Elliot Park sits between Minneapolis’s downtown and Interstate 35W, the area tinted in blue in the following route map. During the city’s growth spurt from the 1880s into the early 20th century, the downtown area became increasingly commercial in character and so residences, religious institutions, and healthcare facilities separated into adjoining areas such as this. As I walked the neighborhood over two consecutive days, I saw that the general land use had remained relatively unchanged since that founding period, though the specific structures range from all the way from the 19th to the 21st century; indeed some were still under construction.
On my first day in the neighborhood, I focused on the portion west (or northwest) of Chicago Avenue. I started and ended my main loop, shown in blue, at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and 6th Street South, supplementing that loop with various forward-and-back spurs, shown in red.
The Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) is architecturally complex, displaying in its physical structure its history of cascading mergers. The portion west of Chicago Avenue, and bridging over the avenue and 7th Street, was built for the county, whereas the portions east of the avenue were built for St. Barnabas and Swedish Hospitals, which merged as the Metropolitan Medical Center before that in turn was absorbed into HCMC.
On this first day, I focused on the western portion, which dates from 1974. I admire the design’s strong visual rhythms as well as its practicality. All of the vertical elements are concentrated into columns that are widely spaced on a two-dimensional grid. (Two of these columns are visible in the following photo.) The floors span unobstructed between those columns and are also spaced rather widely in the vertical dimension, so as to allow a large interstitial space between floors to run all the mechanical services horizontally. The result is that the floor plans can be quite easily reconfigured.
One block further west on 7th Street, my eye was drawn to the streamlined curve of Lehman’s Garage, complete with its glass-block window. Unintentionally, the background of the same photo also serves as a panoramic view of much of the neighborhood’s recent higher-density residential development. At the far left, the high-rise (27-story) building is the Skyscape Condos, built in 2006. Next, behind and immediately to the right of the flagpole, is the Grant Park Condos with the same number of floors and built two years earlier. To its right, visible above the curved portion of the garage, the 17-story HQ Apartments is nearing completion, part of a multifaceted full-block redevelopment project by Kraus-Anderson. To its right and closer to the foreground, the 17-story Portland Tower condo building opened in 2016. And finally, at the far right of the photo, the Sexton Lofts are a warehouse building converted into condos in 2006.
After a few blocks of Fifth Avenue and Fifth Street, I walked all of Park Avenue from the northern border of the neighborhood (Fifth Street) to the southern (the middle of the freeway overpass). Although most of the residential buildings now have multiple dwelling units, some began their life as single-family houses and a few even remain in this form. For example, on the southeastern corner of Park Avenue and 16th Street East, the 1887 Harry F. Legg House remains as “an example of the type of homes erected by tract developers, … standard for middle-to upper-class professional families in the late nineteenth century[, a] classic example of Queen Anne architecture ….”
Some of the buildings on that 1600 block of Park Avenue are from the second half of the 20th century, perhaps reflecting the disruption that was caused by the freeway construction just to the south. The most visually striking of them is the Park Avenue Lawyers Building, dating from 1966 and housing the firm of Meshbesher & Spence. Although its narrow northern and southern faces, splayed into obtuse concave angles, exemplify the modernist fascination with broad white expanses, the long, curved eastern and western faces have a more traditional texture as a result of their arcades.
Turning initially west on 17th Street for a one-block spur, I passed a couple large institutional buildings, the Benedictine Health Center and, on the northeast corner with Portland Avenue, the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge’s Portland House. The latter is a three-story building of considerable size — roughly 16,000 square feet on each floor — that was built in 1929 as the Lutheran Bible Institute, as the inscriptions above the doors indicate.
I then returned to Park Avenue and continued a block further east, to Chicago Avenue, before going one block north, to 16th Street, for another east-to-west traversal from Chicago to Portland. As soon as I turned onto 16th Street from Chicago Avenue, I saw good examples of the area’s characteristic 19th-century multi-family housing. There is a group of five similar three-story romanesque-revival buildings, four on the north side of the street (728–740) and one on the south side (735), that were historically known as the Linne Flats, after their 1892 developer. (The architect was Frederick Clark.) Today they are the Our Town in Town Cooperative (OTITC).
