What’s In a Name: Frankman Place, A Rare Named Alley, Resurfaces Briefly as Snelling Yards Development Gains Key Approval

This year’s eventful summer can be distinguished as one full of consternation and distraction. There were many different important matters requiring our attention. Unless you are one who scours meeting minutes from the City of Minneapolis Business, Inspections, Housing, and Zoning (BIHZ) Committee, you may not have tracked the minutiae following approval of the 210-unit Snelling Yards housing development (officially addressed to 3601 East 44th Street) between 44th and 45th Streets at Snelling Avenue. For decades, most of the land served as a repair shop and storage yard for the Bridge Department, a precursor to the Department of Public Works. Over time, the public service use expanded southward toward 45th Street, corralled by a screened chain link fence. Affordable housing, excusing its variable parameters, will replace what had recently been a storage yard for Safety Signs.

Approved site plan of 210 affordable housing units and amenties for the Snelling Yards development.
Source: Pope Architects

It should be noted that the project will feature 100 units of affordable senior housing and 110 units of what is referred to as “workforce affordable housing”, not to mention pedestrian connectivity, rain gardens, and an underground stormwater retention system. Pope Architects even had a connection in mind to the planned Hi-Line Greenway, if all goes right or wrong (depending on your perspective) with a planned upgrade of the 31st Avenue railroad bridge along the Midtown Greenway toward Saint Paul.

Nonetheless, Minneapolis has lost what was left of a named public alley: Frankman Place. We hardly knew ye. I sure didn’t.

The Snelling Yards development was approved by Planning Commission in July 2020, while two alley vacations were approved by City Council on August 14th. As part of the Land Use Packet issued in December, more insight was given about the loss of Frankman Place and an unnamed alley that bisected the site. The land title survey and preliminary plat provide every little insight about the transfer of public land to the developer, omissions that accounted for transmission tower bases, planned walking connections, and the like. And a visual reflection of the BIHZ resolution that vacated Frankman Place:

Vacating all that part of the alley referred to as Frankman Place, dedicated in the plat of “A. Frankman’s Addition to Minneapolis”, together with all of a cul de sac lying within Lot 5 of said plat, being the circumference of a circle with a radius of 16 feet, the center of which is 16 feet easterly, at right angles from the westerly line of the westerly alley called Frankman Place in said Addition, and 18 feet northerly from the southerly line of Lot 5.

Preliminary Plat for Snelling Yards prepared by Wenck Associates, including current and proposed building footprints
Modified with vacation of Frankman Place in 1917 (red) and 2020 (yellow).
Source: CPED Staff Report, 07 Dec 2020

Was this dead-end alley visually remarkable? Probably not. But this relative rarity of a named alley that lingered in this city – and this region’s – landscape is remarkable. Minneapolis is a city of alleys engineered for motor vehicles, serving as public easements to provide access to automobile storage and public utilities, yet – shhhhhhhhh – open to all modes and abilities. But, in the case of Frankman Place, people lived there. Where people live, work, and find their way in between, we have given names to those places and connections.

“A. Frankman” and a Legacy of Engineering Growth

Now, who was “A. Frankman”? That is a more remarkable journey. “A. Frankman” was Anthony Frankman, brother of Henry, James, and John, all of whom ran Frankman Bros., a general contracting firm. The earliest mention of Frankman Bros. was in 1894, when they submitted a proposal to the Standing Committee on Sewers for piling and stone work, for a new sewer along 1st Avenue North (now Currie Ave North) from Dupont to Irving. However, the job was awarded to competition. That setback could not have predicted their legacy as a major player in the evolution of Minneapolis and the region, through exponential growth from public works and rail projects.

Just three years after that failed bid, with cited offices at 29 North 6th Street in Downtown Minneapolis, they were awarded a contract for extension of a coal dock of the Northwestern Railway in West Superior, Wisconsin (and again in 1901 for then-named Northwestern Fuel Co). Their offices expanded to Lumber Exchange in 1897, listed in the city directory as bridge and dock builders. The firm bade on a contract to repair timber sheeting for piers at Superior Entry in 1898, one year after its opening. They also submitted proposals for steel and iron work to widen the east channel of the Stone Arch Bridge in 1899. Whether they were awarded the job is unclear, but they already proved capable of the work.

Over the next few years, Frankman Bros. took on dock work at elevators along the Omaha Railway in Duluth, rebuilding an ore dock for the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad in Two Harbors, securing right-of-way along the Mississippi for the Milwaukee Road between Muscatine and Davenport, Iowa, pile revetments of piers at Two Rivers Harbor in Milwaukee, and erecting bridges for the Duluth, Messabe, and Northern Railroad. The latter was one of the earlier railroads to haul iron ore.

