Walking All the Streets in Southern Folwell

The Folwell neighborhood is named for Folwell Park in North Minneapolis, not Folwell School in South Minneapolis. (This means it is indirectly named for Folwell the park board president, not Folwell the University of Minnesota president—though they were one and the same person.) So the title “Southern Folwell” indicates not which Folwell I’m writing about, but rather which half of it I walked the first day, as shown in the following map.

The main loop of my walk (shown in blue) started and ended at the intersection of Penn and 33rd Avenues North. The southeast corner of that intersection has a church building now housing the Spirit and Truth Worship Center. The original occupant was Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, subsequently Grace United Methodist Church. The original part of the building, on the left of this photo taken from Penn Avenue, dates from 1920, whereas the school portion on the right is from 1958.

Spirit and Truth Worship Center, 3254 Penn Ave. N.

A single block south on Penn brought me to the southwest corner of the neighborhood, where I turned east on Lowry Avenue. Between Penn and Oliver Avenues, on the north side of Lowry, a succession of seven panels mounted on posts display colorfully painted scenes of outdoor activities taking place in all four seasons. This mural was designed by Melodee Strong and painted by area youth under her leadership as part of the Play on Penn and Lowry Open Streets projects starting in 2012. Ms. Strong kindly granted permission for these photos and indicated that the work is still in progress

Play on Penn Mural (West End), 2012–

Play on Penn Mural (West End), 2012–

Play on Penn Mural (West End), 2012–

Crossing Oliver Avenue, I temporarily continued one block further east on Lowry before turning back. This spur off the main loop, shown in red on the route map, brought me along the Lowry Avenue side of another church building, which stands on the northeast corner of Oliver and Lowry Avenues. Christ English Lutheran Church was completely rebuilt in 1958, including wrecking the original church building from 1915. Thus the Lutherans were on a similar timetable to the Methodists on Penn and wound up with a similar modernist style as the Methodists’ school annex, but in this case carried also into the main worship area and bell tower. (A sign indicates that Greater Mount Nebo Missionary Baptist Church also worships in this building.)

Christ English Lutheran Church, 3210 Oliver Ave. N. (Viewed from Lowry Ave.)

Oliver Avenue was my introduction to the residential character of the neighborhood, which primarily consists of single-family detached houses from the 19-teens through 1950s. I then looped back onto Penn Avenue via 35th Avenue, returning temporarily to my starting point.

Across 33rd Avenue from the Spirit and Truth Worship Center, a two-story brick veneer mixed-use building from 1940 contains legal and tax service offices as well as a one-bedroom residence. (The name of the tax service, Peev Xwm, is one clue that Hmong Americans now number prominently among the neighborhood’s residents, perhaps second only to African Americans.) Something about the building’s appearance made me suspect it had an interesting prior occupant, and indeed, the building permit card shows it was once a YMCA.

3300 Penn Ave. N.

Returning north on Penn Avenue to 34th Avenue, I could see the modernist New Horizon Academy building gleaming in the sunshine. The glass curtain walls definitely contribute to the look, and they surely allow welcome natural light into the interior, but thinking back to the long-ago days when I was involved with child care and early education, I realized they also serve to signal transparency, a priority for many parents.

New Horizon Academy, 3354 Penn Ave. N. (2015)

The north-south avenues in this area are named alphabetically, so having looped through Penn and Oliver Avenues, I needed to similarly loop through Newton and Morgan, then Logan and Knox, etc. After each pair, I used 34th Avenue to walk two blocks east to the next pair. In particular, I started by walking 34th Avenue from Penn to Newton, turning south on Newton to Lowry, and forming the southern end of the loop with the block of Lowry from Newton to Morgan. This block of Lowry brought me past Fire Station 14, a broader structure than older stations, but with the same marriage of form and function.

Fire Station 14, 2002 Lowry Ave. N. (2006)

Heading north on Morgan, I was pleasantly surprised to see some flowers still in good condition, despite the frost advisory the night before.

Flower on Morgan Ave. N.

At the southern end of the next loop, I encountered a cluster of three retail establishments along the north side of Lowry Avenue, the first two of them in the block connecting Logan to Knox, the third in the spur from Knox to James. On the northeast corner of Logan and Lowry, Full Stop Gas & Food stands out not only for its bright red-white-and-blue color scheme but also for its chevron-fronted store. When it was constructed in 1966remote self-service gas pumps were only two years old and the retail categories of “gas station” and “convenience store” were just starting to merge.

