Unlike the largely residential western half of Harrison, the eastern half of the neighborhood includes a substantial proportion of warehousing and light industry. But really it has a bit of everything, making for an interesting walk.
Looking at the route map, you can see that the longest of the red forward-and-back spurs protrudes well beyond the southern border of the blue-tinted neighborhood. That’s Van White Memorial Boulevard (named for of an important member of the city council), and I walked the portion in the Bryn Mawr neighborhood together with that in the Harrison neighborhood for the simple reason that I had missed this street when I was walking Bryn Mawr.
Hopping off the number 9 bus at Knox and Glenwood Avenues (point A), I headed east on Glenwood—initially as far as Girard Avenue, though apart from some side trips, I’d ultimately take it all the way to Lyndale Avenue, where the neighborhood ends at I-94. Along the way to Girard, I saw a disproportionate number of civic institutions and some recently updated commercial buildings.
First came Fire Station 16, on the north side of the avenue about where James Avenue North would intersect, if it did. (Instead, Gramercy Avenue comes in at an angle from the southwest.) Immediately east of the fire station, a curved school building gains a lot of visual interest from its windows. The second photo of the school (taken further east) shows it has both a banner bearing the current name, River Bend Education Center, and metal letters spelling the former name, W. Harry Davis Academy. It’s good that Davis’s name is preserved at least to that degree; Lorna Benson’s MPR obituary does an admirable job of summing up his many accomplishments: “So many in fact, that it’s hard to sum up his life.” Apparently the name change reflected a change in the school program housed in the building from a geographically-defined community elementary school to “a self-contained K-8 school … [for] students who have significant emotional, behavior and mental health needs that affect their academic and social progress.” Meanwhile, occupants of the south side of the street include Masjid Al-Furqaan Islaamic Center, Proverbs Christian Fellowship, the eyebobs eyeglass frame company, and Treat and Company, a design studio.
Backing up from Girard Avenue to Humboldt, I then turned south, the start of a U-shaped detour through these two avenues. The most interesting building I saw on Humboldt Avenue was a house in the 200 block that showed clear signs of having started its life as a church. The building permit index card shows more specifically that it was built in 1902 as the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church and was initially converted in 1960 to a photographic studio before becoming residential. I love it when things click into place: 1960 was the year the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church had built a new building, now occupied by the Minneapolis Central Church of Christ, which I saw on my previous walk.
I’ve commented before on the substantial physicality of digital infrastructure, notwithstanding all claims of a nebulous cyberspace. I encountered another reminder of that physicality as I took a one-block westward spur on Currie Avenue West before turning the other direction for the base of the Humboldt-to-Girard U. The lot on the northeast corner of Currie and Irving Avenues (part of a larger area held by Wellington Management for redevelopment) contains big spools of bright orange plastic conduit, stacks of underground utility vaults, and a few trucks with directional boring equipment and whatnot. In short, this is a depot being used for US Internet’s expansion of their fiber-optic service area. (None of that area is particularly close to here.)
Turning back eastward on Currie and returning to the intersection of Humboldt Avenue North and Currie Avenue West, two facts about this intersection struck me. First, the directional suffix on Currie Avenue is unusual. Elsewhere in this neighborhood, both the north-south avenues (such as Humboldt) and the east-west ones (such as 2nd) are flagged as North. In the words of the Minneapolis Street Naming and Address Standard, “Although most street types will have a directional of North, there are exceptions.” Currie Avenue is one of those exceptions.
The second noteworthy fact about this intersection required actual on-the-ground observation. All the maps I consulted showed Humboldt Avenue as continuing south of Currie. Yet as the photo makes clear, this is a tee intersection, with the area to the south being part of the semi-trailer parking lot.
Turning north on Girard, I came upon the building at the southwest corner of Girard and 2nd Avenues from its rear. Most of the light industrial buildings that fill the southeast corner of the neighborhood don’t make any visual statement, whereas this one stood out for the bright mural on its rear wall. I also noticed the solar panels on the roof. I’m not skilled enough to read the mural’s lettering, but the sign to its left is clear enough if one zooms in: Blasted Art. I’ll have much more to say about this company and its building later, when I’ve looped around to 2nd Avenue and pass by the front.
