No collection of words and photos can capture an entire walk, but Minneapolis’s Longfellow neighborhood is particularly resistant to encapsulation. It features a diverse mixture of land uses: residential, commercial, industrial, institutional, and recreational. Large buildings and quirky little details. Artworks and functional structures. All very lived-in, seemingly with no two of anything alike.
My impression is that the neighborhood has steered the middle course of reasonably steady, moderate investment that allows each property to follow its own trajectory, rather than all declining together from disinvestment or being supplanted together by an overwhelming wave of new investment.
The neighborhood lies to the east of Hiawatha Avenue and extends north to the Midtown Greenway, east to 38th Avenue South, and south to 34th Street East. (The larger Longfellow community extends further in each of these three directions.) Lake Street East is a particularly heavily traveled east-west corridor, so I focused my first day’s walk on the area north of that street in order to minimize crossings. I started and ended on Lake Street at 38th Avenue, using the segment mapped in purple to enter from there to the main loop (from A to B, shown in blue) and eventually to return. The red segments are back-and-forth spurs off of the main loop.
The northwest corner of Lake and 38th is occupied by a used-car lot that caught my eye for its trilingual sign—an indication that the physical diversity of the real estate is accommodating a corresponding diversity of national origins. As soon as I was past that dealership, I was out of Lake Street’s commercial development and into a residential area, both on the rest of the 2900 block of 38th Avenue and once I turned onto 29th Street East. With every house distinct, I’ll settle for showing just one, complete with solar panels, a little free library, and a boulevard bench.
A couple blocks further west, the entire north side of 29th Street is occupied by the St. Albert the Great campus, with a school building on the corner with 33rd Avenue South and the church on the corner with 32nd. The two buildings are stylistically distinct, and indeed the romanesque school is 13 years older than the moderne church—1935 vs. 1948. The prioritization of the school building over the church is a pattern I’ve seen in multiple Catholic parishes. The extended period that elapsed between the two in this case reflects the historical context. A
more contemporary point of commonality with other parishes is that the Catholic school was closed through consolidation, freeing the building to be leased by a charter school, in this instance Bdote Learning Center.
Three more blocks of residences brought me to another church building, this one moved here in the winter of 1907/1908. Regarding the presence of multiple churches on 29th Street, I suppose it makes sense that even in the early 20th century, Lake Street would have been sufficiently busy and commercial to make one block off of it the more logical location.
The history of this building and the congregations it previously housed is complex. The building began a few blocks further north in 1886 as the home of Bethel Swedish Baptist Church. It was moved here in order to become the home of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, an English-language congregation that had split off from the Danish-language St. Peder’s four years earlier.
The building itself underwent alterations at both sites, and the congregation took a subtle twist. The English-language Holy Trinity moved to a new, larger structure on 31st Street, which I would see on my next walk in Longfellow. (Still a block off Lake Street, just in the opposite direction.) So far, pretty normal. But the replacement congregation in the older building was also called Holy Trinity Lutheran Church—the difference being that this was the Slovak one. That explains why “Holy Trinity” entries keep showing up in the building permit records even after the 31st Street church was built.
Apparently the Slovak church didn’t follow the English one immediately: a Norwegian Lutheran congregation briefly intervened. At any rate, the neighborhood was multilingual well before the used car lot I saw at the start of the walk.
Also, neither of the two Holy Trinity Lutheran Churches should be confused with the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. Stay tuned for that when I get to the Marcy Holmes neighborhood.
Along with churches, an important institutional land use in the neighborhood is schools. (Recall that the first example I saw of each was together—St. Albert the Great and Bdote Learning Center.) I saw a bunch of schools on this first walk and had more still waiting for me in the remainder of the neighborhood. Next up was the Universal Academy Charter School, a block west of the Trinity church.
