Walking All the Streets of Central Marcy-Holmes

The central portion of Minneapolis’s Marcy-Holmes neighborhood contains everything from industry to residences, ranging from the 19th to the 21st century. Moreover, the residences span the range from owner-occupied single-family houses to mid-rise apartment buildings. With so much to see on my eight-mile walk through this area (spanning roughly 5th through 10th Avenues SE), I had to leave a lot out to arrive at a manageable quantity of photos and text.

The route map situates this walk within the overall neighborhood as well as depicting the path I took, with the main loop in blue and forward-and-back spurs off of it in red. You can see that the neighborhood is bounded between the river and the railroad tracks, which explains why the industrial areas are on those two edges. The further downstream portion of the neighborhood, from 10th to 15th Avenues SE, was the subject of my prior walk, while the portion ranging upstream as far as Central Avenue remains for the future.

The starting and ending point of my main loop, marked A and B on the map, was the intersection of 6th and University Avenues SE. Two of the four corners of this intersection are occupied by apartment buildings and one by the Mr. Santana convenience-store deli. The fourth corner — the one on the riverward side of University Avenue and the upstream side of 6th Avenue — is the one I chose to photograph and the one I initially walked past, as I headed down 6th Avenue toward the river. It is occupied by Alma, a combination café, hotel and restaurant in a 19th-century factory building. It was closed this Monday, but I’ve enjoyed both the café and the restaurant on prior visits.

Alma Cafe, Hotel and Restaurant, 528 University Ave. SE

Along the two blocks of 6th Avenue between University Avenue and Main Street SE, I was able to view two sets of buildings: the ordinary full-scale buildings and a collection of miniature historic buildings cast in bronze from Aldo Moroni’s clay sculptures. In at least one case, the two directly corresponded: The building I show as a backdrop to the Winthrop School sculpture is also the setting for a sculpture of itself. However, most of the buildings Moroni took as his subjects are (or were) elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’ll see the church and the site of the no-longer-existent school on my next walk, as well as walking past the Pillsbury “A” Mill, rather than seeing it only in the distance.

First Universalist Church / Our Lady of Lourdes Church (Aldo Moroni, 2004), 200 Block of 6th Ave. SE
Winthrop School (Aldo Moroni, 2004), 100 Block of 6th Ave. SE
Pillsbury “A” Mill (Aldo Moroni, 2004), 100 Block of 6th Ave. SE

By the way, that building behind the Winthrop School sculpture provided me an opportunity to learn a new word — one of the unexpected dividends of exploring a neighborhood at a walking pace. Today it houses the offices of a distributor of metal-finishing chemicals, but when constructed in 1884, it housed the Shepard Manufacturing Company, “a broom handle and excelsior factory.” I knew what broom handles are, but excelsior? Turns out to be “fine curled wood shavings used especially for packing fragile items,” which could be a natural byproduct of turning broom handles on lathes.

Rather than immediately turning onto Main Street, I first walked a spur out past the University of Minnesota’s Southeast Steam Plant and onto the Stone Arch Bridge as far as the neighborhood boundary. (I had walked the rest of the bridge in Downtown East.)

Southeast Steam Plant, 600 Main St. SE

Looking upstream from the bridge, I saw a mix of historic and contemporary buildings along the Marcy-Holmes river bank, most notably the Pillsbury “A” Mill. (You may need to zoom in to see the “A.”) In the foreground, the wooded areas connected by footbridges are portions of the Father Hennepin Bluff Park, which also has a more developed area adjacent to Main Street.

Upstream view from Stone Arch Bridge with Pillsbury “A” Mill and Father Hennepin Bluff Park

Looking downstream, I was particularly interested in the ephemeral arrangement of driftwood and ducks. But another, much longer-lasting structure also was visible in the river: the craggy ruin of a stone pier, which as architecture critic and author Larry Millet recently explained supported the first 10th Avenue Bridge. It was nowhere near the current 10th Avenue Bridge because it connected with 10th Avenue South on the west bank rather than 10th Avenue SE on the east bank.

Downstream view from Stone Arch Bridge with remains of original 10th Avenue Bridge

Once I returned to Main Street, I first turned downstream for another spur, this one traversing the dead-end portion of the street that runs along Stone Arch Apartments. Then I resumed the main loop of the route by taking Main Street upstream to 5th Avenue SE, which in this block is a private street through the Mill & Main complex. Normally I don’t walk private streets, but this one really doesn’t look like they are discouraging pedestrians. Besides, it provided a dramatic view of Bobby Carlyle’s Self-Made Man sculpture. The raised hammer is poised to strike a chisel, carving the man himself out of stone, but when silhouetted against the rain clouds, it also evokes Thor. Yes, the speckles in the foreground are raindrops. But never fear, the weather cleared soon. I just started the walk a bit too early.

