Previously I walked the portion of the Hale neighborhood north of 52nd Street, so I focused on the south this day, starting and ending at the intersection of Chicago Avenue and 53rd Street. The light blue tint in the route map shows the full neighborhood. If you look closely, you’ll see I briefly left Hale at the southern end of Lake Nokomis. That seemed preferable to the extra backtracking that would otherwise have been necessary. (The backtracking that I did do is shown in red.)
Eastbound on 53rd Street, I had to essentially look over my right shoulder for a proper view of Nokomis Heights Lutheran Church on the southwest corner with 10th Avenue, but it was worth it in order to appreciate the harmonious cascade down from the 1948 gothic church, via the 1993 linkage, to the 1955 education wing (right to left in the photo).
Walking on east-west streets, one sees fewer fronts of houses than on north-south avenues, and conversely more garages. By and large, garages tend to be rather functional structures without as much styling as the houses they accompany. But nearing the northwest corner with 14th Avenue, I spotted a counter-example. This garage echoes the house’s Tudor style through its steep-pitched roof, elongated gable vent, and dark-trimmed white stucco topping a picturesque base of stone (or stone-look) veneer. But the real kicker for me was the incorporation of a gateway into the adjacent fenced yard.
Just east of Bloomington Avenue, I bore slightly south on Chateau Place to West Lake Nokomis Parkway. Aside from a temporary detour back to finish up 53rd Street and walk one block each of 16th Avenue, 52nd Street, and 17th Avenue, the next phase of my walk consisted of traversing the entire portion of the parkway that is within the neighborhood. What struck me most about the contrast between the parkway and the rest of the neighborhood is how little there is. The houses on the west side of the parkway (north of 54th Street) looked much like those on the avenues, without any great distinction in size.
South of 54th Street, there is a mown grass triangle park to the west of the parkway, bounded on the other side by Edgewater Boulevard and suited to play and picnicking. The entire east side of the parkway, on the other hand, has much wilder wetlands, suited for birding and walking. The photo below is between 17th and Cedar Avenues, where the small Nokomis Knoll Pond lies between the parkway and Lake Nokomis.
The Cedar Avenue bridge forms part of the neighborhood’s eastern border, so only the view off its west side at the smaller part of the lake is a Hale view. Just north of the 54th Street alignment, a small observation (or fishing) platform on the side of the bridge provided a good vantage point across from willows on the shoreline. The platform itself also interested me; rather than being integrated with the bridge deck, it abuts it, flush where one enters but sloping away elsewhere, presumably to facilitate drainage.
After leaving the bridge at its southern end, I followed the footpath, which bends northward between the lake and the smaller Amelia Pond. Just as I crossed back into the Hale neighborhood, in line with 55th Street, I was interested to see a more rustic side path extending toward a grove of trees near the pond. I’d be interested to hear if this side path serves any particular function.
At 54th Street, I resumed walking on city streets and after viewing the northern edge of the triangle park (with its playground) turned north on Bloomington Avenue. I was interested to see an asymmetry between the two sides of the avenue. The west side has the same 40-foot-wide lots as the bulk of the neighborhood, here largely occupied by duplexes, which isn’t surprising along a former streetcar corridor. In contrast, the single-family detached houses on the east side of the 5200 block stand on 50-foot lots.
As I neared 52nd Street, the west side switched to commercial buildings housing insurance and law offices, massage and chiropractic practices, and—of greatest interest to me—the Hot Plate restaurant, where I stopped for lunch. (Their menu is a “breakfast” menu, aside from a weekly taco night, but they serve it late enough to function as lunch for me.)
The exterior photo gives some slight hint of the decor inside, which is an exuberant panoply of kitschy figurines, bright paintings seemingly done by number, and oddball slogan signs. I ordered the eggs benedict, which were topped with a suitably buttery Hollandaise. The server informed me that they had regrettably run out of potatoes after a busy weekend, so I had to replace the usual fried potatoes with my choice of a substitute. As it turns out, the black beans contributed a welcome kick of cumin. Even on a weekday, when the restaurant had plenty of space, it had an up-beat, lived-in atmosphere. The service was good, with one particular highlight being that all three of the staff members who plied me with coffee refills knew that I was drinking decaf. (Yes, dear reader, I was drinking decaf even though they offered four Surly beers. Shocking to anyone who knows me. For completeness, I’ll report that they also offer mimosas.)
Next door, on the southwest corner with 52nd Street, Great Northern Vintage Radios has a sign clearly announcing its stock in trade, but even without that sign (as in the photo), the example console standing sentinel on the front doorstep makes the same point. This is truly one of the joys of walking in a city; you discover all kinds of specialized shops that could not exist in a less-densely settled area, where only widely popular merchandise can attract sufficient customers.
