The Longfellow community’s Cooper neighborhood hugs the west bank of the Mississippi, bounded on the south by 34th Street East, on the west by 38th Avenue South, and on the north by the Midtown Greenway. For my first day in the neighborhood, I concentrated on the portion south of Lake Street, though I left a little area along the river to finish along with the northern portion, so as to balance the length of the walks. The eight miles I planned for this first day included a main loop (shown in blue) starting and ending at the corner of 39th Avenue and Lake Street, as well as some back-and-forth spurs (shown in red).
The main loop starts with predominantly east–west passes through the area on 31st, 32nd, and 33rd Streets before switching to predominantly north–south passes on 48th through 39th Avenues. To kick this off, I headed west one block along Lake Street from my starting point to 38th Avenue, then south on 38th Avenue to 31st Street.
Already the initial block of Lake Street, the 3800 block, revealed its commercial character. On the north side, Blue Moon Coffee Cafe stands on the corner with 39th Avenue displaying an “everyone welcome” sign — an invitation I plan to accept when I return for the northern part of the neighborhood. Next to it is Hymie’s Vintage Records and across on the south side of Lake is Longfellow Market, which displays the words “Joel Ahlstrom, Proprietor” on its awning. That’s truly noteworthy, not because of anything particular about Mr. Ahlstrom, but because it signals that this is the rarest of rarities: not a chain, not a co-op, not a convenience store, but rather an independently owned, fully featured (though humanely sized) grocery store. I ducked in to buy a bit of snack mix from their bulk section, which is just inside the front door. In my quick scan through the rest of the store, I was favorably impressed by everything from the meat’s clearly-labeled sourcing to the cashier’s friendly service.
Even one block away from this busy commercial street, the neighborhood’s quiet, residential character becomes evident. Walking east on 31st Street, I saw mostly the sides of houses because the fronts face the avenues. However, even the sides can reveal interesting details.
For example, on the northwest corner of 43rd Avenue and 31st Street, one can see not only how the house was extended but also how landscaping features were arranged along the sloping margin from side yard to sidewalk. The tiled gateway arch, rustic bench, and jauntily off-kilter little library all serve to demarcate the boundary between private and public spaces, yet they simultaneously render that boundary inviting and permeable.
Across the avenue on the northeast corner of the intersection, the pagoda-like curve of a bungalow’s hipped roof is visible in profile.
Once I turned south on 46th Avenue, I started to see the fronts of houses. For example, I could see that the stucco finish on craftsman bungalows often extends to the flower box beneath the front windows.
In addition to single family detached houses, the neighborhood has a smattering of duplexes of all kinds: one-story, two-story side-by-side, and two-story top-and-bottom. As a general matter, duplexes are even more apt than detached houses to be “spec” (speculatively) built, which is to say, built without a particular owner in mind. As a result, they often stick very closely to standard plans; one sees essentially the same duplexes in neighborhood after neighborhood. Yet for whatever reason, I saw designs in Cooper that were unfamiliar to me, or at least that I hadn’t seen umpteen times.
The first duplex I photographed is only a slight variant on the basic two-story box. I think I’ve seen it before, perhaps in CARAG, but not so commonly as other designs. The nice feature, visible from 32nd Street, is an indentation in the side, providing more corners for windows.
One block further west on 32nd Street, Bethlehem Covenant Church stands on the northeast corner with 43rd Avenue. Like many churches, it shows signs of growth over several decades.
The owners of the house on the northwest corner of 32nd Street and 42nd Avenue made an interesting choice: they covered the loft hatch of their two-car garage with stellar artwork.
On the next block, another church building currently houses Thee House Uv Beth-El though it was built in 1909 for the English Evangelical Lutheran Church. The address has also changed over the years: it rotated 90 degrees from 3152 41st Avenue South to 4016 32nd Street East. The latter seems to correspond to the newer brick portion (with a cross worked into the brick), which has the appearance of an education wing and dates from 1956.
A couple blocks west of there, a garage on the south side of 32nd Street stood out for its decorative details including a nautical-looking clerestory window unit and a combination wind vane, wind mill, and birdhouse. (Rick Fuentes recently posted a much better photo of the birdhouse on Longfellow365, a community photography project.)
