Taking a walk back in time


A young woman was enjoying a drink at a 1st Avenue bar when something caught her eye. At the end of the block, a group of people stood listening while a man spoke to them through a megaphone and pointed to a giant brick building.

Approaching some of the younger members of the group, the woman asked, quite condescendingly, “Who goes on a tour of Minneapolis?”

To most people, 1st Avenue is where you go to drink, dance or watch a professional basketball game. Yet upon closer look, one can see fading signs of the early days of the Warehouse District when manufacturers were responsible for much of the early commercial growth of Minneapolis.

What is now the home of numerous bars, restaurants and condos is also the largest collection of commercial buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Minnesota.

It’s OK if you didn’t know that. Chances are that most people don’t know all that much about the Warehouse District, or the rest of Minneapolis for that matter. That’s why the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission and the Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) are putting on 14 free summer walking tours of the state’s largest city.

The June 13 tour of the Warehouse District was the third tour this summer. Tour guide and architectural historian Rolf Anderson lead the group of 19 people from Butler Square around some 16 blocks of the Warehouse District, pointing out the architectural and historical significance of the 144 buildings in the district.

“I think it’s great to share the district with the public because often when people spend time there, they are either driving through or not looking up at the details of the buildings,” Anderson said. “I like giving people a new set of eyes [with which] to look at the district.”

Mark Davis of South Minneapolis is one of those people.

“I’ve lived here all my life and never really explored Downtown Minneapolis, the Warehouse District,” Davis said. “It’s kind of interesting. I’ve been by these buildings tons of times and really never had the ability to look at them in this kind of way.”

Davis also went on the June 9 tour of the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District and plans to attend as many summer tours as possible.

“It’s just interesting finding out different buildings and different stuff that’s in your backyard,” Davis said.

The tours have been taking place since about 2000 and serve mainly to encourage education and outreach with those interested in preservation in Minneapolis, said Molly McCartney, CPED city planner.

“If they are interested [in joining a walking tour], they should give us a call so we can get a headcount,” McCartney said. “Bring some walking shoes and questions. The people who are giving the tour guides are pretty knowledgeable; and if [people] have any suggestions for future tours, we’d love to hear it.”

Many tour guides have done these tours in the past. Anderson has been giving tours of the Warehouse District for more than a decade. The guides range from historic preservation commissioners to architects who have worked in historic preservation to those just interested in local history. McCartney is one of the tour guides, leading the Nokomis Knoll Residential Historic District tour on July 14.

“I think it’s a good way for people to find out about historic preservation in Minneapolis,” McCartney said. “I think there are a lot of myths out there, people perceive it as a bad thing, but, as a staff, we believe it is a great way for the history of Minneapolis to be told and shared if people can do things like this.”

Of the 19 people on the Warehouse District tour, most were middle-aged and had some prior knowledge of the subject.

“I think a lot of people that go on the tours already kind of know what’s happening,” McCartney said.

The traditional audience has always been those already interested in preservation or the city’s history, but McCartney said CPED is working to inform people about the tours and the historical significance of the city.

Hugh Heimbahl of St. Croix said he goes on lots of architectural walking tours in the Twin Cities, but his focus is on taking pictures.

“I don’t listen very much because I’m taking lots of pictures of the details of the buildings and the buildings themselves, the broad structures,” Heimbahl said.

There was still a lot for Anderson to share on the two-hour tour of the Warehouse District. In leading the tourists up 1st Avenue North to 1st Street North and back through the North Loop neighborhood via 3rd Street North, Anderson pointed out the architectural trends in the mostly brick buildings, while also noting the historical significance of the most famous buildings.

Heimbahl said he enjoyed the Warehouse District tour and plans to return for another look at the buildings.

“Butler Square building is probably one of my favorite buildings,” Heimbahl said of the first building on the tour. “And I like the solidity of all the buildings.”