South Minneapolis’s Field neighborhood extends eastward from Interstate 35W to Chicago Avenue and northward from Minnehaha Creek to 46th Street, as shown by the blue tinting in the following map. My first day’s stroll through horticulture and history started and ended on 46th Street, from Clinton Avenue (A) to 3rd Avenue (B). The five spurs shown in red supplemented the main blue path.
Hopping off the number 46 bus at Clinton Avenue, I immediately got my first first exposure to the neighborhood’s profusion of flowers. The chain-link fence directly adjacent to the bus stop serves not only as a barrier around a private play area, but also as a floral trellis.
Initially I headed two blocks west on 46th Street to 2nd Avenue. As I crossed 3rd Avenue, where I would return at the end of the walk, a look southward gave me an early sample of the kind of houses I’d see predominating throughout the area: a mix of modest one- to two-story single-family detached houses including several styles of cottages and bungalows.
Turning south on 2nd Avenue, I could immediately see that it has the same dual character as other freeway-adjacent streets. On the one hand, they serve as busy conduits for freeway traffic; in this particular case, the 4600 block has traffic exiting from northbound 35W. On the other hand, they are one-sided but otherwise normal residential streets with houses that predate the freeway. From the photo below, you’d never know that this was directly across from the point where the off-ramp merges into the avenue. I took the photo for the sake of the bench, which struck me as practical as well as attractive. One could use it for sitting outside on a beautiful day — such as this one was — but also for taking off muddy boots in foul weather. Under the overhang but outside the door is the perfect spot for that.
After walking as far south as 48th Street, I turned back to 47th, which I followed all the way east to Chicago Avenue. Because most of the houses face onto the north-south avenues, the walk along 47th presented mostly side views. However, it still had points of interest, such as this retaining-wall planting on the southeast corner with Clinton Avenue.
Between 4th and 5th Avenues, on the north side of 47th Street, is the Field Community School, for which the neighborhood was named. (The school in turn was named for the writer Eugene Field.) The building was repeatedly extended but began with the portion pictured here, as witness the inscription “1920” over the door. Fellow typography geeks should zoom in on that inscription; the style is noteworthy.
Turning south on Chicago Avenue, I was out of the residential area and into a commercial strip. The first two businesses I saw, on the northern end of the 4700 block, are distinguished from most of the neighborhood by their 1980s construction. Each of them belongs to the automobile era focused on parking lots rather than the pedestrian (and streetcar) era focused on sidewalk frontage. However, each of them also has a design feature targeting pedestrians. The Wells Fargo branch has a walk-up ATM and the HealthPartners clinic has a corner entrance aimed as much at the sidewalk as at the parking lot.
The southern half of the block contains a commercial strip from the first half of the 20th century. Its newer part, which I encountered first, was added in 1941. In particular, that includes the little 15-by-25-foot portion in the foreground, built with a 14-by-10-foot-canopy. Work was underway to refurbish the canopy.
This 1941 portion is built onto a brick and tile structure constructed in 1925–1926, which extends all the way to the corner with 48th Street. I was greeted by a woman sitting on a bench outside that part, who was kind enough to fill me in on some of the history. She introduced herself as Carla, or Carla Jo, and explained that she had grown up in the area in the 1960s and 70s, moved away for a time, and then more recently moved back to live with her mother in the years leading up to her mother’s death in 2014 at age 92. (More on the mother and her house — in which Carla Jo continues to live — later.) The reason why the area behind the canopy is so small is because it simply houses the top of a staircase leading into the basement. That basement area was originally a bowling alley and now holds the Minnesota Sword Club. In between, according to Carla, it was used for wrestling. I didn’t think to ask her about the upstairs of the 1941 portion (now Carver Junk Company and some offices). However, one of the building permit cards mentions a cafeteria.
The 1926 portion historically held a barber shop and beauty parlor as well as a bakery. Today, there’s an ice cream parlor and a pizzeria, but the bulk of the space is occupied by The Turtle Bread Company, into which I repaired for a morning snack. The caramel pecan roll I chose was distinguished by its particularly peppy cinnamon flavor, a plus in my book.
Once back out on the sidewalk, I photographed the building, which is a classic 1920s streetcar-corner design. I’d seen similar buildings in other neighborhoods and indeed would see another here in Field before the walk was over. But similarity comes in degrees, and I was struck just how similar this building is to one I saw in the immediately preceding neighborhood, Ericsson. Compare the first photo below, showing the doorway, with the photo of 4501 34th Avenue South from day two of Ericsson. Even decorative details match up. The biggest difference seems to be in the parapet over the doorway: it goes straight across the top of the Turtle Bread building but is castellated on the Ericsson twin. But look closer at the Turtle Bread building: the bricks and mortar in the middle top don’t quite match the rest in color. This parapet must have originally been castellated too and subsequently filled in, probably at the time of the 1941 addition. The second photo, showing the shop fronts along Chicago Avenue, can be compared with the photos of 4503–4509 34th Avenue South at the end of day three. It looks like The Chicago Avenue parapet might have received a haircut along the side.
