Walking All the Streets of Near North’s Old Highland

The Old Highland portion of the Near North neighborhood was settled in the late 19th century and contains many 2.5-story houses from that period and the early 20th century. It also has substantial areas devoted to school and church uses, and it borders on retail and industrial districts as well as a park.

My first day’s walk in the Near North neighborhood corresponded rather closely with that Old Highland sub-neighborhood, which the neighborhood association defines as bounded “by Plymouth Avenue to the South, West Broadway Avenue to the North, Aldrich Avenue to the East, and Girard Avenue to the West.” In the route map, the blue tint shows the full extent of Near North, the blue line is my main loop, and the red lines are forward-and-back spurs off of it.

I began my walk by heading south on Emerson Avenue North from the intersection with 18th Avenue North. The northwest corner of that intersection holds the well-maintained Old Highland Peace Garden, which the sign identifies as “a food space for all sponsored by the Rotary Club.” I can tell that description only scratches the surface of a major community endeavor. The sign itself was designed by the nearby Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA).

Old Highland Peace Garden, 1803 Emerson Ave. N.

Because Old Highland’s identity is so closely associated with its harmonious yet varied collection of houses, picking only a couple examples can’t do it justice. I’ll settle for two from the initial blocks of Emerson that between them illustrate the main styles: the simpler foursquare and the more elaborate Queen Anne.

1707 Emerson Ave. N.
1607 Emerson Ave. N.

Each of the houses in the neighborhood has taken its own trajectory, with some of them starting as single-family homes, getting divided into a small number of units, and then getting converted back more recently. Whether single-family or duplex, many of them have the gardens that commonly betoken owner occupancy. The colorful boulevard lilies shown here are a simple example.

Boulevard, 1400 block of Emerson Ave. N.

At the southern edge of Old Highland, I looped past some Minneapolis Public Schools central facilities before arriving at the first of two schools that are along Aldrich Avenue North, on the area’s western edge. Franklin Middle School is a STEAM magnet: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics. The arts component was vividly on display via painted low concrete walls along the entry area with messages including “you are loved” (shown here) as well as “you matter,” “no excuses, just results,” and “be the best version of you.”

Franklin Middle School, 1501 Aldrich Ave. N.

Across Aldrich from the schools, there are several cul-de-sac streets of 1980s houses and the western end of Hall Park, which includes the wading pool shown here. Some patience was necessary to snap the photo at a moment when one end of the pool was vacant—I have a self-imposed rule against including kids in my photos.

Hall Park wading pool, 1524 Aldrich Ave. N.

The park takes its name from the more northerly of the two schools, Hall STEM Academy, which was originally Elizabeth Hall Elementary School. It’s somewhat older than the middle school, dating to 1960 rather than 1970, but shows clear signs of more recent additions. In particular, at the left of the photo, along 16th Avenue North, you can see an observatory added in 2022. That makes it the first elementary school in the state with an observatory, according to a news report.

Hall STEM Academy, 1601 Aldrich Ave. N.

I crossed the school property to Bryant Avenue North using a footpath approximately aligned with 17th Avenue North, then continued on that latter avenue to Dupont Avenue North. That took me along the southern edge of the Church of the Ascension property, which fills the 1700 block between Bryant and Dupont Avenues North. In particular, the southeast corner of that block is occupied by a green space south of the parish house.

Church of the Ascension green space, 17th Ave. N. and Bryant Ave. N.

On the west side of the block, I turned north on Dupont, which brought me past two more buildings in the Church of the Ascension complex. The first of them is a substantial athletic club, the Ascension Club, built in 1921. The second, visible in the background at the left of the photo, is a parochial school. Its current incarnation dates from 1927, although there was a school on the site since 1898, with additions in 1906 and 1913. Perhaps this older incremental construction was inherently inadequate for the needs of 1927. I rather suspect the repairs done after a 1921 fire were just sufficient to convince the parish of the need for a more extensive building project, which culminated six years later.

