I walk the streets of Minneapolis in order to pay attention. Our city is as segregated in its patterns of attention as of residence. There are the neighborhoods we know, and there are the neighborhoods that we know of. A visit is no substitute for living somewhere, but even a visit, if conducted with deliberately open eyes, is far better than reliance on a reputation. And there is no better place to start breaking down barriers of inattention than with myself.
My encounter with East Phillips made me think harder than usual about the kind of attention I pay. The next 11 paragraphs explain this. If you aren’t interested in these general reflections, feel free to scroll forward to the paragraph before the route map, where I start describing the walk.
Attention is not all good. The feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey emphasized the words gaze, voyeurism, and fetishism. As I understand it, the male gaze directed at the female in film can exert its pleasure-seeking power in two ways. The voyeur directs his gaze at a supposedly shameful female, punishing her for her shameful state by the very act of taking notice; he derives pleasure from that punishment. The fetishist diverts his gaze from the female as she actually is to an idealized female; he derives pleasure from projecting his own sense of the beautiful. Both reduce the female to a passive role, rendered shameful or beautiful through the activity of the male viewer.
The same is true for the neighborhoods I visit. In paying attention to them, I reduce them to characters in my story. I depict my visits to the neighborhoods, not the neighborhoods themselves.
Not all gazes are equally bad. I’ve tried hard to avoid voyeurism. If you look at my chronicles from Armatage, East Isles, or the 21 neighborhoods alphabetically in between, I hope you’ll find I never engaged in neighborhood shaming or prying into anyone’s dirty laundry.
On the other hand, in avoiding voyeurism, I may have steered into fetishism. In telling positive stories about beautiful places, I’m imposing my values as to what counts as positive and beautiful.
Also, in avoiding prying into the personal, I’ve largely erased the persons. Some photos have incidental bystanders, but you’d be hard pressed to find a recognizable face or a name. The few examples I can think of stand out for their unusualness.
This troubled me only a little in the first 23 neighborhoods. But East Phillips is different. It contains a visible concentration of members of Anishinaabe, Dakota, and other Native nations, particularly in the Little Earth housing complex. And my broader failings resonate in quite unfortunate ways with how we European-Americans have always treated Natives.
Certainly we’ve fetishized Indians. We’ve long viewed them through a wide and often contradictory assortment of stereotypes: noble, savage, beautiful, cunning, naive, shiftless, honorable, and others. Sure, other peoples have been stereotyped as well, but I have trouble thinking of others who have so routinely been displayed in museums — not their artifacts, but the people themselves.
However, the most fundamental myth we’ve told about the Indians is not their exoticism but their absence. The land was empty, “virgin,” just waiting for settlers. Europeans had two responses to the collision between that myth and reality. On the one hand, they came up with specious legalistic explanations for why the Indians didn’t really occupy the land: they didn’t have fixed settlements, or weren’t civilized humans. The land was essentially empty, even if not truly empty. It was empty of anyone who counted. On the other hand, the Europeans made the reality an ever closer approximation to the myth of emptiness, using the tools of genocide and removal.
In light of that history, my usual failings mean something different in East Phillips, and especially in Little Earth, than in Armatage or East Isles. When I show off photos from other neighborhoods, the residents might be flattered or annoyed by my choices, but they won’t be reminded of a long tradition of exoticism. And if I present other neighborhoods as though they were unpopulated, that doesn’t echo genocide and removal.
To avoid these difficulties, one could allow residents to use their own voices. Others have taken that approach. In particular, the geographer Dan Trudeau led a group of Macalester College students in collecting oral histories from Little Earth in 2008. Allow me to draw attention to this group’s report; you can follow the link and read the interviews. I am not taking this approach myself because it doesn’t fit my objective of walking every block of every street in the whole city.
So, I’ll stick with my outsider’s gaze, but I’ll be more disciplined about it. I’ve limited the photos from this neighborhood because photos can be particularly potent reifications of the gaze. In particular, you’ll see no photos of anything I recognized as Native, nor any of private residences. And I’m being cautious about what I write. I’ll carry some of that same caution into future neighborhoods, particularly where I see analogous historical circumstances.
