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.
The largely residential Bancroft neighborhood in southern Minneapolis’s Powderhorn community extends from East 38th Street to East 42nd Street and from Chicago Avenue to Cedar Avenue. In order to divide my walking evenly between two days, my route for the first day covered the western half:
From the pedestrian perspective, the streets in this neighborhood form a perfectly regular grid. (Automobile traffic, on the other hand, is unable to flow straight through the intersection of East 40th Street and 11th Avenue South due to the diagonal diverter at that intersection.)
This regular grid made it easy for me to plan a route that avoids any duplication between the western and eastern halves and minimizes the backtracking within each half. Or rather, I minimized the backtracking subject to the constraints of starting and ending at the same bus stop and not taking any bus segments in the midst of the walk. With those constraints, the problem is essentially a variant of Euler’s analysis of the seven bridges of Königsberg.
Had I kept my rule against mid-walk use of the bus but been willing to end at a different bus stop than I started, I would have been able to save one block of backtracking. However, as it turns out the layout of bus stops and routes is such that this would have forced me into less-desirable bus connections — not worth it for saving a single block of backtracking.
In any case, the place where I did get off the number 23 bus (and later back on it) was the corner of 38th Street East and Chicago Avenue South, which is the northwestern corner of the neighborhood. This is a commercial corner, but already in the first block heading south on Chicago, the residential land use became dominant. I was particularly struck by an elegant six-unit apartment building dating from 1931:
This was actually one of the larger residences I saw in western Bancroft — mostly I saw single family dwellings and duplexes, with a smattering of four-unit dwellings and the occasional slightly larger one such as this.
Crossing 39th Street, the dominant feature of the 3900 block is Calvary Lutheran Church, which also hosts the Urban Arts Academy:
After exploring the 3900 block of Chicago, I turned down 39th Street and saw lots of side views of houses. Generally this wasn’t so interesting, but already at the northwest corner of the intersection with 11th Avenue, I spotted an exception. The house itself was typical of the neighborhood, a two-story house from 1905. But the side view revealed that an artist lives here.
The garage door is painted with zig-zagging diagonals in aquamarine, a pattern echoed in the slats of the larger pergola immediately behind the house and the small pergola over the side gateway. Even the smaller of the pergolas behind the house (behind the larger one, which is to say, further to the left in the photo) echoes the pattern on closer examination, although at first the slats look parallel. The trick is that the slats on the far side of the roof are staggered relative to those on the near side, and each slat from both sides extends up past the ridge-line, so that seen as a whole from an appropriate angle, they criss-cross in an interesting zig-zag. In addition to all the fixed elements, the car parked at the curb also shows the homeowner’s bias:
After I completed my eastward trip on 39th Street and was headed back westward on 40th Street, I encountered the most architecturally interesting of the many little libraries I saw in this neighborhood:
This modernist structure at the northwest corner of the intersection with 12th Avenue combines perpendicularly a two-story wing and a one-story wing, with each section having sliding doors. The interiors can be illuminated with strings of LEDs that are supplied by a solar-charged battery pack tastefully concealed in the back.
Two blocks further west is another striking church building, the Fountain of Life. The painted “cornerstone” sign visible at the lower left of the photo indicates years of 1911 and 1919, though the city’s database lists the structure as built in 1900:
Although most of the houses I passed were two-story structures from the early decades of the 20th century, I did see a greater concentration of smaller, post-WWII structures in the lower-lying southeast portion of today’s walk (the south-central portion of the overall neighborhood). An example would be this well-gardened home at the corner of 13th Avenue South and 42th Street East, dating from 1952:
Once I took 13th Avenue all the way north to 38th Street, I was able to duck down the 1300 block of 38th Street to the front of Bancroft Elementary. There I saw from the inscriptions high above the main entrance that it (and hence the neighborhood) was named after George Bancroft and that the main building dates from “AD 1912.” The inclusion of “AD” might well have been normal at the time, but it also seems fitting for George Bancroft, who chose the career of a historian over that of a clergy member but persisted in viewing history from a religious perspective.
As in the previous two neighborhoods I walked, I saw lots of gardens. The difference is that this time I noticed more growing of food mixed in with the decorative gardens. Not surprisingly, much of this growing of food was in vegetable gardens — I even saw a vegetable garden outside an apartment building, as well as the more typical locations outside single-unit homes and the Calvary Lutheran Church. However, at 38th Street and 12th Avenue I also encountered the public Bancroft Meridian, which is billed as the first “food forest” in the city:
Twice already I’ve remarked upon the majority of the area being occupied by two-story houses from the early decades of the 20th century. However, only after turning onto 12th Avenue did I remember to take a picture of a typical example, a four-bedroom, one-bath, “1.7 story” dwelling built in 1912:
After winding through 12th, 11th, and 10th Avenues, I turned up Elliot Avenue for my final northward pass and stopped by 4053 Elliot Avenue, a two-story home built in 1916 that has the distinction of housing Christopher MacLeod, the baker behind Laune Bread. The front porch of his house is one of the places you can pick up a loaf on a Wednesday or Thursday, provided you ordered it at least two days in advance — he only bakes as much as he sells. (He promotes regular subscriptions, but thankfully for me also takes one-time orders.) In addition to the pick-up locations, he also delivers by bicycle in a large part of south Minneapolis.
Each week MacLeod bakes and places into the footlocker on his front porch two kinds of bread, one of which is a specialty bread varying from week to week, and the other of which is his regular “bread bread, a reliable half wheat half white sourdough.” I opted for the “bread bread.”
I couldn’t resist the temptation to tear off a sample right on the spot:
The crumb was soft, the crust resistant. The flavor couples a slightly metallic tang from the sourdough and rye with the grains’ natural sweetness (enhanced by the malted barley flour). The overall experience was very pleasurable and definitely reminiscent of the rustic breads I had in rural Germany, which fits with MacLeod’s life story.
Nearby I encountered the most cleverly constructed of the little free libraries, which was apparently produced by uniting two old crates with a cabinet front:
When I return to the Bancroft neighborhood, I’ll finish up the two blocks of 14th Avenue that I skipped today and also cover everything to the east of there, up to and including the west side of Cedar Avenue.
This article was published June 29, 2016, on the author’s All of Minneapolis blog. The original version is available there.
Here’s an update on my remark that the Fountain of Life Church (3952 10th Ave S) shows dates of 1911 and 1919 on its painted cornerstone yet is listed as dating from 1900 in the city’s property database. Since when I wrote this, I’ve gradually become aware of a disproportionate number of 1900 dates in the city database, some of them (such as this) at odds with other evidence. Thus, I’ve had to conclude that 1900 is sometimes used as a placeholder for a date that is for whatever reason missing from the record. I’ve also learned that the building permit index cards are a more complete authoritative record, albeit more labor intensive to search. In this case, the index card shows the initial foundation permit in 1911 and a substantial addition in 1919, corresponding to the two dates on the cornerstone.