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 Beltrami neighborhood in northeast Minneapolis is bounded on the north and south by Broadway Street and Hennepin Avenue, on the west by a combination of Central Avenue and Harrison Street, and on the east by Interstate 35W. This area is sufficiently small that I walked it all in a single day, as opposed to the prior neighborhoods that I divided into 4, 3, and 2 days respectively. (No, this arithmetic progression will not continue any further.)
Unlike Bancroft’s regular grid, which made it easy for me to minimize backtracking, the layout of roads here was rather challenging. Not that they aren’t based on a grid — they are. It’s just that the grid has been disrupted both by the freeway and by extensive rail facilities. I wound up passing through the intersection of Spring and Taylor Streets three times:
Unlike some other parts of the city where the designations “Street” and “Avenue” serve to distinguish roads that run north-south from those that run east-west, here nearly everything is a street. Aside from Hennepin and Central Avenues along the borders, there is one minuscule portion of 10th Avenue between Hennepin and 35W. The other north-south streets are presidential (Harrison, Tyler, Polk, Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan, and Lincoln), whereas the east-west streets are primarily seasonal: Winter, Spring, and Summer. Then there is the one-block-long Cemetery Street, positioned midway between Summer and Broadway so that it runs straight into the middle of the western edge of what is now Beltrami Park. But that’s a story for later.
Although much of the neighborhood is residential, it also includes a substantial proportion of light industry and a smattering of commercial establishments. This mix of land uses is only one regard in which the neighborhood defies easy description; the nature of the residences is another.
In the first three residential neighborhoods I walked, I was able to write about a predominant age, size, and style of housing and point out exceptional deviations from those norms. In Beltrami, nothing predominates or deviates; the mix is eclectic. I saw structures spanning the whole range from the 19th century to the present in a wide range of sizes and styles. It must be liberating to build in this neighborhood and not feel any pressure to conform.
I won’t attempt a photographic survey of this eclectic mix, but because some newer homes show up in the backgrounds of pictures I took for other reasons, I’ll provide balance with one older home. Very early in my walk, in the 700 block of Polk Street, I came across a magnificently ivy-clad brick duplex that turns out to date to 1900:
Where Polk Street tees into Spring Street, I turned away from the rail-yard underpass, crossed Taylor Street heading east, and paused to admire an eight-unit apartment building that stands at the northeast corner of that intersection. Built in 1969, it features decorative details that run counter to the inoffensive blandness of many apartment buildings from that era. My photo clearly shows the spots of color worked into the brick facade. Of equal interest to me, but much less clearly shown, the fascia boards (which looked like they might be redwood) have a convex scalloped edge.
At the next intersection, I turned left and headed north on Fillmore Street. Once I crossed Summer on Fillmore, I had a frontal view of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church across from the park. Although its history, like that of much of the neighborhood, reflects the Italian-American ethnicity that predominated in the early 20th Century, I was interested to learn from its sign that today it serves another cultural group, the Deaf.
Once I reached Broadway, I moved forward one president to Pierce Street, which was the first one (as well as the second to last) that I was able to take the full way from Broadway to Hennepin. Among the interesting details I saw on Pierce Street, I noticed that the home of Paws Massage and Pet Sitting had a fence equipped not only with promotional literature, but also a phone. I’d never seen a phone on a fence before, and it strikes me as a nice welcoming touch given that the yard may at times be occupied by unfamiliar dogs.
Nearby, however, I saw a house with an even more interesting collection of items in its front yard. The house at 610 Pierce Street Northeast turns out to be “home base” for the poet Paula Cisewski and her artist husband Jack Walsh, who together constitute JoyFace Poetry & Arts. I took note of three works Walsh had displayed. I’ll list them in increasing order of how enigmatic I found them to be. (I’ve included my snapshots of each of them, with Walsh’s permission.)
First, there is a clearly representational piece formed out of birchbark and weathered wood and steel. If this isn’t supposed to be a goat, then I’ll be one myself. At any rate, it has horns, a beard, and a tail, and it looks like it might have been grazing on the lawn.
Next up is a composition that so far as I can tell is completely non-representational: a carved wooden pillar wearing a knit cap and topped by an iridescent ball towers over a rusted steel spring that encloses a rounded rod and sits on a flat stone. These forms connect in my head with others I’ve seen: totem pole, mortar and pestle, caduceus. However, none of those associations dominates. Instead, I found myself contemplating it as a composition of forms, textures, and colors. Although I’d be perfectly happy to see the whimsical goat again, I find it easier to imagine myself repeatedly lingering in front of this second sculpture, seeing it in new lights.
