Monthly Archives: March 2005

Bob Smith – No Force, No Fraud: A Dream Destroyed for Nothing

Bob Smith writes in his blog No Force, No Fraud about the shameful demise at the hand of the Park Board of the Fuji Ya restaurant:

Travel back again to 1968 and a small remarkable story related to that big wilderness that was the eastern downtown Minneapolis area leveled by urban renewal. Reiko Weston had operated her Japanese restaurant Fuji-Ya downtown on LaSalle since 1959. She dreamed of a restaurant near running water, a proper setting for a traditional Japanese restaurant. Somehow, she discovered and bought a property on the riverfront, to the east beyond the vast wasteland, on 1st street, a street that really went nowhere, south from the 3rd avenue bridge. Understand that the Minneapolis riverfront was run-down and undeveloped at that time, with ruins that were used by vagrants.

Reiko Weston saw the beauty of the location, hired an architect from Japan, and built a restaurant similar to many in Japan… plain on the outside, but offering a 250-seat, two level dining experience that included wonderful views of the river, the lock, and the famed old stone arch railroad bridge. The restaurant was constructed over, and integrated into, an old stone ruin. Fuji-Ya sat alone, unpretentious, but presenting to its diners a view that most of us had ignored or not even noticed as we busily drove nearby. She chose a place others had missed… she recognized a beauty we hadn’t, and gave us a seat from which to learn and appreciate.

Over the next 20 years, for the mere price of a fine meal, the Fuji-Ya offered thousands of us that experience served as only the Japanese do. For me, it was like an hour transported back to Kyoto, but it was also much more; it was a discovery of the riverfront itself.

Looking back from now, I wonder what impetus the presence of the Fuji-Ya had toward producing the much later riverfront “renewal”. There is no doubt that Reiko Weston led many of us there, and risked her livelihood and effort to lure us down a street that offered nothing else.

This is a story that deserves a happy ending, and Reiko deserved an honored place in city history. What actually happened was quite the opposite, and is a story that we MUST learn from if we hope to ever return to a society in which individuals are free from the arbitrary crushing power of government.

In 1987, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board took most of the Fuji-Ya’s parking, using their power of eminent domain. Reiko died in 1988, after 20 years on the riverfront. It’s not hard for me to believe, as her daughter does, that the battle with the city led to her fatal heart attack at age 59. Doug Grow of the StarTribune recently wrote of that time and the pathetic continuing problems of the Park Board.

The Fuji-Ya building still stands, overlooking the river, it’s broad windows covered with plywood. It has been Park Board property for 15 years now, and they have done nothing with it. It finally cost them $3.5 million in court, and has returned nothing, but it cost Reiko, her relatives, and her employees their dream. Tai San, chief chef, had been in the Fuji-Ya kitchen for 31 years. Reiko’s daughter Carol was forced to finish the battle with the city after her mother’s death.