantling of the streetcars and purchase of their buses. Ossanna was sentenced to four years in jail for mail fraud and was also the target of a civil suit by TCRT in an attempt to recoup some of the lost money.

Ossanna was also found to have close ties to Minneapolis organized crime, specifically infamous Minneapolis gangster Isadore Blumenfeld (a.k.a. Kid Cann). Years later, it was speculated that Isadore Blumenfeld and his gang had been manipulating the streetcar discontinuation project for years in order to put money in their own pockets.

In fact, by the 1950s, Minneapolis already had a long history of organized crime dating back to the turn of the century and a man named Albert Alonzo Ames. In the next entry, we’ll take a long look at the dark dealings of organized crime in Minneapolis and those that stood up against it.

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