Armatage, Day Two

Editor’s Note: Max Hailperin is walking each of Minneapolis’ 87 neighborhoods, in alphabetical order. He chronicles his adventures at  allofminneapolis.com and we’re sharing them here at streets.mn, at a pace of one or two walks per week.

All of Minneapolis

Although I had a framework for Armatage from day one, I was eager to get back and see all the important details I had passed by within this frame. For example, from looking down the avenues as I crossed them, and walking isolated portions of a few of them, I knew I’d see additional styles of residences. That even applied to Xerxes Avenue, which on the surface might have seemed like a low-payoff chore. After all, it is an unpleasantly busy highway, only one side of which is in Armatage (or Minneapolis, for that matter), and I had already walked three of its eight blocks. But had I written about it? Only about my lunch, an admittedly important topic. And I knew that I could count on Xerxes for more multi-unit rental housing, as opposed to the single-family housing that dominated day one.

Therefore, I decided to start with all of Xerxes and then wind my way through a circuitous path back to my starting point:

That’s a nice 6.4 mile walk, about right for a day. And it even started with a perfect opportunity for me to correct an error from day one. I had begun that earlier account by remarking upon a rosebush I found growing in the boulevard — only to have a helpful reader point out to me that it was actually a peony. Other readers, depending on when they read my article, may have seen it called a rose in both the text and the caption, a peony in the text but a rose in the caption, or a peony in both places. I regret this confusion. To be perfectly clear, here’s what I saw within the first block of day two:

A Flowering Bush. Definitely a Flowering Bush.

A Flowering Bush. Definitely a Flowering Bush.

The 5400 and 5500 blocks of Xerxes Avenue didn’t do much toward my goal of seeing a greater diversity of housing. However, that changed as soon as I passed the commercial node at 56th and Xerxes. (That node contains not only Pizzeria Lola but also Cavé Vin, a One Hour Martinizing location, and a Holiday gas station.) Immediately to the south of the gas station I came across what initially looked to be just a pair of double garages, although closer inspection revealed a residential building hiding in the back, likely a four-plex:

5613, 5613.5, 5615.5, and 5615 Xerxes Avenue South

5613, 5613.5, 5615.5, and 5615 Xerxes Avenue South

After that, the next property to the south is surely the largest apartment complex in the Armatage neighborhood, Xerxes Manor, a pair of sprawling three-story buildings:

Xerxes Manor

Xerxes Manor

Crossing 57th Street brings yet another change of residence type. Although I had seen duplexes previously, and would subsequently, the 5700 block of Xerxes was the definitive block of single-story duplexes. Aside from the corner house on 58th, the entire block was lined with quite similar buildings. (Or at any rate, the Armatage side was. The Edina side was entirely different, but that’s outside my scope.)

The Block of Single-Story Duplexes

The Block of Single-Story Duplexes

The last few blocks heading south on Xerxes didn’t have anything to match this for interest, so I’ll resume the inventory of housing types once I turned back northward on Washburn. First, though, I needed to get there — to make the connection from Xerxes to Washburn at the 62nd Street alignment. And that required taking the secret passageway:

Path Between Two Fences, Connecting Xerxes Avenue to an Alley That Connects to 62nd Street

Path Between Two Fences, Connecting Xerxes Avenue to an Alley That Connects to 62nd Street

By contrast with the single-story duplexes I had seen on Xerxes, the 5900 block of Washburn Avenue was definitely the block of two-story duplexes (again, all quite similar to one another):

The Block of Two-Story Duplexes

The Block of Two-Story Duplexes

And then one block further north, across from the Washburn Avenue Tot Lot, was the block of the sideways two-story duplexes. That is, these were oriented with their sides to the street, paired back-to-back with entries facing narrow courtyards between each pair and the next:

The Block of Sideways Two-Story Duplexes

The Block of Sideways Two-Story Duplexes

These blocks look to be the result of some major redevelopment, probably in the 1970s. However, continuing just a few blocks further north I came across 1950s-vintage multi-unit housing — a pair of buildings, each 2 stories plus a “garden level,” that the web tells me hold a total of 22 units:

5531 Washburn Avenue South, with its 5523 Twin Peeking Out

5531 Washburn Avenue South, with its 5523 Twin Peeking Out

I hope you are as convinced now as I am that the Armatage neighborhood doesn’t consist entirely of single-family houses, whether they be GI-era bungalows, 21st-century tear-down replacements, or anything in between. (Regarding the in-between, more later.)

I, in any case, was ready to turn my attention to other matters. I started looking at the details of properties, everything from the landscaping to the attic ventilation (the latter subject being one on which I recently received a crash course). By the very nature of being details, most of these would interest no one else, but I nonetheless want to pause to remark on what a pleasant way it is to spend a beautiful morning, with the careful observation adding crisp clarity to what would otherwise be sun-soaked relaxation. Only once did my careful observation draw the attention of a resident, who regarded me with an expression halfway between puzzlement and suspicion, a look no doubt familiar to anyone who has done anything so peculiar as to examine a city on foot.

Although I’ve foresworn diving into the details, the shadows in the following photo give it some aesthetic redeeming value above and beyond illustrating that the 5400 block of Washburn Avenue descends steeply enough into the valley of the Minnehaha Creek to require substantial retaining walls:

Major Grade Means Major Retaining Walls

Major Grade Means Major Retaining Walls

And then there was this rather sad detail, on Upton Avenue, I think, or perhaps it was Vincent Avenue — a note in a “little free library.”

A Little Library’s Sad Story

A Little Library’s Sad Story

I suppose we can hope that continued improvement in the overall labor market will result in fewer people finding it worthwhile to pilfer used books.

But back to the varieties of housing. Those who were along for the first day of my adventures in Armatage may recall that I executed an impromptu figure-eight turn through Thomas Circle (not Thomas Avenue) where it protrudes north and south from 58th Street. At that point, I remarked that each of these circles backed up against similar dead end circles that lie on Thomas Avenue south of 57th Street and north of 59th Street. Today I visited the northernmost of these four circles, the one to the south of 57th Street. And this time I more clearly recognized what had only dimly impressed me on yesterday’s visit to Thomas Circle. Namely, these houses look like they are straight out of the 1970s, primarily in the bi-level style:

 A Typical 1970s Style Bi-Level Home on a Thomas Avenue South Dead-End Circle (not Thomas Circle)


A Typical 1970s Style Bi-Level Home on a Thomas Avenue South Dead-End Circle (not Thomas Circle)

Indeed, the circles themselves, not just the houses on them, seem straight out of the 1970s. Which wouldn’t be odd aside from the context. This two-block section of Thomas is smack in the middle of a sea of bungalows from the GI housing boom of the 1940s — certainly no later than the 1950s. What happened to cause these two blocks to be redeveloped?

With that question unanswered, I returned to the north-central portion of the neighborhood, with its curves and well-screened homes. (Robbins Street in particular, the 54th-and-a-half street, is really quite lovely for those seeking privacy.) And in that north-central area, I can conclude my report as I began it, with a correction from yesterday, or at any rate a clarification of a half-truth.

In yesterday’s episode I described Cumberland Road as “a curved road that extends Sheridan Avenue.” Yet as I turned back onto Cumberland Road from 54th Street today, I saw that there it extends Russell Avenue, not Sheridan. Of course, that’s a curved road’s lot in life: by the very nature of its serpentine bend, it connects up with the grid in two different places. So, a more apt description would be not as an extension of one avenue or the other, but as a connection between them. Mea culpa.

All of Minneapolis

This article was published June 6, 2016, on the author’s All of Minneapolis blog. The original version is available there.


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