When St. Louis Park became a village in 1886, it consisted of a handful of separate neighborhoods, not a cohesive community. Industrialist T.B. Walker saw an opportunity to develop this area so close to Minneapolis into an industrial town where he would bring in and control manufacturing companies. It was to be modeled after Pullman, Illinois, where the Pullman Motor Coach Company owned homes, stores, schools, etc. to provide all the necessities for the plant workers.
Walker formed the Minneapolis Land and Investment Company, which bought up 1,700 acres of land in the center of town from farmers, an area so large that it took two years to replat the land. The plat of 12,000 lots provided for three zones for a self-sufficient village: an Industrial Circle, a commercial area centered on Broadway (now Walker Street), and a section for homes of married workers.
Walker’s activities during 1891 and 1892 were prodigious. He built factories that occupied the Industrial Circle, bringing in the Monitor Manufacturing Company, a producer of grain drills; the Minneapolis Jarless Spring Carriage Co., the Malleable Iron Col., the Shaft-Pierce Shoe Co. and the Minneapolis Esterly Harvester Co.
Although Walker’s interests were not meant to be philanthropic, his concept of the industrial village made it necessary for his company to provide the Village with a great deal of financial help. It donated land for schools and built a streetcar line from Minneapolis. The company built about 100 new homes, a church, and three hotels.
In an effort to create what had heretofore been a nonexistent downtown for the nascent St. Louis Park, village leaders Walker and Charles Hamilton built two opposing two-story brick buildings on a street they called Broadway, now called Walker Street. The buildings, known as the “Brick Block,” hosted many businesses through the years, including Doc Brown’s Barbershop and Pool Hall, Swenson-Redeen Grocery, Trenkley’s General Store, drug stores and more. In the teens there was even a small moving picture house. On the second floor were lodge halls for the Oddfellows, the Masons, and the American Legion.
Before Walker’s plan could come to full fruition, came the economic Depression of 1893. Businesses failed, lots owned by the Minneapolis Land and Investment Company went unbought, and the partners bailed out by assigning their interests to Walker. Walker Street, only a block long, struggled along with its storefront businesses into the 1950s, but the streetcar to Minneapolis and then the advent of a second family car meant the death knell to the little village street. When the Hamilton Building burned down in 1959, it was all over.
Only the Walker Building remains from that time, and the street is home to small businesses that don’t rely on a lot of street traffic. Few in the Park know that it exists or that it was planned as the anchor of a thriving commercial area. Try as they might, Walker and his associates never managed to create that elusive Downtown St. Louis Park.