Walking All the Streets of Downstream Marcy-Holmes, Dinkytown

I walked this portion of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood on May 25, 2021, using a route map I drew on March 10, 2020. So yes, a pandemic did happen. I had public health reasons to pause the All of Minneapolis project and restroom access reasons. And I also wasn’t sure I could live up to my project goal, which is to approach each neighborhood in the same appreciative spirit. But now I find myself among the many who are vaccinated, the businesses are opening back up, and here we are.

The only change I needed to make in the route map was to eliminate this neighborhood’s half of the 10th Avenue Bridge, which is closed for repairs. The other half of that bridge was included in one of my walks in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The cardinal directions of north, south, east, and west don’t apply to the street grid here, so I’m going to follow the nomenclature I first adopted in Downtown West of referring to downstream, upstream, riverward, and landward. As usual, the blue path on the route map is my main loop, whereas the red lines are forward-and-back spurs off of it.

The start and end of my loop (A and B on the map) are at the intersection of 14th Avenue SE and 4th Street SE, which is the heart of the streetcar-era commercial node known as Dinkytown. The exact extent of Dinkytown is subject to debate, but roughly comprises the four blocks surrounding this intersection. The most iconic building at the intersection is the one on the upstream, riverward corner, the Grodnik Building, which bears signage for out least three past occupants (Grodnik’s Haberdashery, Gray Drugs, and the Loring Pasta Bar) as well as the present Gray’s Restaurant.

Grodnik Building, 327 14th Ave. SE (1902 and 1923)

Across 4th Street, I visited Tony’s Diner for breakfast, which was as classic as classic can be. The maroon-and-gold color scheme of the interior was repeated when I left and looked back at the awning of the Grodnik Building’s neighbor, Dinkydale. Indeed, those colors would recur many times throughout this downstream portion of Marcy-Holmes—just as the businesses cater to University of Minnesota adherents, so does the housing.

Tony’s Diner, 1327 4th St. SE
Dinkydale, 1316 4th St. SE (Former College Inn, 1902)

Regarding Dinkydale, I’ll note that the restaurant on the left, Shuang Cheng, has served me several enjoyable meals on other occasions. I remember one Peking Duck with particular fondness.

After a single block of 4th Street’s business district, I turned riverward on 13th Avenue SE. The building on the corner features a mural of Bob Dylan inscribed “Positively 4th Street,” appropriately enough for the day after his 80th birthday. (He briefly lived in the area.)

As I neared University Avenue SE, the upstream side of the avenue drew my attention with the first of several churches I would see, the University Baptist Church. As with many churches, they share space with a school: a small sign on University Avenue announces the Gaia Democratic School.

University Baptist Church, 1219 University Ave. SE (Viewed from 13th Ave. SE)

Thanks to the route’s first two spurs, I walked four blocks of University Avenue (three of them twice) before turning landward on 12th Avenue SE. By this point, I was seeing more of the residential character of the neighborhood, which largely consists of multifamily dwellings but otherwise is quite varied. One residence particularly interested me, on the upstream corner after I crossed 7th Street SE. I had a hunch what its original use was based on a combination of factors, none of them definitive. There was the size and shape, the Romanesque arches over the doorway and the windows in one corner, even the pattern in which the brick was laid, known as Flemish stretcher bond. I’d seen those all elsewhere, so I thought I knew what they indicated. In case you, too, enjoy playing these guessing games, I’ll leave you with this photo to ponder until later in the walk, when I pass along the 7th Street side of the building.

705 12th Ave. SE

I continued landward on 12th Avenue to the dead end at the railroad tracks past 8th Street SE, then backed up and did an upstream spur on 8th, before resuming the main loop with the 1200 block of 8th Street SE, where one of the duplexes featured a particularly well-landscaped front yard.

Landscaping, 1217–1219 8th St. SE

After temporarily visiting the 1300 block of 8th Street and the portion of 13th Avenue extending to the railway, I turned landward on that avenue. The entire upstream side of the 600 block is occupied by University Lutheran Church of Hope together with the associated parking lot. My photo features the original 1908 portion of the church building, with the newer addition just visible at the right. That addition houses P.E.A.S.E Academy, “the oldest recovery high school in the United States.” I was also interested to see a wood-fired oven in an island within the parking lot.

