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Milwaukee Avenue is located in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis, MN, about two miles southeast of downtown Minneapolis and close to the west bank of the University of Minnesota and to Augsburg College.  Seward is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Minneapolis, dating back to the rapid expansion of the city in the late 19th century.  Franklin Avenue, the main thoroughfare through the neighborhood, marked the southern boundary of the Town of Minneapolis.  Influencing early growth was the construction of the Iowa and Minnesota Division of the Milwaukee railroad in 1870, which ran parallel to Hiawatha Avenue near the Historic District.  This part of the neighborhood developed into a small, densely populated residential area for immigrants and working-class families that worked on the railroad.  The Seward neighborhood grew further after the opening of the Franklin Avenue Bridge spanning the Mississippi River. By 1930, the area was fully developed.  For more information please visit the Seward Neighborhood Groupthe neighborhood profile by city of Minneapolis, and Minnesota Compass’ at-a-glance facts.

The Milwaukee Avenue Home Owners Association is a Minnesota non-profit that was formed in 1978 to manage the common areas owned by the homeowners’ association, and to preserve the architectural integrity of the buildings on Milwaukee Avenue.

There are 78 single- and multiple-family Victorian homes in our homeowners association, with most built in the 1880s. Forty-five of our residences are within the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Here’s a link to the original NRHP nomination form.

MAHA has a governing Board of Directors, composed of five residents that oversee the business of the homeowners’ association, as well as several committees: (i) architectural review; (ii) landscape; (iii) maintenance; (iv) crime watch; and (v) social. Board meetings are held once a month.

With the creation of the Historic District, Milwaukee Avenue and the part of East 22nd Street between 22nd and 23rd Avenues South were vacated to create the Milwaukee Avenue Mall and the Mini-Park. Other common areas include the parking lots located south of Franklin Avenue and on 22nd and 23rd Avenues. MAHA manages these areas, providing for the maintenance of the parking lots, the sidewalks, and the grounds.

The Historic District was created to protect the area’s homes from demolition in the days of urban renewal in the early 1970s and to assist in the homes’ rehabilitation and restoration. As one of the largest collections of historic brick Victorian homes in Minneapolis, MAHA is responsible for maintaining the architectural character of the homes within the historic district and surrounding blocks. MAHA has established architecture and maintenance guidelines to promote the architectural integrity of the area, and has the power to enforce these guidelines.

Take a look around. Stay a while. We hope you’ll find what you’re looking for.

If you’d like to know more about the details of the area and how it came to be, read the new book titled Milwaukee Avenue: Community Renewal in Minneapolis by Robert Roscoe, available at bookstores or on-line at Amazon.

Also, listen to a radio broadcast from KFAI’s MinneCulture on SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/minneculture/milwaukee-avenue

Historic Designation

Did you know Milwaukee Avenue has three historic designations – local, state and national?

The official district name is Milwaukee Avenue Historic District and we were designated on the following dates:

  • National Register of Historic Places – May 2, 1974
  • Local Historic Designation – July 25, 1975

Information about the district and its historic homes can be found on the Minnesota Historical Society database.

The City of Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission also provides information on the district.

On November 14, 2015, the Milwaukee Avenue Homeowners Association dedicated a historic marker. Provided by Legacy funding, the sign reads:

These modest brick and clapboard homes, with their rhythmic gabled roofs, arched windows and gingerbread porches, were built during the industrial heyday of Minneapolis. In 1883, a real estate speculator, William Ragan, maximized his investment by platting this 2-block area into 4 half-blocks on quarter-sized lots. To economize further, Ragan then used identical house plans and uniform materials to construct most of the houses.

The avenue’s first residents were mainly of Northern European origin. These immigrants worked as bakers, shoemakers, carpenters and blacksmiths, and also labored in the nearby railroad yards and industrial shops. Highlighting its proximity to the Milwaukee Railroad Yard, the street’s name officially changed from 221⁄2 Avenue to Milwaukee Avenue in 1906. Milwaukee Avenue bustled with working-class families until the mid-20th century, when it fell into decline.