Enough ethics, time for some geography. The East Phillips neighborhood was created in 2005 by subdividing the larger Phillips area. It lies between Bloomington and Hiawatha Avenues and extends north from Lake Street to 24th Street, except where the East Phillips Park extends it to 22nd Street. I started and ended near the southwest corner at the points on Lake Street marked A and B, which are stops on the number 21 bus. In addition to the main blue path between those points, I walked forward-and-back spurs shown in red.
In addition to the starting and ending A and B, the map has another A and B on Hiawatha Avenue at the intersections with Cedar Avenue and 26th Street East. These reflect a Google Maps problem; it didn’t realize there is a pedestrian trail along that portion of Hiawatha and so wouldn’t route a walk through there. To work around this, I broke the main path into three portions: first the route from the A in the southwest to the B on Hiawatha, then the hand-drawn dark blue segment along Hiawatha, and then the route from the A on Hiawatha to the B in the southwest.
With that planned, I set out on my 10.3 mile walk through East Phillips at about 8am on Monday, August 7, 2017, a walk that would end two blocks further east about 5 hours later, inclusive of a couple meal stops. I started by walking east on Lake Street from Bloomington Avenue to Cedar Avenue, then backtracked one block to 18th Avenue, where I turned north.
The first block of Lake Street, from Bloomington to 16th Avenue, is home to three restaurants (O-City Restaurant, Abi’s Cafe, and Star Dragon) as well as other retail businesses. The restaurants specialize in East African, Salvadoran, and Chinese cuisines respectively. None was open yet, so I was glad that this is the one block along the blue path that I was slated to walk a second time, around lunchtime. Buildings on both this block and the next one also feature murals.
Although most of the businesses on Lake Street are in storefronts geared toward foot traffic, I also took note of the Stop N Shop convenience store and gas station, spanning the entire 1700 block, which shone in the morning light.
Once I turned off of Lake Street onto 18th Avenue, I was out of the retail district and into a predominantly residential area. As in many residential neighborhoods in recent years, I was impressed how much of the boulevard space between the sidewalk and roadway is occupied by interesting plantings. The age of boring grass everywhere seems to be past. Perhaps younger people are already wondering what I’m getting excited about; this may seem normal to them.
The last block of 18th Avenue before its end at East Phillips Park is occupied, on the west side, by several historic buildings. The southernmost of them, now occupied by the Southside Family Nurturing Center, was built in 1893 as the Holy Rosary Convent, a Dominican institution. (The convent moved one block northwest, which puts it in Ventura Village rather than East Phillips.) I was interested to see the mix of arches: rounded romanesque arches for the doorway and the windows above it, but pointed gothic arches for the upper windows, where they echo the pointed gables. The prominent blocked keystone on the doorway arch is a renaissance touch. It seems that the 19th-century architect was not slavishly following any historical antecedent, but rather was thinking about what would create an interesting mix of horizontal and vertical emphases.
North of there, the Little Earth Neighborhood Early Learning Center occupies a 1932 building that was the Holy Rosary School. And yet further north, two buildings remain in use by Holy Rosary: an office building and the church. Both are stone buildings dating from 1887. The office building was constructed as a priory or convent, and the gothic church building (not surprisingly) as a church.
At about the same time as the convent was built, the area on the east side of 18th Avenue was used for South High School, which subsequently expanded several times and came to occupy that entire 2400 block between 18th and Cedar Avenues. That ended with the 1970 opening of the new South High in the Corcoran neighborhood. The school’s relocation opened up a large space for redevelopment, including also the athletic fields that were east of Cedar Avenue. That must have been one catalyst for the creation of Little Earth, although the land could surely have been used in other ways had it not been for the leadership of such people as Elaine M. Stately, one of the founders of the American Indian Movement. (Ms. Stately’s role was memorialized by naming a street for her, which I walked later in my route.)
