Flood Lore from Yore and More

June 20, 2014

Highland Park, West End, Lowertown, Downtown 16.5 Miles

A record-setting June for rainfall prompted me to make another trip along the Mississippi River to see how bad the flooding was. The 4.13 inches of rain that fell on June 19, a day before this ride, was the fifth wettest day since 1871, according to Weather Service records.

I began the ride with a visit Crosby Farm Regional Park, off Shepard Road on the southern-most part of Highland Park. The barricades on the access road foreshadowed what I’d see down along the river.

It was no problem to ride past the barricades and down the bluff to see how things looked at the Watergate Marina.

The Mississippi is well above its usual level as evidenced by the bank on the across the river.

The Mississippi is well above its usual level as evidenced by the bank on the across the river.

Water laps at the temporary pier, installed presumably to allow boaters access while the permanent piers were under water. Notice the street light, two buildings in the background and the bushes on the left are all surrounded by water.

Water laps at the temporary pier, installed presumably to allow boaters access while the permanent piers were under water. Notice the street light, two buildings in the background and the bushes on the left are all surrounded by water.

Now at the entrance to Crosby Farm Regional Park trails, I could go no farther because of the water.

Now at the entrance to Crosby Farm Regional Park trails, I could go no farther because of the water.

The flood has overwhelmed much of the flora in the park.

The flood has overwhelmed much of the flora in the park.

Debris left along Crosby Park Road by flooding earlier in the spring.

Debris left along Crosby Park Road by flooding earlier in the spring.

On the Samuel Morgan trail west of Randolph Avenue, it’s obvious how much wider than usual the river is.

On the Samuel Morgan Trail west of Randolph Avenue, it’s obvious how much wider than usual the river is.

Upper landing 1Washington Street at Shepard is one of Saint Paul’s newer streets in one of the City’s newest subdivisions, called the Upper Landing.

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This plaque signals the Upper Landing to all who enter on Washington Avenue.

The Upper Landing neighborhood consists of more than 600 high-end condominiums and townhomes, apartments for all income levels, two parks and some retail space.

The residential complexes, built since 2004, look fine with their clean, modern lines, but too closely resemble many of the newer condo projects in Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop.

The residential complexes, built since 2004, look fine with their clean, modern lines, but too closely resemble many of the newer condo projects in Minneapolis’ trendy North Loop for my taste.

The $175 million Upper Landing project is situated on 22 acres-seven city blocks-along the Mississippi River, between the Smith Avenue High Bridge and Eagle Street. The history of the Upper Landing area is noteworthy, with a bit of irony. More on that shortly.

This is the Upper Levee in about 1938 from the High Bridge. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

This is the Upper Levee in about 1938 from the High Bridge. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Early on in Saint Paul’s history as a city, the Upper Landing became home to new immigrants. In the late 1800s, Italian immigrants joined those of German and Polish decent who settled, or more accurately, squatted, in this same part of Saint Paul. At that time the area was known as the Upper Levee Flats. Many of the men worked as laborers, often for local railroads. Nearly all of the homes – typically small, wooden structures – were built by their residents. “Little Italy”, as the neighborhood was also called, even got its own modest, four classroom elementary school, Mill Street School.

Mill Street School, 364 Mill Street on the Upper Levee in 1931. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Mill Street School, 364 Mill Street on the Upper Levee in 1931. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

A Saint Paul Pubic School’s document indicates the school was constructed on Mill Street in 1922 and closed in 1954 but the 1916 map (below) clearly shows the building. By the look of it, someone added the school to the earlier 1916 map.

Upper Levee map 1916Little Italy suffered from a couple of fundamental problems-a lack of City services, particularly sewers, and, because it was built on a flood plain, regular flooding. The completion of Saint Paul’s sewer system in the 1930s eliminated one issue but there was no way to keep the Mississippi within its banks.

The 1952 flood wreaked havoc upon the Upper Levee neighborhood in the short term and beyond.

The 1952 flood wreaked havoc upon the Upper Levee neighborhood in the short term and beyond.

upper levee floods 1952The extraordinarily devastating 1952 flood convinced City officials to condemn Little Italy. Crews demolished the last house in 1960 and prepared the land for construction of Shepard Road and a metal scrapyard.

All but one home was gone when this picture was shot in 1960. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

All but one home, which stands in the background, was gone when this picture was shot in 1960. The foundation of a house is in the foreground. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

In the late 1990s City officials, perhaps with some prodding by developers, finally came to the realization that there are considerably better uses for this prime riverfront land. Planning began in 1997 for the modern adaptation of the Upper Landing which included housing- the irony I mentioned earlier. The first phase of the massive project entailed moving Shepard Road north, away from the banks of the river. That opened up the acreage for the new residential development. However the soil, so contaminated from 100 years of human and industrial waste that it was named a Superfund site, had to be removed. To alleviate flooding, clean fill brought in raised the land above the 500 year flood point. Construction on the Upper Landing was completed in 2006.

The Upper Landing lies just south and west of Downtown.

The Upper Landing lies just south and west of Downtown.

The Riverview at Upper Landing features market-rate apartments at Spring and Mancini Streets.

The Riverview at Upper Landing features market-rate apartments at Spring and Mancini Streets.

Joseph’s Point apartments are also market-rate housing.

Joseph’s Point apartments are also market-rate housing.

The Mississippi Flats condominiums

The Mississippi Flats condominiums.

Two people shoot the breeze as the Mississippi rolls by.

Two people shoot the breeze as the Mississippi rolls by. The riverboat is the Jonathan Paddleford.

In a nod to the past, some Upper Landing streets have been given the same names as those in the long lost Little Italy and others were named after prominent residents of the Flats.

The Spring and Wilkin Street names have been reclaimed from the old neighborhood. Mancini was named in honor of Nick Mancini, the well-known West 7th Street restaurateur who died in 200000???

The Spring and Wilkin Street names have been reclaimed from the old neighborhood. Mancini was named in honor of Nick Mancini, the well-known West 7th Street restaurateur who died in 2007 at the age of 80.

Loretto Street is another named used on the original Upper Levee, although it was originally spelled "Loreto.”

Loretto Street is another named used on the original Upper Levee, although it was originally spelled “Loreto.”

This playground is in one of the two Upper Landing parks.

This playground is in one of the two Upper Landing parks.

Chestnut Plaza is a delightful public area at the east end of the Upper Landing. Amenities include benches, trees, a fountain and access to the shore of the river.

Chestnut Plaza is a delightful public area at the east end of the Upper Landing. Amenities include benches, trees, a fountain and access to the shore of the river.

The City of Saint Paul website describes Chestnut Plaza as a “…a beautifully designed public space melding together several serene elements: a modern fountain, warm brick flooring, medium-sized trees, and carved stone benches.”

The City of Saint Paul website describes Chestnut Plaza as a “…a beautifully designed public space melding together several serene elements:…” which leans toward the

The flooding brought river access at Chestnut Plaza closer than planned.

The flooding brought river access at Chestnut Plaza closer than planned.

The high water level dislodged a great deal of natural and man-made detritus. Apparently more trash cans are needed.

The high water level dislodged a great deal of natural and man-made detritus. Apparently more trash cans are needed.

Downtown buildings are reflected in water that crept up a riverfront walking path. Notice the railing on the right gradually descends into the water.

Downtown buildings are reflected in water that crept up a riverfront walking path. Notice the railing on the right gradually descends into the water.

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The John M. Armstrong House (often called the Armstrong-Quinlan House) is named for its original owner who had it built out of brick and stone in 1886 for about $21,000.

Less than a block away from the river and the Upper Landing, at 225 Eagle Parkway to be exact, is the stately John M. Armstrong House. Built Downtown at 233-235 West Fifth Street as a double house in 1886, where it stayed until a 2001 move to its present location.

In 1949, what was then the Quinlan Nursing Home still occupied its original lot at

In 1949, what was then the Quinlan Nursing Home was part of a residential neighborhood in the 200 block of West Fifth Street in Downtown. Courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form from 1988, Armstrong rented out the home, likely to railroad workers. The home stayed in the Armstrong family until 1943. Five years later it was sold again and converted to the Key Hospital for alcoholics. The same owners, in 1965, changed the name and mission of the house to the Quinlan Care Home, a nursing home. The story of this unique house picks up again in 1988 when the State of Minnesota purchased it to use as part of an arts school. The school was built elsewhere so the Armstrong-Quinlan House languished, unoccupied for 13 years across the street from what is now Xcel Energy Center. The Pioneer Press newspaper reported the 2001 move of the 900-ton house to Eagle Parkway took eight days and cost the City more than $2 million. Restoration of the Victorian beauty began in 2005 and the four condos were purchased in 2007 and ’08.

