Feasts for the eyes and for the mouth awaited me as I returned to the Holland neighborhood two days after touring the western portion.
I began at the route map’s point A, the southeast corner of Thomas Edison High School at 20th Avenue and Quincy Street. (As on the prior day, I’ll leave NE off the street and avenue names.) This positioned me on the western edge of a flood mitigation basin. Eight miles later, after walking the whole light-blue path and the various red forward-and-back spurs, I wound up on the eastern edge of the basin at point B. Then I closed the loop by crossing a footbridge over the basin. That’s the dark blue line from B to A, which I had to manually add to the route map due to a Google Map issue.
The first photo shows the view as I started out northbound on Quincy Street. The flood mitigation basin is in the foreground. In the left center, at the corner with 22nd Avenue, you get a first look at James Brenner’s 2010 sculpture Double Flux. From this distance, what you mostly see above the tan pedestal is a twisted sideways figure 8, the infinity symbol (∞). Even if you zoom in, you’ll see only a little fuzziness around this form. But as the second photo shows, closer up one sees two quite distinct spheroids of oxidized steel plates surrounding the infinity symbol. Indeed, there are other viewing distances and angles from which only the spheroids are visible, with the infinity symbol concealed. Later in the walk I’ll show another related sculpture in greater detail, but even this first encounter fascinated me. One of my standards for judging artwork is how much time it repays. Any work, regardless of medium or stylistic movement, that I want to spend a long time looking at from different distances and angles is noteworthy.
Those first two photos also incidentally show another Brenner work behind Double Flux, the Innovation Field backstop. Because of the sun’s position in the sky, I wasn’t able to get any decent photos of the backstop, so all I can do is urge you to look at it on Brenner’s site or (even better) in real life.
Another landmark visible in the background of these photos is the towers of St. Clement. I’ll show that church from close up later in the walk. More immediately, as I crossed Lowry Avenue on Quincy Street, I passed the House of Refuge Church of God in Christ, a 1922 building that originally housed St. Paul’s German Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Once I reached 27th Avenue, I turned west, initially going as far as Howard Street before retreating the short distance to Monroe Street to turn back south. Here I noticed something interesting. On the northbound trip up Quincy, I had predominantly seen two-story houses from the first decades of the twentieth century, as elsewhere in the neighborhood. And when I turned south on Monroe, the same was true on its east side. But the west side of Monroe holds single-story postwar cottages in its northernmost half block—not just a few scattered ones, as elsewhere, but a row of them. I would subsequently see that in this northernmost part of the neighborhood, the next several streets to the west have these more recent buildings as well. Once I was home, I checked the relevant page from a 1940 atlas and found that indeed, this area was for some reason left unplatted until after that date. The corresponding page in the 1914 atlas might provide a better initial clue for anyone who wants to dig into why this area was held back from development. Namely, the parcel was owned by J. L. Wary & W. G. Comstock.
From Monroe Street I turned east onto 22nd Avenue, passing along the northern side of the high school. Across from the school, I was interested to see that the International Baccalaureate students in the senior-level biology class were tapping a boulevard maple tree in order to make syrup. Also, the adjacent parking lot is graced by another of James Brenner’s sculptures, Green Light Project. As visually interesting as it is, there’s also a lot going on that one can’t immediately see. I suggest clicking the link to learn more.
Continuing on 22nd Avenue to the east of Quincy Street, Jackson Square Park was on the north side of the avenue. First, in the southwestern corner of the park, I saw Innovation Field again. But then in the southeastern corner, yet another James Brenner sculpture was adjacent to the wading pool and playground: In Flux (2009). The first photo is an example of how from some perspectives, only the overall shape formed by the steel plates is visible. (Here it is a single sphere.) The second photo is a closeup of the jade glass used to provide the inner form. Near the sculpture, it has a decidedly iridescent character. And the third photo is a view where both forms are at least partially visible. (As with Double Flux, from a distance one only sees the inner form, which itself presents multiple aspects.) As shown in the first photo, the installation also includes three graceful benches cantilevered from arches. Once on the plaza, one can also see words and phrases set into the concrete slab using cast iron. Each expresses an aspiration, such as “courage to stand out,” “unity,” “working hard,” or “a better life.”