Turning back eastward on Glenwood, I encountered another sign of the area’s post-Finnish ethnic diversity: a senior-care center named in Hmong as well as English. I’m glad something moved me to photograph the sign; only after playing around with Google Translate did I recognize what’s special about it. The visual element, a radiant sun, doesn’t connect with the English name, Metro Senior Center. But it does connect with the Hmong name, which means something like “Sunny Senior Center.”
The senior center is on the southwest corner of Glenwood’s next intersection east of Girard. Historically, the cross street is Fremont Avenue, but now it serves as part of Van White Memorial Boulevard. As I turned south on that street, I noticed that the warehouse on the southeast corner holds an interesting combination: Mandile Fruit Company and Packaging Concepts, which distributes “quality bottles and jars of all kinds in plastic, glass and metal … [as well as] closures, sprayers and lotion pumps.” As far as I can tell, the two wholesalers have nothing in common other than each needing less than the entire warehouse. But they do seem emblematic of the area’s traditionally workaday character; in contrast to a consumer brand like eyebobs, they are essential but low-profile links in the distribution chains that keep the metro area functioning.
My initial impression was that the same emphasis on value over visibility also applied to the remaining land uses I saw as I walked south to I-394. Following the next photograph, I list some examples. First, though, I have to confess to one misjudgment. I assumed the building shown below was just another warehouse. But actually, it’s the soon-to-open home of Royal Foundry Craft Spirits. In fact, if I had looked closely at the colorful insignia on the black Mini station wagon in the parking lot, I would have known that. It’s not legible in my photo, but they’ve posted clearer photos on Facebook.
In addition to more warehouses, I saw the Minneapolis Public Schools’ bus parking lot to the east after I crossed 2nd Avenue North. (I got a closer view of the associated Transportation Services building when I walked 2nd and Colfax Avenues.) And, after crossing Basset Creek, I saw the city’s impound lot. Finally, as I neared the freeway, I crossed a bridge over the BNSF railway lines just west of Lyndale Junction, followed by a gravel pile. (Note to railroad signaling buffs: please tell me what would be in the box standing open on the pole between the two lines. [On 2018–01–15, Gerald Kackman responded: “Many years back the Great Northern Railway removed their pole lines in the Twin Cities and buried the … telegraph and telephone wires. That looks like a junction box for the buried T & T wires. Inside the box would be wires and terminal blocks. The GN liked to put these boxes up on poles to discourage tampering I think.”])
Although those photos certainly resonate with my geeky interest in infrastructure, the real winner was something I saw between the bus and impound lots, but was unable to recognizably photograph. Namely, as I crossed Bassett Creek and looked east from the bridge, I could see the creek disappearing in the distance, not just because of perspective and how much the brush on its banks crowded in, but because there was a just-barely-visible grate, and then nothing. This is where the creek disappears into an underground tunnel, not to re-emerge until it flows into the Mississippi River. (It may also be visible in someone’s basement, based on Daniel Burton’s comment on Andy Sturdevant’s MinnPost story.)
Returning to Glenwood Avenue, I was able to see that redevelopment is a still-ongoing process, as at the former EXL Laboratories building. However, I was also able to see some examples of where that process can lead, as with the 811 Glenwood building and the smaller, more recent building containing HiFi Sound and Abitaré Design Studio. A sculpture by Zoran Mojsilov completes the transformation of HiFi Sound’s property. (I appreciate Mojsilov’s permission to publish this photo.)
As with the walk generally, the spurs down Colfax and Aldrich Avenues were full of rich details, enough so that I will suppress nearly all of them in interest of brevity. However, I can’t resist showing one photo of Xcel Energy’s Aldrich Substation, which lies along the little stub of Currie Avenue West between Aldrich and Colfax. Isn’t the rhythm great?
After wrapping around via Lyndale Avenue to 2nd Avenue North, I passed the multi-building Hirshfield’s complex that occupies the entire block between Lyndale and Aldrich on the south side of 2nd. I had previously seen their paint factory in Camden; here, they have other facilities such as a design studio and a contractor service center. The oldest and largest building in the complex is prominently identified at roof level by the colorful H for Hirshfield’s. Another, less visible roof-level feature is the bee hives maintained by the University of Minnesota’s Bee Squad under the name Bud’s Bees, a tribute to Frank “Bud” Hirshfield.
Regarding the aforementioned oldest and largest building, once I got closer, I saw that it tells its history in the lintel over a former doorway: it was the J.R. Clark Company’s factory.