The intricate, nearly to the point of muddled, decorative embellishments of the Armstrong House stand out in this picture.)

The intricate, nearly to the point of muddled, decorative embellishments of the Armstrong House stand out in this picture. Today there are four condominiums inside.

This building at Grand Avenue and Leech Street most recently was part of Kraus Anderson Construction’s Saint Paul office. Once upon a time, it housed the crew and equipment of Fire Station 3.

This building at Grand Avenue and Leech Street most recently was part of Kraus Anderson Construction’s Saint Paul office. Once upon a time, it housed the crew and equipment of Fire Station 3.

According to the Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities, Station 3 opened as a horse-drawn unit in 1872 and closed in 1956. Courtesy Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities

According to the Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities, Station 3 opened as a horse-drawn unit in 1872 and closed in 1956. Courtesy Extra Alarm Association of the Twin Cities

Pleasant Park or Pleasant Place, in the West 7th neighborhood called Little Bohemia, is aptly named. Trees, flowers, benches, artwork and some workout equipment give neighbors good reasons to visit. The Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association say Pleasant Place was dedicated in October of 2010.

Pleasant Park or Pleasant Place, in the West 7th neighborhood called Little Bohemia, is aptly named. Trees, flowers, benches, artwork and some workout equipment give neighbors good reasons to visit. The Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association says Pleasant Place was dedicated in October of 2010.

Fancy footwork at Pleasant Place.

Fancy footwork at Pleasant Place.

Art or a pull up bar? Both!

Art or a pull up bar? Actually, both.

Being a day before the summer solstice, June 20th was one of the longest days of the year. The time was drawing close to 9 p.m. and sunset was a couple minutes beyond that, so I presumed Pleasant Place was my last stop. That changed when I turned on Goodrich Avenue and spotted a lemonade stand in front of 333.

The Lemonade crew in front of 333 Goodrich.

The Lemonade crew in front of 333 Goodrich.

One of my hard and fast rules is to purchase a drink at lemonade and Kool-Aid stands run by children. I downed a cup and talked to 8-year old Alisia about the lemonade business. Alisia told me she, her sister and friend Claire were swimming at Claire’s when they agreed to open the lemonade stand, “I said to my mom, ‘Hey Mom, can you help us set up a lemonade stand?’ And she said, ‘Yeah.’ So we just took a pourer and then we put water in it and lemonade sugar and then we just pumped it up. And then we just took mini-cups and we just started selling it.”

I inquired about their profits, “So far”, said Alisia as she counted the earnings,  “Three dollars seventy five cents!”

Alisia told me they advertised by developing a catchy chant, which they vociferously demonstrated for me. “We love lemonade, yes we do! We love lemonade, how ‘bout you? We like…LEMONADE!”

The enthusiasm the young ladies displayed elicited a chuckle from a couple of parents and me. I thanked Alisa and company and road off into the darkening summer evening.

Here’s where I rode on June 20th.

http://snippets.mapmycdn.com/routes/view/embedded/462702648?width=600&height=400&elevation=true&info=true&line_color=E60f0bdb&rgbhex=DB0B0E&distance_markers=1&unit_type=imperial&map_mode=ROADMAP&last_updated=2014-11-13T19:23:38-06:00

Take Me to the River

May 27, 2014      West End, Lowertown, Downtown      13.5 miles

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The Neil N. Diehl is tied up at Lambert’s Landing in Lowertown. The Robert Street bridge is in the background on the left and Downtown is to the right.

The saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is cliche’ but often true. Case in point is tonight’s ride to Lambert’s Landing in Lowertown. My friend, Rob Krause, has a brother who is a deckhand on the Mississippi River towboat the Neil N. Diehl. Rob told his brother Ken about my interest in talking to a towboat crew member and Ken mentioned it to his boat captain who agreed to meet for an interview on the vessel’s next trip to Saint Paul. That opportunity came on May 27th, a blustery, cool evening.

Ken Krause, left, and brother Rob stand in front of the Neil N. Diehl at Lambert's Landing.

Ken Krause, left, and brother Rob stand in front of the Neil N. Diehl at Lambert’s Landing.

The author, standing on Lambert's Landing, interviews Captain Darrel Lance of the Neil N. Diehl.

The author, standing on Lambert’s Landing, interviews Captain Darrel Lance aboard the Neil N. Diehl. Because of post-9-11 security, we were not allowed aboard the towboat.

Working on a river towboat is much more a lifestyle than a job. Darrel Lance, Captain of the Neil N. Diehl, and his crew work on the vessel day and night for 30 consecutive days. “We usually work 24 hours a day. Our watches are six hour watches. I work from 5 in the morning until 11. My pilot works from 11 to 5 in the afternoon. I come back on watch and work until 11 at night. The only time we stop is like repairs or pickin’ up barges and things like that.” Thirty days of pushing 15 or so barges that are 175 feet long, 26 feet wide, weighing about 1,600 tons each, up and down the Mississippi River are followed by 30 days off. Another captain and crew man the Neil N. Diehl during Captain Lance and company’s time off.

Shopping for groceries and supplies for nine folks living on a towboat for 30 days takes skillful planning and organization. “You got boat stores up and down the river. You just call ‘em and give ‘em a grocery order and they got it whenever you get there.” Then the food is brought out on a skiff to the towboat. Among the cities with boat stores are Saint Paul, Winona, Belleview and Burlington, Iowa. Most meals are the cook’s choice, “Yeah, the cook does most of it,” said Captain Lance. “If some of my crew members want somethin’ separate, they’ll tell her. She tries to accommodate some of us. Like right now, I’m on a diet. She’s been boiling me chicken and everything else. I lost 21 pounds in six weeks.”

Crew members Ken Krause and ???? remount the freshly polished brass bell of the Neil N. Diehl following polishing it.

Crew members Ken Krause and Jeremiah reattach the freshly polished brass bell of the Neil N. Diehl.

The Neil N. Diehl usually runs with nine crew members, including Captain Lance, a pilot, an engineer, a cook, (the lone woman aboard) deckhands and mates. “Everybody has a job. And you work as a team but you live out here so much with all these other people it becomes like a second family to you.” Captain Lance added, “You really gotta wanna work at it. It’s good money; you’re gone from your family a lot but it’s a good living, especially if you get with a good company.”

“You gotta’ wanna be here ‘cause if you don’t wanna’ be here, it’s really miserable.”

Captain Lance chats with one of the crew.

Captain Lance chats with one of the crew.

Captain Lance began his nautical career with a stint in the military 30 years ago, “I started out in navigation in the gulf and I’m ex-navy. I worked on a seismograph off the shore first, then I went to tugs and then I started decking, learned the deck department and 18 months later I was in the pilot house ‘cause I knew I wasn’t going to stay out there swinging ratchets all my life.” Ratchets are large tools used to tighten the cables that keep barges attached to each other and the boat.“

Cables and lines are ready for crew members to use when they attach barges.

Cables and lines are ready for crew members to use to attach barges to each other and the towboat.

“You don’t have to just go in the wheelhouse; you can go in the engine room, cook, stay at a mate. Some mates out here make almost as much as a pilot does. And it’s good retirement.” 

Today, landing a job on any Ingram Company towboat starts with an online job application. A promising application earns the applicant a telephone interview, followed by an in-person interview. A training program is next for those hired. According to the captain, “They have you in a training process in Paducah, (Kentucky) for a week; Bring you down there, get another drug screening and they put you through seven days of pretty good work. Heavy liftin’, stuff like that. “It’s pretty rigorous down there and then they put ‘em on the boat for seven days. It’s called seven day on-board training and that’s when you keep ‘em our kick ‘em out. I’d say 80 percent of ‘em make it.”

??? is on his way to the ???? with the freshly polished brash bell.

Jeremiah walks along the second deck.

When a new crew member is placed on a towboat, Lance said he or she is watched carefully, “They stay in the mate’s back pocket. They learn how to splice lines, splice wires, carry wires, lay rigging, ratchet technician, tightening wires and stuff.”

“If they don’t know how to clean their own house, they will when they get off that boat. They’ll know how to clean their walls, their floors, everything because we keep a very clean vessel.”