Ascension Club, 1704 Dupont Ave. N.

Although I’d now walked past quite a bit of the church complex, I hadn’t seen the church itself except in the distance. And so I was momentarily confused when I came across a church building just north of the parochial school on Dupont. This isn’t the Church of the Ascension, though. This is its neighbor diagonally across the same block of 18th Avenue North, which began life as St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1894 and now houses the Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church.

Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, 1800 Dupont Ave. N.

The north end of that block ends at West Broadway, the major retail corridor. On the southeast corner, a mixed-use building from 1889 has been given a modern addition to create the composite known simply as The 927 Building.

The 927 Building, 927 W. Broadway (from Dupont Ave. N.).

The main loop of my route turned east on West Broadway, returning to Bryant Avenue North. But first I had a one-block spur to walk westward, as shown in red on my route map. That allowed me to see a planter bench and an African food restaurant — not open at the time, but I hope to get back to it. Aside from my interest in the food, I was struck by the oxidized steel facing above the storefront, which was cut to produce a bas relief of organically shaped flaps.

Planter bench, 1000 block of W. Broadway.
K’s Grill, 1021 W. Broadway.

Technically speaking, I ought to have turned back from this spur upon reaching Emerson Avenue, rather than first crossing over to the far side. The building on the southwest corner, which houses Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, was supposed to wait until near the end of my route. But I was ready for a snack, so I bent the rules a bit.

I already knew Sammy’s from an earlier temporary location I had visited while walking the Harrison neighborhood. At that time, I’d greatly enjoyed the navy bean pie. The closest analog in their current offerings would have been sweet potato pie, and so surely that would have been good too. But I decided to probe the breadth of their offerings a bit more by trying the apple pie, and I don’t regret that choice. As the photo shows, it doesn’t have the sort of thin, flakey crust that quickly grows soggy. Instead, it has a more substantial crust that resembles a sweet biscuity shortcake.

Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, 1101 W. Broadway.
Apple pie at Sammy’s Avenue Eatery.

Returning eastward from this West Broadway spur, I continued past Dupont, resuming the main loop of the route. Among other benefits, that allowed me to see the 927 Building again, this time from the east side, where the artist Melodee Strong has painted a mural. I appreciate her permission to photograph it and the repeated encouragement she’s provided throughout the All of Minneapolis project.

Mural on east face of 927 Building (Melodee Strong, 2022).

I turned onto Bryant Avenue between the construction site of Satori Apartments and the future site of Satori Senior Living. I knew I’d return to the Church of the Ascension complex in the 1700 block. But in fact, immediately before reaching that block I already saw an outlying extension to the complex, a former convent.

Unlike the buildings I’d previously seen (parish house, club and school), which all dated from the 1920s, the convent wasn’t built until 1948. Like a lot of convents, it has found a new purpose, in this case as Ascension Place, which “provides sober transitional housing and comprehensive, individualized support to 32 women each night.” And then, on the far side of 18th Avenue, I finally got a close-up view of the 1902 church itself.

Ascension Place, 1803 Bryant Ave. N.
Church of the Ascension, 1723 Bryant Ave. N.

Before resuming my long-interrupted westward traversal of 17th Avenue North, I continued south on Bryant to 15th, then back north on Dupont. Those extra couple blocks showed me the Bryant Avenue (rear) side of the two schools but also some more of the lushly gardened homes of Old Highland.

Turning west at the Ascension Club, I walked 17th Avenue to another athletic facility just a few blocks away but a century newer, the North Community High School athletic fields that lie between Fremont and Girard Avenues. The sharp blue concession building visually captures the “Polar Pride” for which the school is known.

North High athletic field concessions, 17th Ave. N. at Girard Ave. N.

I returned eastward on 16th Avenue North, which brought me back to Hall Park on the far side of Aldrich. This time I entered the park via the footpath and would have loved to continue on across the pedestrian bridge to the other half of the park, which lies east of Lyndale Avenue North. But alas that was closed due to a park improvement project. So I instead exited onto Lyndale, looking up at the bridge from below.