After walking two blocks north on Chicago Avenue, I turned west on 46th Street. On the southwest corner of the intersection with Columbus Avenue, a peaceful home—the one where Carla Jo lives, as it happens—belies the angry mob of thousands that gathered there in 1931. Appropriately, the monument out front focuses not on the mob but on the courageous African-American homeowner who stood up to them, Arthur Lee. The metal portion (by the Chicago Avenue Fine Arts Center and Obsidian Arts) is incised with his likeness and his words: “Nobody asked me to move out when I was in France fighting in mud and water for this country. I came out here to make this house my home. I have a right to establish a home.” The plaque on the Mankato Kasota Stone pedestal tells the story in greater detail. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014, months before Carla’s mother, Pearl Lindstrom, died. Despite having lived there for 56 years, she only learned of its history in the last few. However, she was remembered for having “handled this community interest in her abode with grace and good cheer, demonstrating an empathy and openness to new understandings of the past in her ninth decade of life.” I would have liked to have met Pearl and am glad I met Carla. Meanwhile, based on the 2011–2015 estimates, the Field neighborhood is 13.3% Black or African American, lower than the Minneapolis-wide figure of 18.0% but hardly the lily-white neighborhood the rioters were striving for.
White supremacist violence, and the courage and solidarity needed to stand up to it, are most comfortably imagined in a far-off place and time. Like many Americans, I’ve lately had to recognize that the time can be now. Standing in front of the house the Lee family occupied for a couple years in the 1930s, I was similarly forced to confront the reality that the place can be here. It’s a powerful monument, and I lingered uncharacteristically long before resuming my walk.
When I did resume, I initially continued one block further on 46th Street to Park Avenue, then returned to Columbus to head south to 48th Street, the start of the serpentine path between 46th and 48th that would gradually take me westward to my end-point on 3rd Avenue. As I turned from Columbus onto 48th, I stopped to photograph the house on the northeast corner. It’s one of the few recently built houses in the neighborhood, and I was interested in its massing, that is, its general shape. Many recent two-story houses that I’ve seen around the city rise straight up from their foundations to their low-pitched roofs, each house a single, large rectangular block. That would be jarring in juxtaposition to the one-and-a-fraction-story bungalows. This house, by contrast, uses variable setbacks and contrasting trim to break it up into distinct, smaller portions, each with its own hipped roof, including some roofs at the first-floor level. The net result is to render the house less looming, though still large.
Turning back northward on Park Avenue, I stopped for some especially attractive boulevard plantings. Somehow, when I visualize flowers in the abstract, I think of spring blooms, so that each time I see the beauty of early fall I’m pleasantly surprised anew, as though I’d never seen such a sight.
Nor are the neighborhood’s flowers confined to fences and gardens. Once I turned back southward on Oakland Avenue, I saw a house with two floral mosaics on its facade. In addition to the large one on the front of the porch, pictured here, there is a smaller one on the main portion of the house, hidden from view to the right of the entryway.
A few zigs and zags later, as I turned from 48th Street onto 4th Avenue, I was surprised to see another streetcar-corner storefront building. In today’s world, 4th Avenue is nothing like Chicago Avenue. It is a quiet, residential street in the area where the neighborhood tapers off to the freeway. But in the days before the freeway, 4th Avenue had a streetcar line just like Chicago Avenue. For the same reason, it makes sense that 4th Avenue has some multi-family housing.
After taking 4th Avenue to 46th Street and Clinton Avenue back to 48th, I was ready to turn north one last time on 3rd Avenue. First, though, I was again struck by the building on the northeast corner with 48th Street. Unlike the storefront building at 4th Avenue, the building at 3rd Avenue is a house. The first thing that makes it stand out is that it is a brick Georgian. That’s a rarity in this area, enough that I would take notice, but probably not enough to warrant a photo. What really drew me in was the brickwork details. The majority of the brick is laid in Flemish bond, in which stretchers (long side) and headers (short side) alternate in each course. Decorative bands demarcate the stories and, together with keystones, adorn the windows. In the gable (unfortunately obscured by a tree), the arched area has a stripe of basket-weave brickwork down the middle, between the two windows.
One last shot of fall flowers and it was time for me to board my bus home. I was looking forward to returning the next day to see what lay between 48th Street and the creek.
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 October 3, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.