It’s not all physical labor, at least for the captain and pilot. Technology is commonplace in the wheelhouse, “When I get on board, I have to go online to the computer and it tells me what we have to do this trip, be it man overboard drills or what kind of drills the Coast Guard requires, meetings we have to have, vessel security, stuff like that. “Our company sends us an email, boat orders, and it says on there ‘pick up nine (barges) out of here, we gotta pick up three down here and three down there and three down there and so on down the river until we fill out 15.” (Fifteen barges, said Captain Lance, are the most a towboat is allowed to push in either direction between Saint Paul and St. Louis.)

The Neil N. Diehl ordinarily runs barges between Saint Paul and Cairo, Illinois (pronounced KAY-roh or CARE-roh, it is the southernmost city in Illinois.) The barges are filled with corn and occasionally beans leaving Saint Paul, while northbound cargo is almost always concrete.

Tow is a misnomer because the Neil N. Diehl and similar vessels push the barges up and down the river.

Towboat is a misnomer because the Neil N. Diehl and similar vessels push the barges up and down the river.

Towboats and their crews are subject to some unusual hazards, “Up here (the upper Mississippi),” Captain Lance told me, “we pretty much just watch current and pleasure boats because pleasure boats get in your way a lot. When we run over one we have to defend ourselves. We’re guilty until proven innocent.”

Then there are the mayflies, “Those things-they stink, boy. Sometimes you’ll be goin’ down the river and they’ll blank the radar out, they’re so thick. And if you got any wood on the outside, like your nameboards are wood, next morning they’ll be nothin’ but mayflies stickin’ to ‘em. I don’t know what it is about lacquer but they love that lacquer. They get so thick sometimes you gotta get on top of the pilot house with a shovel when you use these search lights and just shovel it off.”

Towboats usually dock at Lambert's Landing when in Saint Paul. Downtown is on the right and the Robert Street Bridge is on the left.

Towboats usually dock at Lambert’s Landing when in Saint Paul. Downtown is on the right and the Robert Street Bridge is on the left.

Captain Lance’s most memorable day on the job came about early in his career, when he was on one of two boats working a dredge in the New Orleans harbor. “I was on the Miss Sarah. The Captain Vic went out there and was gonna hold the pipeline up while I tripped the anchor and let it fall. Well the anchor wouldn’t trip… I got in the current and it got above my stern, busted in my engine room door and it sunk.” Fortunately Lance and the other crew member on the Miss Sarah got out safely, but they bobbed in the Mississippi River for about three miles before being pulled out. The Miss Sarah didn’t fare as well – she’s still sitting on the bottom of the harbor in about 300 feet of water.

A side note to the sinking of the Miss Sarah involved a bunch of flashing lights on the vessel, very much like those on barricades. Captain Lance explained it this way, “We just put new batteries in ‘em. So that night, man, it was lit up all down in the harbor. They were floating underneath the docks and everything. Yeah, it was pretty neat.”

Where does Captain Lance spend much of his time when he’s away from the Neil N. Diehl after a 30 day shift? “Fishin’. I do a lot of salt water fishin’. And travelin’. We do a lot of cruise travel, my family; me and my wife and her sister and brother-in-law.” I said it’s funny that he like going on cruises. “Well, I can have a beer on a cruise. I can’t have one here.” And he laughed. “I get my license taken away from me here.” When ice closes the upper Mississippi to shipping, the Neil N. Diehl either operates on the Ohio and Illinois rivers or is docked.

http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/633062905

Behind the Green Line

May 26, 2014

Summit Hill, Downtown, Lowertown     15.8 Miles

Memorial Day is a holiday that has various meanings to folks.There is a certain solemnity to Memorial Day and for good reason, but it’s the unofficial start of summer. It’s an extra day off. For many retailers it is another excuse for a sale. Most importantly, it is to remember friends, relatives and members of the military who have passed. I am glad to have seen symbols of the later as I rode today.

The lovely home and front garden at 767 Goodrich Avenue.

The lovely home and front garden at 767 Goodrich Avenue.

767 Goodrich is a splendid Victorian home, obviously well cared for, but that isn’t why I stopped here. As you’ll see, the porch required, maybe even demanded, exploration. Paul Diekman, his wife, Becky and their children have lived here for 13 years. Paul told me they spend a goodly amount of time on the porch, “It’s a big covered, and well protected, open porch that we tend to use as an outdoor living room… We’ve got sturdy, old furniture that’s been weather-protected and we sit out here usually seven, eight months of the year.”

As you approach the front door, details of the imaginatively decorated porch come into view.

As you approach the front door, details of the imaginatively decorated porch come into view.

The decorative flora, fauna and furniture of the Diekman's porch.

The decorative flora, fauna and furniture of the Diekman’s porch.

There isn’t a theme to the ornamentation but bird cages, plants and sea shells are central to the collection. Why seashells? Paul explained it to me like this, “It’s almost like snowflakes. Seashells are very rarely even similar, let alone identical. They add, it can be whimsy, it can be thoughtfulness. It takes people by surprise.

“I did tell a couple of delightful Jehovah Witnesses that were asking about the porch; they asked about the shells and I said, ‘Every time we go to the ocean we bring home one shell.’ They hooted and hollered because there’s probably 200 out here. Then I had to tell them the truth.”

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Several of the 200 shells on the porch.

A wreath and mannequin from yore decorate the home's entrance.

A wreath and mannequin from yore decorate the home’s entrance.

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A couple of bird cages occupy one of the shelves on the porch.

The view of Goodrich from the Diekman's porch.

The view of Goodrich from the Diekman’s porch.

Riding this block of Goodrich, from Avon east toward Grotto, I felt as though I traveled back to the Victorian era of more than 100 years ago. Paul offered a theory for that, “This block and those to the two to the east have been well maintained rather than restored.”

A major change from the late 1800s, according to Paul, is the number of children, “I think in Victorian times you’d hear more kids. There’s children on the block but most of the homeowners have older children, very few with young kids at this point.”

In Victorian times, Paul reminded me, six or more children in a family was common.

767 Goodrich 8

Paul shared a final, noteworthy thought about 767 Goodrich, “Becky and I feel that we’re just stewards. We were able to buy a very charming old home and put our own, I’ll say, mark on it or in it. But we’re just taking care of it for the next owner and I think that is part of the interest in this neighborhood of Saint Paul; the vast majority of folks are maintaining things for the next generation.”

This part of Ramsey Hill displayed a significant amount of patriotism.

This part of Ramsey Hill displayed a significant amount of patriotism.

This flag, a replica of the Bennington Flag from 1776.

The flag hanging at 622 Goodrich is a replica of the Bennington Flag from 1776. It has 13 stripes and 13 stars representing the 13 colonies. The flag got its name from the Revolutionary War Battle of Bennington.

Great mailboxes at 592 Lincoln Avenue

Great mailboxes at 592 Lincoln Avenue

The home built by and lived in by renowned architect Cass Gilbert and his family.

The home built by and lived in by renowned architect Cass Gilbert and his family.

Celebrated architect Cass Gilbert built this house at 1 Heather Place in 1890. Gilbert, his wife Julia and daughter Emily lived here until their 1899 move to New York City. Gilbert, a prolific architect, designed buildings including the Minnesota State Capitol, Endicott Building Downtown Saint Paul and the sadly departed Aberdeen Hotel.

Cass Gilbert in 1910. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Cass Gilbert in 1910. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

5 Heather Place.

5 Heather Place.

Just across the street is one (actually two) of Saint Paul’s extraordinary homes, 5 and 7 Heather.

The bridge between 5 Heather (to the left, out of the frame) and 7 Heather (the block building on the right.)

The bridge between 5 Heather (to the left, out of the frame) and 7 Heather (the stone building on the right.)

The feature that makes the Goodkind Double House unique is the second story bridge, or skyway, which connects the two separate homes. The original occupants, brothers William and Benjamin Goodkind, had the homes build in 1910.

Mary McLean (who chose not to have her picture taken) has lived at 5 Heather Place for 20 years, “The other house is not a twin of this house. They’re two separate houses and they’re connected with that skyway and we share the courtyard. That’s common property for both houses. So they’re very different houses.”

The property line, according to the Minnesota Historical Society, runs through the middle of the bridge and back yard fountain.

“Apparently my brother (William Goodkind) didn’t have children and that brother (Benjamin Goodkind) had children so they have many more bedrooms than I do.”

According to Ramsey County records, Mary’s home has four bedrooms and is just over 6,000 square feet, while 7 Heather has nine bedrooms and 8,000 square feet of livable space.

With the shared grounds, it’s preferable for the occupants of the houses get along, which Mary says is the case.

The front entrance to 5 Heather Place.

The front entrance to 5 Heather Place.

