Interstate 94 divided the Hawthorne Neighborhood in North Minneapolis into two quite different areas: a primarily industrial strip along the river and a primarily residential area west of the freeway extending as far as Emerson Avenue. Logically, it might make sense to walk the industrial area on one day and the residential on two others. But that would be boring. So for the first day, I combined the northern half of the industrial area with some adjoining residential blocks.
I established 26th Avenue North as the southern limit for this walk and Lyndale Avenue as the western one. Lyndale is historically a more significant dividing line than the freeway, having been the western border of the city until 1858. (Although the northern border was then 26th Avenue North, so Lyndale’s relevance to this first day’s walk is somewhat indirect.) The Lyndale border is still evident in the naming of the roads running north and south: they generally are numbered streets east of Lyndale but alphabetically named avenues west of there. In the route map, the blue tint indicates the full Hawthorne neighborhood, the blue squiggle is the main loop, and the red lines are forward-and-back spurs off of it.
I started out northward on Washington Avenue North from its corner with 26th Avenue North, the southwest corner of the Discount Steel property, which occupies nearly the entire double block from 26th to 28th between Washington and the next street to the east, 2nd Street North. As the sign on corner indicates, this firm not only sells steel and other metals but also offers a wide range of custom fabrication services.
Temporarily turning east on 28th Avenue North, I started to get some sense of how varied the occupants of this industrial area are. For example, along the north side of avenue, the lot to the west of 2nd Street North holds a warehouse for Ocean Providence, a distributor of fish and other sushi supplies, whereas the much larger area between the railroad alley and Pacific Street, extending north to 30th Avenue North, is occupied by the manufacturing plant of Unison Comfort Technologies. And then on the far side of Pacific, Northern Metal Recycling occupies the riverfront all the way to 31st Avenue North.
The most charming building on 28th Avenue is the one I saw both first and last, coming around to its front as I turned back northward on Washington Avenue. The most prominent signs advertise a prior occupant, the Mandeville Company, which was in the business of meat equipment and supplies. A lower-contrast sign over the front door indicates the building now houses City Salvage, a dealer in “architectural treasures, artifacts, and little curios from across America.” The firm’s name is also included in the mosaic on a tub.
The Minnesota Historical Society has a photo of this building from approximately 1910, at which time it housed the Itasca Lumber Company. The building permit index card shows initial construction in 1904, allegedly at a 60×24 foot size, although the actual width is larger. The card also shows construction in 1919 of a 42×40 foot addition, visible in my photo but not the Historical Society’s one. It has a door facing 28th Avenue North marked “Tin House Artist Collective Gallery and Event Space.”
According to the index card, by the time of the addition, the building’s function had shifted from office to factory; that may have coincided with the change in occupant a few years earlier from the lumber company to Cleland Manufacturing Company, a maker of agricultural equipment. Another notable step in the building’s evolution was in 1949, when the permit was to reface the building with metal sheets — presumably the same corrugated metal sheets that today form a distinctive component of the building’s appearance, as seen behind the bathtub in my close-up photo.
My next eastward spur off of Washington, on 29th Avenue North, was considerably shorter, extending only as far as 2nd Street North. This reflects the large footprint of the Unison plant and other facilities to the east of 2nd Street. On the other hand, the more confined space available between Washington and 2nd provides a distinct ecological niche where smaller startups fit. For example, construction of Dots Gray seems to be wrapping up in a former welding shop. This commissary kitchen is a subsidiary of the Butcher Salt food-truck business but will be open to other food entrepreneurs.
Although I’m not attempting a comprehensive inventory of this area’s businesses, one category I noticed for its multiple exemplars is the plumbing and electrical trades, represented both by contractors and supply houses. In particular, I answered a long outstanding question of mine, which is where Uptown Plumbing, Heating, and Cooling is actually located. In my walks, I frequently passed their highly visible trucks and on a couple occasions an equally visible building bearing their name—but each time it was a community gathering space rather than the firm’s office or shop. Eventually the firm started to seem a bit eerie: everywhere and yet nowhere. At least nowhere in Uptown or even close to Uptown. Now I know: it’s on Washington Avenue North, just south of Lowry.
