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Fictitious Minneapolis street addresses: A guide for writers.

29th July 13

Let’s say you’re a writer, working a novel set in Minneapolis. Your protagonist arrives home after a long day of doing whatever it is your protagonist does all day. To this point, you’ve  been very specific with local landmarks and a general feeling of the city — your protagonist rides the 21A, eats breakfast at the Grand Cafe, and meets his or her attorney in an office on the 12th floor of the Rand Tower. All good so far. You’ve set the scene very effectively. People are going to say, “This is a great Minneapolis novel” after they read it.

However, the time has now come for you to insert a specific street address into the text. You like specifics, and you need a real-sounding mailing address for, say, a situation where the protagonist receives a mysterious letter. How will you accomplish this? Here you have a problem. You only have two options, neither one very good. 

The first option is you decide to use a real street address. That could be terrible. What if it’s a private address? Fans of your novel will probably swamp the poor, unsuspecting people at the real address you’ve provided for the next thirty years, leading to all kinds of difficulties and lawsuits. That’s no good. You got into writing to entertain and provoke, not to get some innocent grandparents in Kingfield harassed every single morning by your maniacal camera-wielding superfans.

The second option is you make up a street address. This is even worse. A phony-baloney Minneapolis street address is the easiest thing in the world to spot. Minneapolis’ streets were laid out and named very carefully by the orderly New England WASPs responsible for setting the city on the nomenclaturally rigid grid that sits over it today. They are governed by very specific rules regarding alphabetization, numeral sequence, and north-south cardinal directions. The advantage to this is that if you give a Minneapolitan a random street address — say, “4704 14th Ave. S.” or “2501 Aldrich Ave. N.” — he or she can tell you exactly where that address is located without ever having been there (in those cases, our Minneapolitan could tell you the first address was in South Minneapolis at 47th and 14th Avenue near Lake Nokomis, and the second address is in North Minneapolis on 25th Street, one block west of Lyndale Avenue). Putting a character at “6803 Pine Ridge Blvd., Minneapolis MN 55405” is the dumbest thing you can do. Anyone reading it would immediately be snapped out of the action and think, “Where the hell is Pine Ridge Boulevard supposed to be? And 6803 isn’t even a Minneapolis address — that’d be in Richfield.” Then they throw your book out the window of their bus, or into a fire, or into a lake.

So what to do?

There is only one answer: create a fictitious Minneapolis address that sounds like a real Minneapolis address. It’s the only way to create a sense of accuracy in place while respecting the privacy of the city’s residents. It’s tough to fake one, but it can be done. Here are some suggestions:

Wentworth Ave. S. above 40th Street: Wentworth is an alphabetical order-defying north-to-south avenue that runs between Blaisdell and Pillsbury from the Minnesota River up to 40th, where it vanishes. However, putting your character at, say, 2402 Wentworth will make your reader say, “Ah, got it, that’s over in Whittier somewhere.” But it’s all an illusion!

21st and 23rd Streets: A well-known secret about South Minneapolis is that they built Franklin Ave. and Lake St. before filling in all the streets between. So at some point it made sense to have Franklin be the equivalent of 20th Street, and Lake be the equivalent of 30th Street. Problem is, there were only eight blocks between them. Easy solution: eliminate 21st and 23rd Streets. Therefore, there are no 21st or 23rd Streets. That’s the perfect place to sneak in a fake address. Readers encountering an address like “2602 23rd Street” will either think, “Ah, sure, somewhere in Seward,” or they’ll think, “Hey, wait, there’s no 23rd Street. Very clever! This novelist knows their local minutiae. This is a great Minneapolis novel.” Either way, you’ve got a winner.

Truman St. NE, Eisenhower St. NE, Fitzgerald St. NE, Lyndon St. NE: The story I always heard is that the streets in this part of Northeast were named sequentially for U.S. presidents to help immigrants learn them for their citizenship tests. That seems hard to believe, but maybe it’s true. Regardless of that, the final presidential street is Delano (since there is already a Roosevelt Street named for Teddy a few blocks west). However, the further east in Northeast you go, deeper into the Mid-City Industrial neighborhoods, the more recently the land was platted. So you could extend the presidential streets by at least four administrations, roughly concurrent with the post-war development of that part of the city, and no one would even notice. Since there’s already a Kennedy Street in Northeast, running perpendicular to the others, you’ll have the sub out “Fitzgerald.” Same with LBJ getting “Lyndon” instead of “Johnson,” which Lincoln’s successor obviously snagged blocks eralier. And of course you’ll have to stop at Nixon Street. Nixon Street just sounds very made-up. 

WASP-y surnames like Bancroft and Clifford: Getting west of Lyndale in either North or Southwest Minneapolis, you find all the north-south avenues have names like Aldrich, Bryant, Colfax, Dupont, Emerson, Fremont, etc. You can try to fool your reader by looking at the names of members of presidential cabinets of the 19th century and inserting some of those proper names: for example, 4203 Bancroft Ave. N., 2115 Clifford Ave. S., or 5200 Toucey Ave. S. Those sound somewhat plausible. This is dangerous, though. Most Minneapolitans know the roll call of alphabetical street names pretty well, to the point of being able to recite them all the way to France Avenue and Edina. You run the risk of your reader exclaiming, “Hey, what a second, Beard is between Abbott and Chowen, not Bancroft! What is this flimflammery?” And then straight into the lake for your novel.

WILD CARD: Minneapolis does have a few streets that don’t adhere to this formula, usually because they somehow predate or otherwise buck the grid: Rustic Lodge Rd., Mount Curve Ave., Columbus Court, Nawadaha Blvd., Tarrymore Ave., and of course Snelling Avenue, the St. Paul street’s western identical twin. You can try your luck with sneaking one along these lines in there. Of course, you run the risk of setting off your reader’s B.S. street name detector. But they may also brush it off and just think, “Ah, it must be one of those weird little streets down in Tangletown or near Minnehaha Creek.” Your choice.

Good luck with your fictitious Minneapolis addresses! Feel free to submit other suggestions via Tumblr’s “Submit” feature, email, or via USPS to: International Registry of Fake Minneapolis Street Addresses, 2300 Wentworth Ave. S., Suite #1, Minneapolis, MN 55408.

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