Northeaster staffer Alex Schlee asked about Hoyer Heights after covering a recent Mississippi Watershed Management Organization meeting about stormwater management at Columbia Park. We turned to some old Northeaster editions to find the answer.
Housing in Minneapolis was in short supply after World War II. In the late 1940s and early ‘50s, 167 families with 668 (and counting) children crowded into prefab housing in a four-square-block area of Northeast, and the neighbors were uneasy. Agencies pleaded with each other to coordinate in meeting the area’s recreation and social service needs.
Minneapolis had several quick solutions to the post-war explosion of families who had been living in basements, garages, filling stations, shacks, hotels, and cars. The first 292 of 725 Quonset huts were erected in October 1946 at 16th Avenue and Buchanan Street NE (where Yinghua Academy is today). Each hut housed two 20 x 24-ft. apartments, according to an October 22, 1946 Minneapolis Times article.
The “prefabs” built between Johnson and Fillmore south of 37th Avenue NE were designed differently. Described in a Minneapolis Tribune article July 15, 1956, “each prefab is about 31 ½ by 16 feet, insulated, with two bedrooms, bathroom with shower, and combination kitchen-dining-living room.” According to a Tribune article August 24, 1954, 3,500 families had applied wanting to rent the 167 homes.
The area the homes were set up in had been added to the city in 1887. It didn’t acquire a name until 60 years later. After the war, according to an October 23, 1958 Star article, the city acquired the land from the state through tax forfeiture, “spent $150,000 for public improvement such as grading, sewer and water, etc., and put up 167 pre-fabricated homes.” It was known as the Heights Emergency Project.
Residents weren’t accepted
Of the 167 families, 50 received direct or supplemental relief; many of them also received welfare. “A goodly number of the residents are known to one or more of the social agencies,” the Northeast Study Committee reported May 20, 1949.
“There is evidence that the residents of the prefab area are not as yet accepted as a part of the larger Northeast community.”
At first, kids played in dusty and muddy yards. The prefabs had no space for washing or drying clothes.
An April 13, 1949 social worker’s report said there was an epidemic of sore eyes due to the dust, and many cuts, abrasions and infections resulted as children fell in the dirt. Later that year, the open courts in the center of each block were blacktopped for play areas.
Recreation programs at nearby Waite Park were aimed at kids from the project.
Like present-day staffed recreation programs, these efforts were aimed at keeping kids off the streets and out of trouble. Several Columbia Heights residents blamed “prefab kids” for vandalism in their city, a complaint that had also been logged on the Jaycees radio call-in program. Many residents thought “the look of the area, at the beginning of our city, was not good for Columbia Heights,” Eldora Reuper recalled.
In 1949, the St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie [Soo] railroad built a fence along its track on 38th Avenue NE. “That fence on the southern end was to keep the kids from going out on the railroad tracks,” said former City Council member and Northeast resident Don Risk in a 1992 interview.
Parents and students must have been thankful when in November and December 1950, Waite Park School opened at 34th and Ulysses.
School opens, then the project shuts down
When the school was under construction in 1949, students from the prefab area were “transported in overcrowded buses to six different schools: Pillsbury, Lowry, Cavell, Prescott, Whitney and Edison. In some cases four children from one family go to four different schools. The rate of absenteeism is very high compared with the rest of the city, of the children attending these schools from other areas,” according to the May 20, 1949 study committee report.
By the time a baby born into the prefabs would be entering Waite Park, the public welfare board was recommending that the housing project be terminated. This was to happen in the two years after August 24, 1954, when the Star reported that the units were gradually being sold and removed from the area.
“City to Sell 50 Bungalows from Housing Project,” a headline read July 15, 1955 in the Tribune. “An inexpensive way to get a lake cottage is being offered by the city of Minneapolis.”
The price of a prefab averaged $850 each, and it could be moved intact 100 miles for about $300, city purchasing agent George R. Arneson was quoted, “or they can be easily dismantled.”
Welcome to Hoyer Heights
The lots went up for sale after the pre-fab houses were sold. The Thursday, October 23, 1958, Star announced that the 85 lots in the project had attracted 400 bidders. Arneson was set to open sealed bids on Nov. 3. “Major prop at the hour of climax will be a hat,” wrote reporter Abe Altrowitz.
Lots were appraised between $1,130 and $3,000, depending on size and location. Bidders had to designate their first, second, third, fourth and fifth choices. In case of multiple offers, bidders drew straws.
The development had some restrictions: “Minimum floor area of the home to be built is 1,100 square feet, exclusive of basements cellars and attics. Within one year after construction is started, the owner must provide at least one off-street parking space. Homes must be completed within one year after construction is started. Not more than one dwelling may be erected on any one lot,” the newspaper account continued.
The development had acquired the moniker, Hoyer Heights, earlier in the year. The Star reported on May 30, “It took considerable time and debate, much of it facetious, before the city council honored former mayor Eric Hoyer by giving his name to a tract of land near Thirty-seventh Avenue NE and Johnson Street.”
Eric G. Hoyer was appointed mayor December 1, 1948 when Hubert H. Humphrey resigned to take his elected post as U.S. Senator. As council president, Hoyer automatically ascended, but the public returned him to office four more times (eight years) until P. Kenneth Peterson defeated him in 1956.
Born March 3, 1898 in Lidkoping, Sweden, Hoyer had been in the United States since 1916, and came to Minneapolis to help settle the estate when a brother died in the 1918 flu epidemic. He worked as a construction laborer and then, from 1926 to 1936, as an interior decorator. His high school education wasn’t complete, so he studied parliamentary law and business in night school, and took courses in interior design and painting at Dunwoody Institute.
According to a Minneapolis Tribune article June 4, 1953, “In the early 1930s the mayor of Minneapolis, William A. Anderson, appointed a young man to investigate the city police department. His name was Eric G. Hoyer. That appointment changed an interior decorator and contractor into a politician.”
Hoyer served the city for 21 years, from city council member to mayor. He served on 14 different boards and commissions when mayor. The Minneapolis Tribune June 4, 1953 said, “another hobby, in a way is the board of public welfare, of which he has been a member almost constantly since he became an alderman [council member].” He was perceived as a liberal.
Hoyer worked hard to increase the strength of the police department. A charter amendment he favored would have established a minimum of department strength as a percentage of population.
Being mayor, Hoyer said in 1953, means 14 hours of work a day, six or seven days a week. “I love the job,” he says, “because it gives me a chance to do things for people instead of to them.” When he started, the mayor’s salary was $6,000.
When Hoyer left office, he worked as a stockbroker for Reynolds and Co. He and his wife, Hildur Caroline, lived at the home he designed and built in 1950 at 1934 McKinley Street NE. He died in 1990.
One part of the Hoyer Heights development never materialized. A six-block squiggle of a street leading from Johnson Street to Taylor Street was proposed to be named Truman Place, perhaps in honor of President Harry Truman’s visit to Young Yardville in Northeast. That social experiment funded by McCall’s magazine was at Cavell Park, where many of the kids from the pre-fabs played. Truman Place became 36½ Avenue instead.
Below: An article in the October 23, 1958, Star called the sale of lots in Hoyer Heights a “gold rush.” (Graphics courtesy Hennepin County Library)
The little houses of what was redeveloped as Hoyer Heights were situated on bare dirt lots that caused lots of illnesses for kids in the area. Eric Hoyer, right, is sworn in as mayor as his predecessor, Hubert H. Humphrey, mugs for the camera. Humphrey had just been elected to the U.S. Senate. Mayor Hoyer at his desk. (Photos provided by Minnesota Historical Society)