By the 1960s, generations of heavy use had taken a toll on the houses. Fewer families remained. Many homes became rental properties for students and artists. As front porches were enclosed and deteriorated brick was covered with stucco, the area’s architectural integrity further diminished. A 1970s urban renewal plan called for demolishing nearly 70 percent of the housing in the surrounding neighborhood, including every home along Milwaukee Avenue.

A grassroots group, the Seward West Project Area Committee, fought to preserve Milwaukee Avenue and won its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. With public agency funding and their own sweat and labor, homeowners restored the houses. The narrow street became a pedestrian way. Today, Milwaukee Avenue serves as a Seward Neighborhood landmark and a unique example of Minnesota’s social heritage.

Marcela Sotela Odor, Policy Aide for Minneapolis Councilmember Abdi Warsame, reads the historic declaration.
Resident Denise Rouleau recognized for her efforts to acquire the historic marker.
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Marcela Sotela Odor, Policy Aide for Minneapolis Councilmember Abdi Warsame, reads the historic declaration.
Resident Denise Rouleau recognized for her efforts to acquire the historic marker.
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From Trails to Avenues


The area surrounding the Milwaukee Avenue Historic District served as a resting place along the trail from the Falls of St. Anthony to the cliffs of Fort Snelling. As the City of Minneapolis grew, the trail was replaced by railroad tracks, which later expanded into extensive rail yards that fostered the development of nearby industries.

The emerging industrial base, the extension of streetcar routes along Franklin and Minnehaha avenues and the relatively sparse early settlement of the area all provided the background for the controlled housing development that would later be known as Milwaukee Avenue.

Working Man’s Roots of New Urbanism

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District
Built: 1883–95
Developer/Builder: William Ragan
Listed on National Register of Historic Places: May 1974

The earliest example of a planned workers’ community in Minneapolis, 22nd 1/2 Avenue (later known as Milwaukee Avenue) attracted workers of Scandinavian and East European descent, who worked for the nearby Milwaukee Railroad shops and yards and other industries.

Built on quarter-lots, these low-cost vernacular houses are framed with timber, clad in brick and have gingerbread decoration. Today, they evoke the current paradigm of “New Urbanism,” with its emphasis on medium-density housing, inviting porches and proximity to various urban resources. However, the original 1880s configuration actually reflects the developer’s chief motive: maximizing profit.

People-Power Preservation Pays Off


In the early 1970s, the City of Minneapolis housing authority planned to raze 70 percent of the houses in a 35-block area known as Seward West. It was a gambit to address blight and “renew” urban housing stock.

True, many homes along Milwaukee Avenue had suffered neglect and deterioration. But visionary neighbors recognized the integrity of the original houses, which led them to establish a new organization: the Seward West Project Area Committee.

To fight “The Man in City Hall,” this committee formed a development plan that emphasized historic preservation, and it designed a comprehensive site plan to save these homes and add appropriate new housing infill. That this four-block area exists today is a tribute to their moxie and might.

What’s New and What’s Re-new?

Led by the Seward West Project Area Committee, architectural plans directed rehab contractors to:

  • Salvage what existing materials they could
  • Lift up the houses to add foundations
  • Install new mechanical and plumbing systems
  • Strip exterior stucco-clad brick
  • Paint and/or recreate damaged walls to resemble the original structures
  • Rebuild porches with replica gingerbread woodwork
  • Create new interiors to the owners’ specifications

Eleven houses on Milwaukee Avenue were eventually demolished and replaced with newly built historic replicas, and one house was moved onto the avenue from an adjacent street. The rest, however, were preserved and rehabilitated. As a final stroke of genius, the narrow street was converted to a pedestrian mall.

Why Is Milwaukee Avenue Architecturally Significant?

Milwaukee Avenue houses represent a “common man’s architecture,” which proliferated from copybook plans made popular in the late 19th century. However, the extensive use of sand-colored brick, the flat-arch window treatment and the regular (and somewhat severe) geometry is reminiscent of the immigrant German-style residences of the late 1800s found along the upper Mississippi River valley.

