Littel Street is a little street in the Morningside neighborhood of Edina. Although the street signs and current map read "Littel" (with the "EL" ending), a map dated 1905 is marked "Little" (with the "LE" ending.) Which is the typo?
I made the mistake of advocating for Little. The oldest map we have calls it Little. Hennepin County property tax records call it Little. What's more, it's a little street. Maybe subsequent mapmakers messed up and now we're calling that short street by the wrong name.
A Morningside volunteer argued just as strenuously for Littel. In fact, he went to the city many years ago when a new street sign showed up with "Little" on it and asked for a correction. (He got it.)
Turns out, he's probably right and I'm wrong. (That didn't hurt too much to admit.) The little street in Edina was probably named for Pauline Littel, a woman ahead of her time. In 1912, she was one of the few women working in real estate in Minneapolis and making a name for herself for more than just her gender. As the April 28, 1912, story in the Minneapolis Tribune put it, Littel was "often taken for the Office Girl, but She Puts Through Some Big Land Deals Just the Same."
Littel made news because "A $50,000 deal was closed in a real estate transaction one day last summer and a woman was responsible for it. It was Miss Pauline Little, who negotiated what has since been acknowledged as one of the largest deals in land made during the year."
In today's dollars, $50,000 would be more more than one million. The accomplishment had people wondering about the young single woman, and Pauline told the reporter that traffic had increased around her Lake Harriet office because "they just want to see what I look like."
The young and attractive Littel was often mistaken for the "office girl," but she said she won over her clients with confidence, knowledge of the business and honesty. "I know that absolute honesty in real estate transactions is the only sure route to success."
Littel also forged her own path from her male competitors and designed and built her own houses to sell, rather than only empty lots. All her homes sold within a month of their completion, and she credited her "daily work in the kitchen" for giving her the knowledge to design "sane spacing of cupboards, stove, sink and kitchen table."
In other words, Littel was designing work triangles for the kitchen, long before the term was coined in the 1940s.
Littel spent four years working in a real estate office before establishing her own business. She studied law books in her spare time to be prepared to handle real estate transactions. After a year, she began designing houses and overseeing construction.
Good design sells houses, she said. "Wide porches, light, well aired closets and cozy fireplace nooks all make the difference between a home that people want to buy and a rented house that they want to move out of at the first expiration of their lease."
I heard about Pauline Littel when I saw that local historian and architect Peter Sussman was giving a talk about her to the Linden Hills History Study Group. When I asked whether our street was named after her, Peter did a little digging in property records and found that she did, in fact, design some houses in the Morningside area.
He'll talk more about her work in a Morningside walking tour this summer (date TBA). If you would like to be notified when the date is set, please email me with "Morningside Walking Tour" in the subject line.
After her marriage to businessman and fellow realtor L. T. Sheets in 1917, Pauline Littel disappears from the headlines and no longer advertises. In 1919, she is mentioned in a tabloid style story when her husband is sued by a "beauty culturist" (beauty shop worker, I'm guessing) for $50,000 on the charges that Sheets urged her to divorce her husband and promised to marry her. Instead, he married Littel. The court ruled in favor of the woman, and Sheets was ordered to pay $7,500.
Pauline Littel made a name for herself in the real estate field. It's only fitting that a little piece of Edina's real estate bears her name.
Some Edina street names could appear on any Minnesota city map. Surely, many other towns have dubbed a road "Lakeview Drive" or ""Meadow Ridge." But Edina has several uniquely named streets that reveal people and places from its past.
I found out the history of Gorgas Avenue recently from the godson of George and Eleanor Gorgas, who lived on the property where the short one-block long street runs today. The couple lived in two houses: 5132 France Avenue and 5136 Gorgas Avenue, located just a block apart.
Bob Barber remembers his godparents with great fondness. The couple had no children but were close friends of his parents, Ralph and Marguerite Barber. Growing up close by on 4410 Upton, Bob visited the Gorgases frequently. "They were both very attractive and deeply in love," Bob recalled.
That affection can be seen in two photos Bob donated of the couple, taken in 1924 at their Gorgas Avenue home. (See photo below)
"I know next to nothing about their families but I believe my mother and Eleanor went to high school together," Bob wrote. "George was with the Rock Island Railroad and probably retired from that company. Always dapper, George was an pilot in France during the first World War. They attended St. Thomas Church on 44th Street in the 1930s."
The couple first lived on the Gorgas Avenue house, then moved to the France Avenue home, where they stayed until Eleanor's death in 1955.
Since both houses are situated on 52nd street separated only by the length of one lot and the width of Gorgas Avenue, the Gorgases probably originally owned much if not all the property in the area before it was subdivided. As a nod to the original owners, many developers dubbed at least one street in a subdivision after the homesteaders. Such is the case with streets like Olinger, Tracy, Wind and several others. To learn more, see Joe Sullivan's stories on Edina street names in the city's quarterly newsletter About Town: the story is divided between two issues, Autumn 2004 and Winter 2005.
I am working on creating a list of all the streets in Edina and information about them. I'll post the info on the web site in the coming weeks.
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