Monday, May 19, 2014

Urban Hike: Nordeast Minneapolis

Nordeast, looking towards Downtown.
Last weekend, the annual Art-a-Whirl artists' studio tour drew crowds to Northeast Minneapolis ("Nordeast"). 

Nordeast was a quieter place back in February when I went there on an urban hike.

It was a winter's day, but I took advantage of the shoveled sidewalks and warm, locally owned businesses for coffee and lunch. I felt a strong sense of place: each building had stories to tell; this is no Anywhere USA with its temporary cityscapes and mandatory car ownership.

As I walked, I played audio produced, narrated, and sung by the people who live in the neighborhood. These recordings revealed political, social, and historical layers I would otherwise have missed.

My walking route. Interactive map

This is a working class neighborhood with a deep history. 

It welcomed waves of European immigrants. Their traces are everywhere, including a former rooming house for newly arrived immigrants, a Greek Orthodox church and businesses with Polish names. 

Today, hipsters, and new immigrants have moved in alongside fourth-generation families. Artists have set up studios in re-purposed industrial buildings.

I wanted to get to know this neighborhood better, so I patched together a walking route.
"Never the Same River Twice" (55 minutes) audio tour.  The walk started near the new Lowry Avenue Bridge that crosses the Mississippi, and included the route of an old ox-cart trail used by fur traders.
Gluek Park.
Near the end of the first audio tour. (I did not go in!)
Next, I walked along NE Lowry Avenue, then Central Avenue NE where I paused for lunch. 
I always like to see trains. The Northstar commuter service uses this line.
Colombian lunch, the real thing.
I completed my day with the "Noon Whistle" (58 minutes) audio tour.
Northrup King Building: I mentioned a visit in an earlier post.
The only boxing gym in the USA owned and operated by a woman. 
Without the soundtrack, I would have barely glanced at the building at the end of the walk: the Thorp Building on Central Avenue NE. I would have missed the base of a guard tower that once protected this building during World War 2. This had been a Norden Bombsight factory, operated by General Mills, a company better known for cereal products like Wheaties.

I walked into the lobby and convinced myself it was much as it was in the 1940s. I imagined the women coming through the doors to assemble this complex, computerized device. I thought about my mother coming to work as a secretary in another industrial building, a torpedo factory in Greenock, Scotland.

After the war, General Mills evolved this business into computer design and manufacture, helping to make the Twin Cities an early center of the new digital computer industry. Without that kind of development, I might not have moved to the Twin Cities to work for a computer company.

Today, the building provides spaces for artists and businesses, including Brickmania, a company that develops custom Lego kits.

Just one building tells so many stories. There are many more layers to peel back in future hikes and cycle rides.

[My Nordeast Minneapolis resource page.
The audio tours were created by a group of volunteers under the auspices of ArtShare.]

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