This will be a story about a business card. Rather, it’ll be about the stories that the business card tells. The business card is that of my great grandfather Charles Austin Prettyman (who went by the initials “C. A.”). The first story is about the life my great grandfather was leading during the time he was actively using this kind of business card. The second story is about a magical moment that happened about 15–20 years earlier.
My grandfather gave me this card before he died in 1998. Everything I know about the card and its stories is presented below, so if you know more about the card or its stories, please tell me in the comment section at the bottom of the page!
C. A. Prettyman’s business since about 1915 had been real estate. In 1937 (the same year as his son’s horrific accident), C. A. moved to St. Paul, and in 1939, after he and his brother G. I. split their previous real estate ventures 50/50, he went into business on his own. According to his son Bill, C. A. would buy older apartments, subdivide them, fix them up, and rent them out. Bill remembered one building they worked on: a three-story building with 6 flats that C. A. and Bill subdivided from 6 units into 12. Bill noted that the particular building he used as the example above was now under the left field of the Minneapolis baseball field (whether he meant the Metropolitan Stadium or the Metrodome is unclear). According to Bill, C. A. and his son made a lot of money this way.
The card pictured above was my great grandfather C. A. Prettyman’s business card during at least part of the time he was in Minneapolis. From what I can tell, the Commodore Company is long gone, but at that same address today The Commodore Apartments still stand (see the 2012 photo from Google Earth below at the left). According to trulia.com, the apartment building, in the Loring Park neighborhood, was built in 1924, so it was apparently the base of operations of the Commodore Company. The Minnesota Historical Society has a couple of photographs of the Commodore Apartment building from the 1950s. A photo from May 23, 1955, is shown below at the right. Very little has changed in the last 57 years, and presumably little changed between the time C. A. worked there (late 1930s/early 1940s?) and 1955. The floorplans will give you an idea of just how small C. A. got the rooms—the largest unit in the building is a studio!
In case you’re wondering what C. A.’s residence looked like as well (I was, after seeing where he worked), I found the image shown below of 1815 Portland Avenue in St. Paul. According to trulia.com, it’s a 10,004 square foot, 7-unit residence built in 1913.
So I’ll bet you’re thinking “that’s nice, but what does this have to do with the title of this post, ‘Bill Prettyman and his dog-powered cart’?” Ordinarily, nothing. Except this business card wasn’t just any business card. This was such a special card that C. A. Prettyman carried it with him in his wallet until the day he died, according to his son Bill. Why? Because of what he had taped on the back of the card:
It’s a photo of a young Bill Prettyman, sitting in a little wheeled cart, being pulled by a happy dog. The dog looks happier than Bill, but Bill remembered that little cart fondly until the end of his days. Bill told me his father built that cart himself and then hitched it up to the dog for the amusement of his son. According to Bill, that little dog-powered cart took him “all over the place.”
With the usual disclaimer about my lack of skill in estimating ages, I’d guess that young Bill was about 3–5 years old in this photo. Since Bill was born on March 1, 1919, this photo dates to about 1922–1924. According to Bill (and the 1920 census—see image at right), C. A. was going by the name “Austin” around that time, and was running a real estate loan office on his own account. He also owned the house that he, his wife Rose, his young son Bill, and his older son Robert Austin lived in on Third (or perhaps Fifth) Street in Wadena (the census says it was Third Street, but Bill remembers it being Fifth Street). Also living with them at the time of the 1920 census, in addition to the family, was a 17-year-old female servant/housekeeper named Armada McCabe and a 28-year-old boarder named Harry Klausmann who ran an auto sales store. The house must have been large and well cared for and, I imagine, a great place to grow up in.
The photo is worn from spending decades in C. A.’s wallet, making it difficult to make out many of the details. I can probably do a better job of enhancing this photo, but for now, the image below shows off a little more detail than the original.
So that’s the thought I’ll leave you with today—that of a young and innocent boy enjoying a wonderful moment that his father created for him.