The Audubon Park Neighborhood: A First Pass

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 MinneapolisConfirming my faith that alphabetical order would introduce geographical diversity, I went from one of the most southwesterly neighborhoods to one of the most northeasterly, the Audubon Park neighborhood in the Northeast community. On the other hand, the mirror symmetry limits the degree of contrast: at approximately the same distance from the city center, it ought not have surprised me that there would be some points of similarity. Not that I ought to assess each neighborhood by comparison with what I’d seen before, but that seems rather inevitable.

More specifically, I found housing largely of similar age and residential character to Armatage’s, though with a greater diversity of age, size, style, and occupancy. Also, Central Avenue Northeast is a busier commercial thoroughfare than either Penn Avenue South or Xerxes Avenue South. (Of the two commercial arteries of Audubon Park, Johnson Street captures more of the neighborhood feel.)

Not that I saw the fronts of many buildings on day one — as in Armatage, I chose a first-day route that used the broadly-spaced east-west roads to efficiently scan nearly the entire neighborhood:

Even a quick glance at that map will reveal that I started with a deviation from the east/west scan. Logically I ought to have begun at the southwest corner of the neighborhood, where Central Avenue intersects Lowry Avenue. I didn’t do that because I wanted to catch the farmers’ market near opening time and do the rest of my walking thereafter.

As in Armatage, the broadly-spaced east-west roads are numbered and the narrowly-spaced north-south ones are named. However, that’s as far as the consistency goes. The numbered east-west roads are here called avenues rather than streets, and the named north-south roads are here called streets rather than avenues. I suspect this interchange of streets and avenues must have something to do with the 1872 merger of Minneapolis and St. Anthony and the subsequent 1873 renaming, though even after re-reading Andy Sturdevant’s helpful column on that topic I’m still not clear just what.

Also (as Sturdevant points out), the named streets here fit a chronological pattern of presidents rather than an alphabetical pattern. All four of the borders of the neighborhood are special cases that deviate from the presidential and numerical norms: Central Avenue seems to have edged out what otherwise would have been Harrison Street, Lowry Avenue stands in for 25th Avenue, Stinson Parkway intervenes between McKinley and Roosevelt Streets, and Saint Anthony Parkway provides a gracefully swooping northern border to the neighborhood in complete disregard to the grid.

All of the above can be seen on a normal two-dimensional map. However, to appreciate the greatest novelty I experienced by switching to Audubon Park, you’d need a topographic map to see how much more hilly this neighborhood is. Not that I experienced the fullest measure of that until later in the walk, as the western and especially northwestern portions of the neighborhood are the more rugged. In order to start with the farmers’ market, I got off the number 4 bus at the comparatively flat intersection of Johnson Street and 27th Avenue Northeast.

The Farmers’ Market in the Lot of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (“To Build Community …”)

The Farmers’ Market in the Lot of Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (“To Build Community …”)

The Farmer’s Market (held from 4–7 PM on Thursdays) is a small one, but I was very impressed. It is located on a parking lot owned by Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, which is across 27th Avenue. In case the photo isn’t clear enough for you to read the inscription on the painted store front, it is the church’s mission statement: “to build community where God is at the center.” Fittingly enough, the vendors at the market were greeting the shoppers and their children warmly, as though weekly contact had built a community.

Of course, a community needs sustenance, and the vendors had plenty to offer. There was one selling honey and two selling produce, including some beautiful strawberries:

As it Says: Strawberries — The Intense, Small Kind

As it Says: Strawberries — The Intense, Small Kind

Had my Less Pedestrian Half been along, we surely would have bought a box, or even two, given that the other stall had equally nice looking ones. Given my own proclivities, I was more excited by the vegetables and herbs: garlic, garlic scapes, green onions, chives, kale, chard, kohlrabi, peas, asparagus, lettuce, cilantro, dill, basil, and perhaps others I’m forgetting. I would gladly have bought some of each, added a simple protein such as eggs, and considered it a feast. Unfortunately, my kitchen was clear the other side of Minneapolis and I still had a nearly 7-mile walk ahead of me on a sunny afternoon, so I regretfully tore myself away having feasted only my eyes.

I visited close to opening time so as to be sure of seeing the full assortment, but the vendors seemed well stocked, and when I passed back by 45 minutes later were still going strong. I also was glad to see that they were able to take Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer (SNAP EBT) thanks to a cooperative arrangement with the larger Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market.