One of the primary reasons the historic district gained entry to the National Register of Historic Places is its rare concentration of worker’s residences of similar style. Most historic districts spotlight residences of the rich and famous—the lumber barons of Minneapolis and railroad tycoons of St. Paul, for instance—and overlook those of immigrant laborers who contributed so much to the growth of urban Minneapolis.

What Do the Historic Houses Have in Common?

The houses on Milwaukee Avenue are constructed of brick veneer on timber frame. This characteristic contributes to the historic district’s unique quality. Few of the residential areas built up during the second half of the 19th century in Minneapolis resulted in the construction of such a significant number of contiguous brick houses.

What’s more, the houses share common architectural treatments: uniform roof slopes, uniform separation on lots, modified flat-arch windows and open front porches with minimal applied ornamentation.

Today, to maintain the district’s historical integrity, any plans to alter the exteriors of member homes must first be approved by the MAHA Architecture Review Committee and the City of Minneapolis Historic Preservation Commission.

Come See Us Sometime

Not long ago, two Milwaukee Avenue residents came home to find a stranger sitting on their porch bench. They asked the man, who was in his 50s and wearing overalls, if they could be of any help. Surprised, he said, “What, do you live here?” When they explained that, yes, this was their house, he exclaimed, “I thought this was a tourist attraction.”

You can be sure, this is no tourist attraction. And it’s not Disney’s Celebration, either. We’re just people who appreciate living in modest historic houses near wonderful neighbors on a quiet street just south of downtown Minneapolis.

To see this historic district, come by transit or park your car and walk to the pedestrian mall. The absence of traffic, the narrowness of the street and the distinct beginning and ending points make it a great place for strollers and bicyclists. The simple rhythm of the gables roofs of houses built in close proximity to the sidewalk creates an intimate sense of scale, once part of urban life, but now largely absent from many American cities.

Available Historical Resources

To access Roscoe’s book, Milwaukee Avenue: Community Renewal in Minneapolis, Hennepin County Library has 2 e-book copies currently available which can be immediately downloaded and read on a computer or mobile device. In addition to Roscoe’s book, there’s this article on the mnopedia.org, Minnesota History website: MnOpedia  and the Minneapolis History Collection has “Milwaukee Avenue: A study for saving an old street” from 1973 as well as newspaper clipping files on Milwaukee Avenue and building permit index cards for the houses on the street. There is even building plans for some of the homes on Milwaukee Avenue. These blueprints will eventually be moved to the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, which is another place for research. For house history, permit index cards can be found from the Minneapolis History Collection.

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These pictures are from Mary McDowell, who took them as a photography student in the 1970s. They are unique in that they capture Milwaukee Avenue in the middle of rehabilitation.

Stories about Milwaukee Avenue in the Media

  1. City Pages’ Best Place to Walk at Night award-winner. City Pages . Best of the Twin Cities 2017:
  2. What’s the Story with those small houses on Milwaukee Ave. in Minneapolis?, Minnpost, May 2016:
    Small houses
  3. Podcast with Bob Roscoe, Streets.mn, Feb. 13, 2015:
    streets.mn podcast with bob-roscoe
  4. Milwaukee Avenue Historic District, Minnesota Historical Society, April 2016:
  5. Streetscapes, Star Tribune, Dec. 6, 2014:
    141206 MilwAve Article
  6. Milwaukee Av. home improves on history, Star Tribune, Nov. 19, 2011:
    111119 StarTribune
  7. Finding Minnesota, WCCO TV, July 15, 2005 (text only):
    Finding MN
  8. Milwaukee Avenue: From ‘Sorriest-Looking’ Houses to Historic Charm, KFAI radio, 2015: KFAI Radio MinneCulture
  9. Turning Back the Clock, Better Homes and Gardens Remodeling Ideas, Fall 1982:
    1982 Remod Idea
  10. Saving Milwaukee Avenue, Twin Cities, Oct. 1981:
    1981 TC Magazine
  11. Milwaukee Avenue Restoration, Hennepin County Historical Society, booklet, 1980 1980 Booklet
  12. Front cover of the Minneapolis telephone book, Northwestern Bell Telephone, 1980: 1980 Phone book cover
  13. Historic Milwaukee Avenue, brochure, 1975:
    1975 Brochure