I asked Mary about how she ended up living at 5 Heather Place, “I’ve always lived in the neighborhood and I walked by it a million times. I was a little taken by the skyway. When you go into the house it’s completely oriented towards the south so every room in the house has southern exposure and every room has a view. It’s really spectacular.

“It’s a great place because it’s private. It’s a great view and a big yard; no alley…”

If you want to see more of both 5 and 7 Heather Place, pick up Minnesota’s Own Preserving Our Grand Homes which will be released this fall, by author Larry Millett and photographer Matt Schmitt.

The Grand Avenue Hill allows a view of the back of the Goodkind Double House and the gated stairway from Grand to the back yard.

The Grand Avenue Hill allows a view of the back of the Goodkind Double House.

The view of the Goodkind Double House in 1915 from Grand Hill gives you an idea of how different the two homes really are .

The view of the Goodkind Double House in 1915 from Grand Hill gives you an idea of how different the two homes really are .

The gated stairway from Grand to the back yard of the Goodkind Double House.

The gated stairway from Grand to the back yard of the Goodkind Double House.

Two facilities are always under construction-major airports and hospitals. The dumpsters confirm a project is ongoing at Children’s and/or United Hospital.

Two facilities are always under construction-major airports and hospitals. The dumpsters confirm a project is ongoing at Children’s and/or United Hospital.

One of several medical campuses in Saint Paul begins at Grand and Thompson Street. There are hospitals, clinics, medical office buildings and a collection of medical facilities that occupy about six square blocks of Downtown.

Two clinics and United and Children’s Hospitals in the background. The picture was shot from Thompson and Chestnut.

Two clinics, in front, and United and Children’s Hospitals in the background. The picture was shot from Thompson and Chestnut.

Two friendly passersby pose for a picture.

Two friendly passersby pose for a picture.

From across the street it looks like another day for Seven Corners Hardware.

From across the street it looks like any other day for 7 Corners Hardware.

7 Corners Hardware opened in 1933 on the southeast corner of West 7th and Chestnut Streets. Although it doesn’t look like it from across the street, the Downtown icon shut its doors a day before this ride. Surprisingly, the Internet played little to no part in the closing. Instead, owner Bill Walsh’s move to California made it difficult to oversee operations. Walsh sold the store at 216 West 7th Street and other buildings along Chestnut and Eagle to a developer who plans to put up two buildings that include a hotel, apartments, townhomes and retail.

Behind the neon sign, shelves have been emptied after a weeks-long liquidation sale.

Behind the neon sign, shelves have been emptied after a weeks-long liquidation sale.

Only odds and ends remain inside the  now- closed Seven Corners Hardware.

Only odds and ends remain inside the now-closed 7 Corners Hardware.

One of the Seven Corners Hardware warehouses as seen from Eagle Street

One of the Seven Corners Hardware warehouses as seen from Eagle Street

The shuttering of 7 Corners Hardware is a loss to the home handyman and woman and professional contractors who, for three generations, relied upon the store’s unparalleled selection and experienced employees. It’s also a loss for the City as another unique small, local business closed up.

From Downtown I went to Lowertown to check on the progress of the St. Paul Saints’ new stadium. Before I got there I was sidetracked by another former fire station that has been converted to housing.

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First Fire Station 2. Then Station 4. Next, storage facility. Now, condos.

Fire Station 2 in 1925.

Fire Station 2 in 1925 with four rigs park out front. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

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A frieze atop the fire station-turned-condo commemorates the years the building was Station 2.

Station 2 has a convoluted history, at least some of which appears to be lost to time. Built as Station 2 in 1885, it became Station 4 in the 1910s or 20s-upon the closing of the previous Station 4. Now, there are three different Wacouta Avenue addresses listed for the building.

Julie and Steven, owners of one of the condominiums in a former fire house on Wacouta Avenue.

Julie and Steven, stand in front of their condominiums in a former fire house on Wacouta Avenue.

As I took pictures, Julie and Steven, owners of one of the first floor condominiums, came home. Steven described some unique features of their condo, “They left it very raw. There’s still a lot of hardware that used to be part of the firehouse, like big huge cast iron pieces that were designed to hold hoses and things like that. There’s still a lot of the conduits. The other thing is structurally, just the feel that you’re in the bay of a fire house and the ceilings are 25-ish feet high, so you get a very different sense of space… the walls are probably a foot and a half, maybe two feet thick. It would survive just about anything.”

Julie and Steven moved from Northeast Minneapolis about a year and a half ago, surprising even themselves, Julie told me, “Saint Paul wasn’t a place that we had really considered but we had come to the Farmers Market here and really liked that. We found this unit and it was really unique and it was affordable and excited us and it was more of a dream house.”

The convenience of Lowertown living-the new Lund’s grocery store is slightly more than six blocks away; the Farmers’ Market three; one block to Mears Park and numerous restaurants and bars-is a big reason Julie and Steven love where they live. And, says Steven, their condo is connected to the skyway, “So here we are down in the base of Lowertown and we can go all the way to the Xcel Energy Center. In the heart of winter, we’re walking around in just shoes and jeans and a t-shirt. We’re going to restaurants, bars, the library, things at the Xcel, you name it, all never stepping outside.”

“Our patio is right on the sidewalk so we get to be social and sit out here
for coffee and say hi to our neighbors as they go by.”

The patio of Julie and Steven's condo.

The patio of Julie and Steven’s condo is a great spot to catch up with neighbors and people watch.

The social nature of the neighborhood is something else they both love, “It’s almost like a small town ‘cause you have Mears Park and there’s Music In Mears every Thursday in the summer which is fabulous. And you go out there and you just know everybody.”

The fire station condos are reflected in the windows of the Gilbert Building across the street.

The fire station condos are reflected in the windows of the Gilbert Building across the street.

From Wacouta I turned east on 5th Street and rode the two blocks to Broadway and the construction site of the St. Paul Saints stadium.

The banner heralding the Saints' new stadium hangs on the cyclone fence that keeps the curious out of the construction site.

The banner heralding the Saints’ new stadium hangs on the cyclone fence that keeps the curious out of the construction site.

The Saints’ new stadium has been controversial. The loss of a couple hundred parking spots hasn’t sat well with many Lowertown residents who already face tight parking. Then there is the issue of public financing for the ballpark, which is always contentious. However, many see the new stadium as the latest attraction to entice people and money to Lowertown and its extensive assortment of condos, restaurants, coffee shops, galleries and bars.

Heavy equipment, piles of dirt and some pipe sit ready to resume work.

Heavy equipment, piles of dirt and some pipe sit ready to resume work.

The 31 acre stadium site is located between I-94 to the north, Broadway Street (and the Farmers’ Market) to the west, Prince Street on the south and the Lafayette Bridge/Highway 52 to the east. The former pharmaceuticals and personal care products facility, most recently owned by Diamond Products, closed in 2005 and has sat empty since.

The Saint Paul Farmers Market is across Broadway from the stadium.

The Saint Paul Farmers’ Market is across Broadway from the stadium.

Immediately next door, almost touching the south wall of the stadium, sits the Metro Transit Green Line Operations and Maintenance Facility. The Broadway Street building opened in June and it too was carved out of an unused former Diamond Products building.

Metro Transit’s Green Line Operations and Maintenance Facility bears no resemblance to the former Diamond Products building from which some walls and support columns were reused.

Metro Transit’s Green Line Operations and Maintenance Facility bears no resemblance to the former Diamond Products building from which some walls and support columns were reused.

The afternoon was so nice that the maintenance facility doors were wide open, which beckoned me inside for a self-guided tour.

Just inside the still pristine maintenance building.

Just inside the still pristine maintenance building.

Still inside but looking out (east) along 4th Street.

Still inside but looking out (east) along 4th Street.

The pigeons have already given the facility their special seal of approval.

The pigeons have already given the facility their special seal of approval.

Four east-facing maintenance bays. You can see a car in Bay 2. There are several more maintenance bays out of frame to the right.

Four east-facing maintenance bays. You can see a car in Bay 2. There are several more maintenance bays out of frame to the right.

This is where the real work is done. The catwalk with the yellow fencing allows mechanics to work on the upper parts of light rail cars.

This is where the real work is done. The catwalk with the yellow fencing allows mechanics to work on the upper parts of light rail cars.

Raised rails provide easy access to the underside mechanicals of the cars.

Raised rails provide easy access to the underside mechanicals of the cars.

The wash rack for the light rail cars.

The wash rack for the light rail cars.

Transformers bring power for the Green Line cars.