This of course just raises the question what the J.R. Clark Company produced there. The answer, along with related information, is available in George W. Hotchkiss’s 1898 History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest, page 550, and in a biographical sketch of Herbert J. Clark taken from Marion D. Shutter’s 1923 History of Minneapolis, Gateway to the Northwest. Both make fun reads.
In 1887 or 1888, John R. Clark had turned his company over to his son, Herbert, and retired to Pasadena, California, where he was “favorably impressed with its climate.” The younger Clark took over responsibility for a thriving manufacturer of “wooden specialties of various descriptions,” which he needed to relocate several times into new quarters, including the 2nd Avenue facility in 1902. The wooden specialties included clothes pins, step ladders, and ironing boards, among others.
The spring clothes pins, made according to Hoyt’s patent, were churned out by late 19th-century machines in the J.R. Clark factory at the rate of 90 per minute per machine. They must have been incredibly popular, though they wound up losing out in the Darwinian competition with Moore’s coiled fulcrum clothes pin, patented only five months later. If you look at the patent diagrams, Moore’s is quite familiar, whereas Hoyt’s is not.
The J.R. Clark lintel isn’t the only one on 2nd Avenue to announce a prior occupant. In the next block west, Downtown Dogs occupies what must have been a regional office for the Phillips Petroleum Company, judging by the inscription.
Skipping ahead over Transportation Services and various smaller properties, we come back to Blasted Art, which I had previously seen from the back. As his company’s name implies, Kerry Dikken is in the business of making sandblasted art, including in particular glass panels such as those displayed on the building. Unfortunately, the reflections make it hard to appreciate these panels in my photograph of the building; I suggest also looking at the photos and videos on the web site. Still, if you zoom in, you can make out the Foshay Tower on the right-hand panel, a leaf on the triptych to its left, and an intricate abstract design further left.
When I contacted Dikken to ask for permission to reproduce his works, he responded graciously—even enthusiastically—with not just permission, but also an invitation to visit and some tantalizing information about the history of his building. It was built in 1964 as a processing plant for Oriental Dairy Products Company, whose products included smetana and cottage cheese. Although the company used the letters ODP as a trademark, antique dealers also list various packages of theirs, such as a pint jar, that are marked with a Star of David. A list of dairy plants from 1980 shows it as still in operation, run by Max Guttman. The Minnesota Secretary of State’s records show the company as filing for incorporation in 1983 and merger at the end of 1986. The city’s property records show the first sale of the real estate in 1987, with I. Guttman et al. as the seller. Looking the other direction, the 1922 city directory shows William and Morris Guttman as operating the company; indeed, it is even mentioned as early as a 1913 report of the Minnesota State Dairy and Food Commissioner. So they certainly outlasted many small family-owned businesses. I’m glad that Blasted Art found a home, but as Hanukkah nears and I think of what to put on latkes, I’m sorry the smetana is no more.
[Added 2017–12–16: I subsequently accepted Dikken’s invitation to visit and had a lovely chat with him about his work and the building. The building’s interior reflected its former life as a dairy through such features as floors designed for hosing down. Today, some of that space is used to display samples of Dikken’s work, and they truly blew me away. In particular, the “animated glass” panels can only be fully appreciated when one can move back and forth in front of them. (Don’t let that stop you from viewing the videos, though.) For anyone in the market for donor recognition, corporate identity, or just some eye-catching, durable graphic art, I’d strongly urge you to check out this talented individual.
In addition to seeing the finished works, my visit to Blasted Arts gave me a clearer view of Dikken’s process. He sandblasts each piece in a perfectly ordinary sandblasting cabinet (“low tech,” in his words), but before he gets to that stage, he has to painstakingly mask off the areas that aren’t to be blasted. He designs each mask on a computer and transfers it to a large-format vinyl-cutting machine and then adheres the cut vinyl to the glass. Now comes the most time-consuming part, shown in the following photo: he uses a craft knife to pick out and remove the vinyl from the areas that are to be blasted, freeing those scraps of vinyl along the machine-cut lines from the mask that he leaves behind. After that, all that remains is the actual blasting and then a careful cleaning, plus any additional finishing steps such as painting.