Mill & Main Apartments with Self-Made Man (Bobbie Carlyle, 1993)
Switch House (Union Railway Storage Co., 1885, 1892, etc.), 110 5th Ave. SE
Mill & Main, 100 Block of 5th Ave. SE

Once I got back to University Avenue, I turned downstream all the way across the freeway to 10th Avenue SE. A substantial portion of this area is occupied by student-oriented housing, as seen on my previous walk. The lush garden in the next photo, for example, is in front of a sorority house.

Garden, Alpha Chi Omega, 915 University Ave. SE

Although I was headed away from the river on 10th Avenue, I briefly turned around the other way to get a better view of the University Lutheran Chapel (LCMS) on the riverward side of 4th Street SE. Constructed in 2018–2019, it contains modern design elements such as the rectangular black-on-white side windows, while still evoking gothic tradition, particularly in its main facade.

University Lutheran Chapel (LCMS), 328 10th Ave. SE

I continued only one block farther before turning back upstream on 5th Street SE, which has the distinction of crossing the interstate on a bicycle/pedestrian bridge. (When dividing the neighborhood into separate walks, one of the key considerations was to cross the freeway an even number of times in each.) This bridge was replaced in 2019 and so has gradual ramps rather than the steep corkscrews or stairs used in older bridges. The result is that the bridge span itself is actually closer to the 6th Street alignment, though one enters or exits at 5th Street. Getting up to the bridge or back down from it takes nearly an entire block.

5th St. SE Bike/Pedestrian Bridge Over I-35W

Once back down on the upsteam side of the freeway, I got a closer look at the First Congregational Church, the spire of which had previously served me as a directional landmark. That slender spire left me unprepared for the more massive Richardsonian Romanesque style of the remainder of the building — a contrast also remarked upon in the National Register of Historic Places description. Once I got over my surprise, though, I found the style quite fitting for a church built in Minneapolis’s first great boom period, when it was in vogue.

First Congregational Church (1886), 500 8th Ave. SE (from 5th St. SE)

As a result of the freeway’s encroachment, the 800 block of 5th Street SE is a short one, containing little more than the church. And yet, that was all I visited of this street for now, doing a quick back-and-forth spur before using 9th Avenue SE to instead access 6th Street SE. And there, in the 700 block, I stumbled upon a real gem of the neighborhood, one that I had been completely unaware of and so had not anticipated.

Perhaps I shouldn’t give away the secret, lest outsiders exceed the small capacity of its 0.18-acre footprint. However, honesty compels me to report that Elwell Park punches far above its weight, featuring not only an enticing collection of playground equipment but also a distinguished assemblage of public art, thanks to the work of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association and such artists as mosaicist Susan Warner of Misssissippi Mudworks. She also collaborated with students from Marcy School to produce the tiles featured on the marker column and elsewhere. See also the Facebook page.

Elwell Park, 714 6th St. SE
Mosaic “Couch” (Susan Warner, 1998 and 2020), Elwell Park, 714 6th St. SE
Cement Turtle (Jim Miller-Melberg, 1967) with Mosaic Shell (Susan Warner, 1998), Elwell Park, 714 6th St. SE

After Elwell Park and the adjoining CenturyLink switching office, I reached 7th Avenue SE. And there the route map needs a little explication. You might think I continued straight through on 6th Street SE, as I do at most four-way intersections, passing through first in one straight-line direction, then later in the other. But no. If I did that at each intersection, I would have wound up back at my starting point without having traversed every block. (Try it on the route map if you doubt me.) So I chose this particular intersection as the one to do two right-angle turns, rather than passing through in two straight paths. In particular, I now turned riverward on 7th Avenue, continuing all the way to the tee intersection with 2nd Street SE.

On 2nd Street, I first did a spur upstream as far as 5th Avenue SE. That took me back through some of the same area I had seen at the start of my walk from 6th Avenue. For example, I passed along the big brown Metal-Matic factory visible in the background of my earlier photo of Aldo Moroni’s First Universalist Church / Our Lady of Lourdes Church. But I’m glad I didn’t skip this spur; the new sights included an interesting Accessory Dwelling Unit atop a garage that seems to be from the late 19th or early 20th century.

Accessory Dwelling Unit on Historic Garage, 204 5th Ave. SE (on 2nd St. SE)

Turning around and following 2nd Street downstream, I crossed Interstate 35W for the third time, but now passing underneath rather than above it. (The freeway is elevated as it nears its bridge over the Mississippi.) Underpasses can be dreary spaces, but this one is enlivened by glass mosaic cement blocks made by school students. Each section is labeled with the school that created it; I show just one example.

Glass Mosaic Cement Blocks (St. Andrew’s Academy, 2008), 2nd St. SE Under I-35W Bridge

Immediately downstream from the 35W bridge, 2nd Street SE passes under another bridge, this one connected with 10th Avenue SE and currently closed for rehabilitation.

10 Ave. SE Bridge Rehab, from 2nd St. SE

After passing under these two bridges, 2nd Street passes in back of Florence Court, an interesting apartment block from 1884, then curves into 11th Avenue SE alongside the court. The preceding link provides a frontal view of Florence Court, but honestly I found the rear with its fire escapes more visually compelling.