Transformers bring power for the Green Line cars.

Overhead power lines for the cars.

Overhead power lines for the cars.

Meanwhile, construction of the new Lafayette Freeway bridge progresses nearly above the maintenance building.

Meanwhile, construction of the new Lafayette Freeway bridge progresses nearly above the maintenance building.

On the way home from Lowertown I took Grand Avenue again and I can say emphatically that it’s much more fun going down the hill than up. After finally reaching the top of Grand Avenue Hill, I caught sight of a very unusual and stylish street light and signpost.

The signpost is in front of 607 Grand, just east of Dale Street.

The signpost is in front of 607 Grand, just east of Dale Street.

The last stop on the ride summed up Memorial Day perfectly.

thanks vets

Thanks to Steve Bachman for letting me know my last map link did not work. This is another option that I hope will work better for the time being. Click on the map to enlarge.

Route Map-Behind the Green Line-May 26, 2014

Charles, Churches and Culture-part 2

May 24, 2014

17.9 miles      Macalester-Groveland, Lexington-Hamline, Frogtown, North End

I spent much of the first portion of this ride in Frogtown and on Charles Avenue specifically. (It was named for Charles Rodney Rice, a merchant and brother of developer Edmund Rice.)(1) You’ll find details of that part of the ride in “Charles, Churches and Culture-part 1.”

This is the only sign that lets folks know they're at the Hmongtown Markeplace. It faces Como Avenue.

This is the only sign that lets folks know they’re at the Hmongtown Markeplace. It faces Como Avenue.

In part 2 of “C, C and C,” I moved on to the North End, to one of Saint Paul’s cultural treasures, the Hmongtown Market. Located on the grounds and in the buildings of an old lumber yard, a visit to the Market is as close to experiencing Southeast Asia as you can get without going there.

Clothing and cookware are stacked from floor to ceiling at the Hmongtown Market.

Clothing and cookware are stacked from floor to ceiling at the Hmongtown Market.

“When you’re here it’s kinda like you’re in Thailand. Even when you order food sometimes you might have to point because there’s a language barrier. But people all understand pointing and you know how many finger you hold up is how much it costs,” according to Jamie Liu, manager of the Hmongtown Market.

Just a sample of the variety of Southeast Asian cuisine at the Market.

Just a sample of the variety of Southeast Asian cuisine at the Market.

The delectable assortment of Asian foods sold at 11 food booths is great motivation for a getaway to the Market. Of course there are egg rolls and a marvelous assortment of traditional Hmong dishes such as pig ears, chicken larb, sweet pork soup, sesame seed balls, a sweet, deep-fried pastry, and specially seasoned pork ribs.

Fried fish and two kinds of sausage await hungry shoppers.

Fried fish and two kinds of sausage await hungry shoppers.

“Bring some friends and then order something that you might not have tried by yourself-a small portion of it. You might like it.” Jamie Liu<

Jamie Liu, general manager of Hmongtown Market.

Jamie Liu, general manager of Hmongtown Market.

About 130 vendors lease spots within the Market buildings and another 80 or 90 occupy the outdoor stalls from April through October. Many of the goods, including colorful fabrics, are imported from Southeast Asia. Several merchants sell shoes and traditional clothing, “A lot of the Hmong clothes that you see, they’re hand stitched and they’re made throughout the course of a year,” said Jamie. “People wear Hmong clothes usually for traditional gatherings like whether it is funerals, weddings or New Year’s. And each one is tailor-made here.”

In a booth at the Market a woman stitches a traditional Hmong outfit.

In a booth at the Market, a woman stitches a traditional Hmong outfit.

Luke Yang attentively tends to his herbs.

Luke Yang attentively tends to his herbs.

Several dozen merchants sell fresh produce and plants. Eighteen year old Luke Yang, a high school senior, is one of them. When I asked him about his plants, he politely explained that they’re herbs, “People just say it’s plants but actually, in our tradition, the Hmong tradition, it’s herbs that’s really important.”

That’s because, said Luke, herbs are medicinal, “Say you have the stomach flu, we don’t go to stores to buy medicine, we just come straight here or ask our elders about it and they said this (herb) works for this. Sometimes they say you chew the leaves and then drink water after or sometimes you microwave water, then put the leaves in it, then drink it.”

Luke Yang and the herbs grown on the family farm in the Forest Lake area.

Luke Yang and the herbs grown on the family gardens in the Forest Lake area.

Unlike many Hmong his age, Luke has learned about his culture by working since he was 9 years old in the family garden plots and at the Market, “There’s a lot to the Hmong traditional culture. I’m the oldest in my family but one of the youngest to know a lot about my own tradition. Mostly, all of our young generation, they don’t really know it…”

Luke told me his Grandmother and parents work very hard cultivating and harvesting the herbs and vegetables and at the Market to support the family, “So I respect my grandma for that. I respect my parents for that. In return what I can do is help out and do them a favor and just be here when they need it or when they’re not here.”

 

Two women discuss the purchase of a dress at Hmongtown Marketplace.

Two women discuss a dress at Hmongtown Marketplace.

Jamie said he’s adding services to the mix of vendors,  “We have a lawyer here. We also have insurance agents. We’re moving a little toward the direction of healthcare too now so we have a medical equipment provider. I’m also working on getting a pharmacy here.”

Jamie is debating other changes to Hmongtown Market, “We need AC, we need, maybe LED lighting. There’s a challenge there because in Thailand you have chicken wire and everything like that for store booths. And over here, if you go to a mall, they have drywall, they have glass, neon lights. That’s the challenge for me, when I improve the property I need to find a fine balance between authenticity and modernizing it.”

An architectural rendering of one idea previously considered for the Hmongtown Market.

An architectural rendering of one idea previously considered for the Hmongtown Market. Courtesy Hmongtown Market.

 

“A lot of times you can bargain here; negotiate for a price of an item. A lot of people don’t know that…” Jamie Liu

 

 

Interestingly, Jamie, who is of Chinese ancestry, didn’t know much about the Hmong until moving to North Dakota for college, “Seven years ago I didn’t know what Hmong was. I really didn’t. Then you come in and you dive into the culture and the history and you’re like ‘Wow! This is a really unique group of ethnic people that maybe deserve more attention..”

The variety of colors on dresses and tops makes a rainbow look plain.

The variety of colors on dresses and tops makes a rainbow look plain.

After gobbling down some egg rolls and wandering among multi-hued booths of the Market, I moved east to Rice Street and north to an industry-lined block of Sycamore Street. By far the most interesting structure is the Quonset Hut home of Rivertown Auto Parts.

Quonset Huts were designed in 1941 by some engineers at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, from which the structure got its name, according to the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. The prefabricated portable buildings of corrugated metal and arched steel ribbing were made with the threat of war hanging over the country.

Quonset Huts were designed in 1941 by some engineers at Quonset Point Naval Air Station in Rhode Island, from which the structure got its name, according to the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. The prefabricated portable buildings of corrugated metal and arched steel ribbing were made with the threat of war hanging over the country.

Back on Rice Street, an old sign no longer informs passersby of anything.

Back on Rice Street, an old sign no longer informs passersby of anything.

 A Rice Street banner and on the right, an Xcel Energy (NSP) facility that houses the company’s credit union.

A Rice Street banner and on the right, an Xcel Energy (NSP) facility that houses the company’s credit union.

These industrial gas meters are stored near the back of Xcel’s Rice street building.

These industrial gas meters are stored near the back of Xcel’s Rice street building.

 

The front of St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church. According to SaintPaulHistorical.com, the full name of the church is Falling Asleep of the Ever-Virgin Mary.

The front of St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church. According to SaintPaulHistorical.com, the full name of the church is Falling Asleep of the Ever-Virgin Mary.

The quaint St. Mary’s Romanian Orthodox Church at 189 West Atwater Street was built in 1914 to serve the large number of Romanian immigrants who settled in the North End. One hundred years after construction began, the church remains in splendid shape. One inexplicable oddity is the fake clock with painted hands at 4 o’clock, just below the onion skin dome.

Well, at least the clock is correct twice each day.

Well, at least the clock is correct twice each day.

St. Mary's 3

Most think the address of the church is 845 Woodbridge Street but nothing comes up in a Google search of that address.

 

 

Next time you're in the market for recycled cobblestones, bricks and granite curbs make sure your first stop is 455 Como Avenue at Atwater.

Next time you’re in the market for recycled cobblestones, bricks and granite curbs make sure your first stop is 455 Como Avenue at Atwater.