Plan for Reconstruction of the Lake Street-Marshall Bridge over the Mississippi River.
Source: Engineering Record, 14 Feb 1907

By 1904, the firm expanded to the Globe Building in Saint Paul, where many of the brothers lived. It grew to become Frankman Bros. & Morris, taking on contracts along the Great Northern and Soo Line Railroads. Perhaps this is where Anthony Frankman began to turn toward retirement and his local community. In 1905, the Twin Cities Rapid Transit Company wanted to extend tracks along the Lake Street Bridge, which opened in 1888. This would require bridge widening from 18 feet to 33 feet, however, to accommodate two streetcar tracks 10 feet wide and sidewalks. A middle truss was added and floor beams were strengthened where necessary. The Engineering News-Record put it best:

“The erection was done by Frankman Bros. & Morris of St. Paul, Minn., who used an ordinary flat car, weighted, on which were mounted a derrick and an engine and boiler. The rear trucks were geared to the engine so that the car was self-propelling. There was no false work used other than that noted heretofore, except, of course, necessary staging for rivet gangs. An air compressor was located on the island at the foot for the center tower, which supplied the power for the pneumatic drills and riveters used throughout the work.”

All mention of Anthony Frankman then centered upon the Standish and Hiawatha neighborhoods in Minneapolis, where it is likely he retired and used his banked profits to purchase residential lots for building as well as to support local activism. He once led a protest of orders from the Minneapolis Park Board to cut down street trees along Minnehaha Avenue. In 1907, he “let the contract” for a 1 1/2 story frame dwelling (still standing) north of Lake on 18th Avenue South. Then, for two frame homes at 4432-36 Hiawatha (claimed by expansion of MN-55). Several more frame homes were erected at a slew of other addresses owned by Anthony Frankman, on 36th Avenue South and East 45th Street.

A. Frankman’s Addition to Minneapolis. Adopted by Council on 16 Mar 1916.
Source: Hennepin County Library

And then, Frankman Place. Call it his swan song. Having made his mark with his brothers locally and abroad for nearly 20 years, serving the expansion of railroads and local infrastructure, Anthony Frankman settled down at 4502 35th Avenue South. But not before he petitioned with others for the installation of city water mains on East 45th Street. The next year, the “A. Frankman Addition to Minneapolis” was approved on July 28, 1916, including the alley that bore his name. This adoption guaranteed the grading of streets and alleys before October of the same year. But before houses could be built upon those 8 residential lots, Anthony Frankman died on March 25, 1917 the age of 53. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery, 2 1/2 miles away from his final home.

Months after his death, the City of Minneapolis approved a contract to purchase five of the eight lots for “trackage and storage” for the 12th Ward Repair Shop and Storage Yard. That same land along the Soo Line tracks would be used for storage of creosoted wood pavers, tanks for road oil, a boiler room, and a spur track. It is hard to say whether Anthony Frankman would favor this use of his land addition. But the tool house at the storage yard did carry the address of 4429 Frankman Place for decades to come.

Frankman Place, truncated by the purchase of Lots 1-5 of A. Frankman’s Addition for the City of Minneapolis Bridge Dept.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1930, republished in 1952
Source: Library of Congress

The named alley was mostly vacated in 1918, remaining to serve a row of three frame homes off East 45th Street. The last record of someone living on the alley was in 1971: a server at a bakery who was also a student at the University of Minnesota. Undoubtedly, the housing was affordable until it disappeared from memory and record, given that the front doors likely faced parked train cars and the noise from the Public Works yard emanated through the side windows.

Epilogue

This is not a belated obituary, neither for the engineer nor the alley sharing a name. It is an historical record meant to shine light upon the significance of attaching names to places. The naming system for our public street network in Minneapolis is orderly, sequential, and mundanely predictable. But the anomalies to this system have the power to shape how certain legacies of the past will be viewed in the future. Heck, even the pedestrian circulation plan for Snelling Yards will include a walkway following the former path of Frankman Place – perhaps, an opportunity to renew a cognizance of Frankman’s community imprint. Through use of plaques, visual storytelling, naming alleys, and adding honorary names to streets, we can continue to shape – and even propagate – how conversations around development, public works, race, and equity evolve over time.

What remains of Frankman Place (aligned with gate) and the Minneapolis Public Works storage yard at 45th & Snelling
Author as source.

Recent debates over street names have been fueled by the murder of George Floyd, elevating discourse about the history of institutional racism in the Twin Cities and abroad. In the Longfellow community, various partners have initiated an effort to navigate a name change for Edmund Boulevard, named by and for Edmund G. Walton, a man who popularized racial covenants in property deeds. Walton built his legacy during the same time as Frankman, albeit with very different implications for who populated either side of the same southside community. Fortunately, none of Frankman’s properties included these racially restrictive covenants in their deeds. Thanks to invaluable resources created by the Mapping Prejudice project, it appears that neither did most other properties near Hiawatha Avenue, where heavier concentrations of people of color resided. Today, the landscape has changed indubitably. Fortunately, demolition is imminent and a droplet of necessary affordable housing will take shape soon at Snelling Yards.