Turning west on 24th Street, I initially walked along the southern edge of East Phillips Park, across from the church. Although I’d later see more of the park from other angles, I could already see some of its features, such as a multicolored set of playground equipment.
Continuing west on 24th Street, I passed townhouses and then, on the corner with Bloomington Avenue, Bi Di Gain Dash Anwebi Elder Housing, constructed in 2012. Immediately south of this elder housing, a storefront building has been revamped to accommodate Center School, with a mission of “providing transformative education, grounded in indigenous life-ways and a love of learning.” The school has decorated the front of the building with mosaics and the south side with a mural, but the north side also holds some interest, as it provides a clue regarding the history of this building and the neighborhood more generally.
Specifically, the north side of the building has a ghost sign on it advertising “John A. Dalsin and Son, industrial/commercial/institutional roofing and sheet metal contractors ever since 1912.” I was tempted to think this was the original tenant of the building. However, the first flaw in that theory is that the building dates to 1907, not 1912. Also, the ground floor looks more suited to retail space than to a contractor. Indeed, the 1908 city directory shows a grocer on the ground floor and the 1913 and 1922 city directories show meat markets there. (The upstairs, as with most storefront buildings, was a residence.) Might Dalsin have later moved in? But if he was already in business in 1912, he should be in the 1913 directory at some address. And there the story gets another twist.
John A. Dalsin is in the 1913 directory, and even on this block of Bloomington Avenue, although a few doors further south, at 2441 instead of 2421. And he is listed as being in the hardware business, rather than roofing and sheet metal work. That connects well with what I saw as I continued walking; the 2441 building has two ages of hardware-store signs on its north side, as well as one on its front. True, they all mention Welna rather than Dalsin. Still, I could tell I was getting warmer. (Also, the building now holds Doha Furniture rather than any hardware store; Welna has moved to a larger building across Bloomington Avenue, putting them in Midtown Phillips rather than East Phillips.)
Luckily, the story of Dalsin and Welna, roofing and hardware, doesn’t need a lot of digging through old city directories to untangle. A simple web search suffices because both businesses are still alive and kicking, each still owned by the respective family. John A. Dalsin and Son explain on their web page that in 1912, Dalsin bought “the small hardware store in which he worked”—that would be the one at 2441 Bloomington Avenue—“as well as the small roofing and sheet metal business which operated out of the back of the store.” So the city directory was correct to list him as in the hardware business, but he was doing roofing and sheet metal too, and that was the part that persisted. In 1954, his son Russ sold the hardware store to the Welnas, an event also mentioned on the Welna web site.
That still leaves open the question of what the connection is to the building at 2421, now occupied by Center School. The Dalsin company’s timeline shows them occupying a “new roofing and sheet metal shop with office above” starting in 1941 and apparently lasting until 1975. It doesn’t list an address for the shop and office, but the building permit index card for 2421 Bloomington shows a 1963 permit to wreck a shed on that lot as issued to Russel C. Dalsin. Together with the ghost sign on the side of the building, that seems to be clear evidence that this was the shop and office building.
In summary, a building shifted from food to roofing to education, while a roofing business broke off from a hardware store and moved down the block, leaving behind a hardware store that later moved across the street, where it still operates, having passed from one multi-generational family to another. I’m reminded of the Faulkner quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Continuing south on Bloomington Avenue, in the next block I saw some activity inside Shabelle Restaurant, so I entered and inquired whether they were serving breakfast. The gentleman I spoke with offered me anjera (canjeero) and tea, which I gratefully accepted. For those not familiar with Somali anjera, they are more similar to pancakes than to Ethiopian injera. The tea was sweet and very flavorfully spiced.
Although my route turned east at 26th Street, I first continued down Bloomington Avenue one more block as a spur. In addition to more retail space and a couple houses, this block contains the Mercy Center (Masjid Al Rahma), a mosque on the northeast corner of the intersection with 27th Street. The organization only bought the property in late 2016, and, at least on the exterior, the architectural details still show clear signs of its former life as Oliver Presbyterian Church. For now, the indications of its new function seem to be limited to the beautifully calligraphic sign, which is repeated both on a free-standing signboard and on an engraved stone set into the newer of the two buildings.
