Sidewalk of the Week: West 44th Street

On the far side of the lakes, the air changes. The trees grow larger, the light violet, and the sidewalks somehow seem smoother, just separated from my familiar world. This place, in the south west corner of the city, is as far away from Minneapolis as you can place your feet and still be in it. It is comfortable somehow, and I imagine the lakes surrounding the neighborhood like so many cushions, dampening urban paces. Giant baffles muting edges, muffle and soft. Lakes warding off nuisance and attention. Large round throw pillows liquid with sunlight.

Southwest Minneapolis is an painted egg in the nest of lakes, water and streets wrapping around it. Sidewalks here are tricky. They elude, quickly wending paths curling away to tangled ends. In the brambles sit architecture gems, like shiny objects attracting birds. But all is not lost. Few old streets run through its placid gardens, central seams along which the city pushes together into slow activities. Linden Hills Village is one of them, a basin of attraction, but the other day I found myself strolling on another: West 44th Street, a surprise of shops lifting above yards of white homes.

[Perhaps the last remaining auto shop, some of Linden Hills' rare apartments.]

[The bakery and the restaurant with the sidewalk menu, each with window'd doorways]

[A color coordinated doorway.]

[Perhaps the last remaining auto shop.]

[A pockmarked alleyway with odd garages.]

[The bike shop.]
44th is an old streetcar street. It used to carry the Como-Harriet streetcar, the longest and most storied of them all, which clacked along this avenue on its way from Saint Paul to Hopkins or Edina, stringing together lakes like large pearls. I imagine this neighborhood unfurling before the war, the streetcar sowing tracts and homes in its wake. This must have been the edge of the pasture then, homes built on the very edge, and this old route explains why 44th has so many one- and two-story brick shops, small shops with windows and many entrances. This is the most subtle of mixed-use patterns, just a corona of commerce before the vast reaches of the domestic. The buildings on this street are more complex, larger and ripe; the alleyways behind containing strange garages, unexpectedly opening.

I imagine coming here to escape industrial Minneapolis, smoky and grey. I imagine moving out here to the edge of the countryside, those who could afford it buying large small homes with large small new cars, sometime in the 1950s, and driving them on Sundays out into the grain. There are one or two auto shops left from that era, sitting small and stucco, a vague art deco flair. One is just closing its doors after 50 years of fixing, one remains.

[A place that sells magnificent tools.]

[The former auto shop, with taxidermy.]

[Holistic eye care, with taxidermy.]

[Yardware hardware.]

[The red violin.]

So many shops alongside the sidewalk. Each cluster of buildings has a few. After the auto shops came a few strange entrepreneurs: a shop selling axes, something to do with air purification, whatever "holistic eye care" can mean. These shop windows are spartan and earnestly disheveled, arbitrarily shelved. Then today's wave of elaborate craft, windows and doors laid out like magazines, careful attention to paint palettes, the arrangement of dried branches. A high-end florist, a few restaurants, a violin maker, garden stores and home decor. Still whatever the era, each shop presents itself, each window makes a visible declaration. They come together like a concert, and there is no better collection of shop windows anywhere in the Twin Cities. Strolling satisfies.

44th Street has this slow pace, sounds are softer here and care is taken about stoops and ledges. It's careful attention, its rows of quiet shops illustrating nestling. But it shows how unalarming diversity can be, how unafraid we should be of shops and commerce and sidewalks. I hear tales about this area, how character is policed, how closely terminology, color, sound and smell are guarded. Here the streets are subtle enough to notice bird calls, the way that snow sits on a pine branch. Here the shops have signs that jut out and dangle, doorways have clean windows. Rarely is one so connected and removed from the city at once.

[A deer in a snow pillow.]

[Stone dogs guarding pillows.]

[Flowers and sun.]

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