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University District, Minneapolis

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Color scan of a map of the downtown and university districts of Minneapolis, 1939.

Map of the downtown and university districts of Minneapolis. Created for a meeting of the Geological Society of America held at the Nicollet Hotel in 1939.

For much of the twentieth century, a section of Southeast Minneapolis was called the University District. By the 1980s, parts of the same area were known as Marcy-Holmes and Dinkytown. The emergence and disappearance of the District as a place name occurred as the neighborhood’s relationships with the rest of the city and the nearby university changed.

Before the University of Minnesota (U of M) was founded in 1851, the area that later became the University District was within the city of St. Anthony. When St. Anthony and Minneapolis merged in 1872, the same area came to be called the East Side, since it lay to the east across the Mississippi River from Minneapolis. After closing its original campus during the Civil War, the U of M reopened in 1867 at a site further downriver in the District. John Pillsbury, who spearheaded and supported the school, lived in the neighborhood at 1005 Fifth Street Southeast.

Responding to university-related housing and business opportunities, early 1900s newspaper ads listed properties in the University District within Southeast Minneapolis. By the 1930s, a map produced for visiting geologists marked the District’s boundaries. It showed a zone that stretched to the Mississippi on the south, East Hennepin Avenue and the Great Northern train tracks to the west and north, and Oak Street to the east.

As the U of M grew, its identity fused with the neighborhood’s. More and more students lived in the District, and the campus boundaries expanded. After the G.I. Bill was passed in 1946, U of M enrollment increased when returning soldiers signed up for college educations. Housing shortages created demand for more apartments and rooming houses. Traffic worsened as students commuted to campus by car from other parts of the city.

These neighborhood issues and citywide changes like migration to the suburbs led to calls for the city to overhaul its zoning code. In 1948, property owners and long-term residents met to organize an improvement association. In 1950, they formed the University District Improvement Association (UDIA). Liaising with the city of Minneapolis, the U of M, and other planning groups, the UDIA advocated for an end to heavy traffic through the area. It also worked to preserve the area as a residential, as opposed to industrial, area.

The UDIA asked the city of Minneapolis to nominate a site in the University District near Holmes Elementary School for urban renewal. Though the city eventually chose other areas for more intensive renewal, neighborhood leaders emphasized that funding a renewal program in the University District would benefit the city as a whole. Later, in the 1980s, the neighborhood did complete an urban renovation project near Central Avenue called the Holmes Renewal project.

A number of related changes in the mid-twentieth century led to the dropping of the University District name. In the 1960s, the UDIA opposed the placement of Highway 35-W along Ninth Avenue Southeast. Throughout the planning and construction process, the neighborhood urged the city and state highway department to blunt its impact. They suggested placing a platform over the highway or tunneling it off to build a park. Authorities dismissed these requests due to cost and feasibility concerns. 35-W, completed as planned in 1971, bisected the neighborhood and splintered its unity.

A second change involved neighborhood activists’ decision to market the District as a place for families, not just students. They also worked to preserve historic structures in the area in the face of threatened development, and to focus attention on riverfront redevelopment.

In 1984, the UDIA changed its name to the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association after two schools in the neighborhood. Though the area was no longer called the University District, it remained connected to its largest neighbor because it was home to students and staff affiliated with the U of M.

By the early 2000s, the area became part of a new coalition called the University District Alliance, which included the neighborhoods of Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como, Prospect Park, and Cedar-Riverside.

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Guide to Downtown and University Districts of Minneapolis: Designed Expressly for the 1939 Meeting of the Geological Society of America; Nicollet Hotel, Minneapolis. [Minnesota: N.p., 1939.]
Map Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://collections.mnhs.org/cms/display.php?irn=10643565
Description: Map marking the boundaries of the University District, 1939.

Lehmberg, Stanford, and Ann M. Pflaum. University of Minnesota 1945–2000. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Minneapolis Journal, 1902–1904
Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
http://newspapers.mnhs.org
Description: Real estate advertisements in various editions of the Minneapolis Journal published during this date range refer to the University District.

Minneapolis, MN. The University of Minnesota. History and Mission, University of Minnesota.
http://www1.umn.edu/twincities/history-mission/

Southeast Minneapolis Community Organizations collection, 1956–1980
University of Minnesota University Archives and Special Collections
http://special.lib.umn.edu/findaid/xml/uarc00990.xml
Description: Collection contains information on four related community groups: 1st Southeast Corporation, 2nd Southeast Corporation, Southeast Minneapolis Planning and Coordinating Committee (SEMPACC) and University District Improvement Association (UDIA).

“Southeast People to Organize Improvement Association.” Argus, June 4, 1928.

The University District: Live Near Your Work.
http://www.livenearyourwork.net/alliance.php

Related Images

Color scan of a map of the downtown and university districts of Minneapolis, 1939.
Color scan of a map of the downtown and university districts of Minneapolis, 1939.
Black and white aerial image of a fire in the University District in 1938.
Black and white aerial image of a fire in the University District in 1938.
Black and white photograph of Houses being moved, undated.
Black and white photograph of Houses being moved, undated.
Black and white photograph of a street scene in the University District of Minneapolis, c.1920s.
Black and white photograph of a street scene in the University District of Minneapolis, c.1920s.

Turning Point

In 1971, Highway 35-W is constructed through the University District, bisecting the neighborhood and splintering its unity.

Chronology

1867

The University of Minnesota is re-established as a land-grant institution at a site downriver from its original St. Anthony location.

1872

St. Anthony and Minneapolis merge. The University District area starts to be known as the Southeast or East Side of Minneapolis.

1946

Enrollment increases at the University of Minnesota when returning soldiers sign up for college educations; higher numbers of students move into the University District.

1950

The University District Improvement Association is formed.

1971

Highway 35-W is built through the University District.

1984

UDIA changes its name to the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, marking the end of the University District as a place name.

2007

The University District Neighborhoods Alliance forms. The group includes the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood.