Friday, December 9, 2011

1551 Hillside First Sold For...

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Minneapolis Journal archives.

1551 Hillside Avenue North has long been on my radar screen as an amazing hallmark of our historic housing stock in NoMi.  Now that I live within easy walking distance of the place, I've taken even more of an interest in it.  The archives of the Minneapolis Journal, linked above, often contain treasure troves of neighborhood and housing history.  For instance, on February 1, 1903, this house was listed for the whopping price of...

...$2,000.  Its amenities at the time included bragging about city water and sewer connections, and called Hillside Avenue "one of the handsomest avenues in North Minneapolis."  Not quite as great as having a President say it's the nicest neighborhood he's ever worked in, but hey, you take what you can get, right?

These old newspapers are fascinating time capsules in and of themselves too.  Peppered throughout the pages are jokes of the day, often picked up from other papers.  Some are still funny now, and others are...well let's just say that they contain racism and sexism that is so blatant and overt that it (thankfully) simply can't be recreated using today's technology.

Looking past that however, we see an article that in some ways speaks to the debate of what to do about our housing stock 100 years later.  It's titled "Chances Slip Away" and reads:

Moneyed Residents Seem Not to Understand Opportunities, Says Edmund G. Walton.

Improvements on Nicollet Made by Non-residents--Duty of the Real Estate Man.

Edmund G. Walton in a conversation regarding the duties of the officers of the real estate board and the position taken that every member should be willing to do committee work or quit, said today:

"We have among us men worthy of recognition in any of the big business centers, and able to hold their own under any circumstances.  It is said of us in New York, Boston, and Chicago that Minneapolis has more highly educated and keen, clear-headed real estate men than any city of its size in the United States.

"The city, although growing to a wonderful extent, is still unfortunately not even fairly understood by her own moneyed residents.  Third in the United States in the number of building permits issued in 1902, we still find it almost impossible to interest local money in our building enterprises.  On Nicollet avenue, for instance, from Washington to Seventh street how much property owned by residents has been improved in the last few years?  Out of 3,300 feet of frontage, 2,295 is owned by residents of Minneapolis and only 1,005 feet by outsiders, and yet it is the outsiders who have put in new fronts, built new buildings, and pushed improvements.

"To my knowledge no single resident owner of Nicollet Avenue frontage has awakened to the fact that Nicollet avenue has no equal as a retail street in this country.  They have none such in New York, for Fifth avenue, in all its glory, cannot show eight continuous blocks  on both sides of the street of beautiful show windows resplendent with art.  Broadway, with its street cars cannot be classed with Nicollet for a minute.  Look at Washington street in Boston or State street in Chicago.  What are they compared with Nicollet?  Go to St. Louis, New Orleans, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Kansas City, or St. Paul.  All you find is a broken up retail center without base or cupalo.  It is only in London and Paris besides New York that you find long, continuous streets.  This goes to show that in original design, at least, we are destined to be their equal.


"Only two weeks ago I knew of a case where a well-known citizen appeard at his bank with his statement wishing to borrow a few thousand.  His statement showed mortgages receivable amounting to $62,000, and clear real estate, much of it income-bearing, amounting to $140,000, and yet the cashier of that bank, in granting the loan, said the only bad part about the statement was that it was all real estate or securities on real estate.

"Real estate is the best thing on earth because it is earth...What we fellows want to do then, is to...make our bankers understand that our assets are the original basis of things, that without us the world is naught; that we, in fact, are superior to banks, for we have what they have not, good old mother earth; they are our tenants, we are the landlords, and in times like these we should do the talking and they the listening..."


  1. In 1903 most laborers were working 10 hour days and 6 day work weeks at wages between .10 and .15 cents an hour. However, not everybody could get a mortgage.

    Those seeking to buy property were often required to pay a 50% down payment on a 5-year mortgage. So, to buy a $10,000 house, the borrower had to have a $5,000 down payment and pay interest for 5 years. At the end of that 5 years, the unpaid (and unchanged) balance of $5,000 would have to be either paid or refinanced.

    This is why the land owned by native Minnesotans had not been developed while the portions owned by outsiders invested in Mpls's booming economy.

    This system continued through to the Great Depression, when lenders had no money to lend, and borrowers had no money to pay. The whole system collapsed with thousands of foreclosures. Mortgages were just not available. (Your last quote demonstrates this frustration.)

    Not until 1934, was the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) created to insure mortgage lenders against losses from default. Now that the risk had been taken away from them, lenders were more willing to give people mortgages. The FHA also developed the 30-year fixed-rate loan program, providing homeowners lower payments and more stability. In 1938, to make this money available, the government established the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA), better known as Fannie Mae.

    This kind of puts in perspective how much harder it was to finance and obtain a $2000 home in 1903 and illustrates what a bargain they are today.

  2. $2,000 at that time was not an indication that this house was cheap, but it was not a mansion either. It was a very fine working man's home. Even the very high end homes of Park Avenue at that time were being constructed in the $3,000 - $7,000 range. It is interesting to read what city boosters thought of Nicollet Avenue at that time. They were right - it is still a very fine street to this day. It's interesting too to learn that what seemed to be the important feature that makes a street grand is to have "continuous uninterrupted blocks" as this is once again being recognized in new urbanist thinking. What is old is new again!

  3. Huh! This reminds me of a blog post I wrote a while back - one you in particular might find interesting - about the comics section of The Minneapolis Journal from Oct. 16, 1938:

    Fascinating stuff...


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.