A Walk in Central Como

The day after I walked western Como, I returned to fill in some of the area east of 18th Avenue: all of the area between the railroad tracks as well a few blocks of the area between the northern tracks and Hennepin Avenue. I did quite a bit of backtracking, shown in red, especially in the industrial area in the southeast corner. I cleverly positioned the starting and ending points of my walk (marked A and B) on Hennepin Avenue where there are stops for the number 61 bus. Except that I did the walk on a Sunday, when this route doesn’t run. Oops. So I did a few extra blocks of walking at the beginning and end beyond what’s shown here.

Heading east on Hennepin from the 18th Avenue starting point, I passed under railroad tracks and then encountered a single-story concrete-block building with a sharp paint job that advertised it as a blank slate. As striking as this building was, I soon realized it was just the leading edge of a much larger and more varied complex, the former General Mills Research Laboratories: 14 interconnected buildings that now provide rental space.

Building 1 of the 2010 East Hennepin Ave Complex

Buildings 2 and 3 of the 2010 East Hennepin Ave Complex

Building 6 of the 2010 East Hennepin Ave Complex

I entered at Building 6 and made my way through characterful corridors, staircases, and fire doors to my destination in Building 10. Along the way, I noticed that most of the tenants seem to be either artists or food businesses. At last I emerged onto an upper level of the space occupied by Foci — Minnesota Center for Glass Arts. I was blown away. I’ve never done any glass work, but I’ve been in other studios and never seen one so well equipped. Anyone looking for classes or studio space should definitely check it out. Of more immediate value to me, I could also see that there was an attractive gallery shop. Descending to look in more detail, I discovered that the shop has a nice range of pieces with signs explaining the techniques used. Some are significant works worthy of any collector’s attention, while others are smaller pieces at prices suitable for ordinary gift-giving. Some of these are marked as benefiting the center rather than an individual artist. The only reason I didn’t buy anything was that I was just starting a walk; I’ll definitely be back.

Foci — Minnesota Center for Glass Arts

Another photo captures the view from the southeast corner of the property, at 21st and Talmage Avenues. Building 14, at the right of the photo, on 21st Avenue, with prominent bands of glass block windows, houses Quinn Violins. The other two-story red-brick building visible to the right of the street sign is (if I didn’t become disoriented) the Building 10 that I had just seen from the inside.

The 2010 East Hennepin Ave Complex, from the Southeast

Two blocks further west on Talmage, the house on the northwest corner of 19th and Talmage Avenues (dating from 1911) displays a well-preserved set of gingerbread fascia boards, contrasting with the plainer lines of the 1950s single-story houses adjoining it. The small size of the latter brings up one general point regarding how the housing I saw on this day contrasted with that on the prior day. Namely, a greater proportion of the buildings seem to have remained single-family, but this may be because fewer of them are large enough to encourage conversion into multiple units.

1823 Talmage Ave SE (1911)

Before heading south on 20th Avenue, I took one more look back to the northeast, seeing Building 14 over the crest of the railroad crossing. The tracks run along a raised berm, which allows the majority of the crossings to be underpasses without the streets having to dip down as far as would be necessary to provide the entire clearance. However, the tradeoff is that for the rare grade-level crossing, such as Talmage Avenue’s, the street needs to ascend to the track level. (Elsewhere I saw streets that rose in the same way, but then terminated at a dead end. Presumably these were grade-level crossings that had been removed.)

Talmage Avenue Grade-Level Crossing

Two blocks south on 20th Avenue, at Fairmount Street, a trashcan that would otherwise have been drab was brightened by the sunny Como logo that is used by the Southeast Como Improvement Association.

Como Logos on Trashcan at 20th Ave SE and Fairmount St SE

On the south side of Elm Street, large buildings of varying age house the MackayMitchell Envelope Company and the Murphy Warehouse Company. Each also has facilities elsewhere, but these are major operational sites as well as the headquarters.

MackayMitchell Envelope Company, 2100 Elm St SE

The Elm Street Portion of Murphy Warehouse Company

From Elm Street, my path took me first on a north-then-south-again spur up 21st Avenue and then on a less temporary northward trip up 22nd Avenue as far as Como Avenue, before retreating a short distance to the diagonal Cole Avenue. As I crossed Fairmount on 22nd, I took note of the Fairshare Farm Community Garden on the southwest corner, as well as of the little library it contains.

Fairshare Farm Community Garden, 22nd Ave SE and Fairmount St SE

East and North Sides of Library at Fairshare Farm

North and West Sides of Library at Fairshare Farm

Como Avenue remains the neighborhood’s main commercial street, so when I reached it on 22nd Avenue, I was able to stop for lunch at Sporty’s Pub and Grill. They proudly refer to themselves as a dive bar, and indeed some of the scruffiness is still there from the pre-Title-IX days when they were Sportsman’s Bar. However, they’ve also come into the modern age in more ways than just the name. Most importantly for me, a decade ago they progressed beyond 3.2 beer. At this point, most of their tap list is occupied by local and national craft beers.

Sporty’s Pub and Grill, 2124 Como Ave SE

I chose as local a beer as possible: a Banshee Cutter from Insight Brewing, less than a mile away. (The brewery is outside the Como neighborhood by the width of Hennepin Avenue.) I’ve never had a coffee golden ale before, and so I was a bit nervous. Perhaps the other brewers have a reason for only putting coffee in dark ales such as stouts and porters. I need not have worried. It was a very tasty drink, with the refreshing brightness I need in the middle of a walk.

Man does not live by beer alone, so I also ordered a burger and fries. The “Little Boy Blue” came with grilled onions and mushrooms as well as a pile of blue-cheese crumbles, which melted from the heat of the burger as soon as I put the top bun on. The fries were cut on the premises (some dive bar!) and tasted like actual potatoes.

