Like the Hiawatha neighborhood to its south, the Howe neighborhood ranges from rail-side grain elevators on the west to the Mississippi River gorge on the east. As shown by the blue tint in the route map, from north to south it spans from 34th to 40th Street East. My route for the first day started and ended at 38th Street East and Snelling Avenue, winding south to 40th Street East, west to Hiawatha Avenue, and east to 45th Avenue South.
Despite the continuity with the Hiawatha neighborhood, a lot had changed in the two weeks I was gone from this area. My photos from April 20th show a snow-covered landscape, whereas hopping off the number 23 bus on May 4, the first thing that struck me was all the green.
Snelling Avenue, like most of the neighborhood, is residential, but I wasn’t surprised once I had turned west on 40th Street East to see a strip of industrial area between Dight and Hiawatha Avenues; that’s where the railroad runs. The “industrial” category is broad, encompassing everything from warehouses to an electrical substation, but there is at least one facility that is industrial in the core sense of manufacturing something. Chemstar Products Company, on the northwest corner of 40th Street East and Dight Avenue, produces starch-based polymers. This site includes their headquarters and research and development facility.
In the 3800 block of Hiawatha Avenue, the Ralston-Purina feed mill that was razed in 2010 has been replaced by the 180-unit Longfellow Station apartments, constructed in 2013. A series of informational panels along its western wall explains not only the particular mill it replaced and that mill’s predecessors, but also the other mills and elevators along the rail corridor. I was impressed by the amount of context these signs provide regarding the site, well worth taking a stroll to peruse. (Alternatively, the same information and much more is available in the cultural resources study prepared for Hennepin County Community Works by Landscape Research LLC in 2009 together with its appendix.)
At the end of this block, the southwest corner of the intersection with 38th Street East is still awaiting redevelopment as a retail/office/medical site. That leaves an unobstructed sightline to the two facilities on the north side of the street, ADM’s Atkinson Flour Mill and General Mills’ Checkerboard Grain Elevator, used to store oats for Cheerios.
I walked Dight Avenue from 38th Street East to 40th, then retreated to 39th. The east side of the avenue has garages in back of Snelling Avenue houses, whereas the west side has mostly warehouses. Once I turned onto 39th Street East, the route was rather straightforward: a straight shot east to 45th Avenue South, then a serpentine back westward, alternating between 38th and 40th Streets East. (This description simplifies out the forward-and-back spurs.)
Because most of the lots face onto the north-south avenues, the eastward traversal of 39th Street primarily offered side views. For example, as I crossed 39th Avenue South, the side view of the second house south of the intersection revealed the gracefully curved cutouts in the oxidized steel panel lining its front steps. And in the corresponding position on 42nd Avenue South, the depth of Reidy’s Market is apparent.
Most of the houses in this neighborhood have detached garages on the alleys that run north-south, midway between the avenues. The garages for the corner lots often face onto the east-west streets such as 39th. And one of those garages is covered with a striking mural extolling the virtues of curiosity, laughter, and discovery. Rather than offering you my own photo of it, I’ll embed a link to one by Teri Firkins. By clicking through from the image page to her blog post, you’ll get to read the information she uncovered about the mural’s creation. As a bonus, you’ll obtain her observations regarding other murals in the city.
Once I turned north on 45th Avenue South, I started seeing more of the main facades of houses. As with any neighborhood of sufficient age, many of the houses have been remodeled. I was particularly struck by one house where the new design neither tries to mimic the 1915 original nor to completely submerge it, but rather uses the distinction between old and new to create a dramatic contrast.
A block to the west of there, a front window planter perfectly typical for arts and crafts bungalows is rendered anything but typical by the plants sprouting from it—plants crafted from sprockets rather than grown from seeds.
The Howe neighborhood is named for Howe Elementary School, which operates as part of Hiawatha Community School. The school building lies on the north side of 38th Street East, just outside of this first day’s walk, but I got good views of it from two points on my serpentine: first as I turned south from 38th Street onto 44th Avenue South, then as I returned northward on 43rd Avenue South. The latter view is shown here.
From the school, I walked one block west on 38th Street East to the intersection with 42nd Avenue South, which is a major commercial node. I’ll focus here on the two southern corners of that intersection, which represent contrasting design approaches perhaps reflecting their different ages. I’ll leave the two northern corners for a subsequent walk.
On the southwest corner, Riverview Theater (a Liebenberg and Kaplan design from 1948) reaches out with its marquee to the sidewalk corner, inviting pedestrians into the one-story lobby that adjoins the two-story main component. Whereas on the southeast corner, if the Fairview Clinics building (from 1997) has any entrances at all, they must face back toward the parking lot. The only door facing the street has no handle.
Two blocks south, where 42nd Avenue South reaches the neighborhood border at 40th Street East, I saw three interesting features. First, someone was readying a substantial flower plot for the growing season, wrapping around the building on the northeast corner of the intersection. As the signs indicate, this is Northerly Flora, an urban organic flower farm offering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares. Second, that corner building itself is notable for remaining mixed use. Its style was common in the early 20th century (1913 in this case) when corner stores were normal, but most of these buildings have meanwhile been converted to purely residential use. Here, the retail space has instead adapted to the service economy by housing an insurance agency where a dry goods store and a meat market once were. Across the avenue, the northwest corner has a four-unit apartment building from 1930.
