The Diamond Lake neighborhood is in Minneapolis’s southernmost tier, running generally from 55th Street East to 62nd Street East. The west-to-east extent of the neighborhood is even greater than the seven blocks it stretches from north to south. The western border is Interstate 35W and the eastern border is generally Cedar Avenue. That makes for a big enough neighborhood to justify four days of walking. Day one focuses on the north-central portion, as shown in the following route map. The main loop starts and ends at the intersection of Chicago Avenue South and 55th Street East.
The neighborhood’s position in the southernmost tier also makes it among the newest neighborhoods, as everything south of 54th Street was annexed into the city only in 1927. Development lagged annexation, perhaps due to the effects of the Great Depression. Most of the buildings date from the late 1930s into the 1950s. The very first building I saw, a 1939 duplex on the southwest corner of 55th and Chicago, is as typical as any. (The dwellings off of Chicago Avenue tend to be single-family detached houses, versus the duplexes on Chicago, but otherwise are similar.)
Across the avenue, a brick church building from 1958 exemplifies the later end of the development period. Its late date reflects its being the second on the site. A previous church was moved there by the Baptists in 1946 and extended in 1948; even after the extension, it was considerably smaller than the 1958 replacement. The texture of the 1958 wall contrasts with the 21st-century sign announcing the current occupant, The Urban Refuge.
The southern end of the 5500 block holds two atypically large and recent residences: a 12-unit apartment building from 1968 and a 27-unit condo from 1978. Both replaced unrelated buildings.
Continuing south on Chicago Avenue, which is the neighborhood’s main street, the 5600 block has retail storefronts on the east and Todd Park on the west. The corner storefront and the lighter-brick building next to it (containing Xavi Restaurant) both date from 1940, but the corner building was started a couple years earlier. The restaurant is only open for dinner, so I wasn’t able to stop there during my morning walk, but I later had an excellent meal there together with my Less Pedestrian Half.
The restaurant’s tagline is “neighborhood dining, evolved.” I’m not sure what neighborhood dining was before the evolution, but at least in this neighborhood, it now is something to be savored. The experience is enhanced by particularly attractive decor and attentive service, but those wouldn’t be enough without the exceptional food and carefully chosen beverage list. The menu is divided into small plates and large; I can’t report on the large as we chose to share six of the small:
- cured salmon with cultured coconut milk, pickled shallots, furikake spice blend and buckwheat crackers;
- beet salad with fennel, orange, grapefruit, Thai basil, fennel fronds and a cardamom orange ginger dressing;
- mango salad with ginger dressing, mint, scallion, crispy lettuce and cashews;
- ginger poached shrimp with cellophane noodles, roasted fresno peppers, beech mushrooms, peanuts and a miso chili dressing;
- crab cake with lemongrass rutabaga puree and mango chile jam (an off-menu special); and
- roasted lamb ribs with cilantro sauce and fresh mango.
All were interesting and balanced; choosing a favorite was tough. If I had to opt for one, it would be the salmon dish, in which the fatty flesh of the salmon was lifted up by the bright acidity of the pickled shallots, further accented by the spice blend, and then brought back home by the creaminess of the cultured coconut milk.
We also enjoyed two of the desserts, which were again both out of the ordinary and delicious:
- miso caramel pudding with sesame tuile and
- almond and marzipan layer cake with kumquat marmalade
Beyond Xavi, a larger building from 1951 at the end of the strip houses a Kowalski’s market. As to the park, it contains several ball fields, a tennis court, and a tot lot, but my favorite feature is the sign, which looks like it could date from when the park was named after a terminally-ill commissioner.
Turning east on 57th Street gave me a frontal view of Mount Zion Lutheran Church, which is also in the 5600 block of Chicago Avenue. I never cease to be impressed how many different ways there are to lay bricks so as to provide surface texture.
