My Penn-Ultimate Day in Armatage

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. Today’s post combines Max’s two final days in Armatage.

All of MinneapolisI had thought I might spend three days walking the Armatage neighborhood, but then I looked at what I walked the first two days, and what was left to walk, and took into account the sudden heat wave. (Cue Martha Reeves.) And so I divided the remainder into two segments, today’s and one more. These remaining portions flank Penn Avenue, which is the main commercial thoroughfare of the neighborhood. I decided today to finish up everything east of Penn, as well as Penn itself between 54th and 59th, a portion that allowed me to close the morning at two of my favorite businesses, Settergren Ace Hardware and Cafe Maude:

Even though I got started before the heat got too intense, I was glad to know from my prior visits that Armatage as a whole has a mature urban forest. The northwestern part of the neighborhood thankfully was particularly shady:

 Welcome Shade in the 5400 Block of Morgan Avenue South


Welcome Shade in the 5400 Block of Morgan Avenue South

The trees of Armatage are not only mature but also rather diverse compared to some other parts of Minneapolis. In particular, I didn’t see the density of ash trees that I’ve seen elsewhere, a good thing in the age of the emerald ash borer.

As faithful readers of this series may have gathered, diversity interests me in architecture as well as in trees. This northwestern portion of Armatage had a greater diversity of mid-century styles than the more bungalow-dominated southeastern portion I began in. I won’t enumerate them all, but there are a couple I can’t resist.

First, there is what I take to be the earliest, smallest version of the colonials that flourished and grew in size over several post-war decades. This one dates from 1947, so contemporaneous with the bungalows. It might have accommodated a GI who had both a larger family and a larger budget than those who bought the bungalows. Yet its scale is still more similar to the bungalows (and contemporaneous Cape Cods) than it is to later bi-levels such as I noted on day two in the portion of Thomas Avenue that was circularized in the 1970s:

An Example of the Initial, Smallest Version of the Post-War Colonial

An Example of the Initial, Smallest Version of the Post-War Colonial

The other style that particularly interests me is the flat-roofed mid-century modern. I found some examples of that in the Penn Model Village area, but to stay true to the order of my walk, I need to first present a couple items from the plant kingdom that diverted my attention along the way — items that brought me both happiness and sadness.

First, I paused to note that a homeowner had made the unconventional choice of a real ecosystem, rather than a lawn. I approve!

Not a Lawn, An Ecosystem

Not a Lawn, An Ecosystem

And then, alas, some bad news. Although Armatage might not have a lot of ashes, it has some. In particular, I found an ash tree that had barely gotten established before it needed to be marked for removal as part of the campaign to contain the emerald ash borer.

This Ash Tree will Never Grow Old, Alas

This Ash Tree will Never Grow Old, Alas

I previously noted that Oliver Avenue splays out into two curves at the southern edge of the Penn Model Village, where it connects with 58th street. In fact, the entire 5700 block of Oliver has a similarly curved shape, so that it connects with 57th street in a fashion akin to one side of the 58th-street triangle. Already on this asymmetrical corner, I spotted my first flat-roofed mid-century modern at 5701 Oliver Avenue South. However, it is not an original from the time of the development. Rather, it is a re-build from a couple years ago. However, I spoke with the homeowner and he told me that the house they replaced had been in a similar style. They had originally wanted to just renovate it, but after they and their architect inspected the interior, they all came to the conclusion that it was more practical to tear it down and build a new structure consistent with the history:

 A Recently Rebuilt Flat-Roofed Mid-Century Modern at 5701 Oliver Avenue South

A Recently Rebuilt Flat-Roofed Mid-Century Modern at 5701 Oliver Avenue South

Fortunately, I was able to directly compare this re-build to an original without any walking — its immediate neighbor at 5717 Oliver dates from 1947, the same as the torn down house:

Next Door, at 5717 Oliver Avenue South, the Original Flat-Roofed House from 1947

Next Door, at 5717 Oliver Avenue South, the Original Flat-Roofed House from 1947

After navigating the triangle and entering the 5800 block of Oliver Avenue, I encountered a table set up adjacent to the sidewalk where a girl was selling chocolate chip cookies. I’ve walked past plenty of sidewalk vendors in my day, but something about these cookies drew my eye — maybe the evenly dark color or the light sprinkling of sea salt on top. Oh my goodness, I am so glad I did stop and buy a cookie. This was the best chocolate chip cookie I’ve ever had:

The Best Chocolate-Chip Cookie I’ve Ever Had

The Best Chocolate-Chip Cookie I’ve Ever Had

Even though I’ve always stayed loyal to the original Toll House recipe on the back of the Nestlé chocolate chip package, I have to say, this was better. Way better. Not that it strayed very far from that classic. However, the subtle details are what matters. Of course, some of the most important details are those that no recipe would capture, including the all-important timing. As you might guess from the photo, this cookie was baked absolutely perfectly, having developed every last iota of caramelization without even the slightest tinge of burning — it tiptoed right up to the line. The flavors also suggested high quality ingredients had been used, and the sea salt brought it all out.

I asked the girl whether she had baked the cookies herself and she replied that they were homemade. Maybe I’ve been paying too much attention to politicians lately, but that struck me as a slightly evasive answer. (Scratch the “maybe.” I’ve definitely paid too much attention to politicians.) My guess is that she didn’t want to take personal credit for a team effort. Regardless of who stands behind these cookies, bravo!

At 59th street, I walked the short block from Oliver to Penn Avenue, one of the many places where I’ve been struck how close together a quiet residential street and a busy main thoroughfare can be. Turning north on Penn, I noticed that many of the houses were screened by landscaping. However, even amidst a heat wave, sun has its virtues. On the north side of 58th street, the corner lot was situated to get quite a bit of sun, and the homeowners were taking advantage of this by having solar panels installed:

Solar Panels at the Sunny Corner of 58th and Penn

Solar Panels at the Sunny Corner of 58th and Penn

The Armatage neighborhood ends at 54th Street, and that last block of Penn (the 5400 block) is one of the most commercially developed. In particular, the east side, where I was walking, includes two long-valued businesses: Settergren’s at 5405 and Cafe Maude at 5411. (A veteran of the neighborhood told me that 5411 used to house a grocery, before those were super-sized.)

I went first into the hardware store, where I immediately experienced the two key ingredients of this business: helpful, attentive staff and a wide assortment of merchandise. I’ve been able to take advantage of the staff on past trips when I actually wanted to buy something. This time, having come to browse, I was particularly impressed with the amount of actual hardware this hardware store stocks. Sure, all the tools and garden supplies and housewares and whatnot that one finds in hardware stores are important too. But for pure visceral thrill, to say nothing of relief when short one little odd-sized fastener, there’s nothing like bin after bin of parts.

Finally, after reuniting with my Less Pedestrian Half (and doing some rehydrating and cooling down), I returned to Cafe Maude for brunch. This establishment was an early example of the high-quality restaurants that now grace several neighborhoods in Southwest Minneapolis. However, it differs from its kin in one regard: it has a full bar, rather than just wine and beer. The usual limitation to beer and wine reflects Minneapolis’s strict regulations. Cafe Maude’s exceptional status, I’ve been told, reflects a special dispensation granted by the city council based on lobbying by a prior owner of the property. Regardless of whether this history is 100% accurate, I was able to start my brunch with a “Corpse Reviver #2.1.”

The “corpse reviver” drinks were all intended as hangover cures, but #2 in particular is good enough to be worth drinking even after a night of temperance. The original version called for gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, Lillet, and absinthe, all shaken with ice and strained into a chilled glass. However, after Lillet was reformulated in the 1980s, many bartenders have taken to substituting Cocchi Americano to better approximate the original flavor. This is what makes Maude’s version a “#2.1” corpse reviver.

