Walking All the Streets of Northern Morris Park

One might think the Morris Park neighborhood is named for the park within it, Morris Park. One would be wrong. The park is a comparative newcomer, named for its proximity to the Morris Park School. Which in turn is named for the neighborhood. Which is named for its northeastern portion, the Morris Park Addition to Minneapolis. Neither the park nor the school lies within the Morris Park Addition to Minneapolis. But then, the Addition didn’t lie within Minneapolis, either, for 16 years after its platting, name notwithstanding.

The addition runs from 42nd to 46th Avenues South and 54th to 56th Streets East and was platted by Mary C. Morris, widow, in 1911. The naming as an “Addition to Minneapolis” dates from that point, optimism that wasn’t warranted until 1927, when it was incorporated into Minneapolis along with other areas south of 54th Street.

Mrs. Morris was hardly the first to express such optimism, however. To the west of her addition, the area bounded by 34th and 42nd Avenues South and 54th and 55th Streets East was already platted in 1886 as Boardman’s State Park Addition to Minneapolis by Sarah L. Boardman and Albert J. Boardman, her husband. (They are listed in that manner in the 1886 document: a woman and her husband.) The annexation by Minneapolis was still decades off, and even the “state park” part of the name was somewhat forward-looking. The enabling legislation for Minnehaha State Park was passed in 1885, but the state didn’t actually buy the land until 1889.

I may be the only one to find this history interesting, but it does also give an approximate answer to the question of what portion of the neighborhood I walked on my first day. My walk included these two most northerly subdivisions of the neighborhood, along with some blocks further south.

I began and ended at the northeastern corner of the neighborhood, on 46th Avenue South at 54th Street East. This avenue is a city boundary: the VA medical center to its east is outside the city.

Already in that first block, I saw houses that were typical of much of what I saw throughout the neighborhood. Mostly they are modest single-story, single-family homes, sometimes with a small fraction of a second story, such as the 1920s bungalow and 1940s side-gable house shown here. The latter is a simpler style that was popular during and immediately after World War II, an era when this neighborhood filled in considerably. Occasional exceptions are scattered throughout, such as the recent two-story house I saw on this block.

5404 and 5400 46th Ave. S. (1940 and 1924)
5440 46th Ave. S. (2014)

After walking two blocks south on 46th Avenue, I backtracked a block and headed west on 55th Street. Blue stucco drew my eye to the house on the corner with 45th Avenue South, but I was also interested by what it illustrated about how the neighborhood was shaped by both developers and homeowners.

5452 45th Ave. S.

If you mentally remove the garage and connecting “breezeway” from the blue house and compare what is left with the beige house to its north (the right side of the photo), you’ll see they are essentially the same. The only difference is that the decorative front gable is over the central door on the blue house, whereas it is over the lefthand window on the beige house. This reflects both houses having been built in 1942 by Z. A. E. Anderson. Indeed the building permits were pulled the same day. Building essentially identical houses in tandem with minor distinguishing variations has always been a common development practice. But once the houses have individual owners, their paths start diverging. In this case, the owner of the blue house took advantage five years later of owning a double lot on the corner; the result is a garage to the side rather than the back, with a new entry in between.

A block and a half further east, a similar shade of blue caught my eye, but this time as part of a mural on a detached garage. The mural’s inscription uses simple, direct language to convey an important truth: “The power of Love and Care can change the world.” I find that incredibly motivating at moments when those simple words, Love and Care, aren’t so simple. When acts of loving kindness come hard, that’s when to hold onto the belief that the effort may be world-changing. And maybe the best word is the auxiliary verb: “can.” It’s all about possibility. One never knows how the effects will play out.

Garage of 5457 43rd Ave. S., on 55th St. E.

The mural is signed by DB and Luna. The former is the mosaic artist Daniela Bianchini, whose permission and encouragement I appreciate. Her mosaic hummingbird on the front (south) side of the garage is better represented by a Facebook post that also recounts the underlying Mayan creation story.

After crossing 42nd Avenue, the nature of 55th Street changed some. It was no longer a street running through the middle of the Morris Park Addition, but rather was a development border, with Boardman’s State Park Addition to the north and Morris Park Second Addition to the south. This was apparent in the shape of the blocks: I was seeing the usual short ends of blocks on the south side of the street, but long sides on the north, reflecting the crosswise orientation common to several plats from the Boardman family.

Once I reached 35th Avenue, I backtracked to 36th and walked one block south to 56th Street before returning to 55th on 37th Avenue. (This is the smallest of the blue loops on the route map.) One might think that rounding an extra block in a residential area developed essentially in the early suburban style might not add much—just more houses. But even though many of the houses were from the middle of the 20th century, others date back to the 1920s, and that brings us more squarely into the corner-store era. Sure enough, the house on the northeast corner of 36th Avenue South and 56th Street East caught my eye as once having been a store with an attached residence, the 1928 shop and home of William A. Carrigan, grocer.

3604 56th St. E.

As I returned to 55th Street, looking north at the southern edge of the Boardman State Park Addition, I photographed a phenomenon I’d noticed earlier: the presence of some quite mature trees, which dwarf the houses.

North Side of 3700 Block of 55th St. E.