Rear of Florence Court (1884), 1000 Block of 2nd St. SE

From 11th Avenue, I turned upstream on 4th Street SE and crossed back over 35W. Several apartment buildings on the riverward side of this street date from the very end of the 19th century. In the case of the Ashmore, on the corner with 6th Ave SE, I was sufficiently interested that I deviated from my route far enough to photograph the main entry, rather than leaving that for when I passed at the end of my route.

806 and 800 4th St. SE (1900)
Ashmore Apartments (1895), 323 6th Ave. SE

In contrast to 4th Street’s apartment buildings, 5th Street SE has a higher proportion of single-family houses, a transition that was already apparent in the connecting block of 5th Avenue SE.

416 5th Ave. SE (1901)

Recall that I had previously walked the portion of 5th Street extending as far upstream as the First Congregational Church on 8th Avenue. Therefore, when my walk back downstream on 5th Street reached that point, I turned onto 8th Avenue, initially riverward for a three-block spur, although ultimately landward to continue my main loop.

I had earlier seen the front of Maxwell’s Cafe & Grill on 4th Street, but I found this side view more visually interesting with its ads for gyro, burgers and “the best shisha in town.” I’m not personally a fan of either burgers or shisha, but I should probably have given the gyro a try. Maybe another time.

Maxwell’s Cafe & Grill, 801 4th St. SE (8th Ave. SE Side)

On the far side of University Avenue, the Redmond Apartments stretch along a half block of 8th Avenue. Dating from 1890, they are another reminder of Henry Hobson Richardson’s influence on Minneapolis’s characteristic look.

Redmond Apartments (1890), 219 8th Ave. SE

At 2nd Street, I did an about-face and took 8th Avenue back away from the river, beyond my starting point, to where it tees into 8th Street. There three more spurs took me onto frontage roads on both sides of 35W as well as showing me some of 8th Street itself. So far as the main loop goes, 8th Street was my connection to 7th Avenue, which took me back riverward as far as 6th Street.

Recall that the intersection of 7th Avenue and 6th Street is the point where my route has two right-angle turns, rather than crossing itself. Having previously turned from 6th Street (near Elwell Park) to 7th Avenue, it was now time to turn from 7th Avenue to 6th Street, heading once again in the upstream direction.

Among the houses on 6th Street, the one shown in the following photo particularly struck me because of the strong vertical details down its midline. Starting from the bottom and working up, there is the double door with its decorative cutouts, the lantern, the porch roof, the second-floor window and then the gambrel-roofed dormer. (The tree partially obscured the last of these.) Looking up the house’s history, I was interested to see that in 1907, it briefly served as a hospital, run by Carl M. Nielsen and staffed by the nurse Pearl L. Prescott, both of whom also resided there. If anyone knows more about this, I’d welcome the information.

Former Carl M. Nielsen Hospital, 610 6th St. SE

From there, my route serpentined via 5th Avenue to 7th Street, which I followed back downstream to where it curves into 9th Avenue. A block before that, a particularly ornate house caught my eye. In 1881, the big money was in lumber, so I’m not surprised to read that the original owner was “lumberman James Sargent Lane,” a man of “commanding influence in the great Northwest” — but I do find it ironic that the reward for a successful career in lumber is a house built of brick.

625 8th Ave. SE, from 7th St. SE (1881)

From 7th Street, the road turns away from the river into 9th Avenue, then (after crossing 8th Street) turns back upstream into 9th Street SE. That street is lined with industrial buildings, now converted into a wide variety of uses, ranging from office space to the the Minneapolis Cider Co., which has a production facility, taproom and indoor pickleball courts.

Minneapolis Cider, 701 9th St. SE
Minneapolis Cider (Inside View), 701 9th St. SE

The cider company wasn’t open when I walked by, but I came back later by car with my Less Pedestrian Half, who joined me in sampling not only the drinks but also the crêpes and galletes (savory buckwheat crêpes) served by the embedded crêperie, Breizh. I enjoyed my brut cider, while she had a very nice nonalcoholic honeydew tonic named the Loring. We also enjoyed our food; my egg galette was a classic, while her brie, honey, bacon and arugula galette packed a stronger punch of flavor.

Egg galette, Breizh at Minneapolis Cider
Brie, honey, bacon and arugula galette (Breizh) and Loring honeydew tonic at Minneapolis Cider
Salted caramel, banana and toasted coconut crêpe, Breizh at Minneapolis Cider

From 9th Street, I wound onto 6th Avenue and headed back toward my starting point. The corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue stands out for another repurposed building, this one housing North Co., a co-working office space, in the former Ry-Krisp factory. More generally, this last leg of the walk featured more of the stuff I’d already seen: more old single-family houses, more new mid-rise apartments and more opportunity to stroll along, taking it in.

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 7, 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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