 

I’ve never come upon this sign or anything close before. It’s discouraging to see and to imagine what has happened to prompt its posting.

I’ve never come upon this sign before. It’s discouraging to see and to imagine what has happened to prompt its posting.

 

yellow & green house

Do Green Bay Packers fans live here? Or someone who wants a reminder of green grass and sun during the depths of the dark, cold winter?

 

The social service non-profit Amherst H. Wilder Foundation has more than 10 buildings scattered around Saint Paul. Wilder assists children, families and older adults move towards greater self-sufficiency. wilder 1

Wilder's Child Development Building.

Wilder’s Child Development Building.

Three of Wilder’s buildings are in the 900 block of Lafond Avenue in Frogtown. The largest is the Child Development Services building at 911 Lafond, home to a preschool and childcare center. The Center for Social Healing and Wellness assists the local Southeast Asian community’s cultural barriers and needs. Wilder’s Day Treatment program offers mental health services to children aged 6-12 and their families.

Some other buildings on the campus were shut down by Wilder because of the  recession. Holcomb House and Spencer House, residential treatment centers for children and teens, were both demolished.

he building’s address, 941 Lafond, is perplexing as it is closer to Milton Street and nearer still to Blair Avenue.

The former O’Shaughnessy Building’s address, 941 Lafond, is perplexing as it is closer to Milton Street and nearer still to Blair Avenue.

This unmarked structure was Wilder’s O’Shaughnessy Building. Now, several non-profits have offices here. The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), which “serves, supports and advocates for Hmong American farmers and their families” is one of the lessors. http://www.hmongfarmers.com/

Wilder headquarters sat on this same campus from 1969 to 2007. Before that, the House of the Good Shepherd accommodated unwed mothers, prostitutes and other girls society considered irredeemable. The Contemplative Sisters of the Good Shepherd operated the shelter from 1883 and 1967, according to Saint Paul Historical.

The foreboding House of the Good Shepherd home for girls. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The foreboding House of the Good Shepherd home for girls. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

frogtown farm

This meadow and surrounding trees doesn’t look like much now but Saint Paul’s newest park will begin to take shape in 2015.

Across the parking lot is a vast meadow interspersed with trees along the perimeter. With not more than a minute of internet searching and I discovered plans were approved for this land and much more, 12.7 acres in all, to become an urban farm and park. The City of Saint Paul officially took possession of the property in December 2013, creating the City’s newest park. Plans for the farm-park are wide-ranging, with three fields, demonstration and children’s gardens, orchards and a play field just some of the amenities.  For a diagram of the farm and park, click here. http://frogtownfarm.org/plan/

I’ll make another visit to the Frogtown Farm soon to explore the area. To learn more about the Frogtown Farm, visit http://frogtownfarm.org 

By this time, I’d been gone more than three hours so I started back home. Then a fire engine came roaring toward me on Lafond, lights flashing, siren screaming and the horn blaring. The rig stopped less than a block from me and the firefighters jumped out, grabbed a hose and moved quickly toward a smoldering pit.

Two of the crew of Ladder 18 in Frogtown prepare to put out a small fire.

Two of the crew of Ladder 18 in Frogtown prepare to put out a small fire.

Several blasts of water and the fire was out. I wasn’t close enough to the action to hear what firefighters said to the folks responsible for the blaze but I’m sure they suggested better ways to remove a tree stump.

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The Ladder 18 mascot is displayed proudly on the sides of the rig.

frogtown fire 2

A firefighter douses the smoking tree stump. (My digital SLR camera ran out of batteries so I shot this picture with my cell phone.)

The map of this 17-plus mile ride is here: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/509247756

 

(1) “The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul” by Donald Empson

Charles, Churches and Culture-part 1

May 24, 2014

17.9 miles      Macalester-Groveland, Lexington-Hamline, Frogtown, North End

Houses of worship flourish in Saint Paul. My rides have taken me past large, traditional church buildings with cross-topped spires, small storefront houses of worship with handwritten signs and nearly everything between. Today’s trip featured views of many of them. More on that later…

You’ve likely heard the cries of concern over the declining honey bee population. A couple of neighbors in the 2000 block of Lincoln are doing their part to help and based upon the signage, it’s been successful.

This sign is sits in front of 2005 Lincoln Avenue.

This sign is sits in front of 2005 Lincoln Avenue.

The bee protection must be working because across the street, you can buy honey.

The bee protection must be working because across the street, you can buy honey.

 

You can see this from I-94 just east of the Cretin-Vandalia exit.

You can see this from I-94 just east of the Cretin-Vandalia exit.

The creative paint job at Creative Lighting, 1728 Concordia Avenue.

“Without darkness there is no light,” is what the right side wall reads.

“Without darkness there is no light,” is what the right side wall reads.

The east wall showcases a different motif.

The east wall showcases a different motif.

 

Some old bikes sat in the back yard at 1460 Roblyn at Pascal. Many a baby boomer rode something like these.

Vintage bikes which date back to the ‘60s.

Vintage bikes which date back to the ‘60s.

A long-gone Coast to Coast brand bike.

A long-gone Coast to Coast brand bike.

 

Charles Avenue parallels University two blocks to the north. It recently became a designated “bike boulevard” which includes special signage.

The Charles Avenue sign features a bike, a nod to its designation as a bike boulevard. Notice the upper and lower case letters on the Charles Avenue sign and the much more common all upper case on the Albert Street sign.

The Charles Avenue sign features a bike, a nod to its designation as a bike boulevard. Notice the upper and lower case letters on the Charles Avenue sign and the much more common all upper case on the Albert Street sign.

 

Galtier Elementary School at Charles and Hamline Avenue is named for one of Saint Paul’s early European settlers, Father Lucien Galtier, who came to the hamlet of Pig’s Eye in 1841. Father Galtier built a log chapel on a bluff above the Mississippi River in what today is downtown.

Galtier Elementary School at Charles and Hamline Avenue is named for one of Saint Paul’s early European settlers, Father Lucien Galtier, who came to the hamlet of Pig’s Eye in 1841. Father Galtier built a log chapel on a bluff above the Mississippi River in what today is downtown.

 

This plain building is home to Nehemiah’s Walls Baptist Church. It is one of several houses of worship I passed on the ride.

This plain building is home to Nehemiah’s Walls Baptist Church. It is one of several houses of worship I passed on the ride.

 

Allen and Erma live at 584 Charles Avenue.

Allen and Erma live at 584 Charles Avenue.

Allen Hicks was enjoying a break from some yard work when I pedaled past his house at 584 Charles. He told me, “I built that pond in my front yard about four years ago and then every year, I clean it out and put different water in it, so that’s what I’m doing today.”

Allen continued, “When I cleaned it out I found a few holes in the tarp. I’ll put some duck tape on those holes in the tarp. I’m sure it leaks but the duck tape will take care of that.”

Allen and his wife Erma patch holes in the pond liner with duck tape.

Allen and his wife Erma patch holes in the pond liner with duck tape.

Allen planned to fill the pond with water later in the day. Then, he told me, he’ll reinstall a fountain and add some fun with fake fish and a fake snake.

Allen, who’s lived at 584 Charles for 15 years and Erma, a 30 year resident there, enjoy the area, “My favorite part of the neighborhood is the quietness,“ surprising since only two blocks separate their home from the frenzy of University Avenue.

“We (neighbors) look out for each other a lot.”

Erma and Allen in front of their Charles Avenue home.

Erma and Allen in front of their Charles Avenue home.

 

 

Faith Lutheran Church, 499 Charles Avenue.

Faith Lutheran Church, 499 Charles Avenue, was built in 1915 and enlarged in 1932.

 

 A vigilant robin keeps watch over the neighborhood at Charles and Western.

A vigilant robin keeps watch over the neighborhood at Charles and Western.

 

Another block and another church.

The unusual design of the Church of St. Adalbert is marvelous. Originally a Polish Catholic church when it opened in 1910, it now primarily serves Vietnamese Catholic parishioners.

The unusual design of the Church of St. Adalbert is marvelous. Originally a Polish Catholic church when it opened in 1910, it now primarily serves Vietnamese Catholic parishioners.

The church’s cornerstone is in Polish according to one source but it looks like Latin to me.

The church’s cornerstone is in Polish according to one source but it looks like Latin to me.

One of the two signature towers that bracket the front of St. Adalbert.

One of the two signature towers that bracket the front of St. Adalbert.

The St. Paul City School, a charter school, is on Edmund Street between Galtier and Elfelt Streets. Although the school bell is gone, the tower remains intact.