Unlike that second work, the mysteries of which I could quietly contemplate, the third work left my mind buzzing with questions. Its most visually striking element is a mixed-media combination of paint and collage applied to a flat-screen TV. The bright orange-red paint contrasts with the black frame and in turn allows the turquoise head of a fantastic creature to stand out. On the TV’s stand, a remote control has been painted with the word “Love” in bold white letters on a dark background.
Is the use of mixed media on a TV a pun on the word “media”? Should I note that the only point of clarity is love, literally spelled out in black and white? (OK, so maybe it’s a charcoal grey rather than black, but still.)
My questions didn’t end there, though. Looking down from the bright TV to the ground at the foot of its supporting wooden pedestal, I saw a mask and a pair of black shoes. How is it that they simultaneously reminded me of offerings left at a shrine and shoes taken off before entering a temple? Can one pair of shoes be both?
Had I lingered more, I am sure I would have generated more questions, rather than any answers. Perhaps that’s why instead of lingering, I resumed walking, south on Pierce and then east on Hennepin.
Although a short block on Hennepin brought me to Buchanan, I didn’t immediately turn northward. I needed first to explore the little bit of Hennepin that lies between Buchanan and 35W as well as the cul de sac of Lincoln and the portion of 10th Avenue that lies between Hennepin and the freeway, which is just large enough to hold a bus stop.
Just after crossing Buchanan on Hennepin I spotted a classic example of a light industrial building, complete with the name of its original tenant, the Boe Manufacturing Company:
I’m a sucker for signs of former companies and knew that as soon as I got home, I’d look up what it was that the Boe Manufacturing Company manufactured. The answer turns out to be equipment for auto service stations, such as this oil display device patented by Hans M. Boe himself:
Once I finished my side trip and headed north on Buchanan Street, I was able to bypass Winter and Spring streets, as neither of those extends east into the area between Buchanan and 35W. However, Summer street did provide me a little room for eastward exploration within the neighborhood boundary. From an automotive perspective, this is a cul de sac providing access only to the garages associated with 651 and 701 Buchanan. However, for a pedestrian it is more interesting: it is the gateway to a pedestrian bridge that flies over 35W to connect with Johnson Street in the Mid-City Industrial Area.
After completing Buchanan, I detoured eastward on Broadway as far as the freeway and then returned westward along it as far as Polk. This brought me along the northern border of Beltrami Park, which I had previously walked the western and eastern borders of. This time I took the opportunity to explore the park itself a bit. In keeping with the area’s Italian-American heritage, the northeastern portion of the park contains six bocce courts grouped into a two-court combination and another four-court combination:
Speaking of the Italian-American heritage, I found nearby the plaque presented by “Minneapolitans of Italian descent” explaining that the park was named for Giacomo Constantino Beltrami, whose “discovery of the source of the Mississippi River … through persistence, audacity, self-denial, and steadfast courage … contributed a fresh chapter to the already brilliant record of important discoveries in this new land by such gallant Italian explorers as Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, the Cabots, and others.” (The Minnesota Historical Society describes Beltrami’s accomplishment a little differently: although in 1823 “Beltrami found what he believed was the source of the Mississippi and the Red River of the North” at Lake Julia, “The Mississippi’s true source at Lake Itasca remained unknown to Euro-Americans until an 1832 expedition led by Henry Schoolcraft.”)
Nor was this the only historical plaque in the area. Another helps explain the otherwise mysterious “Cemetery Street.” It turns out that “this park … in past days was Maple Hill Cemetery.” The plaque goes on to laude the “46 soldiers of the Grand Army of the Republic” who were buried there and to harumph about the “thoughtless actions” that “have deprived them of their right to individually marked and cherished graves.” Clearly there is a story here.
After rounding the park back onto Polk, I walked the short length of Cemetery Street and the only slightly longer portion of Tyler Street that lies within the neighborhood. The fact that Tyler Street does not extend south beyond Summer Street is attributable to the BNSF rail yards. Peeking through the fence, I was interested to see that those yards also house historic excursion cars marked “Milwaukee Road” and “North Pole Express”:
Rounding the bend from Tyler onto Summer, I walked the length of the latter street as far as Buchanan. On the northeast corner of its intersection with Pierce, I saw a good example of repurposed small retail building. Constructed in 1950, it looks like it might have originally housed a grocery store. Today, it is home to Neoneon Art & Design.
