Dinkytown houses flaunt their colors

Dinkytown smiles in ways that its more dignified neighbor, the University of Minnesota, can’t. Dinkytown residents party on just about any night of the week. One of its restaurants, Al’s Breakfast, succeeds year after year serving a meal that college kids are normally inclined to skip. And many Dinkytown landlords ignore conservative Midwestern tendencies by painting their student rental properties with loud, cheerful colors.

It’s the house colors that get my attention today. Here is a small sample from the neighborhood:

Why would someone paint a house not just fire engine red, but shiny fire engine red? And lavender plus pink. What inspired that combo?

To find answers, I could have pounded on doors and asked to speak to landlords. But that approach seemed unpleasant and time-consuming. I decided to just guess. I also asked a few longtime southeast Minneapolis residents for their thoughts. We’re all guessing that the bold colors could be:

*A desire to follow the tradition of painting nineteenth century homes in bright colors, even though that tradition probably never existed;

*Resistance to the dreariness of our long colorless winters;

*A reflection of the funky, eclectic nature of the neighborhood;

*A representation of what paint color was on sale the week the house was painted;

*A conscious attempt to distract passersby or city inspectors from the dilapidated state of the house, and many of Dinkytown’s homes are dilapidated.

All of these reasons sounded good to me. (If you know other reasons, feel free to chime in.)

But when I think of colorful houses, I also think of port towns. I discovered that the coastal town of Valparaiso, Chile, is especially known for its colorful houses. The story is that residents painted their houses with the paint that was left over from ship repainting jobs.

In Venice, people say that the fishermen enjoyed being able to spot their homes from sea.

And in San Francisco, they say an artist in the ’60s started the tradition of colorful houses — known as the Painted Ladies — as a reaction to the use of surplus battleship gray paint during World War II.

We have a port in Minneapolis, but the city’s movers and shakers talk about closing the Upper St. Anthony locks on the nearby Mississippi River, which would leave us portless. I’ve rolled it around a few times, and the Port of Dinkytown has a nice ring.

But, let’s face it, no one ships anything by boat to Dinkytown. A creek used to run between Dinkytown and the U, but I don’t think it was navigable. It was just pretty:

Hennepin County Public Library photo

And it’s hard to think of Dinkytown as a safe harbor or as a place we yearn for after a long day of navigating those chemical engineering classes.

Bland apartment buildings with muted names like 421 Lofts are gradually replacing the neighborhood’s architectural gems. Maybe Dinkytown’s unconventional colors are nothing more than an expression of pure defiance. Not a simple smile. More like a mischievous grin.

That shiny fire engine red house might go down someday, but at least it will have all its bells clanging.

Thanks to Penny, Melissa, and Scott for their thoughts. And thanks to the Hennepin County Library for permission to use a photo from its collection.





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