The former St. Adalbert Church School at Galtier and Edmund.

Immediately behind (to the north) of St. Adalbert is the church’s former elementary school, built in 1901. This lovingly cared for brick school-house is a rare remaining example, at least in Saint Paul, of school architecture at the turn of the last century. According to Saint Paul Historical, St. Adalbert School shut the doors in 1986 because of low enrollment-14 students attended the school the year it closed. The building reopened as The St. Paul City School, a pubic charter school, in fall 1998.

The St. Paul City School, a charter school, is on Edmund Street between Galtier and Elfelt Streets. Although the school bell is gone, the tower remains intact.

Although the school bell is gone at the old St. Adalbert School, the tower remains intact.

The cornerstone of the former St. Adalbert School.

The cornerstone of the former St. Adalbert School.

Where the old and new meet. The 1901 portion of the building is to the left of the corner and the more recent addition is to the right.

Where the old and new meet. The 1901 portion of the building is to the left of the corner and the more recent addition is to the right.

While the architect did a good job of making the new wing resemble the original, a closer look reveals extra ornamentation, like the brickwork above the window, on the old section.

The main entrance.

The main entrance.

The west side of St. Paul City School and playground. One of the towers of St. Adalbert is visible on the right.

The west side of St. Paul City School and playground. One of the towers of St. Adalbert is visible on the right.

 

This area of Frogtown developed early in Saint Paul’s history into a neighborhood of railroad workers and other laborers and their families. Their homes were nothing like the elaborate Victorian mansions Saint Paul that give Crocus Hill so much of its charm. Not only were the working-class homes much smaller, the exteriors by and large were constructed without dentils, fluting, transoms and other embellishments that were signatures of the homes of the wealthy. Despite their lack of flair, many of these older homes were well constructed and still look good 100 years or more after they were built.

The brick house at 725 Charles looks good after 114 years and at least one addition.

The brick house at 725 Charles looks good after 114 years and at least one addition.

 

194 Charles, built in 1888, is small, simple and well built.

194 Charles, built in 1888, is small, simple and solid.

The finger points to the front door which is in back at 194 Charles.

The finger points to the front door which is in back at 194 Charles.

 

The Minnesota Women’s Building, 550 Rice at Charles, dates back to 1889. In 1988, The Minnesota Women’s Consortium purchased the building, which had been an adult bookstore or, a ‘pornography shop,’ as the Consortium’s website calls it.

The Minnesota Women’s Building, 550 Rice at Charles, dates back to 1889. In 1988, The Minnesota Women’s Consortium purchased the building, which had been an adult bookstore or, a ‘pornography shop,’ as the Consortium’s website calls it.

Many of the streets I traveled today, especially in Frogtown and the North End, are streets I’d never before set foot, bike or even car on before. One of the best parts of this project are meeting people with interesting stories and investigating parts of Saint Paul which I’ve not experienced before.

Below is the map of today’s full ride. The second half of this trek will be posted soon.

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/509247756

 

 

Victoria Not-So-Secret

May 20, 2014  10.8 miles

Lexington-Hamline, Summit-University

I spent a good part of today’s ride in the Lex-Ham neighborhood, specifically at the newly rehabbed 869 Fuller. That story is on the previous post titled “A Cinderella Story.” I moved south on Victoria Street for the second part of the outing.

Maxfield Elementary School at St. Anthony (the north frontage road along I-94) and Victoria Avenue. The school’s namesakes are Louis H. and James T. Maxfield, who were in the wholesale flour, grain and provisions business, according to R.L. Polk and Company’s 1879 St. Paul City Directory. James T. also served two non-consecutive terms as Saint Paul Mayor in the 1860s and 1870s.

Maxfield Elementary School at St. Anthony (the north frontage road along I-94) and Victoria Avenue. The school’s namesakes are Louis H. and James T. Maxfield, who were in the wholesale flour, grain and provisions business, according to R.L. Polk and Company’s 1879 St. Paul City Directory. James T. also served two non-consecutive terms as Saint Paul Mayor in the 1860s and 1870s.

 

I'm not sure what to make of the garage door at 863 Marshall Avenue at Victoria.

I’m not sure what to make of the garage door at 863 Marshall Avenue at Victoria.

 

The building at 860 Hague, most recently the Shiloh Missionary Church, is for sale. It was built in 1909.

The building at 860 Hague, most recently the Shiloh Missionary Church, is for sale. It was built in 1909.

 

Unity Baptist Church formed in the mid-1990s from the merger of the Open Door Baptist Church, an African-American congregation and the white congregation of the former Park Baptist Church. The churches were about eight blocks apart in  Summit-University and are located in what was Park Baptist.

Unity Baptist Church formed in the mid-1990s from the merger of the Open Door Baptist Church, an African-American congregation and the white congregation of the former Park Baptist Church. The churches were about eight blocks apart in Summit-University and are located in what was Park Baptist.

The stained glass windows of Unity Baptist along Victoria Avenue.

The stained glass windows of Unity Baptist along Victoria Avenue.

 

 

Fire Station 5, designed by Clarence “Cap” Wigington, opened in 1930 at the corner of Ashland and Victoria.

Fire Station 5, designed by Clarence “Cap” Wigington, opened in 1930 at the corner of Ashland and Victoria.

The unique Fire Station Number 5 features a collection of noteworthy stories. First, the charming fire house is another of the City structures designed by Architect Clarence “Cap” Wigington. Wigington, as you may know, is considered the nation’s first African-American municipal architect. He is credited with many fire station, school and other public building designs around Saint Paul.

Dick Sarafolean with his house at   Ashland Avenue.

Dick Sarafolean, with his house at 870 Ashland Avenue, in the background.

As I took pictures of Station 5, I caught sight of a neighbor intently watching me. Dick Sarafoleon greeted me and began talking about Station 5, which quickly led to more tales. It turns out, Dick worked for the Saint Paul Fire Department for 33 years, including several at Station 5. “I started on the fire department January first of ’64. First they had me on the West Side, on the other side of the river, and then they had me out in the Midway.  I worked five years out there and I kept complaining that I wanted some action. I wanted to go where there was some work.”

The Victoria Avenue view of Station 5.

The Victoria Street view of Station 5.

Dick said winning the Jaycees’ Firefighter of the Year Award 1968” opened the way for his assignment to Station 5, “So when I got that award I went to the chief and I says, ‘Now can I get what I want? I want some work. I want to go to a busy house.’”

“When I was workin’ here, every night we’d have a fire in the neighborhood.”

Back then, Station 5 housed more rigs to keep up with demand, “We had a hook and ladder on one side and we had the engine on the other and we were out running all the time.”

The decorative drain pipe on Station 5.

The decorative drain pipe on Station 5.

By the mid-1970s, the workload at Station 5 decreased enough for Dick look for a new assignment, “Things changed and it got very quiet. So, in 1976 I said ‘I’m goin’ to go to the paramedic program; I’m tired of sittin’ and waitin’. So for the last 21 and a-half years I worked as a paramedic and I loved every minute of it. I would have stayed longer but my wife was dying with cancer and gave me my marching orders.”

Sadly, Dick’s wife, Dorothy, passed away 5 and a-half months later.

The cornerstone of Station 5.

The cornerstone of Station 5.

I asked Dick about the interior of Station 5. “The woodwork was pretty special. It was a maple; it wasn’t Birdseye maple but it was a really nice finish. The kitchen was upstairs and there was the chief’s car that went out onto Victoria where there is a door closed up; that’s where the kitchen is now.”

Station 5's kitchen is behind the wood and windows. At one time the space was a garage for the chief's car.

Station 5′s kitchen is behind the wood and windows. At one time the space was a garage for the chief’s car.

Originally, this front was all dormitory where the firefighters lived. The captains had their own rooms in the back  with their own bathroom. You know, rank has its privilege.”

Dick has lived in Saint Paul for 74 years, including the last 31 two doors west of Fire Station 5, at 870 Ashland.

Here is the map of the entire May 20 ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/468912562

A Cinderella Story

May 20, 2014
Lexington-Hamline, Summit-University  10.3 Miles

The for sale sign in the front yard of 869 Fuller Avenue.

The for sale sign in the front yard of 869 Fuller Avenue.

Today was as close to perfect as you can get. The temperature sat just shy of 80 degrees with low humidity and the air filled with a delightful bouquet of violets, crab apple and choke cherry blossoms occasionally mixed with the enticing scent of barbecue ribs and burgers. Even better, the nemesis of warm weather-mosquitos-hadn’t hatched yet.