University Lutheran Church of Hope, 601 13th Ave. SE

Were I traveling by car, I’d have to turn on 6th Street, as the 500 block of 13th Avenue has been vacated to accommodate a one-and-a-half block apartment complex, The Marshall. But as a pedestrian, I was privileged to continue more or less straight on a footpath. Doubly privileged, in that I could look up and appreciate the geometry of the complex. (Note also the golden yellow panels; other walls have maroon ones.)

The Marshall, Skyways Over 13th Ave. SE Footpath (500 Block)

The Marshall is typical of the mid-rise construction that has dominated the area in the present century. As I emerged at 5th Street SE, I could see another example in the distance, the Fourth Street Housing Co-Op. That’s the building clad in golden yellow in the left background of the next photo. But the photo’s main subject is interesting precisely because it breaks from the neighborhood norms of low-rise and mid-rise buildings. It is another co-op, the Chateau, a 127-unit tower built in 1973.

Chateau Student Housing Co-op, 425 13th Ave. SE (1973)

Walking past those two co-ops took me back to 4th Street, having completed a loop along 13th and 12th Avenues. I turned upstream on 4th, the direction I had been going when I left Tony’s. On the riverward corner, the Arvonne Fraser Library is a 1963 design by noted local architect Ralph Rapson. As to the library’s namesake, I heartily recommend reading her autobiography, She’s No Lady: Politics, Family, and International Feminism.

Arvonne Fraser Library, 1222 4th St. SE (Ralph Rapson, 1963)

After two more blocks on 4th Street, I turned back landward on 11th Avenue SE. (I’m saving the further-upstream portion of 4th Street for another day.) Much of the housing I saw was student-oriented, so I was particularly interested to come across Pillsbury Court, a group of 48 townhouses set aside as transitional housing for faculty and staff in the block between 10th and 11th Avenues and 5th and 6th Streets SE.

Pillsbury Court, 500 Block of 11th Ave. SE

In the next block, I saw two other important non-student houses. On the corner is Vail House, providing “transitional housing and support services” for “people who are homeless and living with mental illness and chemical dependency.” Fitting, for a walk during Mental Health Awareness Month. And further up the block is Martha’s Place, which I’ll mention later.

Vail House, 1025 6th St. SE (Viewed from 11th Ave. SE)

Crossing 7th Street SE, I came upon one corner of Marcy Park, which extends along the entire 700 block of 11th Avenue SE, on the upstream side of the avenue, but reaching only half way to 10th Avenue SE. That limited amount of space contains a disproportionate amount of interesting, gently rolling terrain studded with trees—as well as the usual playground equipment. The park is on a site formerly occupied by Marcy School, one of the two schools for which the neighborhood is named. (This was the 1908 version of Marcy School. There were other schools of the same name both before and since. Indeed I will see the current Marcy School on a subsequent walk in the neighborhood.)

Marcy Park

After this came a spur on 11th Avenue SE, then turning upstream on 8th Street SE, riverward on 10th Avenue SE, and downstream on 5th Street SE. This brought me into contact with a group of fraternity houses—not the first group of the walk, but one I found interesting. Whereas some of the houses I had seen earlier fit with my preconception of what a fraternity house looks like—a big wood-frame house from the early 20th century—these show that any age and style of structure can in fact house a fraternity. Several of these also illustrate that there is no fine line between fraternities of a social and residential sort and those associated with a profession.

Theta Tau (Professional Engineering Fraternity), 515 10th Ave. SE (1957)
Kappa SIgma, 1000 5th St. SE (1952)
Alpha Kappa Psi (Business Fraternity), 1116 5th St. SE (1952)
Gamma Eta Gamma (Law Fraternity), 1126 5th St. SE (1892)

Across 12th Avenue SE from Gamma Eta Gamma, I encountered the enchanting little pocket of tranquility that is Jean’s Garden. As the plaque indicates, the garden is in memory of Jean Doran Kraus (1952–2010). Her maiden name, Doran, explains the location—her brother Kelly was the developer of the adjoining 412 Lofts, located riverward on 12th Avenue SE. It looks like Doran needed to acquire this corner lot in order to accommodate the driveway leading to the Lofts’ underground parking. However, that didn’t occupy the full lot, so he was able to break out this corner portion for a lovely tribute to his sister.