I initially headed two blocks south so that I could start my east/west scan of the neighborhood on its southern border, Lowry Avenue. Unfortunately, the sidewalk along that very busy street was the only one I encountered that wasn’t separated from traffic by a boulevard, so I hurried along it without much regard to what I was passing. However, I was visually arrested by a tree jammed full of tart cherries growing in one yard, right up against the wall that separated it from the sidewalk. Although I love to consume tart cherry products, I know little of their cultivation and would never have guess so much fruit would already be looking ripe in mid June:

An Improbably Fruitful Tree in a Property on Lowry Avenue

An Improbably Fruitful Tree in a Property on Lowry Avenue

At the corner with Cleveland Street, I encountered the second of many churches I would see, and it seemed that the United Methodists shared with the Lutherans the idea that food undergirds community: they offer a free community meal on Saturday evenings. The chalkboard in the foreground of the photo contains many personal names; I suspect they are the children (or youths) responsible for the garden:

The United Methodists Also Connect Community with Food

The United Methodists Also Connect Community with Food

After completing my push eastward (and so forward in time, presidentially speaking), I turned up Stinson Parkway and then headed back westward (and backward in time) along the far more peaceful 26th Avenue. Although I enjoyed this walk, I was more interested in what I found on the 2600 block of Central Avenue.

First, there was this windowless brick face, with a large ventilation opening, the exhaust stack from an auxiliary power unit, and a main connection to the utility power. In short, even before I caught sight of the CenturyLink sign on the front face, I knew I had encountered a classic telephone central office:

As Functional as Every Telephone Central Office

As Functional as Every Telephone Central Office

Next door, at the southeast corner of Central Avenue and 27th Avenue Northeast, I spotted a commercial establishment that wouldn’t have been noteworthy on its own, without a telling detail prompting me to look closer. On its surface, it looks like a perfectly ordinary AutoZone retailer:

An AutoZone that Presented One of Life’s Little Mysteries

An AutoZone that Presented One of Life’s Little Mysteries

The detail that caught my eye was an age-worn sign indicating that parking was for Walgreens only. That strongly suggested that this building had previously housed a Walgreens. My mind tingled with déjà vu: I had seen exactly that succession of occupants for another similar building, also on the southeast corner of an intersection, but in the southern part of the city, at 54th Street West and Lyndale Avenue South. When that Walgreens on Lyndale gave way to AutoZone, it did so in order to move to a new building just down the block and over on the southbound side of the avenue. So, I looked to the corresponding position across Central Avenue and a bit to the south … and sure enough, there was a new Walgreens! File under life’s little mysteries: why would Walgreens move two stores across the street in the same way, in both cases to be replaced by AutoZone?

My mind buzzed with the mystery as I headed back eastward on 27th Avenue, but not so much that I couldn’t stop to appreciate the similarity between the telephone central office I had just passed and a much newer, smaller structure:

A Well-Ventilated DSLAM Cabinet with its Power Supply

A Well-Ventilated DSLAM Cabinet with its Power Supply

Boxes like these are distributed throughout the city because the Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers (DSLAMs) they house need to be in close proximity to the residential internet customers: high speed DSL signals can only travel short distances on ordinary phone lines. Internet access may at times seem to occupy an ethereal world of cyberspace, but it is actually a very physics-bound phenomenon. Just as with the central office, a power supply is necessary and ventilation to exhaust all the heat that the electrical energy is converted to as a byproduct of moving the bits around.

I saw another DSLAM cabinet and accompanying power supply a bit further east on the small triangle formed where Brighton Avenue, with its diagonal orientation, comes very close to slicing right through the grid intersection 27th Avenue and Arthur Street:

The Triangle Formed where Brighton Ave NE Intersects 27th Ave NE and Arthur St NE

The Triangle Formed where Brighton Ave NE Intersects 27th Ave NE and Arthur St NE

This time, though, what was more interesting to me on close inspection was not the DSLAM or power cabinets but the cross-connect or Serving Area Interface, which simply houses the connections between pairs of wires:

The Labeling on this Serving Area Interface Shows its History

The Labeling on this Serving Area Interface Shows its History

You can tell that this is a much older box not only by its general appearance but by the labels on it. Rather than showing the current CenturyLink brand, it bills itself as the property of Qwest — but it surely was updated to Qwest from US West, and probably before that from Northwestern Bell, judging by the warning label saying that before digging, one should dial the operator and ask for Zenith 2345. That’s a real oldie.