I set off to meet Kris Kujala and Paul Scharf of Ramsey County’s Tax Forfeited Land Division, for a 6:15 p.m. tour of a tax forfeited house in Summit-University that had been renovated and was about to go on the auction block. The ride, unusual because of the pre-arranged meeting, led me to take the most direct route so as to be on time. Despite that, I hit the brakes at 1482 Concordia Avenue (the south frontage road along I-94) for some unusual signage.

The yellow and black sign is in protest of a proposal to directly connect the nearby Ayd Mill Road to I-94. The distance markers below it point toward various cities and towns to the west. Cripple Creek is a small Colorado town near the base of Pike’s Peak made famous in a 1969 song by the band “The Band”.)

The yellow and black sign is in protest of a proposal to directly connect the nearby Ayd Mill Road to I-94. The distance markers below it point toward various cities and towns to the west. Cripple Creek is a small Colorado town near the base of Pike’s Peak made famous in a 1969 song by the band “The Band”.)

 

I made it to 869 Fuller about 15 minutes ahead of schedule which gave me time to take exterior shots of the stunning 1887 Victorian.

869 Fuller in Summit-University after restoration.

869 Fuller in Summit-University after restoration.

The charming look of the home belies the troubled history that brought it within days of demolition.

An alley view of 869 Fuller.

An alley view of 869 Fuller.

The reclamation of 869 Fuller is the result of Ramsey County’s innovative “Reuse, Recycle and Renovate for Reinvestment”, or 4R Program. According to Kris, Ramsey County commissioners created the 4R Program in response to the dramatic escalation in tax forfeited properties from 2008 through 2011, brought on by the recession, “Their (Saint Paul’s) vacant building list went from 400 to 600 to 900 to 1300. I mean they were seeing numbers just going crazy,” which she emphasized by snapping her fingers. Kris added, “They didn’t have the staff to address it. They didn’t even know what buildings were vacant. With mortgage companies frequently out of state, they wouldn’t have any idea that homeowners left, stripped the house…”

Prior to 4R, a Saint Paul ordinance made it almost impossible to sell the worst of the City’s tax forfeited properties. The so-called Bostrom ordinance (authored by Council member Dan Bostrom) was conceived to protect unknowing home buyers from unscrupulous sellers. Those sellers frequently made just enough cosmetic improvements to hide major problems, then sold the property to an unknowing buyer. Instead of forcing sellers to correct major code violations, the ordinance usually led to ‘Category 3’ properties remaining boarded up, blighting a block until they decayed to the point of City-ordered demolition.

The 4R program gave Ramsey County, the eventual owner of tax forfeited properties, the authority to make major repairs, sell the properties and return them to the tax rolls. As far as Kris can determine, the 4R Program is the only one of its kind in the country.

Paul and Kris explained that taxes on the renovated homes and those sold “as is” are up to $5,000 a year each. In contrast, to clean out, remove asbestos and lead and demolish a house, and properly dispose of the remains (including recycling) costs between $30,000 and $35,000. The empty lots that remain are valued for tax purposes at about $7,000 which generate between $200 to $300 in property tax a year.

Paul explained the 4R program caused some friction with Saint Paul, “The program wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the City of Saint Paul, partially because they do the development in their city; even though that city is in Ramsey County, we’re sort of stepping on their turf.”

“There are some homes that, given the market today, unfortunately, we’re not going to get that back in full. But it’s getting taxable again, it’s getting a hundred more years out of it and helping the neighborhoods, increasing their values.”

The seed money used to start the 4R Program came from Ramsey County’s solid waste disposal budget. Kris said, “As long as we were salvaging, reusing the products or the materials or using sound recycling, green practices, they (Ramsey County Commissioners) felt that it fit the same mission as the solid waste department.”

Renovations use salvaged and green materials when possible. For example, new windows must meet a specified level of energy efficiency; reduced flow faucets and toilets are installed and high-efficiency appliances replace energy hogs.

As for 869 Fuller, Paul said some City of Saint Paul and Minnesota Historical Society staff asked that it be put into the 4R Program because of its architecture and stature on the block. After the demolition order was revoked, renovation work began.

The exterior of 869 Fuller just after Ramsey County took possession. Courtesy Ramsey County

The exterior of 869 Fuller just after Ramsey County took possession. Courtesy Ramsey County

The restoration should have taken 90 days from clean out to completion, an ambitious deadline. Kris and Paul requested bids only from contractors who could meet that, but between the tough winter and contractor issues, the house wasn’t finished and ready for auction until May 2014, about 60 days later than planned.

The sight that greeted Kris and Paul upon their first visit to the Victorian after Ramsey County took possession.

The sight that greeted Kris and Paul upon entering 869 Fuller for their first visit to the Victorian after Ramsey County took possession. Courtesy Ramsey County

Litter covered much of the rear bedroom on the first floor.

Litter covered much of the rear bedroom on the first floor. As part of the renovation, this became the master bedroom. Courtesy Ramsey County

The stench is what Kris remembers most vividly from her first visit. “You can’t even describe the smell. It’s a combination of mold, dirt, dead animals, garbage, sewer. So take all that and put it in a room and that’s what it smells like when you walk in. You can barely stand it.”

Previous tenants trashed the living room of 869 Fuller.

Previous tenants trashed the living room of 869 Fuller. Courtesy Ramsey County

The home’s five bedrooms had been split into 10 using curtains, there were holes in the walls, and bars on the windows. Mouse feces sat on floors and counters from one end of the house to the other, spoiled food festered in the refrigerator, used condoms and drug paraphernalia, including needles, littered the floor and clothing accumulated in piles four feet high.

Despite all that, it took very little time before Kris said they began to see signs of life. “The boards come off (the windows) and then there’s light. And then things start getting swept up. And we start taking things out. And you start taking the bad things out. It’s like the house starts breathing again. It’s got life again. And then it becomes this,” she said emotionally, gesturing in all directions.

Perhaps unexpectedly, a few neighbors became irate when they learned the house wouldn’t be torn down after all. One next door neighbor was the most upset because, according to Kris and Paul, he and his family were subjected for years to the drugs, prostitution and the other horrible things that went on at 869 Fuller. For a long time, the neighbor pressed City officials to declare the house a ‘Category 3’ nuisance and schedule it for demolition. Said Paul, “Living next to that for so long and when you have children growing up in your home and putting up with I could only imagine the horror stories… “…his hopes and dreams were dashed and he was very upset and he let me know that. And it was very hard trying to explain our motives and what the final finished product that we’re going to leave here in this neighborhood to better it, will be like. And I can see it was hard to envision the dramatic change that took place here…”

Kris added that the neighbor very clearly expressed his anger multiple times to Paul and her about the decision to move forward with the renovation, “But when we had our first open house he was the first person to come in the door, and introduced himself and took a walk through, then thanked us.”

The new kitchen.

The new kitchen with new cabinets, counters and lighting.

The exterior of 869 Fuller is close to original but the main level floor plan has been opened up for today’s lifestyle and a first floor laundry area was added. Many of the aesthetics and characteristics remain from when it was built more than 135 years ago.

The living room has been lovingly restored.

Paul Schaff stands in the lovingly restored living room.

Kris and Paul agree that 869 Fuller was their most difficult and most satisfying rehab to date. Both got emotional almost to the point of tears when talking about it. Paul explained it this way, “I put a lot of time beyond my work hours because I love what I do so much and the time that was spent on getting this house to be where it is now and the issues and the arguments and the contractor babysitting all play a part in what I’m going to miss on this property and how it all happened.”

A few closing thoughts;

The 4R Program is a very creative and successful response to the vexing problem of tax forfeitures and how they can lead to neighborhood decay. Imaginative solutions to community issues like this deserve praise and encouragement.

The 4R Program is more than a job to Kris and Paul. They believe so strongly in what they do and the positive effect it’s having in Saint Paul (and other parts of Ramsey County) that they willingly work 60 to 70 hour weeks and more to make the program succeed.

The rehabilitation of 869 Fuller Avenue cost about $225,000 and it sold for $190,000 at the May 23rd auction. Several other properties, both houses and vacant land, sold for more than the minimum bid price. Click on this link for full results of the May 23rd auction: http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/NR/rdonlyres/59EA071A-2A9F-442E-8F47-6644D3113767/37758/AuctionResultsList_052314.pdf

This is the fourth year of the 4R Program, during which time about 14 structures have been rehabbed and more than 30 have been demolished.

Additional details on the Tax Forfeited Land department are here: http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/prr/tfl/index.htm

Here is the map of the entire May 20 ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/468912562