Another block west brought me to another institution: Schooner Tavern, which City Pages reports has the oldest liquor license in Minneapolis. A streetcar line ran in front of this tavern on 27th Avenue South, and the 1940 atlas shows a police station across the way—perhaps a strategic location.
At 26th Avenue South, the landscape radically changes. The reason can be deduced from the previously linked 1940 atlas, but it is more vivid in the 1914 version. This is the area where the Minneapolis Steel & Machinery Company plant was located (later merged into Minneapolis-Moline) and, immediately to its northwest, the Milwaukee Road’s rail yards, shops, and roundhouse. Even the wedge shown in the 1914 map as a park—Longfellow Field—was a few years later absorbed into the industrial area, an interesting story in itself. All of that gave way to parking lots, big-box stores, and other sprawling structures in the waning decades of the 20th century.
Turning initially north on 26th Avenue, this new development was on my left, west of the avenue: a big shopping center including not only Target and Cub stores but also a variety of smaller tenants—mostly retail, but also another charter school. An older industrial building on the eastern side of the avenue houses 7-SIGMA, a “designer, manufacturer and supplier of high-performance polymer and metal components and assemblies for the printing, medical, aerospace, and industrial markets.”
In this 29th Street area, there is no Minnehaha Avenue—it was gotten out of the way of the shopping center by bending it to merge with 26th Avenue at 28th Street. Once I reached that merge point, my northward spur followed Minnehaha Avenue to the northwest. The crotch of this fork is occupied by Katar River Restaurant & Bakery, where I later had lunch.
Immediately west of the restaurant is a building that still is signed as “Keefer Court Food Inc., Fortune Cookie Division” but seems to have been acquired as expansion space by the nearby Swanson Meats, the fortune cookies now being made in Oregon.
Beyond this, Minnehaha Avenue crosses the Midtown Greeway and passes various warehouse-like buildings on its way to 26th Street. I particularly noted Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Better Futures Minnesota’s ReUse Warehouse.
I continued on Minnehaha all the way to 26th Street East, where I turned west. This involved temporarily leaving the neighborhood but was necessary in order to reach the part of 26th Street nearest Lake Street, which is in the neighborhood. This portion of the neighborhood boundary makes a lot more sense on the historic maps than on the present-day one. My reward for extending the spur this far was that I got to photograph yet another charter school, Aurora.
After backtracking out of this long spur all the way to 29th Street, I continued one block further to cross Lake Street. By this point, some magic of the street alignments meant that I was no longer walking on 26th Avenue but rather was back on Minnehaha.
The building on the southwest corner is a police station from 1985 (renovated and expanded in 2005), but immediately south of it is a considerably older building, the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, built in 1884 as Fire Station 21.
Next door to the Firehouse is the Hub Bicycle Cooperative, and then comes an open space before Moon Palace Books and Geek Love Cafe. I cleverly had timed my walk so that this wouldn’t just be an open space: it would be the Midtown Farmers Market. Resisting all the lovely produce was easy given how many more miles I still needed to walk, but I did succumb with pleasure to a bagel from Asa’s Bakery. I generally avoid superlatives, but I think I’ve got a new answer to the question who makes the best bagel in the twin cities.
Another point of interest: the Geek Love and Moon Palace signs are examples of Phil Vandervaart’s work. You can—and should—read more about Vandervaart in The Growler, where Aaron Job has published a profile.
Moon Palace Books was the southernmost point of my walk, the culmination of a single exception to my general rule of using Lake Street as a dividing line. The hairpin turn northward onto 27th Avenue South did more than just point me back into my area of focus, though. It also confronted me with the Mosaic of the Americas that stands at that intersection.
I’ve seen a lot of great public art in my walks, but this stands out as a particularly remarkable work—well worth a trip to see in person, even if you have no other business in the neighborhood. It resulted from a collaboration of Mexican and US artists including José Luis Soto and Isa Campos of the Taller de Investigación Plástica (TIP), Gustavo Lira, Lori Greene, and others. I regret that I only succeeded in contacting one of these artists, Greene, and hope that the others would also permit this representation of their work, as she did.
