Editor’s note: Previously a weekly feature, starting today Max’s walks of Minneapolis will be appearing the first and third Fridays of each month. We hope you continue to be inspired by Max’s adventures!
Minneapolis’s Kenny neighborhood is thoroughly residential, as I saw on my first visit. However, its border does include two commercial blocks of Lyndale Avenue South between 54th and 56th Streets. Those two blocks were near the midpoint of my second eight-mile trek, just when a break from the dominance of post-war single-family detached houses was welcome. However, even in the four miles before and the four after, there were other subjects of interest, such as a sprinkling of duplexes in a diversity of styles that surprised me.
Starting northbound on James Avenue South from 56th Street (points A and B on the map), two blocks brought me to the northern border of the neighborhood at 54th Street. Of the two spurs I walked on 54th before turning south on Irving Avenue, the more interesting was the double block between Irving and Girard Avenues, site of City Church. The boxy forms common in late-1950s modernism are evident, for example in the flat-topped steeple. Yet the main worship space, which could easily have been just another, larger box, transcends the rectilinear grid through a clever stair-stepped arrangement of wall segments that imparts the overall sense of a soaring arc. All the edges are still horizontal or vertical; the non-90-degree angles are in the plan view.
Because most of the neighborhood was developed in the 1950s, the houses that haven’t been rebuilt commonly have only a single story, often topped with a hipped roof. However, some of the houses from the tail end of the initial development period (1960, say) are in the “garrison colonial” style characterized by a second story that juts slightly beyond the first story in the front, forming a small discontinuity known as a jetty. (As with other colonial revival styles, the roof has gables on the sides.) I took a photo of one group of these garrison colonials in the 5500 block of Irving Avenue South because the first of them is a rarity: it has a garage built into the front at the ground level.
The 5700 block of Irving Avenue South runs along the western edge of Anthony Middle School. Looking down at the lower ground nestled into the L formed by the two buildings, I had a good view of the pizza garden developed in partnership with Pizzeria Lola. (For an explanation, see the article in Minneapolis Happening.)
The pizza garden sign breaks up the facade of the low-rise building, which is otherwise dominated by its windows. The upper building, extending for three stories above the Irving Avenue ground level, has a facade with broad expanses of earth-toned brick that benefit even more so from some contrast. The interestingly arranged small windows (“lights”) in the stairwells are spiced up with red and blue coloring, and the main entry at the south end gains visual punch from its signage, mosaic, and landscaping.
As I turned west onto 58th Street, the building on the northwest corner (directly across from the school) provided a start toward my collection of duplex forms. Built in 1957, it is an early example of the split-level style that became increasingly popular for single-family homes, with the main living level positioned midway between the garage and bedroom levels. In this case, that arrangement was mirrored to form a duplex with the two garages in the middle.
I followed 58th Street the three blocks to the neighborhood’s western border, Logan Avenue, then toured a bit more of the western area through a combination of looping and forward-and-back spurs before taking a west-to-east straightaway on 56th Street all the way from Logan to Lyndale.
Already as I rounded the corner from 56th Street to Lyndale Avenue, I could see that I was out of the residential area and into a commercial district. In particular, the building on the corner was the first of three automotive-related businesses I saw in this two-block stretch of Lyndale, each of which had begun as a gasoline filling station. The current Fixt Rite Auto Repair and Tire Center occupies a structure that held a Shell station when built in the 1940s, extended in the 1960s, and given a car wash in the 1970s. At the northern end of the 5500 block, the current Enterprise Rent-A-Car is likewise a Texaco station from the 1950s. And finally, as I turned the northeastern corner of the neighborhood at 54th Street, I got to see a gas station that still is one, the BP station. (The current building is a 1985 replacement for an earlier Standard Oil station and car wash on the same lot.)
Interspersed between these three vehicle-related businesses are a real-estate brokerage, boxing club, and barber shop, as well as a larger Walgreens store, relocated from the other side of Lyndale. (I’d mentioned this relocation when I encountered a similar one in northeast Minneapolis.)
Perhaps the most intriguing land use on these blocks, though, is a parking lot. Not that there is anything inherently interesting about a flat expanse of asphalt; the interest comes from the buses parked on it, one in particular. Most of the buses are smaller shuttles painted in the Mount Olivet Homes livery, which makes sense given the location across the avenue. But I also spotted two full-size coaches, one a “party bus” (presumably just parked, not partying), and the other my chance to learn of an interesting nonprofit:
ART ASAP: The Art Bus targets under-served students living in the seven-county metro area, offering them quality After School Arts Programming. Youth exposed to poverty, violence, or addiction will be empowered using creative and constructive outlets through the art-making process. The Art Bus, a Metro Transit Authority bus that has been transformed into a mobile art studio, travels to the students where they live. By transporting quality art supplies and professional teaching artist-mentors to affordable housing complexes, we build meaningful relationships based on common bonds of culture, creativity, and circumstance.
From 54th Street, I was only able to follow Aldrich Avenue for the first two and a half southward blocks before it curved into Bryant Avenue. However, even in that limited distance I saw two distinct ages of housing. One group of homes was from the usual postwar period, including another quite different duplex—this one in a flat-roofed modern style from 1950. The other group of homes caught my eye because they are in the English country cottage style that was popular before the war but not after. And indeed, the recently remodeled example I photographed dates from 1938.
Once on Bryant Avenue, I expanded my collection of duplexes. The one-and-a-half-story example from 1949 is quite different from the more recent duplexes I had previously seen, whereas the flat-roofed single-story duplex from 1962 bears a definite family resemblance to the 1950 example on Aldrich. The big difference between the 1950 and 1962 duplexes is semi-concealed: the more recent one has a sloped driveway leading to basement-level garages.
Bryant Avenue in turn curved into 59th Street, which took me west to Grass Lake Terrace, a narrow, scenic road that connects also with 60th and 61st Streets as it leads around the northern and western shores of the lake to the southern shore. Along the way, I saw more of the volunteer improvements to the shoreline that I had noted on the previous day. These included gardens, bird feeders, chairs, and steps.
At the southern shore, the exact meeting point of Grass Lake Terrace and 61st Street is obscure—maps differ and there are no street signs. My best guess (based on the city’s web map) positions the intersection at the tee junction shown in the following photo.
After winding through the southwestern corner of the neighborhood, I headed back toward Anthony Middle School by using Sunrise Drive, which runs on a northeasterly diagonal from Knox Avenue to 58th Street. The homes along this diagonal include a substantial proportion of duplexes, several of which are in the style illustrated below.
At this point, having returned from the neighborhood center to the middle school, all that was left was a southwesterly diagonal block on Irving Avenue (parallel to Sunrise), then back north on James to my starting point. One the the classic 1950s details I noticed repeatedly in this small area is the use of diagonal braces to support—or at least appear to support—the eaves. (I suspect they are more of a decorative element. Eaves stayed up before and after this fashion.) These diagonal elements take several different forms; I photographed one house that particularly interested me by combining two forms in a single house.
Another novelty in the final part of the walk was that I saw some boulevards planted in something other than grass. I’ll close with an example.
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 September 24, 2018. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.