Much of the Como neighborhood lies between two diagonal sets of railroad tracks. The more northerly was originally the Northern Pacific, while the more southerly was the Great Northern. Today both belong to BNSF. (I previously photographed these tracks running southeast out of Northtown Yard in Columbia Park, adjacent to the Shoreham Yard interchange.) The one exception is a triangular area in the northeast corner of the neighborhood, bounded by Hennepin Avenue, the Northern Pacific tracks, and the City of St. Paul. This triangle corresponds closely to what was left for my third day.
A glance at the route map shows smaller blocks in the west than in the east, a sign that low-density residences are concentrated in the west, with higher-density residences and industrial/warehouse facilities in the east. Indeed, as I initially walked Talmage Avenue SE from 23rd to 27th Avenue, I could see tree-shaded detached houses much like those I had seen further west.
On the southwest corner with 25th Avenue, one residence differed from the others, looking as though it had previously been a retail store. The actual story may be more complicated. According to the building permits, 1055 25th Avenue SE began its life in 1889 as a dwelling, but in 1939 received its first of several electrical/neon signs, suggesting that it must have gone through a period of commercial use before returning to its residential roots.
Of the larger blocks to the east, the first I encountered encompasses the University of Minnesota’s Como Student Community Co-Op between 27th, Como, 29th, and Hennepin Avenues. Walking paths provide access to the interior courtyards.
The equally large area south of Como, and also extending somewhat east of 29th Avenue, holds non-residential facilities for the University. Most of them are warehouses or at least warehouse-like in character, such as procurement, food service, printing, and mailing. There’s also some outdoor storage. For example, have you ever wondered where patio furniture goes to spend the winter?
There are also a few spaces more directly related to the University’s mission, such as the Thomas E. Murphy Engine Research Laboratory and some art studios. If I were ever invited into those, they might well prove interesting, but this day I was looking forward to entering one of the warehouse buildings on 29th Avenue that was open to the public.
Not right away, though. First, I looped through the triangular 1960s-vintage industrial park that lies south of Weeks Avenue, holding everything from precision sheet-metal fabrication to “the leading plastic netting manufacturer in the world.” The southern vertex of this triangle is one of those fun places where two nominally parallel streets meet, in this case 29th and 30th Avenues.
OK, enough suspense. What was the University of Minnesota warehouse that I looked forward to entering? Answer: the one holding the ReUse Program, where just about anything that has been used at the University can find a new use elsewhere in the University or, failing that, in the outside world. They are open to the general public on Thursdays and on Saturdays from noon to 4:00 PM. Conveniently, I walked this area on a Thursday.
Stepping in from the bright sunlight, I needed to pause for my eyes to adjust. The first thing I saw were two analytical instruments, one of them a Biacore 2000 SPR system. Perhaps you wonder what SPR is. Welcome to the club. Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I can tell you it is surface plasmon resonance. But if that doesn’t interest you, these analytical instruments were next to a pallet of bricks and a couple more of hardwood animal bedding (perhaps also suitable for smoke generation).
The juxtaposition of analytical instruments with bricks and ground-up wood might be attributable to their location in the portion of the warehouse where already-purchased items await pickup. However, I saw equally marvelous juxtapositions elsewhere. For example, might you want a document camera together with an upright piano? Or a hand dryer with a centrifuge? As to the items on top of the piano, the mop head seems to be an escapee from a bin of them further down the aisle.
Many of the items would need specialized users or perhaps theaters looking for scenery. Perhaps the most broadly useful category is the office furniture, with plenty of cabinets and chairs. If you want a nice office chair for $10, this is your place. I was also dumbfounded by the number of bicycles.
Another portion of the warehouse is given over to books. Each shelf contains an eclectic assortment: American Plays is next to The Story of the Harvard Business School (or rather, its first 50 years, which ended in 1958), which in turn is next to the American Journal of Agricultural Economics and then Clinical Neurophysiology of the Vestibular System. And then a sudden, unexpected flashback to my former life as a professor of computer science: the Communications of the ACM. (That’s the Association for Computing Machinery, for those not in the know.) And glory be, it’s from the mid-70s! That was a golden age, in my estimation, when the Communications published seminal works in every issue. It was a time like the present age in biology, when enough groundwork was in place to make progress possible, but when there were still plenty of important open areas to explore. Opening to the first table of contents (July, 1976) confirmed my assessment: there were several articles of lasting importance even in this one issue. Surely the most famous is the one introducing Ethernet to the world; anyone using a wired computer network today may be familiar with this name. The article indicates that at the time, local networks were limited to 10 megabits per second and remote networks to 100 kilobits per second, but that this “can be expected to increase with time.” They got that right.