Little Boy Blue and French Fries at Sporty’s

After lunch, I headed southeast on Cole Avenue, which runs at a diagonal, parallel to the railroad tracks. Near the end of the avenue, the strip between it and the tracks is occupied by the Cole Townhomes. The townhomes themselves were so generic in appearance that my eye was drawn to a tree in the courtyard instead. However, a sign subtly tipped me off that there was more to these townhomes than met the eye: the URL at the bottom of the sign ended in .org rather than .com. That’s because they belong to Riverton Community Housing, a cooperative. This housing cooperative is another product of Minneapolis’s 1970s cooperative boom, which I previously remarked upon in the context of the Cedar Riverside and Central neighborhoods.

Cole Townhomes

After looping around this corner of the neighborhood a bit more, I probed into the industrial area south of Elm Street, first on 24th Avenue and then on Kasota Avenue. The western side of 24th Avenue is entirely occupied by the Murphy Warehouse Company facility, until the point where it ends at the rail-side 1926 Calumet Elevator that Gary L. Hallman’s photograph brings out with such great tones.

Calumet Elevator and Murphy Warehouse, 24th Ave SE

The eastern side of 24th Avenue, by contrast, has a more diverse group of smaller occupants, including a commercial bakery, a tire shop for large equipment, and two metal fabricating shops, one of them being part of a medical devices company. Backtracking to Elm and going a short distance east to the start of Kasota Avenue, I was immediately confronted by another commercial bakery, this one the well-known New French Bakery, which was sold in 2013 to Arbor Investments and then recently combined with cookie and bar companies to form Rise Baking Company.

New French Bakery, 828 Kasota Ave SE

Another factory (Ritrama) produces self-adhesive products, but the majority of the buildings along Kasota Avenue seemed to hold warehouse space or business back-office functions, rather than manufacturing. Of the warehouses, one provides the Amazon Prime Now delivery service directly to consumers, while others situated within more traditional distribution chains include the Kasota Fruit Terminal and a Home Depot Lumber Distribution Center.

Just before Kasota Avenue passes into St. Paul (marking my turning point), a short dead-end to the north-northeast runs along a wetland area being restored from Bridal Veil Pond, which in turn was an artificial detention pond constructed out of the prior natural wetland. This area feeds Bridal Veil Creek, which ends at the Mississippi in Bridal Veil Falls.

Bridal Veil Pond, Being Restored as Wetland

Looking in the opposite direction, the view from Kasota Avenue provided a perfect microcosm of Minneapolis’s historical and present-day identity: railroad, grain elevator, and office-tower skyline.

Locomotive, Elevator, and Skyline

This rather austere industrial area is within easy walking distance of tree-shaded residences such as those I photographed at the intersection of 23rd Avenue and Fairmount Street and at the intersection of 18th Avenue and Elm Street.

880 23rd Ave SE, Looking Northeast Across Fairmount St SE

828 18th Ave SE, Looking Northwest from Elm St SE

Some more winding around brought me to another classic streetcar retail node at 19th and Como Avenues. Approaching from the south on 19th Avenue, the first thing I saw was a modern addition tacked onto the back of the original storefront strip; it gave no visual clue what was around on the Como Avenue side. A noteworthy occupant of this new addition is Potter’s Pasties & Pies, whose products I’ve enjoyed in the past.

Potter’s Pasties & Pies in Modern Addition on Back of Joe’s Market

Once I reached the corner with Como, though, I could see that this is a very typical 1926 brick single-story retail strip. The facade has been freshened up and the side facing 19th Avenue was bumped out a little while retaining harmony with the original. This corner portion holds Joe’s Market and Deli, while the end further from 19th holds Joe’s Laundry Mat. The web site for the Laundry Mat announces that they’ve been there since 1992, but apparently the building must have served essentially the same function under other ownership for decades before that: the building permit index cards reveal that laundry machines, gas dryers, and a suitably strengthened floor have been present since 1947.

Joe’s Market, 1820 Como Ave SE (1926)

After I crossed Como Avenue northbound on 19th Avenue, I saw a well-restored house, which had been converted to a duplex in 1969. The building permit records don’t suffice to show just how old it is, in that they begin with the 1894 construction of an addition. On the right of the same photo, in the background, is my first glimpse of the Tuttle school building, in particular its 1926 addition. Once I took Talmage Avenue to 18th, I was able to see the 1911 front of the building. I was a bit surprised to still see signage for “Tuttle Community School,” which closed in 2007. Conversely, I didn’t spot any sign for Heritage Academy of Science and Technology, which now uses the building.

1019 19th Ave SE (with 1894 addition)

Tuttle School, 1042 18th Ave SE (1911)

At this point, I took 18th Avenue to Como and then followed Como past the front of Joe’s Laundry Mat, Joe’s Market and Deli, and (a few blocks later) Sporty’s Pub and Grill, all of which I had previously reached using the cross streets. At Sporty’s I turned north on 22nd to Hennepin, reaching the ending point B on my route map. And that is the same spot where I will pick up again on another day for the eastern portion of the neighborhood — but hopefully not on a Sunday.

Editor’s Note: Max Hailperin is walking each of Minneapolis’ 87 neighborhoods, in alphabetical order. He chronicles his adventures at  allofminneapolis.com, where the original version of this article was published March 10, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.

Max Hailperin

About Max Hailperin

Max Hailperin's personal project is allofminneapolis.com. Minneapolis has 87 neighborhoods, including the three industrial areas. Some he knows well, others he has not yet entered. However, he has committed to explore all of them on foot: every block of every street in every neighborhood. He is working through the neighborhoods alphabetically, from Armatage to Windom Park, so as to focus in one area, then hop to somewhere else.

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