Speaking of labels, after I crossed Arthur Street, I found a label on a tree that strongly suggests someone just knew that eventually a photographer like me would wander along:

Weed Garden Since 2012

Weed Garden Since 2012

The triangle formed by Brighton at 27th and Arthur is just big enough for the telephone company pedestals and some grass, but the next triangle to the northeast is larger. Where Brighton cuts across 28th Avenue and Cleveland Street, the triangle is large enough to constitute a building lot, albeit an unusually shaped one. And some clever architect designed a particularly well-suited house to fit the lot:

A Well-Suited House for a Triangular Lot

A Well-Suited House for a Triangular Lot

Turning from 28th street onto the 2800 block of Central Avenue, I noticed some more points of interest among the commercial establishments. For example, the auto repair shop Turbo Tim’s Anything Automotive has a vegetable garden in its stretch of boulevard:

Boulevard Vegetables Outside Turbo Tim’s

Boulevard Vegetables Outside Turbo Tim’s

And Repurpose Republic not only sells a variety of second-hand items, they also display artwork made from broken glass:

Broken Glass Art at Repurpose Republic

Broken Glass Art at Repurpose Republic

Those were serendipitous discoveries, like most of what I encountered in the course of the walk. However, I knew that at the corner with 29th Avenue, I’d reach my goal-for-the-moment: Chimborazo Ecuadorian Restaurant. I knew this restaurant both from my own prior experience and from The Heavy Table, a food blog we in the Twin Cities can count among our good fortune. Most recently The Heavy Table included Chimborazo in their amazing Central Avenue Checklist, a series that with its comprehensiveness helped inspire my decision to walk all of Minneapolis.

As usual, I had a very pleasant experience at Chimborazo with service and decor combining to create a relaxing atmosphere. There’s also a very nice patio out back, which I would have been tempted by were this not my cooling-off break.

I started with a small bowl of the caldo de bolas de verde — green plantain dumpling soup. It was so good and so satisfying in even the small bowl that in retrospect, perhaps I should have upgraded to the large bowl and skipped the main course. (Though in that case I would have gotten a side order of llapingachos — more on those in a bit.) The soup has a peanut broth that has a rich, deep flavor (though without the viscosity that “richness” might suggest). It contents include such familiar vegetables as cabbage, green beans, corn on the cob, carrot, and celery, as well as a chunk of cassava (yuca) and the namesake green plantain dumpling, which contains meat. All of those ingredients harmonize in the key of mellow — but then are brightened up by the sparkles of fresh cilantro floating on top.

For my main course, I selected the hornado con papas — roast pork accompanied by llapingachos (cheese-stuffed mashed potato patties), mote (hominy), and an onion-tomato curtido (a marinated salad served on lettuce), along with aji criollo, a green sauce featuring more cilantro. The pork was a quite substantial portion, cut from the shoulder (I gather) and cooked to the point of easily shredding with a fork. Its flavor was rich and it carried the aji criollo well. For me, though, the sides were more interesting than the pork.

Llapingachos could easily be addictive. The nicely browned, intensely potato-tasting outside epitomizes comfort food, and the melted cheese revealed within is just different enough in texture from the potatoes to be an interesting variation on the theme.

Unlike the comfortably familiar llapingachos, mote isn’t for everyone. When I told the waiter I was trying to decide between the roast pork and the daily special (a grilled chicken breast), he highlighted as a likely deciding factor that the chicken came with yellow rice rather than mote. In particular, he would personally prefer the rice. That said, I really like the yielding-yet-resistant texture and low-key flavor of hominy, so I was glad to order it. I got plenty of flavor from the aji criollo and the curtido, which was perfectly balanced.

After dinner, I headed east on 29th Avenue, which brought me along the northern border of Audubon Park itself (the park). Of the two parks in the neighborhood, this is the more developed one with the recreation center and athletic fields. However, quite a bit of it is hilly and wooded, so that it would be suited for less organized forms of enjoyment as well.

Much of Audubon Park Reflects its Hilly, Wooded Context

Much of Audubon Park Reflects its Hilly, Wooded Context

Upon reaching St. Anthony Parkway, I wrapped around Northeast Middle School. I would bet anything that an architectural historian could date it accurately just from the pattern of fenestration:

Northeast Middle School Windows

Northeast Middle School Windows

Finally, at the far northwestern corner of the neighborhood, I came to what is arguably its jewel, the less-developed Deming Heights Park. Although Audubon Park has gently hilly and lightly wooded parts that might be more suited to Calvinball than to traditional organized athletics, Deming Heights pushes the adventure level up a notch further with some steep wooded hiking — albeit with staircases to avoid erosion:

Two Stairs Diverged in a Green Wood (in Deming Heights Park)

Two Stairs Diverged in a Green Wood (in Deming Heights Park)

The View from the Top of the Stairs

The View from the Top of the Stairs

In case you were wondering who “Deming” was that these heights should be named after, a plaque provides at least a partial answer:

In Memory of Portius C. Deming

In Memory of Portius C. Deming

My last view of the park, as I descended to Central Avenue to catch the number 10 bus homeward, was an elf door at the base of a tree. Judging by all the footprints and bike tracks that were scuffed into the neighboring sandy soil, I gather this elf receives a lot of visitors:

A Well-Visited Elf Door in Deming Heights Park

A Well-Visited Elf Door in Deming Heights Park

All of MinneapolisThis article was published June 17, 2016, on the author’s All of Minneapolis blog. The original version is available there.


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