At the start of this walk, I remarked on the green. I also saw flowers: yellow, blue, red, and—perhaps most refreshing of all—white. It brought to mind the white snow I had seen just two weeks earlier; now that same color was in bloom.
I had now completed three of my serpentine swings to 38th Street East and back to 40th Street East: 45th and 44th Avenues South, 43rd and 42nd, and 41st and 40th. Each of these was augmented by a one-block spur on 40th Street East. And so too with the next swing, which used 39th and 38th Avenues South: it was augmented by the 3800 block of 40th Street East. There I saw a particularly well-cared-for 1955 duplex. In addition to the large chimney between the units, you’ll notice a smaller chimney on the garage. That’s for an outdoor fireplace facing the garden seating area, a nice touch.
That left just one more pair of avenues before finishing up with Minnehaha: I needed to go north on 37th Avenue South and then back south on 36th. At the northern end of this swing, I paused for a pair of businesses at the intersection of 37th Avenue South and 38th Street East. On the northeast corner, Ron’s Auto uses a red-white-and-blue paint job to showcase the art deco flair of its 1937 building. And on the southwest corner, Fireroast Café offers coffee, beer, wine, and a substantial assortment of food. I enjoyed a spinach salad enriched with fresh mango.
One of the fun parts of walking the city has been learning to recognize local artists’ styles. I’ll see a sculpture or mural and think “that must be another by so-and-so,” and sure enough it is. I had that same experience with the stained-glass mosaics displayed in Fireroast’s windows. They reminded me a lot of the ones I had seen at the Blue Moon Cafe in the Cooper neighborhood. And sure enough, these too were by Lisa Arnold (Xola Arts and Objects). The windows also display a Fireroast logo by Karl Charipar.
Crossing 39th Street East southbound on 36th Avenue South, my eye was immediately drawn to the church building on the southeast corner. (Indeed, I had already seen it much earlier when I was eastbound on 39th Street.) The design details include such modernist touches as the asymmetrical arrangement of windows and the half-drop pattern of crosses worked into the bricks, including as openings in the side gable. These design elements correspond to the 1958 date on the datestone, which also reveals the original congregation to have been Bethany Lutheran Church. However, that congregation closed on June 18, 2017. The freshness of the paint announcing the new congregation, Ebenezer Oromo Evangelical Church, corresponds to their having just opened April 7, 2018. The third photo of the church also includes the adjoining youth building, which dates from 1948—older than the church because the church replaced a previous structure.
After 36th Avenue South, all that was left was to use Minnehaha Avenue to return to 38th Street East, where a single block would take me back to my starting point at Snelling. However, to say that Minnehaha Avenue was all I had left sells it short. Recall, this is the main retail corridor of the area. Even in a two block stretch, I encountered numerous businesses. In the 3900 block, I passed E’s Emporium and then stopped at Sosa Foods, a convenience store featuring Taqueria Mi Guanajuato, where I had a tasty chorizo gordita. (They also had more fresh mango: instead of having it diced on a spinach salad with champagne vinaigrette, I could have had slices sprinkled with Tajín.)
Gorditas come in two styles. In one, the masa cake is split entirely in half (or nearly so) with the two halves sitting above and below the filling like a hamburger bun, perhaps slightly connected on one side like a clamshell. In the other, only a small portion of the masa cake’s circumference is split open so that it can envelop the filling like a pita pocket. This gordita was firmly in the latter category, revealing its inner secrets only incrementally. First I encountered the salad with its topping of Cojita cheese crumbles and crema. Then came the core of loose chorizo. And then finally, like the dessert at the end of a meal, a juicy serving of beans. I was offered two squeeze bottles containing red and green salsas. Both were good, but my preference was for the green, which added more interest through its complementarity to the chorizo.
To the north of 39th Street East, the northeast corner has Turquoise Vintage, named for the color of its stucco. This building also has Meseret Market, “specializing in Ethiopian spices, foods, clothing & other wares,” and the office of Ken Struwe, CPA.
Across the avenue, on the northwest corner of the intersection, I stopped in at Selam Coffee and was very glad I did because they have not only the “world’s finest Ethiopian coffee” but also an Ethiopian bread that was new to me, fresh, soft, and delicately accented with aromatic spices, perhaps including Trachyspermum ammi or Nigella sativa. They bake it in a banana leaf. Having already had a salad and a gordita, I nibbled only a little of the bread and brought the rest to my Less Pedestrian Half, who was thrilled. That says something about how special this bread is: even a slightly used piece is a welcome treat.
As I turned from Minnehaha Avenue onto 38th Street East, I rounded the Simmons Manor apartment building, the former Henry M. Simmons school, built in 1905 with additions in 1907, 1910, and 1914. That must have been a boom period. Like several other Minneapolis schools of the period, it was designed by E. S. Stebbins, a fellow alumnus of MIT. The school remained in use until 1940. Its construction year coincides with the ending year for Henry M. Simmons’s life and ministry, presumably explaining the choice of name.
To the west of Simmons Manor, I walked past Fire Station 21 and was done—for the day. The Howe neighborhood is large enough that I still have plenty to look forward to, probably spread over three more days.
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 May 7, 2018. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
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