Having seen enough of Washington Avenue for one day, I turned east on 30th Avenue North. Ultimately I was just going the single block to 2nd Street, but I did a spur beyond there, crossing the rails and continuing to Pacific. Along the way, I saw that Northern Metal is not the only recycling business in this area: Alliance Recycling Group has their headquarters between 30th and 31st Avenues. I’ll let these photos from Alliance stand in for both firms, as one heap of scrap looks much like another. I stood quite a while at the railroad crossing watching the electromagnet lift ferrous metals out of the railcars, while in a nearby yard, an operator used a beak-like implement to sort through mixed materials.
OK, so I was back into the genuinely industrial part of the neighborhood, right? Well, yes and no. On the spur to Pacific, that was true enough. But then I retreated and turned south on 2nd Street, back in the more confined, less heavily industrial region. Minneapolis’s economy is diverse, and its land use reflects that. There can be a surprise around any corner. In this case, turning the corner onto 2nd Street, I saw Splatball, an indoor paintball company.
Once I turned east on 26th Avenue, the industrial area became more thoroughly industrial again. Not that I saw more factories like Unison, but I checked a dictionary to be sure, and “industry” encompasses the processing of basic materials as well as manufacturing. The two largest materials-processing plants on 26th Avenue are CenterPoint Energy’s North Peak Shaving Station and Cemstone’s concrete plant. (The CenterPoint facility shaves off peak natural gas demand using substitute natural gas (SNG) produced from propane.) In each case, the exposed facilities for storing or handling the materials were visually striking.
At the northern end of the neighborhood, the riverward spur on 31st Avenue North provided a good vantage point from which to appreciate the Lowry Avenue Bridge’s basket-handle tied-arch design.
A bridge is not merely to look at, however. It can also be to look from. (More severely practical folks might think it is for crossing the river.) I proceeded up onto Lowry Avenue and to the midpoint of the bridge. Walking the bridge on foot provides opportunities for observation lost to motorists and even bicyclists.
Even before I got to the partially frozen river itself, I encountered at least three of those opportunities. First, on the pillar marking the entry to the bridge, is an important memorial reminder:
On September 12, 1956, Minneapolis Public Works employee Anton T. Urbaniak lost his life while working on the Lowry Avenue Bridge. Several people, including three coworkers, tried unsuccessfully to rescue him after he slipped and fell into the Mississippi River.
This plaque honors the sacrifice Mr. Urbaniak made that day and recognizes the hazardous work all Public Works employees perform in order to make our bridges, roads and the rest of our city safer for everyone.
Next came the mysterious line of police cruisers parked behind a warehouse, which an online search reveals is slated to become the city’s new Property and Evidence Warehouse. The police seem to have switched to SUVs in recent years, and I suspect these sedans may be in an intermediate “mothballed” state, no longer in active service but not yet sold as surplus.
One last observation before the river: a particularly artistic set of tire tracks where vehicles turned around behind the building at the corner of 31st Avenue and Pacific Street North.
Once I reached the neighborhood boundary mid-river, I turned back westward, crossed the freeway, and entered the residential section of the neighborhood. After passing Lowry Towers on the southwest corner of 3rd Street North and Lowry Avenue, which I’ll show later, I came to the Hawthorne EcoVillage. This is a four-block area redeveloped by Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and partner organizations over the past decade as a combination of single-family rehabilitated and newly-constructed houses with townhomes and an apartment building. The grand opening celebration for the apartment building is upcoming on February 7, 2018. The EcoVillage earns its name in several ways, including the incorporation of stormwater features.
Winding through this area brought me to the corner of Lyndale and 31st Avenues North, where my lunch stop awaited me: Bangkok Market, Video Rental, and Thai Deli. Befitting the name, the front of the building is a store, but the back is a deli. There’s a counter where one can order any of a range of Thai (and perhaps also Hmong) dishes. Although I saw quite a bit of to-go business, there’s also a seating area. It has a half dozen tables, rather a large area for a convenience store, and some nice touches, such as art on the wall and a wood-and-glass partition surrounding it. All of which served only to increase my enjoyment of the deeply flavorful chicken red curry (kaeng phet). In addition to chicken (with skin and bones), sauce, and aromatics such as kaffir lime leaves, the curry included Thai eggplant, the small round green-and-white kind commonly sold in Hmong produce stalls.