Full Stop Gas & Food, 1818 Lowry Ave. N. (1966)

To the east of Full Stop on the same block, on the corner with Knox, Good Deal Oriental Foods is a Hmong-oriented but broadly stocked grocery store with a deli in the front serving prepared foods. A quick walk through it blew me away with the range of offerings. I’m a fan of Hmong sausage, and here I could buy it in any of three forms: cooked, fresh, or frozen. The cooked ones were in the deli, which also offered white fungus salad, among other things. The produce area could barely contain its offerings. I’ve admired the Hmong cucumbers at a farmers market, but here the stack of them was the size of an entire farmers-market stall. The freezer case included not only the aforementioned sausage but also frozen sadao (neem) flowers and five-pound bags of rice noodles for phở, among many other items. (The flowers attracted my attention because they were new to me; I had to look them up.) And on and on. Want some fish sauce? Here the question is which kind; the options occupy most of an aisle.

Across Knox, on the northeast corner of the intersection, the Banana Blossom restaurant offers food representing the cuisines of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and China, but also representing the Hmong people who live in all those countries. The graphic design of the sign over the door is an accurate representation of the ambiance inside: bright and spacious with a restrained, informal, modern elegance. The walls are painted in a muted shade of yellow and dotted with small black-and-white photos. I received pleasant, professional service. But really, the key to my favorable impression was none of those things: it was the food.

Banana Blossom, 1724 Lowry Ave. N.

Even though the grocery store had primed my appetite for Hmong sausage, I chose to pass it up to take greater advantage of the restaurant by ordering a more elaborate dish, kao poon (also spelled khao poon or khaub poob). This is a coconut-milk-enriched red curry soup with rice noodles and chicken. Its color, flavor, and texture (red, richly spicy, yielding) were all complemented by the garnish on top (green and white, brightly herbal, crunchy). That garnish was a mixture of cabbage, herbs, and the eponymous banana blossom. I returned to my walk very satisfied and with a desire to return. Indeed, by the time of this writing, I’ve already made good on that desire and can report that the beef larb with purple sticky rice was equally tasty.

Kao Poon at Banana Blossom

After lunch, I took Knox avenue north and then closed the loop by using 35th Avenue to return to Logan. The house on the southeastern corner of 35th and Logan Avenues is surrounded by an unusual number of sculptures. Does a sculptor live there, or “just” a sculpture collector? Regardless, it’s a good reminder that even a residential area can offer up surprises.

Continuing the route’s pattern, the next loop, James and Irving Avenues, also involved a spur along Lowry Avenue beyond the southern closure of the loop, in this case extending to Humboldt Avenue. The intersection of Lowry and Humboldt Avenues is one of the places where Lowry has received some embellishment, in this case pillars at each corner of the intersection.

Pillar at Lowry and Humboldt Avenues

Once I turned north on Irving Avenue, I started seeings some unusual paintings on the pavement. These are remains from the temporary Northside Greenway test. I gather one goal of the test was to engage the community in the greenway proposal by experiencing it more concretely. Judging by the number of signs I saw both supporting and opposing the greenway, vigorous engagement has been achieved.

Remains from the Northside Greenway Test, 3300 Block of Irving Ave. N.

Heading south on Humboldt Avenue, I again marveled at how well preserved some of the flowers remained. The pigmentation of the one pictured here particularly impressed me. I’m continually startled that such vivid pigments exist in nature, as opposed to only in synthetic dyes. It occurs to me that this is a distinctively modern attitude; at the 19th-century dawn of aniline dyes, the wonder was that vivid colors could be achieved synthetically.

Flower, 3200 Block of Humboldt Ave. N.

Humboldt Avenue brought me back to Lowry, and before turning north on Girard, I again did a one-block eastward spur, this time as far as Fremont Avenue. That brought me along front of a distinctive brick four-unit apartment building dating to 1905, now operated by Project for Pride in Living. Groups of darker colored bricks simulate traditional stone masonry ornaments, including quoin blocks at the building’s front corners.

1310 Lowry Ave. N. (1905)

This walk took place on a beautiful October day, the kind where even with no built environment, there would have been plenty to see. In particular, the same cold snap that worried me with regard to flowers was coloring maple leaves nicely. I had seen examples throughout the walk and took a photo of one once I retreated to Girard Avenue and headed north.

