The Ericsson neighborhood in south Minneapolis lies between Cedar and Hiawatha Avenues, with its southern border on Minnehaha Parkway and its northern border a mix of 42nd and 43rd Streets. In the route map, the full neighborhood is indicated by the blue tint, while the blue line shows my main path the first day and the red lines show forward-and-back spurs off of that path. I started and ended on Cedar Avenue at 44th and 45th Streets (marked A and B), which are stops on the number 46 bus. Essentially I circled Lake Hiawatha Park counterclockwise, incorporating also the narrow strip to its west and a few of the blocks to its east.
In addition to being the central feature of this day’s walk, the park occupies a large fraction of the neighborhood. A large fraction of the park is in turn occupied by the lake and the golf course, the histories of which are intimately related. Before the lake was renamed in 1925 for Longfellow’s imaginary Indian, Hiawatha, and before its dredging over the period 1929–1931, it had been the shallower, less sharply delineated Rice Lake, named for the genuinely Indian manoomin (wild rice) that grew there. From a modern perspective, it’s tempting to imagine an alternative history in which that had been valued. But for park superintendent Theodore Wirth, embedded in his own time and culture, the lack of clear delineation between lake and wetland meant neither had any value, a problem he could solve by dredging the lake deeper and using the resulting soil to fill in the land to the west as a golf course.
The legacy of that decision is still present, both in the difficulty of maintaining the separation and in the value placed on the golf course by its users. From the perspective of my walk, I could see that value in several ways, starting with the cars in the parking lot of the clubhouse even at 8:45 on a weekday morning.
Although the park dominates the land use by area, I would still characterize the neighborhood as primarily residential. Mostly I saw single-family detached houses, with some similarly sized and styled duplexes. The dominant decade of construction appeared to be the 1940s. The following photo of houses across the street from the golf clubhouse is typical of what I saw throughout the walk.
Residences like those are also present on Cedar Avenue, where my walk started, but because the avenue is a main thoroughfare, I wasn’t surprised to see retail businesses on it as well. In particular, a large parking lot is shared by a contrasting pair of buildings. The smaller, warm-hued, round-cornered building from the 1980s houses Cork Dork and a Carbone’s Pizzeria location, while the larger, cool-hued, boxy 1950s building houses Bergan’s Supervalu.
South of the grocery store are an ice cream shop and a Caribou Coffee location, the latter showing visible signs of its former life as a gas service station and garage.
Turning from the Cedar and Longfellow Avenue strip onto Minnehaha Parkway, I started to walk along the southern border of Lake Hiawatha Park. As previously noted, the bulk of the park is occupied by the golf course and lake. As a result, other points of interest are concentrated into the four corners of the park, each with its own distinct character. The southwest corner is home to an operations facility, including in particular an understated (but not plain) brick building, the history of which I’d like to learn.
Somewhat further east, the parkway passes over Minnehaha Creek as it heads toward Lake Hiawatha, the first of several views I would have of the creek. Not long afterward, I crossed the creek again as it flowed back out of the lake, this time with a view that also includes the lake itself. The second photo is taken from a path in the southeast corner of the park, which is given over to recreational uses including a fishing pier (barely visible in the photo), unstructured open space, and a tennis court.
After making three passes around or through the southeast corner of the park, I skirted its eastern edge on 28th and 29th Avenues. Just northeast of the park, the intersection of 28th Avenue South with 42nd Street East is a retail node, reflecting its history as a major streetcar corner. Tracing the lines in their outbound direction, one entered this intersection from the north on 28th Avenue and turned east onto 42nd Street, while another entered from the west on 42nd Street and turned south onto 28th Avenue.
Among the buildings from that era, the 1925 one that houses Dokken’s Superette and some smaller shops has an educational mural on its west face painted by the Youth Arts Collaborative in collaboration with Audubon Minnesota. Beyond providing an identification key to the pictured birds, the mural offers concrete advice on practices that help preserve clean water needed by “these birds and our communities large and small.”