Jean’s Garden, 450 12th Ave. SE (Viewed from 5th St. SE)

Immediately downstream from Jean’s Garden is another house the same age as Gamma Eta Gamma’s—a rarity given how many waves of redevelopment have ensued since the 19th century. It’s a bit disorienting to realize this is the same block that ends, just a short distance later, in the 1973 Chateau tower. The similarity to the Gamma Eta Gamma house also to some degree includes function—in 1915, this was a fraternity house—though as far as I can tell, the 7 bedrooms are currently divided into two non-fraternity rental units.

1206 5th St. SE (1892)

Across on the landward side of the street, the portion of the block preceding The Marshall complex is occupied by St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center, which stands out for its crosses. (When I saw the back from 6th Street SE, I also noted crosses in the glass block windows facing the parking lot.)

St. Lawrence Catholic Church and Newman Center, 1203 5th St. SE

From here, I skirted the edge of Dinkytown as I continued on 5th Street to 15th Avenue SE, then looped via that avenue (with a couple spurs) back to 6th Street SE, now heading upstream. The edge between the commercial and residential areas is not sharp. For example, there’s a Target store on the lower level of The Marshall. At any rate, after seeing this mix of commercial and residential and then heading back into the purely residential area, I thought it was time to photograph an example of the large, early 20th century, wood-frame houses I had mentioned earlier. The property information lists this one as currently divided into 3 units with a total of 11 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. That can’t be right—surely there aren’t fewer bathrooms than units. Unless perhaps there’s some strange arithmetic based on having showers but not tubs; 3 “3/4 baths” would be 2 1/4, which could round to 2, maybe? Note also the color scheme, including the front steps.

1313 6th St. SE (1902)

I continued on 6th Street to where it tees into the Interstate 35W East Frontage Road. A spur riverward on that took me to the 5th Street footbridge over the freeway, which I’m looking forward to using when I return to the neighborhood. Returning landward, I turned onto 7th Street SE and took it downstream all the way to 15th Avenue SE.

Among the many buildings I passed on 7th Street SE was the brick residence I had seen the perpendicular side of from 12th Avenue SE. That’s the one where I had a hunch as to the original function based only on rather ambiguous clues—even the use of Flemish stretcher bond for the brickwork. But here on this face, the bricks tell a more clear story: there’s a cross worked into them. So yes, this was indeed a convent.

705 12th Ave. SE, Viewed from 7th St. SE

Kitty-corner from there, a particularly interesting renovation is in progress, which I had also observed when walking 12th Avenue SE. There are two essentially identical apartment buildings, one facing the avenue and the other the street. Each was built in the early 20th century with only two stories but has now gained a third story as part of the ongoing renovation. I was also interested to see a portion of the yellow brick veneer removed to expose the underlying boards, with the bricks piled under the blue tarp in the foreground. (As with many buildings of the period, more expensive red bricks were used only on the most visible surfaces, with yellow brick further back.)

1202 7th St. SE and 616 12th Ave. SE (1905)

Having seen so many retail, residential, and church buildings, I was interested to see a couple buildings of a more industrial character after turning back onto the 1400 block of 8th Street SE. Unsurprisingly, they are in the area adjacent to the railroad tracks. The first, spied through a fence, is a warehouse with attached cement-block office wing, now holding Wilderness Inquiry, an organization “to connect people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to each other and the natural world through shared outdoor adventures.”

Wilderness Inquiry, 808 14th Ave. SE (Viewed from 8th St. SE)

This exemplifies one of the benefits I find in walking All of Minneapolis: stumbling across interesting, valuable nonprofit organizations I had been unaware of. Like most people, I usually think of nonprofits in terms of their function, not their physical location, and so find them through targeted web searches. But there’s many I’d never think to search for, so it’s nice to have an element of serendipity too, and the physical locations provide that.

Coming across Wilderness Inquiry’s headquarters also connects back to my earlier sighting of Martha’s Place on 11th Avenue SE. At the time, I could tell it was playing some special function beyond being an ordinary residence—why else would it have a name? But I had no idea what that function was, let alone who Martha was. Now I know that Martha’s Place provides temporary lodging for out-of-town Wilderness Inquiry staffers. And I read the remarkable story of Martha and her family, the Finches.

Aside from the Wilderness Inquiry building, the corner with 14th Avenue SE also contains an auto repair shop, which I rather like for its use of bullnose masonry, providing the otherwise boxy structure some streamlining. However, I decided I can’t show you photos of everything I find aesthetically pleasing. So I’ll limit myself to showing the pedestrian bridge at the end of this cul-de-sac, crossing over the railroad tracks to the Como neighborhood’s Van Cleve Park. This style of bridge is terrible for accessibility, but it evokes a sense of nostalgia, perhaps connected to my childhood in a city of steel mills.

