One can’t avoid the “Cult of Hiawatha” in the southeastern portion of Minneapolis, and so I once again found myself in a neighborhood named for one fictional Indian (Minnehaha) bounded by a highway named for another (Hiawatha), all of which was supposed to somehow make people feel better about living on the land of real Indians.
Aside from its name, Hiawatha Avenue’s major significance for this walk is that it constitutes a diagonal boundary unsuited to pedestrians. This helps explain why even though the neighborhood’s streets are generally on a grid, my route in the eastern half was rather complex. On the route map, the blue lines, indicating portions walked only once, form three distinct loops. Most are in a main loop starting and ending at the corner of 40th Avenue South and 54th Street East. However, there are two smaller subsidiary loops, each of which is joined to the main loop by purple connectors walked twice, first on the way to the subsidiary loop and then back at its conclusion. And, as usual, there are some red spurs that were walked forward and then immediately back.
Choosing photos to include is hard. In the initial block north on 40th Avenue to 53rd Street, and in the 8 blocks east on 53rd, I found all sorts of single-family houses interesting to look at in the February sunlight. But maybe they were too ordinary? I also spotted a small plastic ball, perched enigmatically at the mouth of a storm drain, perhaps revealed by the erosion of the snow. But maybe that was too idiosyncratic?
Not that the housing itself is all that I found interesting. For example, in the course of my first subsidiary loop, I rounded the corner from 53rd Street East onto Riverview Road and encountered a striking fence of salvaged doors.
After completing that southeastern mini-loop, I crossed back over to the western side of Minnehaha Avenue and proceeded north to the small commercial node where Minnehaha, Hiawatha, and 47th Avenues and 52nd Street all more or less converge. One of the buildings that caught my eye there was the 1926 storefront where the Minnesota Peacebuilding Leadership Institute is now headquartered. We could sure all use some “transform[ation of] psychological trauma into nonviolent power with positive, productive alternatives to revenge” including “truth-telling, conciliation, and repairing harm for healed, just relationships.”
Just south of there, a bungalow much like many others in the neighborhood stood out because of the way its recently repainted exterior caught the winter light.
This area also has some duplexes, such as this one a block to the west.
Wrapping around from the northward traversal of 46th Avenue to the westward traversal of 52nd Street brought me back to the same commercial node I had previously seen. Agrarian Seed And Garden stands across 52nd Street from the Peacebuilding institute, but with an address on Hiawatha Avenue rather than on 47th Avenue, reflecting the complex geometry here.
The house on the corner of 52nd Street East and 43rd Avenue South looks like two houses of different eras smooshed together. The building permits show that the red siding is on a 28×26 foot portion from 1941 that had an address on 43rd Avenue, whereas the blue and (faux) stone siding is on a 25×46 foot portion from 1960 that includes the present entrance and attached garage on 52nd Street.
At the western edge of this day’s region, I walked only alternate blocks of 40th Avenue, leaving the others for the other half of the neighborhood. As a result, you’ll have to wait until the next installment for the main sanctuary portion of Trinity Lutheran Church of Minnehaha Falls. Although equally modernist, it makes an interesting contrast to the boxy segment on 41st Avenue shown here. So stay tuned.
A block north of the church and on the opposite side of 40th Avenue, a house with a polygonal tower caught my eye in part for that reason (especially with its circular windows), but also because I suspected it might be older than most of the homes in the neighborhood. And indeed, the permit index dates it to 1888.
The newer houses surrounding this one aren’t the result of equally old houses having been torn down and replaced, or at any rate not predominantly so. An atlas from 1898 shows that this house was one of only a few at the time, scattered among many empty lots.
I took 51st Street three blocks east to 43rd Avenue, where I turned back south. Along the way, I passed an intriguing collection of decorated bicycle handles sticking out of the snow—alas, not satisfactorily photographable. Earlier in the walk, on the southeastern mini-loop, I had encountered an equally photo-resistant installation of bicycle wheels at the corner of 54th Street and Hiawatha Lane. So apparently the use of bicycle parts as a medium for found-object sculpture is a trend across the Minnehaha neighborhood.
In the 5200 block of 43rd Avenue South, a house distinguished by the “support your local artist” sticker on the mailbox also featured an unusually sophisticated bench on the boulevard.
Once I reached 54th Street, I turned west for two blocks, then retreated back to 42nd Avenue for my next northward pass. On the northeast corner of 54th Street East and 42nd Avenue South, a building that clearly was once a service station (from 1958, as it happens) is now serving some new role—but I wouldn’t have known what that role was without the sign on the corner of the lot. Indeed, reading “off-leash ART BOX” only went so far in enlightening me. I was imagining an open studio for visual arts, but an online search revealed the space is used by Off-Leash Area, a producer of “original interdisciplinary performance work.”
Walking north on 42nd Avenue all the way to the hairpin turn onto the Hiawatha Avenue frontage road, and then rounding that bend, allowed me to see more single-family and duplex houses in a variety of 20th-century vernacular styles. But it also brought me to the most significant open space of the walk, the Nokomis East Gateway Garden where the frontage road reaches 50th Street:
Gateway Garden was designed pro bono by the landscape architecture firm of colberg|tews to resemble a Monarch butterfly wing when seen from an aerial view. Planted in October of 2010 using all native plants, indigenous to the region including a Bur Oak to represent the Oak Savanna found in this area centuries ago. The Met Council provides the site and additional support. Gateway Garden is maintained by neighborhood volunteers. Everyone is welcome to volunteer and visitors are encouraged.
After lunch, I took the second of the route map’s purple connectors a block south on 43rd Avenue and then two blocks east to 45th Avenue for the slender loop around 45th and 44th Avenues. Coincidentally, just as I began that purple connector, I spotted a Queen Anne house from 1890 that had some trim of a similar color.
On 45th Avenue, a sign informed me that I had “now entered the Jurisdiction of Silly Walks” and was to “commence silly walking immediately.” I’m bad at being silly, bad at selfies, and bad at any kind of videography. So be warned: the attached video is a bad video-selfie of a bad silly walk.
A lot of single-family houses are built from standard plans, often as “spec” (speculative) houses built to be sold to any ready buyer, rather than designed to reflect some specific homeowner’s desires. But that’s even more true of duplexes. As a result, walking through Minneapolis, one sees each of several common duplex plans repeated many times over. That just makes it even more interesting when one runs into an instance of a more unusual duplex style, as in the 5200 block of 44th Avenue South.
At the hairpin where 44th Avenue turns into Hiawatha Avenue, there’s an old Italianate house. How old? I don’t know. It’s almost certainly old enough that it lay outside the city limits of Minneapolis at the time it was built, i.e., prior to 1887. I wouldn’t be surprised if it were even from the 1870s.
Once I was back to 43rd Avenue, I made a point of taking a picture of one of the newer houses (from 1967), just to illustrate that each period has its own distinctive style. By happenstance, it turns out to be due west of the pre-historic Italianate. This one is a bi-level with a tuck-under garage, and its details include a trapezoidal window over the front door paralleling the roofline—something I’ve seen in other houses from the 1960s.
Finishing up the main loop, I encountered a tricycle on a porch roof, colorful birdhouses, L♡VE poles and a 1920 bungalow that stands out as more Prairie School than Craftsman in style.
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 March 25, 2022. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.
All photos are by the author.