After lunch, I headed east on 31st Avenue for a single block before turning south to Farview Park. That one block of 31st Avenue contains at least two more features of the EcoVillage, a community garden and a solar demonstration project on the roof of Bangkok Market.
After this block, I walked south not just to the park but into it before turning within it to exit eastbound on 28th. The park contains all the usual recreation facilities: a recreation center, playground, wading pool, and athletic fields. (Admittedly, the athletic fields are unusually well developed.) However, what really impressed me as the most significant and distinctive recreational feature, at least at this time of year, was was a gift of nature: the hill that gives the park its name. The number of sled tracks on it shows how appreciated it is.
The area between the park and the freeway has quite a few houses dating from this area’s original development in the boom decade of the 1880s. Some of the larger houses have meanwhile been subdivided and otherwise remodeled, but many still show their original character. This includes two brick houses I photographed in the 2800 block of 3rd Street North, both of which turn out to have been built in 1885 by William Holway. Mr. Holway is better known for concrete block houses, about which more later. Both these houses are on a hillside to the west of 3rd Street, looking out over the freeway, industrial area, and river. When constructed, they must have had a commanding view of the lumber mills that processed logs floated down the river.
Before finishing up this area to the east of the park, I zigged back to Lyndale Avenue for its 2900 block. Among other things, that gave me a view of the Tawfiq Islamic Center on the northeast corner of 29th and Lyndale Avenues North, a mosque associated with the Oromo people. The building, which originally housed Advent Christian Church, isn’t as dramatically gothic as many churches, but the peaked arches still caught my eye in the window tracery and the doorways. Just the evening before I had heard a lecturer remark that the gothic arch was borrowed from Islamic architecture, so it struck me that this building’s conversion to a mosque returned the arches to their roots.
Once 30th Avenue brought me back to 3rd Street, I initially headed north as far as Lowry Avenue before retreating to 31st Avenue. The block between 31st and Lowry Avenues, and between 3rd and 4th Streets, is occupied by Lowry Towers, a 17-story public housing building from the late 1960s.
After this little northward jaunt, I turned more steadily southward, taking 4th Street all the way from 31st Avenue to 26th. Across from Farway Park, the two houses just south of 28th Avenue provided a good introduction to the concrete block construction the neighborhood is known for. Indeed, the houses at both 2828 and 2826 are included in the city’s listing of historic landmarks. They were developed in 1885 by William Holway’s nearby Union Stone and Building Company, which specialized in the manufacture and use of patented “artificial stone.” The name “Union Stone” strikes me as particularly clever for these concrete blocks. It alludes to their composition as stones made by cementing together smaller aggregate. And in a state with a disproportionate number of Civil War veterans, the name “Union” must also have had positive associations.
Before returning to concrete-block houses, I admired a pair of wooden frame houses two blocks further south. They clearly had started as identical twins and still were nearly so, though the decorative details had diverged ever so slightly. For example, the woodwork in the porch gable was highlighted with contrasting paint colors on 2618.
Just beyond those houses, I came to the southern edge of the park at 26th Avenue North and took a little loop through the southeast corner of the park before using 27th Avenue to return to 3rd Street. There I saw two examples of narrower concrete block houses, the adjacent twins at 2617 and 2619, which are again both on the list of historic landmarks. Actually, they must have been part of a larger group of siblings, not just twins: the house at 2611 (just to the left of this photo) shows signs of having the same plan at its core , though it has been built onto in the meantime. And then at the corner with 26th Avenue, I got a side view of the concrete block rowhouses, which I’ll walk in front of on a subsequent day. Finally, I crossed the freeway back to my starting point. The view from the overpass made clear that the division of the neighborhood is fundamentally topographical, though the freeway has made it far more stark.
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 January 18, 2018. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.