Local Current Blog

Prince’s birthplace is now a site for recovery from opioid addiction

Photos by Steven Cohen for MPR

“Did you know Prince was born in your office?”

Saul Selby was joking with a colleague — but his estimate probably wasn’t more than a few dozen feet off. We were standing in the east wing of the third floor of a South Minneapolis building that used to be Mount Sinai Hospital. The best available records suggest that in June 1958, that was where the birth department was located when Mattie Nelson checked in to have a son she and her husband John would name Prince Rogers Nelson.

Prince was born 60 years ago today, and he’s tragically no longer with us, due to an accidental opioid overdose in 2016. Poignantly, the very rooms where the infant Prince first saw the light of day are now home to Minneapolis men recovering from substance addiction — in many cases, an addiction to opioids.

Selby is vice president of clinical services at the Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, a statewide program. The fact that the program serves clients in the building where Prince was born is a coincidence: they’ve operated their facility at 720 E. 24th St. for about a decade, since long before Prince was known to be struggling with opioid addiction.

“Our program is designed to provide people with the level of support they need over a long period of time to help them build the skills they need to be successful in not using drugs and alcohol ever again,” said Selby. Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge, he added, is “a Christian organization, so for the clients that end up going into our long-term program, they’re signing off on an interest in being in a program that strongly advocates a relationship with God.”

Mount Sinai Hospital was Minnesota’s first non-sectarian hospital, founded in 1951 by community members including Jewish physicians who faced discrimination at other local hospitals. It was the Nelsons’ neighborhood hospital: at the time Prince was born, John and Mattie were living less than half a mile away, in a small apartment building that also still stands. Less than a year later, the family moved to a house in North Minneapolis.

“We knew [this building] was a hospital previously,” said Selby. “We didn’t know Prince was born here. At least, didn’t know!”

Mount Sinai merged with another medical center and dissolved in 1991. The Minnesota Adult & Teen Challenge is just one of the building’s tenants; the first two floors are occupied by a private Christian school named Hope Academy. Although the historical significance of Mount Sinai is well-known, specific records are scarce.

Representatives from Phillips Eye Institute, which also occupies a portion of that block, and Hope Academy were only able to cite “some old paperwork” indicating that the birth department was located in the east wing of a floor that’s currently home to about 60 men in long-term recovery programs.

“Basically, men live here, they eat here,” explained Selby, indicating a nearby cafeteria. The large room we were standing in, at the heart of what was likely Mount Sinai’s birth department, is now lined with computers that clients use to tap resources and make plans for what they’ll do when they leave the residential treatment facility.

Selby acknowledged that news of Prince’s death has helped to raise awareness of the magnitude of our country’s opioid crisis.

“It highlights the problem,” said Selby. “If a celebrity like Prince or Michael Jackson dies of an opiate overdose, everybody who’s engaged in their lives as an entertainer will that much more clearly understand that opiate addiction’s a big deal.”