On the north side of the street, the entire western half of the block, extending not only to Park Avenue but also all the way back to 15th Street, is occupied by the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority’s Park Center, an 18- or 19-story three-winged tower built in 1967. It also has an attached low-rise section housing the Park ElderCenter.
West of Portland Avenue, across from the T intersections of 16th and 17th Streets, is Franklin Steele Square Park. From the park’s web site, I gather that the feature photographed below, with sinuous red pipes and multicolored fixtures in the pavement, is actually a wading pool or fountain. Without the water, I never would have guessed.
Just north of the park is the Madison Apartments complex, which has two distinct parts. The western portion (on the left in the photo) is the former Madison School, built in 1887 and one of the oldest school buildings left standing in the city. The eastern portion (on the right) looks to be of late 20th-century construction and was presumably built as residences, perhaps on the former schoolyard. (The park history indicates that the school board did not receive permission to share the park until 1948.) As you can see, the ornamentation on the school building is quite different from the gothic forms that were used during the early 20th-century boom in school construction. The primary ornamental feature not visible from this view is a rounded arch on the main entryway.
A few blocks north on Portland Avenue, as I prepared to turn east on Grant Street, I looked diagonally across the intersection at the Grant Park Condos, the top of which I had earlier seen in the distance beyond Lehman’s Garage. In addition to seeing the lower portion of the high-rise tower, I was able to see that the complex also includes a low-rise townhouse portion. Whether a coincidence or not, I was interested to see the echo between the cornice of the corner turret and the “halo” of the downtown Capella Tower, which is visible in the background to its right.
Another interesting building stands across Grant Street from the condos, on the southeast corner of the intersection with 5th Avenue. I didn’t see it until 23 minutes later, as my path called for me to head not west on Grant Street but rather east, wrapping around via Chicago Avenue, 15th Street, and 5th Avenue (with a side trip down 14th Street), until I eventually arrived at the same block the long way around. In contrast to the thoroughly ornamented condos, the 1971 office building is a stark box of brutalist concrete and exposed structural steel, with the main ornamentation being the arced voids within the two concrete tabs that project out from the entryway porch roof.
Upon arriving back at Portland Avenue, I turned north to 8th Street, then came back south on 5th Avenue as far as 10th Street. This took me past more of the recent or in-progress high-rises, specifically the Skyscape Condos, Portland Tower, and the Kraus-Anderson block. For the sake of brevity, I’ll include only one photo, looking up at Portland Tower from 8th Street.
Heading east on 10th Street, I was interested to see a coffee shop church, which depending on the focus goes by the name “Jaur Cafe” or “Grace in the City Church.” Apparently they took over a space formerly occupied by Segue Coffee, which moved into the eastern part of the neighborhood.
Just east of there (southeast, actually), near the corner with Park Avenue, the historic William H. Hinkle House now holds a law office. Built in 1886–1887 as a private residence, it was designed by William Channing Whitney in “a variant of the Georgian Revival style … with a formal, symmetrical façade.” Looking at it from the street, it seemed in good repair, but when I first viewed my photo, I was shocked to see what appeared to be a pronounced slump in the central portion of the roof, beneath the dormer. Only after a moment’s reflection did I realize this is a trick of perspective. To each side of the central section, the facade protrudes forward in a rounded bay. In the photo, these differences in depth look like differences in height.
After crossing Park Avenue on 10th Street, the street layout gets a little wonky as a result of the transition between the river-aligned and compass-aligned grids. First, there is the odd little Park Avenue Frontage Road, which extends perpendicularly southwest from 10th Street to a five-way intersection with Park Avenue and 14th Street. Then there is Centennial Place, which extends in the opposite direction to another five-way intersection, this time with Chicago Avenue and 9th Street. Essentially Centennial Place is where Chicago Avenue would be, if it continued to head away from the river for another block rather than turning due south at 9th Street. This has something to do with the former 8th Avenue having become Chicago Avenue rather than Columbus Avenue. And finally there is the fact that 10th Street ends by angling into 14th Street. As if it weren’t bad enough to have two nominally parallel streets, separated by 4 in number, converge, one of them is labeled as “South” (in the sense of downriver) and the other as “East” (in the compass sense).