14th Ave. SE Pedestrian Bridge and The Rail Apartments (814 13th Ave. SE)

If you’ve been keeping track on the route map, you’ll realize this return to 14th Avenue SE means the walk is almost over—I just needed to return riverward on that avenue to where the loop started at 4th Street SE, and then loop back to that same intersection by rounding the block on University and 15th Avenues SE.

Passing through the Dinkytown commercial node confronted me with more of the storefronts. For example, there’s Wally’s Falafel, Hummus, and Bakery, where I stopped in for a falafel sandwich at the conclusion of my walk. They describe themselves as middle-eastern; from the menu and decor, I’m guessing Palestinian. The dining room is pleasant and my simple lunch was tasty enough that I’d gladly return for more of the menu.

Wally’s Falafel, Hummus, and Bakery, 423 14th Ave. SE

One storefront further riverward—crammed into what once was an alley—is the most famous restaurant in Dinkytown, Al’s Breakfast. Had they been open, I surely would have needed to start my walk there, rather than at Tony’s. Nothing against Tony’s, but I can only handle so much razzing, and I just know I would never live it down if I had visited Dinkytown and voluntarily bypassed Al’s. Even armed with an ironclad excuse, I’m bracing for the criticism.

Al’s Breakfast, 413 14th Ave. SE

I’m a nonsmoker, so Royal Cigar and Tobacco doesn’t interest me, aside from the aesthetics of its storefront. But the real treasure is along side, the plaque dedicated to Sarah Fagan, Nov. 7 1893 – June 11, 1989: pioneer southeast resident and entrepreneur. Who chose to commemorate her, what motivated them, and why at this particular location? It’s a mystery. Andy Sturdevant turned up just a little about her, and he’s skilled enough that I’m unlikely to turn up more.

Sarah Fagan Memorial Plaque at Royal Cigar and Tobacco, 403 14th Ave. SE

The one block I still needed to walk around—from 4th Street to University Avenue and 14th to 15th Avenue SE—is an unusual one because a railway trench passes diagonally through it, allowing the roadways to cross unimpeded at grade level. This results in some interesting extra-tall buildings adjacent to the trench, as shown in the next photo, taken from the 14th Avenue bridge looking back landward at Dinkytown.

Annie’s Parlour, 313 14th Ave. SE (1899)

The corner of University and 15th Avenues SE has a stone building that looks to be something of a cross between collegiate and ecclesiastic revival styles—and indeed, a closer examination of the symbols in the windows provides clues that it is indeed such a hybrid, having been constructed in 1923 for the University YMCA. Today it is linked to the adjoining Donhowe Building, a University administrative services building of essentially the same age but considerably more stolid design. (I show a glimpse of it in a later photo.)

Former YMCA Building, 1425 University Ave. SE (Viewed from 15th Ave. SE)

Landward from the Donhowe Building, 15th Avenue SE passes over the railway trench. The next two photos show the views looking over this bridge in the landward direction and then down at the trench in the upstream direction. The bridge-level view reveals that there is another depression on the far side of 4th Street SE, from which the top of a former two-level McDonalds peeks up, now undergoing demolition. At the left of the second photo, the Donhowe Building has easy warehouse access to the trench. You can see that only one railroad track remains—down from a peak of four—with much of the space now devoted to the Dinkytown Greenway.

15th Ave. SE Railway Trench Bridge
Railway Trench with Dinkytown Greenway

Looking into the distance, you can see a speck of a jogger about to pass under the 14th Avenue bridge, and further off the skyline of the downtown, towards which I would head after my falafel sandwich. But I’ll be back for the rest of the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, most of which is on the upstream side of Interstate 35W. And I’m optimistic that this time, I won’t delay so long.

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 June 1, 2021. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.

Max Hailperin

About Max Hailperin

Max Hailperin's personal project is allofminneapolis.com. Minneapolis has 87 neighborhoods, including the three industrial areas. Some he knows well, others he has not yet entered. However, he has committed to explore all of them on foot: every block of every street in every neighborhood. He is working through the neighborhoods alphabetically, from Armatage to Windom Park, so as to focus in one area, then hop to somewhere else.

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