Speaking of my never-ceasing obsessions, I’ve sworn more than once that I’d lay off the little libraries. However, the best I can manage is that I’m no longer cataloging them as comprehensively as in the early walks. Now they have to be out of the ordinary in some way. This one in the 5700 block of 12th Avenue South qualifies due to its trapezoidal shape, transparent front and rear (contrasting with black sides), and arachnid figurehead. I also always appreciate it when little libraries are contextualized with other items, including in particular a seat.
Returning westward on 58th Street, I passed Providence Reformed Baptist Church on the northeast corner with 10th Avenue. It is older (1939) than the first two churches I saw and visually distinct from them due to the use of a half-timbered stucco exterior instead of brick. Half-timbered stucco also showed up in a smattering of the houses (perhaps particularly to the east of Chicago), though less so than in older neighborhoods.
More typically, the houses are finished with textured brick and/or stone (or stone-like) veneers. The next photo shows both of these possibilities, as well as an evocative set of lawn chairs. (Note also the flowers blooming in front of the house. Spring has sprung!) The photo after that shows more brick together with a folding style of metal awning that I saw on several houses in this area. It’s worth also noting that the visual texture of the brick arises not only from color variation but also from the deliberately scarred surfaces.
This neighborhood was definitely shaped by automobiles more than by streetcars, the Chicago Avenue streetcar line having ended at 54th Street. However, it was developed in that transitional period when with few exceptions the garages were still small afterthoughts on the alleyway.
One house in particular called my attention to this general pattern by deviating from it. Rather than having a garage on the alley, it has an attached garage. As with the few other attached garages I saw of this vintage, it is truly attached (as a screen porch might more typically be) rather than integrated (as in later houses). However, this one gives the garage’s status as a mere attachment extra emphasis by putting a small breezeway between it and the house, as though to visually indicate that it isn’t really intruding upon the house.
Although the bulk of the houses are one-and-a-fraction stories high, like those shown heretofore, I also saw some two-story Georgians, single-story ramblers, and other exceptions, particularly closer to the lake.
Continuing north on Portland, the western side of the avenue only has developed lots between it and the lake for a portion of the way from 59th to 58th Street. The northernmost of the buildings on the west is Diamond Lake Lutheran Church. After that, the lake bulges out enough to the east that despite the avenue also bowing a bit to the east, the intervening area is limited to a small strip of wetlands. Even with the traffic noise from the avenue and the intermittent noise from aircraft approaching MSP, it was lovely to stand and listen to the birds while looking out over the wetlands to the lake. There were ducks and geese on the lake, as well as birds in the trees and brush.
After completing the eastern shore of the lake and visiting a couple blocks of the 55th and 56th Street area north of Todd Park, I returned to 57th Street, which curves along the southern boundary of the park to Chicago Avenue. Across from the park, 631 57th Street East stood out not because of the house itself, but because of the sculptures in front of it. I chose not to picture them here without permission or attribution, but I would love to learn more about them.
One is a mobile, gently waving in the breeze. It exhibits several forms of contrast. First, the motion comes from two panels that oscillate contrary to one another; as one moves clockwise, the other moves counterclockwise. Second, those panels are riddled with circular cutouts, and mounted above each of them perpendicularly are two larger circular disks that catch the wind, so that there is a figure/ground contrast between the solid disks and disk-shaped voids. Finally, the rotating panels and disk-shaped vanes are in light-colored metal, whereas the base is dark.
The other sculpture, made exclusively from dark metal, appears to be an abstracted owl, with round cutouts for its eyes and a bent pipe along the top projecting out to suggest ears.
One I was back to Chicago Avenue, I headed south to 59th Street, then north on Elliot Avenue to 55th Street, the start of a series of south-and-north swings through this area to the east of Chicago. Along the way, I stopped to note more signs of spring, whether in the boulevard or (subsequently) on private property.
Before returning to signs of spring, one more example of how texture can be added to a brick wall. The gable area above the front door on this house features bricks that are sticking out at an angle.
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