Upon reaching the western edge of the neighborhood at 38th Avenue, I turned south onto the 3200 block and also temporarily the 3300 block, before heading back east on 33rd Street. In the 3200 block, a coexist flag and buddhist statue seem suited to a house distinguished by its modest size, muted color, and large setback from the street. I assumed that the house’s size simply meant that unlike many others, it hadn’t been enlarged. Not so: it began as a truly tiny 24 by 12 foot dwelling in 1908 before being expanded to its current 24 by 24 foot size.
The address numbers on both 3313 and 3335 38th Avenue South exhibit design flair suitably coordinated to other aspects of their respective facades. (Unfortunately, design flair doesn’t necessarily comport with the city ordinance.)
Heading east on 33rd Street entailed passing the southern side of Cooper School (named for James Fenimore Cooper). Opened in 1923, this school was expanded in 1958, and closed in 2005. As of 2014, the school district’s plan called for it to receive a renovation and addition in 2017–2018 and then reopen. In the meantime, the playground on the north side of the site appears to serve as a community resource: a sign on the backstop fence invites residents to “Join your neighbors for Cooper Community Game Night at the Cooper playground, Wednesday evenings, June–August, 7:00–8:30 PM. Games, fun, and refreshments for all ages!”
At Edmund Boulevard, I looped back north to 32nd Street. Minnehaha Academy’s upper campus lies north of 32nd Street between 46th Avenue and West River Parkway. The original portion is visible from 46th Avenue, whereas the view from 32nd Street reveals some of the more recent additions.
I had neglected to initially venture a block south of 33rd Street on Edmund Boulevard, so I would later need to come back up that from 34th Street. Aside from that pending matter, I was now ready to switch phases into the north–south zig-zag, starting with going south on 48th Avenue as far as 34th Street.
In the 3200 block of 48th Avenue, I spotted another interesting duplex done in a bungalow style with what may be Tudor influences. To appreciate the most intriguing decorative detail, you may need to zoom the photo to full size, so as to make it easier to see a low-contrast white-on-white edge. The left and right edges of the facade extend beyond the actual corners of the building in buttress-like false-front fins, projecting further near the foundation than near the roof. However, the contour of these projections doesn’t follow a straight angle or a smooth curve; instead, the edges are irregularly stepped. I suspect this may have been intended as a picturesque suggestion of the crumbling wall of a ruin.
Before advancing a block west along 34th Street, I temporarily retreated the short distance east to the segment of Edmund Boulevard I had previously neglected. This boulevard runs close to West River Parkway and has houses only along the other side, on ground that slopes down toward the river. Taking a photo of the terraced lawn on one of those properties, I caught in the background a house that has a street sign in its side yard denoting the notional intersection of “Sayles Avenue and Belton Boulevard.” This was the second building I’d encountered with the Sayles-Belton name; the other was the Sharon Sayles-Belton Community Services Center in the Bryant neighborhood. The sign on that building served to honor the former mayor; the signs outside this one presumably signal her home.
On that same block, two adjacent houses from the early 1950s constitute a localized hotspot of contemporary architecture in a neighborhood otherwise nearly devoid of it.
Someone recently commented on how much architectural vocabulary I brought to my walks. I told him that the truth is the other way around: I’m learning the vocabulary as a result of the walks. I see something interesting and then afterward look up what it is called. For example, the house at 3305 46th Avenue South caught my eye because of its roofline. Aside from that, it looked like a lot of the other bungalows in the neighborhood. However, instead of a normal gabled roof, this house has a … half-hip, clipped-gable, or jerkin-head roof. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) A bit more googling tells me that this is a common variant on the craftsman style. In this case, it provides some nice additional opportunity for accent color.
Of course, once I learn some vocabulary, then I start seeing more opportunities to apply it. For example, I took the next photo for the sake of the crescent moon pergola gate but later noticed another clipped-gable roof in the background.
Although nearly all the residences in this area are single-family detached houses or duplexes, one substantial exception stands at the corner of 45th Avenue and Lake Street. In addition to being the main area of commercial development in this neighborhood, Lake Street also is home to this apartment building from 1964, which in its two stories plus basement holds 20 one-bedroom and 2 two-bedroom apartments.
Back in the 1970s, I was far from the only geek who discovered Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome design through the Whole Earth Catalog. Some of those geeks rushed right out to build themselves domes, but being only a kid geek, I filed the idea away as something I might do one day when I grew up. I suspect the builders of 3124 44th Avenue South had that same “one day” idea, but they made good on it. What else would explain a dome as recent as 1995?