Three blocks further west, where the east-west 2nd Avenue reaches the diagonal Cedar Lake Road, it does so in a rather complex intersection that also includes the north-south James Avenue. The building on the northeast corner of that intersection caught my eye as I came upon its back side on 2nd Avenue. Built in the 1890s as a brick-veneer house, it has since been expanded somewhat and converted into 5 one-bedroom and 3 efficiency (studio) apartments.
With a little jog, I would have been able to proceed across Cedar Lake Road to the continuation of 2nd Avenue. However, my route called for some looping around and spurs first, so that I could see more of Irving, Currie, and James Avenues and Cedar Lake Road itself. This was another very mixed area, containing everything from retail (where Cedar Lake nears Glenwood) to paper recycling (just north of the creek), to residences (much of the rest). Nestled amongst the residences was Irving Gardens, one of the community gardens sponsored by the neighborhood association.
On the other side of Cedar Lake Road, I turned north onto the oddly-shaped Grammercy Avenue North, an accommodation to the interaction between the diagonal and the grid—a better accommodation than the triangles I’ve seen elsewhere. From there, 3rd Avenue North took me to Logan, Logan to Glenwood, … and lunch!
Milda’s Cafe occupies most of the ground floor of Milda’s Corner, a three-story mixed-use building on the northeast corner of Logan and Glenwood. The cafe had run into difficulty with its prior lease, and Redeemer Center for Life recognized it as an important community hub. So they built Milda’s Corner to provide affordable housing, a new site for the cafe, and some additional office space. Milda Hokkanen died in 2005, but she still supervises the cafe from her portrait near the cash register. Her maiden name, Rappana, was just as typically Finnish as Hokkanen, so I gather she was one of the neighborhood’s many Finnish Americans. (If you’ve been following along my two days in the neighborhood, you may have noticed a whole bunch of Finnish-heritage churches. Redeemer Lutheran, where Milda worshipped, is one of them, though its congregation has evolved along with the neighborhood.)
Milda’s Cafe is a comfortable, casual restaurant, what might be called a diner aside from not being the elongated shape of a dining car. The menu includes many old favorites, such as hot roast beef sandwiches with mash potatoes and gravy, but the house specialty is the pasty. Technically pasties are a Cornish dish, but the various ethnicities in the Iron Range (and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) exchanged enough of their cultures that pasties became just as much a Finnish-American dish. At Milda’s the pasty is served with a side of cole slaw and the option of gravy. I declined, knowing the pasty would be plenty rich without it. A well-browned, rugged yet flakey pastry enclosed a well-seasoned mixture of beef, potatoes, carrots, and onions. This was the perfect warm, satisfying lunch for a walk on a late November day. But honestly, whenever and however you get to Milda’s, I recommend you order a pasty. Well, not quite whenever: they only make them on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. So the pro tip is to go one of those days.
After lunch, I returned to my starting point at Knox and Glenwood, then turned north on Knox Avenue, ultimately going as far as the frontage road south of Olson Memorial Highway. However, I diverted off of Knox onto a two-block-wide loop on 4th and 5th Avenues that took me into the Harrison Park. As you can see in the first photo, taken as I entered from 5th Avenue, the neighborhood community center is on the east side of the park. Once I turned south, heading toward 4th Avenue, in addition to seeing more of the playground equipment, the River Bend Education Center came into view south of the park. The park is largely nestled between these two buildings; there are also ball fields further north.
Once I got to the frontage road and finished a westward spur to Logan Avenue, I was able to walk along the norther border of the park and turn down its eastern side on Irving Avenue. This stretch of Irving ends by turning east into 5th Avenue, tracing the contour of the L-shaped building I had seen from the park. However, now I recognized that this building has a dual identity. While the convex, park-facing side of the L is labeled as the community center, the concave, street-facing side is labeled as Harrison Education Center, “a high school alternative … program created to serve students between the ages of 14–18 years with severe emotional and behavioral needs.”
Most of the area east of Humboldt Avenue is occupied by the Olson Towne Homes, though there is also one cross-shaped tower of the Park Plaza Apartments. The main part of the Park Plaza complex, two larger buildings that each have two cross bars, lies between Humboldt and Irving. The architectural rhythm reminded me of the Aldrich Substation I had seen earlier in the walk. With that analogy as my parting thought, I caught a number 19 bus at Humboldt Avenue and Olson Memorial Highway and headed home.
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 December 6, 2017. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.