Minneapolis’s Midtown Phillips neighborhood is bounded by Chicago and Bloomington avenues and by 24th and Lake streets east. On this first day walking the neighborhood, I focused on the eastern half, starting in the southeastern corner at the intersection of Bloomington and Lake.
I had paid attention to the east side of Bloomington Avenue when I walked the East Phillips neighborhood in 2017; now my focus was on the west side, starting with the remarkable mural on the corner building. Titled Juntos Crecemos (together we rise), it combines portions painted using the parachute-cloth technique, predominantly on the upper half of the wall, with portions covered in mosaic, predominantly on the lower half. The artist Greta McLain of GoodSpace Murals led its creation in 2013–2014 as a project of the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts. I gratefully acknowledge McLain’s permission to photograph the mural.
The work can be appreciated whether one is up close, looking at an individual symbol or texture, or across the street, taking in the full composition, from the maize growing at the center to the migratory monarch flying south and the powerful eagle flying north. I’m in awe of how it fits together not only in form but in color palette. It even offers an appropriate epigraph for All of Minneapolis: “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” (traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking), from a poem by Antonio Machado.
Heading north on Bloomington Avenue, it would have been easy enough to overlook the back side of the building, which faces north. Ordinarily, one would see it only when southbound. But I’ve learned a few things over the previous 54 neighborhoods, and one of them is the habit of swinging my head side to side as I walk, even looking back over my shoulder. And so I noticed another mural in a quite different style, one that I recognized as belonging to Jimmy Longoria’s Mentoring Peace Through Art project. For more about this, see the Southern Hale installment.
The southernmost couple blocks of the neighborhood tend toward commercial and industrial (or formerly industrial) structures, as a result of the Lake Street retail corridor and the Milwaukee Road rail trench that now is the Midtown Greenway. But tendencies are not absolutes, and even before reaching the greenway, I encountered some examples of the substantial multi-story residences from the early 20th century that predominate through much of the neighborhood. The duplex on the left in the photo was built as such in 1909, whereas the building on the right started in 1910 as a single-family dwelling before being extended and converted to a duplex in 1920, and now has been further subdivided into six units.
North of the greenway, I passed some more broadly similar houses, and then a group of 21st-century townhouses in the northern quarter of the 2800 block. Once I reached 28th Street, I backtracked to 29th and turned west.
Several buildings along 29th Street East have interesting murals, but I’ll limit myself to showing just one, from the southwest corner with 13th Avenue South. The banner for Hooyo’s Kitchen is appropriately positioned among scenes of people bringing hope, including by catering. However, to fully appreciate the meaning of these scenes, one needs look back to the left, to the building face farther east, where there are much darker images of violence and rapaciousness — and of resistance. Taken as a whole, the mural powerfully encapsulates what the neighborhood experienced — and how it responded — in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. I would like to credit the artist(s), if someone could offer me a pointer.
North of 29th Street is the greenway, and north of that in this block between 12th and 13th avenues, I started to see an attached grouping of buildings, the former home of the Dayton Rogers Manufacturing Company. Once I turned the corner onto 12th Avenue, I got a better view and could see one of the current occupants, Aim Academy of Science and Technology, a charter school for 6th- to 9th-grade students. Based on the direction of the sunlight, I’ll wait until the 13th Avenue portion of the walk to show any photos of the complex.
Turning back east on 28th Street, I came across a smaller, simpler and more recent mural by the Semilla Center for Healing and the Arts, this one painted by the center’s Young Leaders group in 2021 on a fence across the alley from St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, where the center is based. In some ways, it echoes the more elaborate mural from eight years earlier, including the title word Juntos (together), the central theme of growth (here of a tree rather than maize), and the monarch butterfly motif.
In the next block to the east, another mural likewise testified to St. Paul’s engagement in the neighborhood, this time in the form of their youth group. This mural is on the alley side of a former service station on the northwest corner with Bloomington Avenue, now home to The Grease Pit, a not-for-profit, do-it-yourself bike shop.
At the northern end of that same block, Fire Station 5 dates from 1962. It stands on the southwestern corner with 27th Street, which I took west to Stewart Park before returning on 26th Street. On the northeast corner of the park, a bright utility box is one of a series of five on the theme “Healthy Connections” sponsored by the Midtown Phillips Neighborhood Association.