Looping back westward along Spring Street, I passed the first of two community gardens — the more formally designated Beltrami Neighborhood Community Garden:
Unlike that first garden, which I had known of through maps and listings, I was caught completely off guard by the “Parsley Park” community garden on another city-owned lot at 323 Buchanan Street NE. Unless it was renamed, it is probably a recent creation; the name and color theme certainly fit with the wave of tributes that followed Prince’s death in April of 2016.
At this point, I had walked nearly the entire area of the neighborhood, but I was still missing most of its southern border and all of its western border. Therefore, I turned from Buchanan onto Hennepin westbound and took the latter all the way to Harrison. Along the way, I got to see an industrial building from 1902 that was just renovated for office and retail use:
The southwestern corner of the neighborhood, where I turned from Hennepin onto Harrison, is a bit oddly shaped because Hennepin changes orientation near there from the east-west alignment to run perpendicular to the river. The corner lot is occupied by Legends Bar & Grill, with a sign promising “Big City Excitement … Small Town Atmosphere!!”:
Conveniently, it was lunch time, so I stopped in. In the middle of the day on Saturday of the 4th of July weekend, the big-city excitement was understandably in short supply, so I settled for the small-town atmosphere. For me, that was just perfect.
Scanning the tap handles, I saw that they had several quality beers. I opted for a pint of the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA. Although I was sitting at the bar and therefore ordering from Tina, the bartender, I was overheard by Becky, the waitress, who remarked that the Fresh Squeezed was exactly what she would have recommended if I hadn’t known which beer I wanted. (I later discovered that the two of them work as quite the team.) Since she obviously was in tune with my taste, I asked her for a food recommendation, and based on that ordered the avocado chicken sandwich.
The menu describes this sandwich as “A grilled chicken breast topped with melted pepper jack cheese, pico de gallo, sliced avocado, bacon, mayo, onion crisps & shredded lettuce. Served on parmesan toasted wheat bread.” I ordered mine without the pepper jack, and I think they interpreted that as “no cheese” and so also left off the parmesan, which was just fine with me. I really liked it as it came. Would it be even better with the cheese? I don’t know. Someone else will have to do the comparison.
The phrase “fat is flavor” is only partially true, and even for this particularly rich sandwich, it provided only a partial explanation. Yes, the avocado was rich and creamy. Yes, the bacon had a layer of fat to deliver its salty, smoky, meaty essence to me. Yes, the mayo helped offset the leanness of the chicken. But all of that powerful rich fatty flavor would have been for nought without the acidity of the pico de gallo. The whole thing came together into a wonderful inelegant mess that left me scrambling for the restroom to wash off my greasy hands but feeling happy inside.
Nor was the pico de gallo all that acted as counterpoint for the rich flavors. The Fresh Squeezed IPA was an exceptionally well suited pairing with its bright citrus flavors. And, to provide some further relief from the onslaught, I had an unusually thoughtful side-dish choice. Sure, they offer all the usuals like fries and cole slaw. But … wait for this … they also offer raw vegetables with dip. (I skipped the dip.) Why don’t more restaurants think to offer some milled carrots, broccoli florets, and celery sticks?
Was my experience at Legends the only experience one can have? No, they clearly have other customers who come for, and receive, other experiences. I’m sure they sell plenty of cheap vodka. I’m sure the place can get wild. But for me, on this Saturday afternoon, I had pleasant small-town service, flavor-packed food, and a refreshing beer.
At this point I was nearly done with my walk. I proceeded north on Harrison Street, and just as I was getting ready to merge onto Central Avenue, I needed to make a small excursion eastward on Spring Street as far as Polk. (I had turned from Polk eastward onto Spring near the beginning of my walk; now I was catching the part I had missed.) Fittingly for a heavily rail-influenced neighborhood, this means one of my last views was passing under the rail yard:
Then I had one last cul de sac on Summer Street to visit, and finally I was back to the corner of Central Avenue NE and Broadway Street NE. That is where I had begun and where I was able to catch the number 10 bus toward home. Next time I head out, I’ll be back to the Northeast community for the Bottineau neighborhood.