The differing age of the two Mercy Center buildings attracted my attention. Quite commonly one sees an older church building paired with a more recent education building. Here, though, the education building is from 1954 whereas what was the main church building is more recent. The obvious answer is that an older church had originally stood on the corner, been augmented by the education building in the 1950s, and then been torn down and replaced in the 1980s. An article by Ingrid Sundstrom in the December 2, 1982, Star Tribune (page 37) explains that the church needed to be rebuilt because of the damage it had sustained in a June 1981 tornado.
Returning to 26th Street and turning east, the sedate green awnings on the corner building suddenly gave way to a grinning red-vested skeleton painted on the garage door associated with BareBones Productions, a non-profit organization with a mission “to bring art into community and community into art through movement, puppetry and spectacle performance; creative re-use, education, and collaboration.” Beyond the striking image, my favorite part of the door — obscured in the photo by the dumpster — is the inscription “puppet parking only.”
Walking along 26th Street, I passed more single-family detached housing and, on the southwest corner with Cedar Avenue, Cedar Food & Grill. Eventually, I reached Hiawatha Avenue, the eastern border of the neighborhood, at the point marked B on my map.
The southwest corner of 26th Street and Hiawatha Avenue is occupied by a city public works facility, so my initial southward spur let me see more of the decorations the city erected on the adjoining wall. There are oxidized steel lattice panels, many of them supporting climbing vines. Many of these feature a decorative silhouette insert and are topped with a miniature of a municipal vehicle. For example, the panel on the corner is topped with a cement mixer and has a silhouette of the Minneapolis skyline and motto, “en avant.” Another panel I photographed has a roller and shows workers hammering. Just south of the public works facility is the western pier of the Martin Olav Sabo Bridge, a cable stayed bridge that carries the Midtown Greenway bicycle and pedestrian trails over Hiawatha Avenue.
I then did an about-face and headed north on Hiawatha to Cedar Avenue at the southeast corner of East Phillips Park (point A). Walking south on Cedar Avenue, I passed more of the Little Earth townhouses and could see the renovation that is in progress and, in some cases, complete. At the point where 25th Street would be, a pedestrian bridge crosses over Cedar Avenue and forms a central visual tie between the eastern and western portions of Little Earth. It has murals on both the faces that are toward Cedar and the perpendicular ones that face south. In particular, the south-facing sides feature a large identifying inscription, “Little Earth United Tribes.”
I continued southward past 28th Street, where I would turn, into a spur down the 2800 block. If you look closely at the route map, you’ll see that this particular red spur doesn’t extend all the way to 29th Street but rather stops at the Midtown Greenway. The following photo makes the reason clear: the Cedar Avenue bridge over the greenway is currently being replaced. I’m sure the Circulo de Amigos Child Care Center, shown at the right, will be glad when the construction is over.
I initially took 28th Street only a single block east, to Longfellow Avenue, before turning westward to Bloomington Avenue, then returning to Longfellow via 27th Street. (There were also a few more spurs off of this loop.) The area of 28th Street east of Cedar Avenue is unusual in retaining some heavy industry, which presumably originated when the Milwaukee Road railway was running where the greenway is today. Not knowing how much longer such nonconforming land uses will remain, I decided to preserve the asphalt plant in a photograph. To its east is a foundry and, on the north side of the street, a large warehouse. Where the greenway passes the warehouse on its way to the Sabo Bridge, I was interested to see the curved side of the building, presumably designed to match the curve of a railroad siding.
Turning south on 21st Avenue, I passed the Greenway Office Building, constructed in 1999 with a particular eye toward environmental sustainability. As I continued further south, past the attached warehouse (which sits behind a prairie restoration area), I got a clear olfactory sign that Peace Coffee was roasting their beans there. I regret that I can only provide a photo, rather than a scratch-and-sniff.
