When Phil Harder has a hankering to check out a band at 7th Street Entry, he doesn’t have to hop in his car and drive downtown from his home on Marshall Street, just north of Broadway. In Harder’s neighborhood—a lovely admixture of industrial scrap yards, hip galleries, and such hangouts as the Sample Room and the 331 Club—it’s not uncommon for him to step out his back door and descend a treacherous flight of homemade stairs to the muddy banks of the Mississippi River. There, at a dock he shares with neighbors, Harder climbs into his salmon-colored, eighteen-foot Shell Lake Cuddy Cabin vintage motorboat. He can cruise into the city for a rock show, or, if the mood strikes, take a leisurely trip to shoot some footage for a music video or movie—or just sit and watch as houseboats, canoes, and ore barges drift on by.
Harder is a purveyor of fine music videos (for Prince, Low, and Foo Fighters, to name but a few), a soon-to-be feature filmmaker, and one of the few riverfront property owners in all of Minneapolis. Much like a character in Huckleberry Finn, he leads a life that seems to be an extension of the fabled river.
Harder and his wife, Isabelle, discovered their house in 1997 while gazing at a satellite image of Minneapolis during a visit to the old Science Museum in St. Paul. Both of them grew up on rivers—Phil fished and made rafts on Wisconsin’s Black River while Isabelle pondered the international barges rumbling down the Nieuwe Maas in the Netherlands—and their eyes naturally wandered down the meandering black strip on the map that was the Mississippi. They were shocked to find, bunched in a group in Northeast, riverfront properties in the city.
Within a year, they had purchased a duplex that Harder describes as a “typical 1891 working-man’s home.” The two-story, white clapboard farmhouse, with a backyard that drops swiftly into the Mississippi, is one of only eight or so homes in Minneapolis perched directly on the river. Once a cheap rental, the building has been restored by the Harders so that the front looks no different from fifty years ago while the back features a boxy, stained-wood and glass addition that sticks out, allowing a view of the river that hadn’t existed before.
Both the add-on and the home’s interior were created with an amalgam of found materials. Inside are tangerine- and lemon-colored kitchen cabinets (a discovery from Bauer Brothers Salvage), which look like something from A Clockwork Orange and border a living room where the original beveled-glass doors and woodwork mix with futuristic chairs scored from the University of Minnesota ReUse Center.
Much of the footage in Harder’s videos and short movies utilize “found” locations around the river. Harder’s especially fond of his short film, Mr. Mississippi, in which he plays a rube in a vintage Shell Lake boat who picks up a blind, tuxedoed hitchhiker and trucks him downriver. Over the years, Harder has become a connoisseur of river culture and can enlighten any guest on the history of certain piles of nondescript rock offshore (old platforms for loggers to direct their wares into the current, and the spot from which the blind hitchhiker hitched). He enjoys the industrial sounds of the Caterpillar machines, grinding their engines and dumping metal, that emanate from the scrap yard across the river.
“We were looking for a little country in the city,” Harder said, while descending the riverbank stairs to the rickety dock he built with lumber foraged from a variety of sources. With this place, they certainly seem to have found their Eden.
This article originally appeared in The Rake magazine.