From 52nd Street, I followed 15th Avenue and Edgewater Boulevard south to 55th Street, then 13th Avenue back north to 52nd, the start of looping my way westward while walking the north-south avenues. As I crossed 54th Street on 13th Avenue, I got my first view of the school for which the neighborhood is named. (The school in turn is named for Nathan Hale, who famously regretted he had but one life to lose for his country, though he may not have said so in those words.) Like many schools, it has been added onto repeatedly; two of its five ages of construction are visible from this side. The wings on the left and right are from the original 1930 construction, whereas the lighter-colored portion between them is from one of the more recent additions.
Continuing on 13th Avenue, I got to see not only some more of the building’s stages but also the playground behind it. And there I spied an intriguing detail: a hole punch attached to the fence. This is not some casually left-behind item, or (as a friend suggested) the equipment of an enterprising schoolyard ear piercer. It is rather professionally attached using PVC-coated aircraft cable that has been joined into a loop using a crimped-on aluminum sleeve. It’s as though a physical education teacher had asked the plant maintenance department to install the punch there so that it could be regularly used to …. what? To punch something, obviously. Some sort of record of physical activity?
After reaching 52nd Street, I used 14th Avenue to return to 54th Street, where I headed west to 11th Avenue for my next loop. As I walked by the school on 54th Street, I noted in particular the peace garden. In addition to the usual multilingual peace pole, it has several multicolored, seemingly student-made poles, four of which are shown here.
On 11th Avenue, I continued paying attention to the recurrent architectural themes. As I had illustrated in my description of the northern half of the neighborhood, most of the houses are patterned on English models. However, there are some exceptions. Unless I’m mistaken, the one shown below evokes more of a Mediterranean flavor. I’d seen an almost exact duplicate of it, mirror imaged, in the northern half of the neighborhood, so clearly this too was based on a standard plan, just not as commonly used a one.
I’m also sensitive to the presence of houses from later decades, all the way up to the present. Houses from the 1950s might be more prevalent in the southern part of Diamond Lake than they are here, but that makes them all the more worth appreciating as enlivening elements of variety. As I used 52nd Street to connect from northbound 11th Avenue to southbound 12th Avenue, I saw a particularly well-preserved example.
Once I passed Hale School’s 12th Avenue side and crossed 54th Street, I came to the campus of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church & School. The church building is a striking modern structure with a dome topped by a chi-rho cross. (The flared bracketing on the cross members remind me of a Syriac cross, though that’s presumably coincidental on a Roman Catholic church.) The 11th Avenue end of the building has a simpler Latin cross. When I got around to that side, I saw that its simplicity is highlighted by its mounting on a contrasting background of herringbone-patterned metal. The school building bears both by its current name and its pre-merger name, Resurrection School.
Before walking my final loop on Elliot and 10th Avenues, I followed 54th Street all the way to Chicago Avenue. On the northeast corner, Aqualand Aquarium Center stands out—even from the rear—for its mural by Mentoring Peace Through Art MuralWorkers under the guidance of Jimmy Longoria. This non-profit organization empowers youth and transforms communities (to use their words). I urge readers to click through to their site for more information, including videos. When I contacted Longoria, in addition to kindly granting permission for these photos, he wrote that “A story that I would like to get out is that MuralWorks always paints in the back or side of gang-tagged buildings whose owners cannot afford to pay an artist to cover up the graffiti. (We charge building owners $1.)” I had previously seen other examples in the eastern part of Bancroft and the eastern and western parts of the Central neighborhood.
The mural is full of interesting, imaginative details inspired by the shop’s specialty but definitely not limited to a literal retelling of what’s inside. (For example, if you zoom in on the photo above, the back wall features two frogs holding a tea party.) The side wall also includes a miniature door, mat, and window at sidewalk level (perhaps for a relative of Mr. Little Guy, who summers on Lake Harriet), and a mosaic at the storefront corner.
Rather than immediately going around to the front of the building, my route called for me to retreat to Elliot Avenue and loop around. As it turns out, this didn’t take me away from playful frogs and mosaics after all, because as I turned from Elliot Avenue onto 52nd Street, I spotted a trio of frog musicians.
Once back on Chicago Avenue, I stopped into Aqualand. In addition to getting information about the mural, I was able to overhear an extensive consultation on aquarium water issues. It sounded professional rather than mercantile—like an appointment with an experienced, caring, reassuring doctor. Coming out, I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the mural before heading on my way. It’s as effective on siding and brick as on cinder block.
My entire time in Hale, I had heard and seen plenty of aircraft approaching the airport, but they all had been ordinary commercial jets. As I walked the very last block of my route, though—the 5300 block of Chicago Avenue—a military C-17 Globemaster III transport plane flew over. And as if to echo that sense of ending on a unique note, there on the last corner of a neighborhood full of single-family and duplex homes was a 20-unit apartment building.
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 November 16, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.