From 21st Avenue, short dead-end segments of 29th Street extend both east and west. In particular, the segment to the west provides access to the South Transfer Station, a dignified brick solid-waste facility from 1939.
After returning from 21st Avenue, I wrapped around the southeastern corner of the neighborhood on 28th Street, Hiawatha Avenue, and Lake Street. This area includes a METRO Blue Line station, a shopping center, and some contemporary mixed-use buildings that have retail on the ground level with apartments above.
Continuing eastward on Lake Street, I passed the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Memorial Cemetery, which extends as far as Cedar Avenue and is reported to be the oldest cemetery in Minneapolis.
Recall that at the start of the day, I had walked Lake Street west to Cedar Avenue. Therefore, when I reached Cedar Avenue eastbound, it was time for me to turn a block north and use 29th Street for the rest of the trip back to Bloomington Avenue, as shown on the route map. This also allowed me to walk the one remaining block of Bloomington Avenue, between 29th and Lake Streets. Highlighting the cultural diversity of the neighborhood, the Red Lake Nation Embassy on this block stands next to Salama Coffee, and then on the corner with Lake is O-City Restaurant, which Elias Usso described in 2015 (at a previous location) as an example of the creativity of “the new generation of Oromo youth.”
It wasn’t quite noon when I stopped in at O-City, so they hadn’t switched to the lunch and dinner menu yet. I asked my host what I ought to order from the breakfast menu and was very glad I took her suggestion of foul (beans) with chapati. The foul had an incredibly bright, fresh flavor. I suppose the beans themselves must have been pre-cooked to save time, but the dish as a whole was definitely prepared freshly to order. (Look at the bright green of the herbs.) I couldn’t identify all the seasonings, but I’m pretty sure fenugreek was among them. In any case, it was really tasty.
I enjoyed the chapati a lot too. It was an unexpected treat because I didn’t realize that in East Africa, chapati means something different than in India. Rather than just a plain flour-and-water flatbread, it is laminated with ghee (or oil), more like an Indian paratha. The result was a crispy, bubbly, flavor-enriched bread that I would also gladly have eaten alone.
By the time I left O-City, Abi’s Cafe next door was open. I would dearly have liked to try their pupusas, but I’m no longer young enough to eat two meals one right after the other. On the positive side, this gives me one more reason to return to the neighborhood.
As I walked 16th Avenue from the southern border (Lake Street) to the northern (24th Street), I took the opportunity to photograph a more typical segment of the Midtown Greenway. Unlike at the 28th Street crossing, the majority of the trail is in a trench, allowing the streets to pass over it on bridges, an arrangement inherited from the railroad.
After reaching 24th Street, I returned to 25th, which I walked between Bloomington and 18th Avenues. That took me to the northwest corner of Cedar Avenue Field Park. Walking through the park along its diagonal path, I admired the tot lot, in particular its inclusion of a dinosaur.
Crossing Cedar Avenue at the southeastern corner of the park, I reached E.M. Stateley Street, named, as explained earlier, to honor Elaine M. Stately. To its north is the same cluster of townhouses I had seen from Cedar Avenue, whereas to its south are single-family detached houses. The street ends just short of the Hiawatha Avenue wall, but one can turn north (or north-northwest) onto Ogema Place, which leads back to the southeast corner of East Phillips Park. Across Ogema Place from the townhouses is the Little Earth Urban Farm.
I then wrapped around the eastern, northern, and western sides of East Phillips Park, which includes soccer fields and the East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center.
By this point, I was on 17th Avenue headed south. All I had to do to finish my walk was continue onward to Lake Street, where I’d catch my bus. Along the way, I passed the East Phillips Community Garden and, in one final illustration of the area’s cultural diversity, a Haitian flag.
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 August 19, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
thanks for your thoughtful work here Max. The white male gaze should indeed an object of scrutiny in and of itself. You inspire me to think more carefully about how I look at the city, and to visit Little Earth more often.
I especially appreciated your reflections on how you see neighborhoods, and how history informed your intentions in writing about East Phillips. Thanks for sharing those thoughts so transparently here.