Until I got back to Bloomington Avenue, nearly all of the structures I passed on 26th Street East were residential, though a couple had clearly started out as corner stores. The one exception is on the northeast corner with 13th Avenue South, where a two-story building from 2016 having roughly 15,000 square feet on each level houses Banyan Community, “a Christian community development organization that provides a nucleus where families in the Phillips neighborhood connect with and support each other, and where parents are empowered to be deeply involved in their children’s education.”
Banyan is one of only several nonprofits in the area, and I didn’t have to wait long to see the next. Turning north on Bloomington Avenue, the southwest corner with 25th Street has Open Arms of Minnesota, “a nonprofit that cooks and delivers free, nutritious meals to people living with life-threatening illnesses in the Twin Cities.” Given that such illnesses are a reality of human life, the existence of this positive response is cause for celebration. And so the vestibule roof was decked out with a party hat to celebrate 2021 being the 35th birthday of the organization.
The next block north on Bloomington — one of the forward-and-back spurs — is probably best known as the home of Welna Hardware, which has been in the family since 1954 and on one side or the other of this block since 1912, as described in my East Phillips walk. That prior walk had also introduced me to Bii Di Gain Dash Anwebi on the east side of the avenue, and now I encountered another building of the same elder housing on the west side.
But my eye was drawn to something simpler, a house that was visibly one of the oldest in the area. Indeed, the building permit index, which generally goes back to 1884, does not show the initial construction. All that can be said with certainty is that it was no later than 1897, when plumbing was done.
After walking that 2400 block of Bloomington Avenue, I retreated to 25th Street East in order to turn west again as far as 12th Avenue South. And from there, I turned briefly onto 24th Street East, the northern border of the neighborhood. This is where the route switches from an east/west serpentine that moves gradually northward to a north/south serpentine that moves gradually eastward.
But before I began that new serpentine with a southward traversal of 13th Avenue South, I walked one block farther on 24th Street as a spur to 12th Avenue. And that turns out to be a particularly interesting block, containing both the Indian Health Board medical and dental center and African Community Services.
Once on 13th Avenue, I again was drawn to the residences, some of which stood out to one degree or another. Take, for example, the duplex at 2415. It doesn’t look particularly out of place, but is just distinctive enough to make me look at the permit index. There I learned that a previous duplex on this lot was torn down in 1977 and the present one moved here in 1982 from Elliot Park, making way for the Augustana Apartments.
Once I crossed 28th Street, I came to the eastern side of the Dayton Rogers complex. Whereas on 12th Avenue I had seen a charter school, here I saw another institutional use of the space, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center.
Just south of the mosque, and physically connected to it as part of the same complex, a one-story building now holds Barwaqo Restaurant. The food would certainly have interested me had the restaurant been open, but with it closed, I instead turned my attention to the signs. It’s easy to spot the modern, multicolored, digitally printed signs for the restaurant. But do you see the much simpler sign to the right of the door with black stenciled lettering, “DELIVERIES TO RECEIVING 12TH AVE”? That must be a hold-over from the manufacturing company that stamped metal parts here.
Speaking of the colorful graphic design of our current age, take a look at the syringe disposal kiosk the city’s public health department installed just south of there, overlooking the greenway. Even a plain box would sure beat hazardous litter, but this design makes the purpose clear and adds some zing to the view.
One block south of the greenway, I was back to Lake Street for the first time since the start of the walk. A spur west to 12th Avenue was densely packed with interest, starting with Sprit on Lake, an affordable apartment building that “provides [a] welcoming home for LGBT seniors.”
In the same building, Quatrefoil Library, like other libraries, is more than a place for books — it is a community gathering place and event space. Not that the literature is neglected: “tons of queer literature has been saved from erasure, preserved by the volunteers who keep the library going.” The description also includes a lovely mix of metaphorical and literal language: “Quatrefoil Library began in a closet, and much like many of its patrons, it burst out in a blaze of rainbows and glitter.”
Farther west, a retail building is enlivened by several murals created by the artist known as Black Daze, whose permission for this photo of the eastern wall I appreciate. The right edge of the photo also incidentally captures a bit of another Mentoring Peace Through Art mural.