The Northeast branch of Hennepin County Library stands on the corner where I turned from 22nd Avenue to northbound Central Avenue. It was built in 1973 but its current appearance reflects a 2011 renovation.
Central Avenue is a lively street. Although like University Avenue (on the other side of the neighborhood) it carries a substantial amount of longer-distance automative traffic passing through, here there is also a strong component of pedestrians and of establishments that people stop in at, however they may arrive. Many of those establishments are retail stores and restaurants, but not all. For example, I was interested to see the Consulate of Ecuador made more visible by a sidewalk sign in the 2300 block.
After walking the 2300 block of Central Avenue as a spur, I turned west on 23rd Avenue. At the end of the first block, kitty corner from Jackson Square Park, a building jumped out at me for two reasons. One was the contrast between its fundamental appearance—a 1950s professional office—and its up-to-date details, such as the motorized exterior shades and the snappy red color of the entry area. The other was the signage, both regarding the tenants and the construction. The lead tenant is TE Studio, an architectural firm specializing in Passive House design, and a sidewalk sign indicates that their own building was renovated to that energy-efficiency standard. All of this rang a bell with me because one of the firm’s principals, Stephan Tanner, designed the Waldsee BioHaus, which I had been interested to tour at the time of its opening in 2006.
From 23rd Avenue, I turned north on Howard Street, the start of a serpentine bounded by 23rd and 27th Avenues: north on Howard, south on Madison, north on Jefferson, and south on Washington, for a net movement of three blocks westward. Most of that 4×3-block area is residential, though there are exceptions, such as the small industrial areas adjacent to the railway. Even that is changing: the area near 23rd and Jefferson still has recently vacated buildings but is slated to be redeveloped for apartments.
From a visual standpoint, the most interesting part of this whole serpentine was at its very end, the 2300 block of Washington Street. That’s where the street passes under the railroad tracks. Because the tracks run at an angle to the street, the rows of concrete arches are not directly aligned with each other, making them look more dramatic. For the same reason, the steel girders also look more dynamic because of their non-perpendicular orientation relative to the concrete supports. Despite all this extra visual energy imparted by the skewed alignment, the hushed space with its filtered light has a reverential tone as well.
Retreating from my spur under the railroad bridge, I turned east on 24th Avenue, which I followed all the way to Central Avenue. However, it seems I was not done with reverential assemblages of Roman arches. A block short of Central Avenue, I paused to photograph the St. Clement campus of the Holy Cross Catholic Church, constructed in 1913–1914.
The 2400 and 2500 blocks of Central Avenue are just as lively as the 2200 and 2300, perhaps even more so. The storefronts are narrow enough that they follow each other in rapid succession. In this photo looking back southward on the 2400 block, the cutout baker advertising “pan fresco” is in front of Durango Bakery, but the first store window visible at the right of the photo (advertising “tapas”) is the next building, Costa Blanca Bistro, with the pink boa around the tree out front. And even the bistro’s front quickly gives way to the bright colors and balloons of El Taco Riendo.
In the 2500 block, I found the pairing of Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s Breadhaus sufficiently intriguing that I wasn’t going to be deterred by a little problem like doing my walk on a Monday, when they both were closed. I made a return trip on Friday so that I could buy a loaf of Bauernbrot (farmer’s bread, a traditional German dark sourdough) and a pint of Morgendunst. Both are shown in the second photo.
The Morgendunst, a collaboration with Pollyanna Brewing Company, is decidedly less traditional than the bread. Remembering how tradition-bound Bavarian brewing was when I lived there 30+ years ago, I was unsure whether to try a Hefeweizen (traditional unfiltered wheat ale) that had been augmented with new-world hops. But times are changing, even for the Bavarians, and nothing ventured nothing gained. As it happens, quite a bit was gained by drinking this beer. The first thing I noticed was a lovely tropical/citrus fruit combination from the hopping, perhaps something like mango plus tangerine plus papaya. But then that got filled in by the taste of cloves from the yeast. Spiced fruit can be a quite magical combination, and this one works.
I can’t catalog all the establishments I passed, but two others that stood out were Sarah Jane’s Music School and Masjid Al-Huda Islamic Cultural Community Center.