The two inscriptions incorporated into the mosaic may not be legible in the photo. The one near the top left provides basic identifying information: “Taller de Investigación Plástica y comunidad, Resource Center of the Americas, 2001.” The one near the bottom right reads “Y mis manos son lo único que tengo” (And my hands are the only thing I have), a line from Victor Jara’s song “Lo único que tengo.”
Other noteworthy sights from the 3000 block of 27th Avenue South include Gandhi Mahal Restaurant and the 1909 International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) building on the southeast corner with Lake Street. My timing was such that the restaurant was just opening as I got there, but I wasn’t eager for more food so soon after the bagel, and besides, I had enjoyed Gandhi Mahal’s food on prior occasions, so it made sense to wait a bit for something new.
North of Lake Street I passed an Aldi grocery store, the Schooner Tavern, and various other buildings. And then I came to one of those little things that seem designed just for pedestrians: a cartoonish bee attached to a utility pole. Attached by whom, when, and why? Perhaps someone knows the answer, but not I.
At the northern border of the neighborhood, I looped back from 27th Avenue to 26th via the Midtown Greenway, which is at grade in this vicinity. Rather soon I found myself back at Katar River, where I gorged myself on some (not all) of an enormous portion of misir wot, served with injera and gomen. It was rich with spices, clarified butter, and onions. The only other diner in house at the time was similarly unable to finish his portion of kitfo, served with ayib as well as the injera and gomen. My advice: bring a crew. Despite the largely empty dining room, the business was thriving with take-out customers and an enormous catering order I saw loaded up. (I was reminded that Saturdays in June are prime party time. Indeed, I passed some backyard gatherings later in my walk.)
From there, I headed east on 28th Street as far as 29th Avenue. Two standouts along this three-block stretch are China Wok, notable for its dragon pillars, and a duplex on the southwest corner of 28th Street East and 28th Avenue South. Not that duplexes per se are uncommon in this area, but this one stands apart for its construction in 2014 using cast-in-place concrete Thermomass (T-Mass) walls, a particularly energy-efficient system. Rather than hide this innovative wall behind a siding finish, it is left exposed in the brutalist style, with bright red metal in the entry and garage areas providing a contrasting pop.
To start a serpentine progression eastward, I took 28th Avenue to Lake Street, then 29th Avenue back to 28th Street (plus a spur to the greenway). Among other things I saw along the way was a ghost sign— a faded sign painted on the side of a building for a prior tenant. And then I saw a more literal ghost sign. One of the three signs attached to a utility pole was a cartoonish ghost saying “BOO!”. Another of the three read “WHAM!”. And a nearby front-yard planter had “THUNK!”. Posted by the same person as the bee? Quite likely. And given that one of the signs was on private property, perhaps we’ve even tracked that person to their lair.
Another little pedestrian-friendly treat awaited on 30th Avenue, my next southward segment. Someone used a portion of the boulevard to invite us to “Take a Rock, Leave a Rock … Spread Some Joy!” Rather than taking a physical rock, I took this photo as my contribution to the endeavor.
Aside from that treat along the way, 30th Avenue brought me to another treat once I reached Lake Street: Urban Forage Winery & Cider House. Warmly greeted by co-owner Jeff Zeitler, I tasted the unique gin botanical cider but ultimately opted for a glass of the more basic dry cider, which fully showcases the cider maker’s skill in selecting apple varieties to blend. This isn’t an easy task, given that his sourcing is from donors’ yards. A lot of people have taken to growing modern cultivars such as Honeycrisp, which as the name suggests offers plenty of sugar and irrelevant crispness, but unfortunately not much else. So he has to be on the lookout for those with older cultivars such as Haralson. His “desert-island cultivar,” if he had to pick just one, would be Liberty—though when I brought up Northern Spy, he waxed enthusiastic about that as well.