Backtracking to the south on 28th Avenue, I looped through a few more blocks of the residential area to the east of the park before re-entering the park area westbound.
Earlier I remarked that the typical residences were the one-and-a-fraction-story houses from the 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s. However, there were some exceptions scattered throughout, including some slightly more recent hip-roofed single-story ramblers and some considerably more recent rebuilt houses that now had two full stories. Interestingly, there were also two-story exceptions in the other historical direction, the pioneering houses that had sparsely settled this area before the main development wave filled in around them.
As an example, the photo below shows a house in the 4300 block of 28th Avenue South. The 1914 atlas of Minneapolis shows just 4 houses on that block, with 26 platted but vacant lots. (Today, all 30 lots are occupied.)
Just south of that house, on the northeastern corner of the intersection with 44th Street, a traffic light control box brings whimsical, colorful cheer to the neighborhood. Self-described “outsider artist” Gail Harbeck painted the box in 2014 with acrylics. In her email granting permission to show the work, she remarked on her “sweet memories of the many wide-eyed kids and smiling grown-ups who stopped to look and chat.” I can well imagine that. Just a few blocks away, a young child standing in a doorway waved at me unprompted as I walked by; even a wave can be heartwarming.
Turning east onto 45th Street and then north onto 30th Avenue brought me back to 44th Street, which I would take west along the park. However, it also brought me past an eye-catching mixed-media sign marketing fresh eggs.
The northeast corner of the park is the most developed, with a recreation center, playground, and swimming beach among its amenities. The Listening Vessel sculpture by Craig David adjacent to the recreation center is intended to be an aural as well as visual artwork, its granite bowl reflecting and focusing the sounds from the lake.
Compared to the park, which is dominated by the green of grass and tree leaves, the surrounding area is bright with flowers. As one example, consider the boulevard just west of the park on 43rd Street.
The northern blocks of Cedar Avenue, from 44th to 42nd Street, are unusual in having apartment buildings rather than just single and duplex houses. Most have 4 or 6 units, though one has 13. I also noted Cedar Ave Repair, which cleverly highlights the initial letters of its name so as to spell out what they repair: CAR. But by far the most interesting sight is at the far northwestern corner of the neighborhood, where Cedar Avenue intersects 42nd Street. Approaching from the south, you might not understand why this would count as an interesting sight; it looks like a rather ordinary, if somewhat large, craftsman-style bungalow.
Once squarely abreast of the building, I could see that something was odd; rather than an ordinary porch, this bungalow has huge entryway with folding double doors, approachable via a driveway.
Turning the corner onto 42nd Street, I could appreciate a bit more of how the building combines a sprawling footprint with a relatively traditional craftsman bungalow appearance. A lot of the look of a building is determined by its roofline. By dividing the large building into smaller, separately roofed units, the pitch of the roofs can be steeper than would be normal for such a broad building. From the 42nd Street side, it looks more like two bungalows sharing an entry foyer.
So, what is this oddly unobtrusive building? Remarkably, it is the historic former fire station 13, built in 1923 and designed by Collins and Kennison. I thought I knew what old fire stations look like: two stories tall and made of brick. (One I saw in Audubon Park is even still used as a fire station.) Now I’ve seen the exception as well as the rule.
The next building to the east is a small sandwich shop, The Original on 42nd, located in the middle of the block. Several of the menu items tempted me, but I was offered the helpful advice that if I like lamb — which I do — I should prioritize the roasted lamb sandwich, coming back for the others on later visits. The lamb is served hot, which not only maximizes its flavor but also renders it unctuous rather than fatty. It is topped with a salad of arugula, a few red onions, and pickled fresno peppers, which together with the smear of harissa on the roll provide a lively counterpoint to the rich meat.
After lunch, I just needed to take Longfellow Avenue three blocks south to 45th Street, so that I could return to Cedar Avenue and catch my bus home. In the last of those three blocks of Longfellow, I stopped for one last fun photo, a Little Free Library with vintage flair.
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 September 1, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
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