Like all truly sublime drinks, this one can’t entirely be analyzed as the sum of its parts. The first three ingredients are the same as a “white lady,” which is to say, a gin sour with Cointreau, and so one gets the same mix of botanical and citrus elements with refreshing sourness. However, whereas I find a pinch of salt needed to bring out a white lady, the corpse reviver is lifted to an entirely higher plane by the addition of the bitter aperitif wine and the touch of absinthe. The former enhances the refreshing quality of the sour by drawing it out and adding the bitter note, while at the same time adding subtle floral notes from the muscat, which underscore the gin’s botanicals. Meanwhile, the absinthe adds a complementary anise element, like filling out a string quartet with a previously missing cellist.

Brunch is of course not prime cocktail-drinking time. (Less Pedestrian Half’s virgin bloody Mary was presumably closer to the norm. She tells me it was to her taste.) Instead, if you want to take full advantage of the bar, I suggest you come during happy hour, which at Cafe Maude is also known as “leisure hour,” in reference to Maude Armatage’s phrase, “civilized leisure.” And if you do come for happy hour, be sure to have one or more of the lamb sliders. I am absolutely convinced they are the best happy hour food item in the city of Minneapolis, tasty as well as a great value. (For three dollars you get a nicely dressed slider with a side of salad.)

But back to our brunch today. The curried tomato soup was very rich and flavorful, the truffled french fries with aged white cheddar fondue were hot and tasty (salty in the good way), and the wilted spinach salad with bacon, blue cheese, etc., was perfectly poised between virtuous and decadent. Most importantly, the poached egg that accompanied it was done just right (on each of our two plates), a level of care I appreciate. The brunch menu also includes a variety of egg dishes and burgers, both categories that we’ve enjoyed in the past.

Goodness, I do prattle on. When I return to Armatage, I expect the highlight to be a visit to Wagner’s Greenhouses and Garden Center, which I haven’t visited before.

FAREWELL TO ARMATAGEAll of Minneapolis

On my first, second, and third days in Armatage I had already covered the entire breadth and much of the depth of the neighborhood, but seeing all of Minneapolis meant returning for the blocks I had missed, to say nothing of the largest commercial establishment in the neighborhood. To gratify my geeky side, I mapped out a route that would start and end at the corner of Queen Avenue and Penn Avenue — a corner that only exists because city planners seem to have an ambivalent relationship with the grid, repeatedly being unfaithful to it, yet never abandoning it outright.

Were the Grid a Grid, These Avenues Would be Parallel, not Perpendicular

Were the Grid a Grid, These Avenues Would be Parallel, not Perpendicular

Another aspect of the anomaly is that if one were to head straight across Penn Avenue from Queen Avenue, one would continue onto 59th Street. However, this segment of 59th Street is further north than the usual alignment. Relatedly, as I headed south on Penn Avenue, I was interested to note that the street numbers stayed in the 5800s until I reached the point where 59th Street’s normal alignment would have been, at which point they switched to the 5900s.

Crossing 60th Street, I noticed that a rather bizarre item was still sitting on top of the traffic light control box, right where it was when I crossed in the opposite direction a week and a half earlier:

Did Someone Forget an Obturator Oven While Crossing the Street?

Did Someone Forget an Obturator Oven While Crossing the Street?

Thanks to the web, I now know that a GuttaCore Obturator Oven is used in root canal therapy. Not an obvious thing to find on a street corner.

I’ve remarked before on some anachronistic houses that stand out from the rest of the neighborhood. I saw another as I came up to the Wagner’s Greenhouses and Garden Center property. On the northeast corner of that property, instead of another post-war bungalow or duplex there is what looks for all the world like an old farmhouse such as one might find in rural Minnesota:

An Old Farmhouse on the Northeast Corner of the Wagner’s Property on Penn Avenue

An Old Farmhouse on the Northeast Corner of the Wagner’s Property on Penn Avenue

As it turns out, this is a perfectly logical spot for an old farmhouse, because Wagner’s got their start in 1901 growing vegetables.

