The Historic Walker Lake District in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is a unique remnant of suburban history. St Louis Park, a first-ring streetcar suburb to the west of Minneapolis, is, in many ways, the prototypical Leave-it-to-Beaver suburb. In fact, it has even played that role in Hollywood as some of the main settings of the Coen Brothers’ (who grew up in SLP) films Fargo and A Serious Man. The Walker Lake District predates that era of development, a sort of false start of suburban development, somewhere between the small town beginnings of Hopkins or Stillwater, and the post-war suburban development that would come later.
In the late nineteenth century, a group of investors lead by lumber baron and noted art collector TB Walker (who would also found the Walker Art Center) developed a business partnership to found an industrial suburb outside of Minneapolis, linked by and developed around the railway, along the lines of Pullman, Illinois. The group built a small commercial center, a church, several hotels, industrial facilities and several hundred homes along the Minneapolis and St Louis Railway, from which the city took its name.
Although the village grew to a population of several hundred and had around 600 industrial jobs (mostly filled by commuters from Minneapolis, an inversion of later suburban development), the financial panic and crash of 1893 put an end to almost all development for the next 50 years. The population in 1940 had only grown to 7000. By 1950 it would top 22,000 and by 1960 it would be more than 43,000. Although the commercial offerings of the area continued to grow during this era, the elimination of the streetcar by 1954 and the opening of some of the nation’s first strip malls about a mile away in the late 40s and early 50s shifted development away from the area, limited development and preserved the area’s pre-automobile commercial architecture, including the 1888 Walker Building as well as major building clusters from the 30s, 40s and 50s.
Building on work done over the past few years, including a District Activation Plan from 2017, Asakura Robinson, along with our subconsultants, SRF Consultants, will be working with the City of St Louis Park and local business owners, landowners, and other stakeholders over the next six months to develop a plan that will enhance the character and vibrancy of the district while seeking to preserve the scale, affordability, and unique local businesses as reinvestment and reactivation occurs in the area. The first public meeting will be Wednesday, November 14th from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Central Community Center at 6300 Walker Street.