The section of 55th Street from 37th to 39th Avenue is one of the purple connectors on the route maps that join the blue loops. Having earlier walked it westward, I now walked it eastward, bringing me back to the middle loop at the northwest corner of Morris Park (the park). Walking 39th Avenue southward a block from there brought me between the park, with its recreation center, and the school. The school building is currently for sale, and so quite a bit more information on it is available through the property brochure.

Morris Park Recreation Center, 5531 39th Ave. S.
Former Morris Park School, 3810 56th St. E., from 39th Ave. S.

After passing through the middle of the Boardman area northbound on 38th Avenue South, I turned onto 54th Street East, the northern border of the neighborhood. Initially I turned east for a spur as far as 40th Avenue. The highlight of this section was a little library incorporating salvaged materials, including pressed tin ceiling panels used for the roof.

Little Library, 3817 54th St. E.

After turning west, I continued along the northern edge of Boardman’s addition until suddenly the residential development gave way to auto service businesses at 34th Avenue South, the western edge of the neighborhood. A church and a 1970s apartment building with the false mansard roof characteristic of that era further the distinct character of this thoroughfare.

J-P Complete Auto Repair, 5401 34th Ave. S.
Nelson’s Auto Repair, 5415 34th Ave. S.
Riverside Evangelical Free Church, 3401 Boardman St.
5455 34th Ave. S. (1971)

Given how strongly single-family houses dominate in this neighborhood, the apartment building was quite a change in density. I also always take note of the duplexes sprinkled throughout single-family neighborhoods, especially when they have less common architectural styles, such as the one I passed a few blocks further east on Boardman Street.

3710–3712 Boardman St. (1949)

Every little library is intriguing, but some are more intriguing than others. After I had taken Boardman Street all the way east to 42nd Avenue and turned temporarily south on a spur to 55th Street, I encountered one of those especially intriguing ones—in this instance because of its combination of three distinct painting styles.

The side facing north has an essentially realistic depiction of an outdoor scene with a tire swing hanging from a tree limb. The realism is augmented, however, by one pure symbol: the peace sign that echoes the swing’s shape. Moving southward from there, the front of the library (facing east) and the roof (sloping to the west) switch entirely to pure symbolism, with the broad black, red, and gold stripes of the German republic. Perhaps not coincidentally, two of these colors carry over from the realistic scene, the black of the swing and the gold of the sun. And then all three of the German colors are present again on the side facing south, but now in a completely non-representational splatter painting in the style of Jackson Pollock.

Little Library, 5452 42nd Ave. S. (View from Northeast)
Little Library, 5452 42nd Ave. S. (View from Southeast)

Turning north toward 54th Street, I passed another church, this one a bilingual (English/Spanish) independent Baptist congregation.

Grace Baptist Church, 5424 42nd Ave. S.

The eastward spur on 54th Street led to the corner with 43rd Avenue South, where a building currently under construction will be the new Veterans’ Community Center for the Every Third Saturday organization, which “exists to assist veterans in finding new purpose after military service … pursuing growth and post-traumatic success.”

Every Third Saturday Veterans’ Community Center, 5402 43rd Ave. S.

Heading back westward, I was struck by how long the 1920s storefront building stretches to the corner with 42nd Avenue. This is a style found on many streetcar corners, as here, where the Minnehaha line turned from 42nd Avenue to 54th Street. It’s a modular design that can be resized by repeating the non-corner unit any number of times, and this is an especially large example. Current tenants are WebVoltaWendy’s DoghouseRecovering Room Upholstery Services (motto: “SoFa, So Good”), and The Wellness Center.

WebVolta, 4209 54th St. E. (and Neighboring Storefronts at 4207–4201)

East of 42nd Avenue, I passed by some newly constructed houses, turned south on 40th Avenue, bringing me past the park again, and looped through the eastern part of the neighborhood before heading north again on 43rd Avenue. Three highlights from that avenue are an earlier style of duplex, another Daniela Bianchini mosaic, and the stark front of the World of Self-Defense Combat Ju-Jitsu school, the age of which is hinted at by the seven-digit phone number on its sign.

5609–5613 43rd Ave. S. (1925)
Little Library, 5457 43rd Ave. S., with Mosaic by Daniela Bianchini
World of Self-Defense Combat Ju-Jitsu, 5406 43rd Ave. S.

The block to the east on 54th Street contains another storefront strip, home to Vintage Strings & Musical Instrument Company, a small store with a big reputation.

Vintage Strings & Musical Instrument Co., 4309 54th St. E.

This final portion of the route consisted of a serpentine back and forth between south and north, gradually progressing eastward back to the starting point. In particular, the last long segment was a northward pass on 45th Avenue.

In the 5600 block, I noted a house whose occupant has clearly devoted themself not only to creating a pollinator-friendly habitat, but to educating others on this topic. The small structure akin to a little library holds leaflets, while a sign under it from The Monarch Joint Venture explaining that this is a garden for pollinators, a message reinforced by two other signs from Homegrown National Park and The Xerxes Society for Invertebrate Conservation. A final sign explains the dry vegetation left from last year under the caption “Shh! Nesting Insects.”

Garden for Pollinators, 5629 45th Ave. S.

In that same block, I also spotted a house that had caught my eye from a greater distance in the early part of the walk. Although originally built in 1941, it now has a quite different profile as a result of a “full height second floor addition” in 2008 “with contemporary style roof.”

5605 45th Ave. S.

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 April 24, 2022. We’re sharing them here at streets.mn.

All photos are by the author.

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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