On the corner with Centennial Place, a two-story retail strip from 1895 now houses North Central University’s Del Kingsriter Center for Intercultural Relations.
And then comes the real payoff, for me anyhow, from the deformation of the street grid. The angled intersection of 10th and 14th Streets left just the right sort of small but visible lot on which to erect a prefabricated diner in 1939. And the Band Box Diner, besides being a historic landmark, offered me a most enjoyable lunch break.
Being an early luncher, I was on the cusp between the breakfast crowd and the lunch crowd. Owner Brad Ptacek kept a mix of eggs and burgers going on the flat-top grill while chatting familiarly with the regulars. I ordered the Lunch Box Burger with “none of the above” as my choice of cheese. I can’t say how it would have been with the cheese — probably even better, if you are a cheeseburger person — but it was delicious without it. I’ll get around to describing the Lunch Box Burger in a moment, but first you ought to see it for yourself.
As you can see, the shoe-string potatoes are piled on top of the burger, aside from those that fell onto the plate. You can also see a layer of white stuff under the burger. That’s cole slaw, though there were also some onions in there somewhere. To complete the glorious mess, I shoved in the four pickle slices that were around the periphery of the plate. I’ve always been good at cramming food into my mouth, so I fearlessly shifted the top bun into position, crushed it all together a bit, and chowed down.
Wow! Although the burger was well browned, it was still a juicy medium on the inside. The combination of beef with salt, fat, and acid is rightly a classic, but the truly magical combination was the textural one, spanning the full range from yielding, through yieldingly crunchy, to crisply crunchy. This is a burger that would be worth walking miles to get, even if I didn’t have other reasons for the walk.
Speaking of the walk, after lunch I returned to Centennial Place and used that to access the five-way intersection with 9th Street and Chicago Avenue. Before continuing onto Chicago avenue, I did a three-block spur down 9th Street to 5th Avenue and back. This was particularly rewarding because South 9th Street is a designated historical district with lots of interesting buildings to see.
For example, as I crossed Park Avenue, I saw the W. H. Lee residence on the southwest corner, designed by William Channing Whitney, the same architect as the William H. Hinkle house. The front faces toward 9th Street, but the side view visible as I crossed Park Avenue was at least as interesting, with its pointy ogee arches above the upper windows, flat three-centered arches on the flower level, round arches for some of the window openings, decorative carvings supporting the terrace railing, and so forth and so on. Constructed in 1887, it was turned into flats in 1894. Judging by the property records, it has now returned to single-family occupancy.
Directly across 9th Street, the Mayhew building is a collection of seven coordinated but distinct row houses, just a bit older (1886) and designed by Frederick Clark, the same architect who designed the Linne Flats, now OTITC. The seven parts are now subdivided into varying numbers of units and are under varying ownership.
In the next block (after crossing Portland Avenue), the north side of 9th Street is the Kraus-Anderson project, but the south side has the Lenox Building, divided into four similar but not quite identical bay-fronted row houses. I was particularly interested in the carved capitals on the doorway columns. Not only are they different on each of the four houses, but even on the left side of a doorway versus the right. Built in 1894 and rehabilitated in 2004, the Lenox is another Frederick Clark / Frank Linne collaboration, once again built as flats.
After 9th Street, I returned to Chicago Avenue, which I took to 8th Street, heading back east to the intersection with Portland Avenue, where I had been before lunch. Walking north on Portland to 5th Street, I passed the armory, a 1935 deco/moderne building currently being revamped into an event center. The view from across the street is inevitably cluttered, but it shows the overall barrel-vaulted shape and some of the detailing. A closeup of an entryway makes the style more apparent.
Finally, as I completed my loop, I noticed that even as utilitarian a structure as the HCMC parking ramp is visually interesting. The openings are regular enough to establish a rhythm but have sufficient variety in their size, placement, and number to avoid repetitiousness.
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 24, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.