Hall Park bridge over Lyndale Ave. N.

I only walked a short distance north on Lyndale before turning back to the west on 18th Avenue North. All four corners of that intersection have important tenants, including the crucial Cub grocery store on the northwest and housing to the east. But the standout is the Masjid An-Nur (Mosque of The Light) on the southwest corner.

Masjid An-Nur, 1729 Lyndale Ave. N.

Even before I came to the mosque itself, while I was still south of it on Lyndale, I encountered an interesting raingarden with an interpretive plaque explaining how it fits into a broader Eco-Mosque design along with permeable pavers, natural plantings, and a bee lawn.

After I rounded the corner and was past the building, a couple more interesting sights awaited in the parking lot. A truck bore the logo of Al-Maa’uun, an organization providing what are quite literally “neighborly needs”: food, housing, career services, and community reintegration. And a storage container mural showcased the organization’s commitment to food and employment.

Container mural at Masjid An-Nur.

Continuing west on 18th Avenue North, I got side views of Ascension Place (including the romanesque stained glass windows that must have been the convent’s chapel), the Church of the Ascension, the Greater Mount Vernon Missionary Baptist Church, and the Ascension School. Only one building on that block was new to me, having no face toward either Bryant or Dupont. That’s a modest brick house immediately behind the Baptist church, an 1895 parsonage from the Lutheran period.

Once I reached the tee intersection at Fremont Avenue (necessitated by the North High athletic fields), I turned initially south for a long forward-and-back spur all the way to 12th Avenue North, a block south of Plymouth. The first two and a half blocks are the typical Old Highland residential area, quite similar to what I’d seen on Emerson except with the vehicular traffic southbound rather than northbound. I paused only long enough to photograph a “candy sale” sign notable for its ambitious scope: “hot dogs, walking tacos, water, chips, pop — now and later.”

Candy sale sign adjacent to Fremont Ave. N.

Plymouth Avenue is distinctly different in character, being neither residential nor as retail-heavy as West Broadway, though it does have a small amount of retail. Instead, the focus here appears to be on industry. I was particularly struck by Precise Products Corporation, a close-tolerance precision machining contractor on the southwest corner. The perfect alignment of the initial “p” on the crosshairs is unmistakable.

Precise Products Corp., 1201 Plymouth Ave. N.

A block south of Plymouth, Fremont Avenue reaches another tee intersection, which from a route-planning perspective was the whole point of this forward-and-back spur. This one was caused by a different superblock interruption to the street grid: not an athletic field but the Parkview Apartments that lie to the south of 12th Avenue.

After retreating from this spur, I just needed to continue north on Fremont one more block to West Broadway, emerging between Shiloh Temple International Ministries and Hook Fish and Chicken.

Immediately east of Hook, at the western end of the group of storefronts that ends with Sammy’s Avenue Eatery, Cookie Cart sells its eponymous cookies while “teach[ing] life, leadership, and employment skills to teens of color,” a mission begun by Sister Jean Thuerauf.

Cookie Cart, 1119 W. Broadway.

Once I turned south on Emerson at Sammy’s, I was in the final block of my walk—the one that would end back at the Old Highland Peace Garden. But even a single block can contain multiple points of interest, in this case including the headquarters of EMERGE, “a workforce and community development nonprofit with three social enterprise businesses,” located in a historic public library building. And on the opposite side of the street, the strikingly modern building of Full Proof Ministry Church of God in Christ.

EMERGE, 1834 Emerson Ave. N.
Full Proof Ministry Church of God in Christ, 1823 Emerson Ave. N.

These two buildings were constructed in 1893 and 1981, and the architecture of each perfectly exemplifies the respective time period. I love that my walk could end on that note, showing how this neighborhood has grown and changed over the centuries while remaining visibly connected to its past.

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 23, 2023. 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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