Maple, Girard and 33rd Aves. N.

At the northern end of this Humboldt/Girard loop, on the northeast corner of 35th and Humboldt Avenues, the Story Garden is cultivating “a story of hope, of healing, and growing seeds of change” on a lot painfully vacated as a result of the 2011 tornado that ravaged this area.

Story Garden, Northeast Corner of Humboldt and 35th Aves. N.

Finally it was time for one last loop, the one on Fremont and Emerson Avenues. The largest feature in this area occupies the entire block between those two avenues and between Lowry and 33rd Avenues. The Bremer Way condominium complex consists of a U-shaped building constructed for the purpose in 1985 and an ornate building constructed in 1887 (with wings added in 1897) as the Fredrika Bremer School, named for a Swedish author, women’s rights pioneer, and philanthropist (1801–1865).

Bremer Way Condominiums, 3232 Fremont Ave. N.

Former Bremer School, 1214 Lowry Ave. N. (Seen from Fremont Ave. N.)

Former Bremer School, 1214 Lowry Ave. N.

After passing in front of the former Bremer School, I continued east on Lowry Avenue one more block to Dupont Avenue, the last of the Lowry Avenue spurs. The western half of this block, starting at the corner with Emerson, is a strip of retail establishments including E and L Supermarket and Deli and Hui’s Chow Mein. The other end of the block, on the corner with Dupont, is Troy’s Auto Repair. Between the retail strip and the repair shop is a stone and brick veneer office building from 1940 (the same year as the former YMCA) housing the Northern Philatelic Library.

Northern Philatelic Library, 1110 Lowry Ave. N.

After this spur, I turned north on Emerson Avenue. Automotive through traffic is only allowed as far as 33rd Avenue, after which it is directed over to Fremont to continue further north. Rather than having a purely functional barrier in the middle of the road, the space is given over to the Michael B. Sullivan Memorial Garden, a beautiful tribute not just to Sullivan himself, who sadly died in this area at age 9, but also the community members who rallied together to reunite his body with his family in Chicago. I’ve always kept a positive attitude that we humans are inclined as a species to do good, but if I ever were to suffer doubts about that, I’d want to read about folks like these to restore my faith.

Michael B. Sullivan Memorial Garden, Emerson Ave. N. at 33rd Ave. N.

The same jog over to Fremont that autos today take, including the Number 5 bus, was taken by the street car line when there was one. So it isn’t surprising that Fremont is an extra-wide street with storefronts on many corners. Those storefronts have been repurposed in a variety of ways. In particular, the southeast corner of the intersection with 35th Avenue is home to the Celestial Church of Christ Liberty Parish.

Celestial Church of Christ Liberty Parish, 3456 Fremont Ave. N.

Having completed all the pairs of alphabetically named avenues, there was still Dupont Avenue left unpaired at the eastern edge of the neighborhood before I headed back west to my starting point. Much of Dupont is residential, but at the southeast corner of the neighborhood, where it reaches Lowry Avenue, I came back to Troy’s Automotive Repair. This time I noticed something that had previously escaped me, which is that the grounds are planted with a remarkable number of flowering plants. In addition to the ones at ground level, others are planted in a window box, shown here.

Window Box (on Dupont Ave. N.) at Troy’s Automotive Repair, 1100 Lowry Ave. N.

Finally, I walked 33rd Avenue North clear across the neighborhood from Dupont Avenue back to Penn Avenue. The most interesting sight along the way was the former Fire Station 14. (Recall that early in the walk I saw the current Fire Station 14 on Lowry Avenue.) This station was active from 1949 to 2006. The building now houses the Northside Boxing Club (formerly Fighting Chance Boxing Club), a non-profit organization that features a community kitchen and garden as well as the gym and boxing equipment. It also has encouraged youth in their academic studies, as described in an MPR story by Brandt Williams. (The word “YOGA” on an upstairs window suggests the space is also used for that purpose, although I don’t know whether by the same organization or not.)

1704 33rd Ave. N. (1949)

As you can see, there’s quite a lot happening in the Folwell neighborhood, and that’s without even having gotten into Folwell Park itself. The park is in the northern half of the neighborhood, which I walked the next day.

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