Finally, on the northeast corner with 12th Avenue, Plaza Centenario features a bronze statue of Emiliano Zapata and another mural from Greta McLain’s GoodSpace Murals, this one sponsored by Pangea World Theater in 2018 and titled Our Lake Street Loves. (Once again, I appreciate McLain’s permission for photography.) The statue is by Germán Michel Leal and was a 2007 gift from the state of Morelos.
As visually interesting as the 1200 block of Lake Street was, I still hurried my way to the 1300 block. Because that’s where I was able to get some lunch at Hufan Restaurant and Cafe. Specifically, I had the tasty goat meat with aromatically seasoned rice. (Per Somali tradition, the rice was accompanied by a banana, not shown in my photo.) From other Somali restaurants, I had grown used to a spicy green sauce (basbaas), whereas this dish came with a red version — a nice change of pace. It was a quite enjoyable meal.
After lunch, I resumed my serpentine jaunt, north on 14th Avenue South to 24th Street East, then south on 15th Avenue South. I was interested in an unusually large and elaborate food pantry in one of the front yards. Later I noticed that it seems to match a photo on the Semilla Center’s Young Leaders page, so I suspect this is another of their projects.
Speaking of the Semilla Center, in the next block I was back to their host institution, St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, this time with a view from the front. I was interested to see the inscription over the main door, “Sv Ev Luth St Pauli Kyrkan,” in other words, the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran St. Paul’s Church. By contrast, the modern sign on the corner (partially obscured in the photo) has a mix of English and Spanish.
In the next block, two community gardens straddle 15th Avenue South, with Shalom Community Garden on the east and the Tamales y Bicicletas Garden (or Urban Community Farm) on the west. The latter features a solar greenhouse.
In the next block, Community Enhancement Service(s), “a non-profit organization established in 2016 … to empower youth to face challenges in life with competence and dignity,” occupies a gothic brick building that clearly was originally a church.
Specifically a cornerstone identifies the building as “Welsh Church 1881–1910,” referring to the years when the congregation was founded and when it built this structure. I didn’t look at the exterior more carefully, let alone the interior, so I can’t say whether there are any inscriptions in the Welsh language akin to the abbreviated Swedish on St. Paul’s. I suppose without the windows having been preserved, the chances are diminished. But even without Welsh, I had seen signs that used English, Spanish, Somali, Ojibwe, Arabic, Swedish and Hebrew.
Once I was back to Lake Street, I encountered the Avalon Theater, designated as a local historic landmark in part for its streamlined moderne marquee. The signage still reflects occupancy by In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, though they are reported to be selling it as overly expensive and ill-suited to their needs.
At this point, all that remained of the route was a spur on the 1400 block of Lake Street East and then returning to the starting point via the 1500 block. The former contained another bilingual mural, this one promoting “dignified homes for all.” Like so much of what I saw on this walk, I’ve edited the photo out. Take that as incentive to go walk the neighborhood yourself.
As to the 1500 block, the highlight is definitely the Somali Museum of Minnesota in the basement of the Jigjiga Business Center, a former Masonic Lodge that had meanwhile been rehabilitated as Plaza Verde.
Much of the museum’s collection reflects the nomadic, camel-focused lifestyle of the Somali people in their African homeland. For example, the front room contains a collection of camel bells and a back room shows how a hut can be constructed to facilitate disassembly, transport and reassembly. I was also interested by an exhibit that combines a painting with artifacts to illustrate how such simple items as a forked stick and a leather pad could be adapted to the problem of carrying prickly brush on one’s back. For young Somali-Americans visiting the museum, these exhibits and others like them might illustrate how their parents and grandparents lived before coming to the United States. Likewise, I would highly recommend a visit for anyone who wants to learn about this culture.
And yet, of all the photos I took in the museum (with permission, I gratefully acknowledge), the one that I’m choosing to include below struck me precisely for transcending this focus on a different lifestyle in a different place, instead acting as a bridge to Minnesota. According to the label, the “bed sheet was hand-embroidered in a traditional style by Hadiya Shire Guure, who lives in Qardho, Puntland. Her son, Said Ali Mohamed (Bicir), lives in Minnesota.” It’s a beautiful piece of art, but it is also a testimony to a mother’s care for her son and the son’s pride in his mother. And it reflects that not all of what is distinctively Somali needs to be situated in a land of camels and nomads. For even in America, one needs to sleep.
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 January 2, 2022. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
All photos are by the author.