Returning north on 31st Avenue, it was time for yet another school once I reached 28th Street. Two schools, actually, sharing one site: Anne Sullivan School and Anishinabe Academy. The Anne Sullivan School is also known as the Anne Sullivan Communication Center (ASCC); named for Helen Keller’s teacher, its offerings unsurprisingly include a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program.
Loyal followers will have noticed that I’m showing far fewer photos of houses than I often do. There simply was too much else to notice on this walk. But here are two from 32nd Avenue that I found interesting, one for the texture of its venerable brick veneer, the other for its unusual gable.
In between those two houses, I passed alongside St. Albert the Great Church, which also allowed me to see the Dominican priory located behind it. Likewise, returning north on 33rd Avenue, I passed the parish center behind the school, which occupies a composite of two houses, hyphenated by an enclosed single-story corridor. And then as my serpentine continued, I came across “POW!”, another school (brand new Hiawatha Collegiate High School), and another church (this one on Lake Street itself).
The western part of Hiawatha Collegiate High School, which I had seen first, is newly constructed, but the eastern end on the corner with 36th Avenue has an older look to it, with its moderne arc of glass blocks. Obviously a mid-twentieth-century building had been renovated and extended to form the school. Beyond that general observation, though, something more was tickling a deep memory. After some reflection, I realized the building reminded me of the Canada Dry bottling plant in my Pennsylvania home town. Imagine my surprise upon pulling up the building permit and discovering that this building was a Canada Dry bottling plant too. Did they use a standard architecture nationwide? Apparently so; the Library of Congress has photos of another example from Maryland.
Across the avenue is the southwest corner of Brackett Field Park, the most visually striking corner, if not the most functionally important. It contains a 1963 “rocket” now serving only as a sculpture, rather than also in its original roles as a jungle gym and slide. To put the play structure in context, JFK had declared on September 12, 1962, that “we choose to go to the moon.”
That rocket sculpture is clearly the reference point for one of the two little free libraries I noticed during my final northward pass, on 37th Avenue. Actually, it isn’t quite true to say that they are two little free libraries. The rocket one—just south of the park—is labeled as a “not so little free library.”
From there, I just needed to return south on 38th Avenue to Lake Street to catch my bus home. As I departed from the park at the intersection of 38th Avenue South and 28th Street East, I saw one final enigmatic artwork attached to a utility pole, likely by the author of “POW!”, the bee, etc. But it was on the east side of the avenue, which places it in the Cooper neighborhood rather than Longfellow. (I didn’t note it when I walked that area.) So you’ll have to pay a visit yourself in order to see what it was.
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 July 1, 2019. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
I knew that car dealers and soda bottlers had (in the olden days) curved glass walls, but I never connected this building with a bottler. Maybe because the other glass-walled bottlers I’ve see, you could look in the glass wall and see part of the bottling operation happening.
Thank you for capturing the beauty, diversity and amazing neighborhood that is Longfellow. We would love to host an evening of film, photography and your narrative for all if ever interested. We would gladly create a reception with food and beverage….Michael, Squirrel Haus Arts, 612-669-8712
Thanks! (And you’re welcome.) I’ll contact you via email to explore this idea further.
Thanks for spotlighting the house I worked so hard on for 25 years! It has solar electric and solar hot air (a technology most people don’t know about but it’s a real blessing in Minnesota winter). We were on the solar home tour and the Minneapolis/St. Paul home tour a few times to help people visualize how they can go solar on an almost-100-year-old house. Last year, we achieved the Energy Fit home certification from CEE for energy efficiency improvements.
We also installed 24 raised beds and an edible landscape, and created an interconnected rain barrel system to collect 350 gallons of rainwater on-site to water those food-growing beds. Longfellow has a long urban food-growing tradition that we were pleased to be part of.
Wow! I’m glad to have done my small part to help get the word out about all that!