Then & Now: Near North Minneapolis

Doing research for my recent Olson Memorial Highway article, I dug through the Minnesota Historical Society archives and the University of Minnesota’s Borchert Aerial Map Archive to try and figure out exactly when this road was constructed.

The answer is 1937, the same year that Olson himself died. It was also the year that the Sumner public housing homes were built here, and that the Minneapolis Farmers’ Market was moved into the neighborhood.

The thing is, this neighborhood looked so different when it was still seamlessly connected to both downtown and the river, before Interstates 394 and 94 were built.

Here are the aerial pics, along with the current Google maps image:

olson-memorial-mashup-2015 olson-memorial-mashup-1945 olson-memorial-mashup-1937,

Also, these MNHS images are worthy of a glance. Kind of a rarity for historical documentation, a photographer went inside the apartments of a mixed-use building that was demolished in 1957 to make way for new parking-lot-style housing at 1317 Olson Memorial and Humboldt Avenue.

Here are the pictures of the apartment interiors and a family who lived there, along with some exterior shots of a condemned store form the 30s:

olson memorial apartment 57 6 olson memorial apartment 57 5 olson memorial apartment 57 4 olson memorial apartment 57 3 olson memorial apartment 57 2

family apartment going to be demod 1957 condemned store olson memorial 1957 condemned store olson memorial 1957 2

[Correction: These last two photos are from the 30s, when buildings along the North side of Olson were demo’d for widening. The 50s demolishments were on the South side of the street, twenty years later.]

Frankly, this looks kinda like my apartment, especially the doors and the trim. I’m sure they spruced these places up for the photo shoot. I get the sense that the photographer was trying to change the narrative, and say “these aren’t slums, people live here.” I’d be curious to know the whole story of this photographer and this family.

Thousands of units of housing like this were demolished in the 50s and 60s in Minneapolis and Saint Paul to make way for the new freeways. It’s rare to see so intimately what they looked like.

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7 thoughts on “Then & Now: Near North Minneapolis

  1. Julia

    Thank you for finding and sharing these photos and please do update if you ever find out more about the individuals involved in these photos on both sides. It’s heartbreaking to see what our city’s planners destroyed for suburban commuters, but even worse knowing that this was (is) targeted at already marginalized communities.

    I remember reading that architects have a professional code of ethics that they follow, in part because of the role of architects in designing concentration camps. I’m wondering if civil engineers or urban planners have developed a similar professional ethical code, given their role in widespread and systemic destruction of so many communities of color in cities across the U.S.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    The apartment interiors (both of 1319 and 1317) are part of the Norton & Peel collection ( and the MNHS profiles show their client as “Housing Authority.” Maybe that implies exactly the opposite intention? That the housing authority wanted to show how inadequate this housing is (although it doesn’t look bad to me)?

    For what it’s worth, the writing on the first store picture looks like it says it’s at 1209 Olson (although MNHS has it entered as 1309) and would thus be a different building.

    This one, from 1950, says 1319:

  3. John

    I’m wondering why this area has changed so much. It looks like 94 replaced some housing but it is mostly farmer’s market property in the picture. Why is the eastern half so different? Did the city demolish it as part of a slum clearance campaign?

    1. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      There are different explanations for each area.

      The middle third or so (between Interstate 94 and Humboldt Ave) was an area where the city and state had concentrated public housing, as Adam mentions, and most of that was demolished and redeveloped. Some of that is still ongoing or pending, as you can see from the vacant areas around the southern park.

      The farther eastern part was an old upper-class housing district which fell on hard times pretty quickly. You can find the story of that area here:

      It gradually transformed to light industrial over the 20th century.

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