Last but not least, the southwest corner with 26th Avenue is home to Al-Amir Restaurant and Bakery, where I had lunch. The seating area is bracketed by a pair of flags, Iraq on one side and US on the other, which is an apt metaphor for the menu. Even setting aside the specials written in Arabic on the whiteboard, which were opaque to me, the menu includes such regional favorites as a falafel and hummus plate, which I ordered, and kebabs and schwarma, which Heavy Table favorably reviewed. However, it also has hamburgers, fries, chicken strips, and other American fast food.
While my falafel plate was prepared, I was given a very tasty lentil soup. I also was able to spend my time watching the show. The expert efficiency with which the baker makes the khubz flatbread is astonishing. In rapid succession, he twirls a ball of dough flat, stretches it over a domed pillow, slashes it, slaps it against the wall of the oven, removes an earlier flatbread, and repeats, with the pile of completed flatbreads building up before my eyes.
Clearly this production isn’t all, or even mostly, for use in the restaurant. However, I did get one of the freshly baked breads from the stack with my gorgeous falafel plate. It proved to be the perfect tool for picking up and eating the other foods, but it was also tasty in its own right. The falafel were freshly prepared (not just freshly fried, but freshly mixed up from chickpeas and other ingredients), and the pickled vegetables provided a nice counterpoint to the creamy hummus. I’m in love and have now ordered this twice, but I need to branch out the next time I go back. For example, I’m interested to try the fish and the bakery’s other bread, diamond shaped samoon. For further background on the establishment, I recommend Devan Grimsrud’s article in Growler.
Because the 2500 block of Central Avenue was one of my forward-and-back spurs, I had a chance to see it again after lunch. I took the opportunity to do this on the eastern side of the avenue so that I could see the western storefronts from a greater distance. (My feet were out of the neighborhood, but my eyes were still in it.)
This proved a wise decision. For example, when I had earlier walked the western sidewalk, I had seen Central Avenue Liquors only as a visually busy storefront, wider than most. But now I could see that it is the present occupant of the “L.W. NORTHFIELD CO.” building, as a sign in the top center proclaimed. That, of course, made me wonder who had needed such a large building and for what. The answer is that L. W. (Luke Wesley) Northfield founded a company that “has a large trade in builders’ supplies—including cement, plaster, brick and lime—coal and wood, and conducts a storage and transfer business as well,” according to a biographical sketch taken from Marion D. Shutter’s 1923 History of Minneapolis, Gateway to the Northwest. From a broader perspective, I find it interesting to consider a time when Central Avenue businesses were not all selling consumer goods.
As I waited to cross back over Central Avenue in order to proceed westward on Lowry Avenue, I noticed a second example where seeing the entire building expanded my appreciation. On the southwest corner of that intersection, I had barely noticed the two storefronts, rather generic spaces currently occupied by outlets of the Liberty Tax and Cricket Wireless chains. I hadn’t paid attention to the tile that frames these storefronts, seemingly of 1950s or 1960s vintage. Now I could see that the upper levels of the facade have a huge sign of similar vintage bearing the name “ARCANA” and a Masonic symbol. These elements stand out because the building as a whole is clearly much older, like its neighbors. Looking for a story of transformation, I found that initial construction in 1906 was already for the combination of stores and lodge halls, but the present facade dates from the alterations necessitated by a 1957 fire. Having dug this out of the building permits, I subsequently realized there was an easier route: the lodge’s own history page, which also provides the human and institutional context.
By now I had seen most of the neighborhood, and so most of my additional walking consisted of cutting back through already-walked areas. In particular, I needed to walk Lowry all the way from Central to where it passes under the railroad tracks, 26th Avenue the same span but eastward, and Jackson Street all the way from 27th Avenue to 19th Avenue. However, I had repeatedly seen each of these while crossing them in the perpendicular directions.
I did expand my territory a bit by adding in the northwestern, northeastern, and southeastern corners. In particular, the southeastern corner of the neighborhood, which is the northwestern corner of 19th and Central Avenues, is home to the Volunteers of America Monroe Village. This interested me because it features not only apartments for seniors but also some related services that have separate sidewalk-level entrances, such as a law office specializing in estate and elder law. The Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association also has office space here.
And finally I crossed the 20th Avenue footbridge over the flood mitigation basin to my starting point.
Note: All photos of James Brenner’s sculptures used with his kind permission.