I took plenty of other photos: barrels, three-ring binders, glassware, pressure regulators, filters, electric meters, and stuff like that. (Like what? Like anything.) On my way out the door, I spotted one last oddball: a piece of unidentified equipment dangling its cover, which hangs at a crazy angle in all three dimensions. On that cover, a label strip says “DO NOT TILT.”
From 29th Avenue, I was able to pick Talmage Avenue back up. (It was interrupted by the housing co-op.) Heading west to 33rd Avenue, I learned more about where the stuff in our life comes from and goes to. For example, many of the “wet salads” in supermarket deli cases — potato salad and cole slaw, but also kimchi, salsa, and cherry ginger quinoa — come from Cre8it Inc., while much of everything goes to (or at least through) Veit’s recycling and transfer station.
These manufacturing and disposal facilities are examples of others I saw in the course of this walk. In the recycling and waste disposal category, I had previously passed Aspen Waste Systems on Weeks Avenue and subsequently passed the University of Minnesota’s Waste Recovery and Recycling Program as I turned back eastward on Como.
Across Como Avenue from the University’s disposal facility, a large industrial building was accompanied by an even larger lot full of stacks of wooden shipping pallets. The following photo shows just a small portion.
What product could they be shipping that they need so many pallets? The answer ought to have been obvious: their product is pallets.
After leaving this industrial area, I continued east on Como past the southern edge of the housing co-op and back into the main residential portion of the neighborhood. As I neared 26th Avenue, I was greeted by Max Nesterak, an MPR producer who had asked to join me for part of the walk.
He was just in time to see an interesting property on the northeast corner of 26th and Como Avenues. The transparent-walled garage, the main building, and the space between them hold an unusual number and variety of solar panels. As to the building, the main part on the corner looks like a lot of two-story commercial/residential buildings from the early 20th Century, aside from its paint job and the treatment of its entryway. The addition on the back is more unusual; in fact, it is apparently a rare example of straw-bale construction. The building is home to Sunny Day Earth Solutions, a nonprofit educational organization providing expertise in solar energy, straw-bale construction, and other sustainable building technologies.
Three and a half blocks later, we crossed under the Northern Pacific railroad tracks. That means it’s time for me to fess up: in the previous installment I had claimed to be done with the area between the tracks, but actually I still had this half of the 2200 block of Como Avenue left to go. We had a more important reason to go there than mere completeness: our lunch awaited us. Manning’s is a family-owned institution in the neighborhood, dating to 1932. I was so excited to go there that I forgot to take a picture. Luckily I had one on file that I took from the other side when I previously walked 22nd Avenue.
The appearance and service both made clear that this is a friendly, family-oriented restaurant and bar. I ordered a pint of Summit Extra Pale Ale and a fried pork-tenderloin sandwich, an item I’ve more commonly encountered in Iowa. The slab of pork was huge and it was enclosed in a nicely crunchy breading. It was served between two slices of toast, cut diagonally into triangles. I was glad the materials to add some acidic brightness were right at hand: pickle chips on the plate and mustard on the table.
After lunch, we first backtracked on Como as far as 24th and then commenced a primarily north/south zigzag on 24th, 25th, and 26th between Hennepin and Weeks. On the southeast corner of 25th and Hennepin we saw “Bad Apple mini urban orchard,” a hopeful prospect for the day when these saplings grow up to bear fruit.
We then took 25th Avenue south to Weeks Avenue, which runs at a diagonal parallel to the railroad. Before I proceeded southeast to 26th Avenue, we temporarily ventured one block to the northwest. This brought us back to Como Avenue across from 24th, a good spot for me to say goodbye to the other Max. It also gave me a chance to photograph the interesting building on the triangular corner lot, which I had overlooked when we were first getting to know one another and hurrying west on Como to our lunch.
As I told Max, it looks like the recent remodeling involved not just the stone and brick veneers, but also the addition of the second level. If one imagines just the first level, it starts to look a lot like an auto service station, explaining the garage door. I speculated that it might have been from the 1950s, a guess that was kind-of sort-of right. Building permits show a filling station (yay!) initially built at a much smaller size in 1924 (oops) and then expanded to the size of the current first level in 1946 and 1950 (yay again!). Following approval from the city in 2008, the second story was added as part of a conversion to office use that wrapped up in 2011.
After finishing up Weeks and 26th Avenues on my own, all that was left was a straight seven-block shot east on Hennepin to the edge of St. Paul at 33rd Avenue. Two of the more interesting sights along the way were Newgate School, “a nonprofit automotive technical school … [with] no tuition or fees … funded by the resale of donated cars,” and Hawkins, Inc., with a colorful array of containers labeled for hydrochloric acid, sodium hypochlorite, and sulfuric acid.
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 17, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.