Things I Learned About From Mike Gunther, #2: The Midtown Phillips Light Aircraft Graveyard.
South Minneapolis is unlike a lot of other urban areas in the sense that it’s not as dense as it seems like it should be — this part of the city wasn’t developed until the 1910s and ’20s, so instead of multistory apartment buildings, it’s miles and miles of really narrow lots laid out on a grid, each with tiny front and back yards with single-family houses, duplexes and triplexes (or, in the case of the S. 12th residential compound for which this tumblelog is named, a six-plex). More than one east coast native has pointed out to me that the southside has to them a somewhat suburban feel to it. Rightfully so, because it is suburban. Literally: South Minneapolis is right below the urban core, and was populated by the first generation of Minneapolitans that could just as easily take the streetcars to and from downtown as live there. The southside is still laid out, in a grid, along those streetcar lines — Cedar, Bloomington, Chicago, 28th. Though the streetcars were torn out sixty years ago, those avenues still form the skeleton of the area, with Nicollet as the spine.
My point is that when you’re walking or driving through Powderhorn or Phillips or Longfellow or any of the other neighborhoods south of Franklin, the grid layout and its endless lots can all run together. Superficially, there’s a kind of a bland, repetitive quality to these neighborhoods. Stucco duplex, stucco cottage, Lutheran church, brick triplex, stucco duplex…
Hidden away, however, behind streetcorner buildings and between all those stucco duplexes are all sorts of weird little details that make South Minneapolis so quietly interesting. A case in point is the light airplane graveyard in Phillips, a block or two north of my house on 13th.
Mike tipped me off on its existence, and if he hadn’t, I might never have noticed it — it’s behind a tall wooden fence with barbed wire lining the top. There is no information on the fence or the adjoining building about who owns the lot, or how to get in touch with them, or anything else. There’s just rows and rows of Piper Cubs and Cessna 120s, crushed and stacked atop one another in piles. They are stacked just high enough that a bent propeller or wing will peek over the fence. Did people die in these planes? Or just sell them for scrap? It’s hard to get a look. Apparently the business is called Wentworth Aircraft (“the world’s leading supplier of used aircraft parts for single-engine aircraft”), but you’d never know from the exterior.
The airplane graveyard is next door to a squat, one-story light industrial building that’s been repurposed as a mosque. In the summer, sometimes the East African teenage boys will take their shirts off and do chin-ups on the metal railing overlooking the Greenway. Two block away is the Circle of Discipline, a converted garage in which neighborhood kids train in martial arts; you sometimes hear them jogging in formation down 12th chanting “Who are we? C.O.D.! Who are we? C.O.D.!” South Minneapolis doesn’t wear its eccentricities on its sleeve. You have to find them yourself. Or have Mike Gunther find them for you.