The majority of the site is occupied by greenhouses for the wholesale business. Of the retail portion, a substantial fraction is occupied by the parking lot, which suggests that during prime time, it must be a bustling place. However, mid-day on a weekday after the planting season had pretty well run its course, I was able to browse in peace. And there sure is a lot to browse. I’m no horticultural expert, but just about any plant I could think of was there. Lots of annual and perennial flowers and ground covers, but also succulents, evergreens, vegetables, and herbs. In the vegetables, I noticed not only a good assortment of tomatoes (a 1901 staple) but also tomatillos and chile peppers (likely newer).

As I turned the corner from Penn Avenue onto the frontage road and started winding through the neighborhood, I once again noticed how quickly the noise of the avenue and highway fade into tranquility. In this particular part of Armatage, I noticed an even higher density of gardens than on my earlier walks. Maybe the proximity of the garden center is an incentive:

One of the Many Gardens Near the Garden Center (Specifically, at 60th and Russell)

One of the Many Gardens Near the Garden Center (Specifically, at 60th and Russell)

In the 5900 block of Russel Avenue South, the theme of flowers even continued onto a Little Free Library, which was otherwise notable for having two physical levels, presumably corresponding to two different reading levels:

A Little Free Library and an Even Littler, Equally Free Library (5900 Block of Russell Avenue South)

A Little Free Library and an Even Littler, Equally Free Library (5900 Block of Russell Avenue South)

As I turned the corner from Russell Avenue onto 57th Street, some happy voices drew my attention to the wading pool at Armatage Park, which I must have passed by too quickly on my previous visit — somehow I had overlooked this particularly striking piece of yarn-bombing from “Knitteapolis Yarnbomber”:

This Yarn Bomber is Messing with Minds (Wading Pool at Armatage Park)

This Yarn Bomber is Messing with Minds (Wading Pool at Armatage Park)

Nothing dramatically new turned up on Sheridan or Thomas , but I know never to give up on a walk until it’s all over. Sure enough, when I ducked down the dead-end portion of Queen Avenue that leads south from 60th Street, I found something noteworthy about Wagner’s: they apparently feel that even the side entrance leading to the wholesale loading docks and employee parking area is worth planting with flowers:

Even Loading Docks and Employee Parking Rate Flowers at Wagner’s

Even Loading Docks and Employee Parking Rate Flowers at Wagner’s

That just left me one (somewhat long and bent) block to go up Queen Avenue to where I began at the corner of Queen and Penn. And fittingly enough, my last view of Armatage was another garden:

One Last Garden Near the Garden Center (5825 Queen Avenue South)

One Last Garden Near the Garden Center (5825 Queen Avenue South)

All of MinneapolisThis article was published June 15, 2016, on the author’s All of Minneapolis blog. The original version is available there.

 


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2 Responses to My Penn-Ultimate Day in Armatage

  1. paula brookins pentel January 31, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    This is a fabulous account,there is so much to observe by traversing a neighborhood. in the summer of 1980, I along with 7 other graduate students walked the entire City of Minneapolis in a comprehensive architectural study of the City. Our daily study areas were areas of the city which had developed at the same time. We were looking for modal architecture as well as outstanding architectural examples that may have been overlooked by the HPC. The resulting book Legacy of Minneapolis, Preservation Amid Change was published in 1983.

    That was a very fun summer and I became a quick photographer as most folks get a little upset when a stranger is photographing their home/business….

    • Max Hailperin
      Max Hailperin January 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm #

      Thanks for letting me know about the book — I’m definitely going to check it out. Also, I totally agree with you about the need for quick photography, although when I have a reasonably convenient opportunity, I also ask for permission. (Occasionally when no reasonably convenient opportunity exists, I take the photo and then follow up with the homeowner to ask permission before posting it, for example if I want to ask about some artwork they have in the yard.)