One eats first with one’s eyes. So I ate first (before walking even a single block) and did it with (but not only with) my eyes. And then I proceeded to keep on using my eyes as I wound my way through the remaining corner of the Longfellow neighborhood, everything south of my first walk and east of my second walk.
I started just south of Lake Street on 36th Avenue South at Savory Bake House. This was a deliberate choice because goods baked daily progressively sell out. Indeed, while I was there, another customer bought the last sweet scone. This didn’t faze me, as I had my eye on a savory scone. The combination of corn kernels, green chilis, and cheddar cheese is a classic, accentuated by the salty pastry and bound together by it into a package perfect for eating on the go.
Strictly speaking, I could have washed the scone down with the water I carry with me, but having read James Norton’s assertion that “there is no better Pimm’s Cup in America than the one at Merlin’s Rest,” I couldn’t ignore being across the street. Officially this British-themed pub is in the 3600 block of Lake Street East, which I walked as part of northern Longfellow. But I had been on the north side of the street then, so missed it. Luckily for me, they have a side door on 36th Avenue leading into the rear of the pub. Thus, I was able to enter without deviating from my route. Once inside, I settled into a cozy nook, its decor temporarily invaded by a flatscreen monitor for the World Cup finals that were just ending. I also supplemented my earlier scone with a Cornish pasty and chips. No, I didn’t finish it all. Actually, I probably got enough solid food just by using the thoughtfully provided long bamboo skewer to fish items out of the Pimm’s cup: strawberry, apple, cucumber, orange, lemon, and mint.
The 3500 block of Lake Street East is lined on the south side by everything from Time Bomb Vintage to Local 7200 of the Communication Workers of America (CWA). What interested me most, though, was Prairie Woodworking, where Tim Granlund makes custom furniture and radiator enclosures. (The latter are well suited to the plethora of 1920s houses I see on these walks.) He’s got gorgeous photos of finished pieces on his web site, so I won’t show you what I saw through the windows. But I’m glad he let me photograph him at work while chatting about his commission from Nomadic Oasis Barber Lounge, “the first upscale East African-owned barbershop in Minnesota.”
For full disclosure, that photo of woodworking in progress is actually from a later return visit—Tim was away when I did the walk. Likewise, returning later allowed me to better document the north side of this block, the highlights of which are the 1927 El Lago Theater and a meal at International Cuisine Bar & Grill. (I was not ready for a third meal when walking.)
The leche de tigre (ceviche served in a bowl of its marinade) is most visibly accented by the garnishes of fried calamari and crisp plantain strips, but if you look closer, you’ll see my favorite part, which is the incorporation of two forms of Peruvian giant corn: the chewy kernels and the crunchy fried corn nuts. All in all, it is a symphony of different flavors and textures. I thoroughly enjoyed both it and the encocado de pescado (coconut sauce fish), a richly flavorful Ecuadorian dish. (This time the fried plantains were in the form of patties.)
Leaving the Lake Street commercial corridor, I headed south on 35th Avenue South to 34th Street East, then back north on 34th Avenue South. This is a solidly residential area. However, I had more to look at than just houses and gardens, interesting as those can be. In particular, I had the unique opportunity to see the work of architects Eliel Saarinen and Eero Saarinen (father and son) in side-by-side juxtaposition—indeed, connected.
Eliel, who had designed the path-breaking First Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana, was commissioned to create something similar for Christ Church Lutheran. The result, completed in 1949, itself served as a further inspiration for churches near and far. The most direct line of influence is likely to the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in the Fulton neighborhood, which was designed by Saarinen’s collaborators. Christ Church was extended in 1962 with an education wing designed by Eero and linked to the main church via a courtyard.
A block north of the church and on the other side of the avenue, I singled one of the houses out for a photo. It’s a good example of the style commonly built in this area during the 1920s, the kind of house that could be enhanced by radiator enclosures from Tim Granlund’s Prairie Woodworking. But what made it stand out for me was the house number sign, which draws attention to the number being the first four digits of π’s decimal expansion.
Not all historically significant buildings are architecturally significant, the way Christ Church Lutheran is. Soderberg’s Floral and Gift would be a case in point. When I passed this business on Lake Street just before turning back south on 33rd Avenue, I could see that it was quite a utilitarian structure. But I could also see that it was a business well established in the location. Indeed, they’ve been there since 1932. I also noted with interest that they made up for their shallow display space on Lake Street by placing large planters on the side street. (These are the only flowers I’ll feature in this post, though I saw many very nice ones planted in boulevards and front yards.)
This avenue, 33rd Avenue, was the westernmost that I walked all the way from Lake Street to 34th Street or vice versa. At its conclusion, I switched to a perpendicular serpentine on 33rd, 32nd, and 31st Streets between 32nd and 38th Avenues. Among the sights along the way were two more churches and a cactus—a rather dramatic one, standing far taller than those I saw in other neighborhoods.
In the course of this serpentine, I walked a couple blocks of 38th Avenue South as back-and-forth spurs, in addition to the blocks that were part of the serpentine. One of those spurs—the 3100 block—attracted my attention because all the houses on it are visibly a half century or so newer than the rest of the neighborhood. Most of them are as typical for the 1970s as the π house is for the 1920s. I saw this initially on the first couple houses as I crossed 32nd Street, and I grew more and more excited as it continued all block long. Clearly I had stumbled upon a block where something large had been cleared away—probably a school. This impression was reinforced as I walked the other three sides of the block and continued to see houses of approximately that vintage—the following photo is of one from 1980 that was more architecturally interesting than the others. The John A. Johnson School left a lasting imprint.
Still on that school-vacated block of 37th Avenue, indeed immediately to the south of the house with slanted siding, I was interested by a front garden and its adjoining pavement. First, some back story. On the earlier walk in the southwestern part of the neighborhood, I had passed a concrete contractor, R&T Cement, just to the west of the Trylon Cinema. It was one of many businesses I opted to pass over in silence for the sake of brevity, but it had interested me because of the selection of cast cement lawn statues in its outdoor storage area. Well, now I found myself passing the owner’s home, and unsurprisingly he had decorated his garden with some of those statues. More interestingly, he decorated the pavement with a pattern of lizards in multiple tints, as shown in the photo.
In the next block of 37th Avenue, I passed Epworth United Methodist Church again, this time seeing the mural on its western face. I also noticed signs indicating that Greater Hope Church of God in Christ shares the building. Judging by the sound of the service, I gather they were the ones worshiping as I passed by.
My traversal of 37th Avenue would in any case have ended at 34th Street because that’s the southern border of the neighborhood. But it also was a physical tee intersection, the land to the south being occupied by Longfellow Park. Turning along 34th Street in each direction, I saw some retail and apartment buildings, presumably legacies of the streetcar line that ran on 34th Street East between 36th and 42nd Avenues South, zigzagging toward the Ford plant.
Of these buildings on 34th Street, by far the most interesting was the 1920s retail building on the northeast corner with 36th Avenue. I wasn’t so terribly interested in the building itself, or for that matter its current tenants, but the south face of it has a striking mural. I haven’t been able to contact the artists for permission to include a photo, but you can see a portion of it on Longfellow365, as well as another image that is more complete, though less sharp. It was painted in April of 2014 by Camilo Salvador Díaz de Villalvilla Soto and Adrian Rumbaut, two artists from Cienfuegos, Cuba, as part of the US Cuba Artist Exchange. It was nice way to end the walk, aside from the few blocks back north on 36th Avenue to my starting point.
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 11, 2019. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
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