As different as the dome is from its neighbors, another equally unusual building stands across the avenue a few houses further south, at the northeast corner of 44th Avenue and 32nd Street. Unlike the dome, this duplex is a contemporary of its neighbors, dating from 1927. My best guess as to the design influence is Mission Revival style; if anyone knows better, I’d love to hear from them.
As I neared 42nd Avenue on 34th Street, I could see that this intersection has the cluster of retail buildings that signals a former streetcar stop. Indeed, this was a point where the East 25th Street line turned a corner on its zig-zag course to the Ford plant. It ran along 34th Street between 36th and 42nd Avenues and along 42nd Avenue between 34th and 41st Streets.
One of of the buildings in this cluster houses Dock 6 Pottery, a gallery shop. Although ceramics do make up the bulk of its offerings, it also has smaller amounts of glass art and hand-knit items, including some delicate lace knitting appropriate to the impending spring weather. In an age when globally-produced goods are available at the click of a mouse, nothing shows personal care like a gift selected in person from the offerings of a local artist or artisan. I know people who for that reason do all their gift shopping for the year in the summer, when arts and crafts fairs are in season. May I suggest a gallery shop like this as a good year-round alternative?
After visiting the block containing this shop, I returned to 43rd Avenue for my next northward pass. One of the joys of seeing an area twice — once while on east–west streets and a second time on north–south avenues — is getting another view of the corner properties. Early in my walk, while on 31st Street, I had remarked on the neighborly cluster of a tiled archway, off-kilter little library, and wooden bench. Passing that same property on 43rd Avenue, I saw that it also sports a shard-mosaic peace sign and a cherub.
The 4200 block of Lake Street contains two buildings with prominent old signs. The American Rug Laundry dates back to 1895, according to their web site, but must have started elsewhere because the building on the northwest corner of Lake Street and 43rd Avenue wasn’t built until 1918 (with later additions). Even still, the building has plenty of vintage character, particularly in its neon sign.
The western half of that block (on the corner with 42nd Avenue) is occupied by Northwest Graphic Supply Company. The building dates from 1922, though the curved white-brick exterior looks somewhat more recent. Interestingly, the current occupants retained the sign from the former Anderson Chevrolet Company, simply updating its lettering.
At this point, my route map called for me to head south on 42nd Avenue before returning to Lake Street on 41st. However, I was ready for refreshment sooner than that, even even if it meant walking an extra block back and forth. Therefore, I headed directly to the northwest corner of Lake and 41st, home to the Hi-Lo Diner, a 1957 diner recently moved to the site complete with seats upholstered in greenish-blue vinyl.
There I enjoyed a Hi-Loma, a crystal-clear carbonated highball drink the diner serves on tap. This Paloma variant contains Agavales Blanco tequila, Tattersall Grapefruit Crema liqueur, lime, and habanero bitters and is served with a big strip of grapefruit zest. It was the perfect drink after five-plus miles of walking, being both wet and dry — that is, hydrating and not sweet. For the same reason, it would make a good before-dinner drink, whetting the appetite. The sour, bitter, and brightly aromatic fruity/floral aspects are all intertwined in harmonious balance as the foreground, with the tequila woven in to hold them together and form the background. The carbonation is gentle and the bubbles small in size, more like champagne than soda pop. With the happy-hour discount of 50%, all this costs only $3.75.
Thus refreshed, I returned to 42nd Avenue and headed south. In the first block, I saw another duplex (again from 1930) with the same picturesquely irregular protrusions from the facade I had seen on 48th Avenue — though other aspects of the design are different. (I wonder whether the front gables on this one, now covered in siding, might have originally been half-timbered.)
I also continued to appreciate the variety of choices residents make with regard to their front yards. When walking in the summer, I see more of the gardening, but even at this time of year there is a lot that can be done with inanimate objects. For example, in the 3100 blocks of 42nd and 41st Avenues, I saw in one case an eclectic horizontal assortment of small figures and in another case a pair of metal sunflowers growing up vertically beside the house.
Two final photos illustrate a contrast between the present reality of commercial property on Lake Street and its intriguing past and future. Across from the Hi-Lo Diner, Dogwood Coffee Company and Forage Modern Workshop have used bold signage to make the most of a rather bland single-story retail strip from 1954. One block west, on the southwest corner with 40th Avenue, an inherently far more decorative two-story building from 1928 provides a mix of residential and commercial space. The commercial space is currently vacant, with signs indicating that Ken and Jack’s Dairy Store formerly offered frozen meats. However, the building was just purchased in January, so it is easy to imagine a new use.
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 26, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.