The Best Laid Plans

March 30, 2014
14.7 miles – Highland Park, West End, Downtown

One of many dozens of potholes I encountered on the ride.

One of many dozens of potholes I encountered on the ride.

Saint Paul is a beautiful place but like any city fighting its way out of winter’s lassitude, finding its charms is more difficult at this time of year. Winter clings in the form of dirt crusted snow banks, grit lined roads and potholes of assorted size and shape. The obvious signs of spring like greening grass, emerald colored leaves on trees and the rich yellows, scarlets and purples of tulips and irises, remain some weeks out.
It is those realities that prompted me to plan today’s ride to the industrial area around Holman Field on the West Side. The early spring dormancy would detract little from light industrial buildings and concrete.
The journey began with a cruise down a couple of streets in Highland Park that I’d not ridden. (completing one section of the City will give me a sense of progress.) There wasn’t much to see besides snow, potholes and some stray holiday decorations, but numerous upbeat people emerging from six months of hibernation.

There was the usual Saturday flurry of activity along West 7th Street.

Packed ice is in retreat but still covered most of this section of sidewalk in the 1900 block of West 7th.

Packed ice is in retreat but still covered most of this section of sidewalk in the 1900 block of West 7th.

 

I like the artwork on this sign for a chiropractor in the 1300 block of West 7th

I like the artwork on this sign for a chiropractor in the 1300 block of West 7th

 

Nice weather brings folks to the car wash. To my surprise, Soapy Joe’s Car Wash had only a short line of cars waiting for a bath.

soapy joe's 1

A car enters Soapy Joe’s Car Wash at 1340 West 7th.

Joe Lindsay, general manager and co-owner of Soapy Joe’s, told me this weather is usually perfect for business. “This is ideal right here. High temperatures where people are going to get the itch, driving around with their windows down, you want a clean car.”

Joe Lindsay in stands under the sign for his car wash.

Joe Lindsay in stands under the sign for his car wash.

Soapy Joe’s opened about 2 and a-half years ago with equipment from a Chaska car wash that closed. “There was this other car wash that went out of business and they wanted us to buy the whole building. We offered to buy just the used rack of equipment and they went for it. So we took it apart piece by piece, brought it up here, put it in here, and we added a few other items as well.”

The great weather made fixing one of the vacuums a pleasant task.

The great weather made fixing one of the vacuums a pleasant task.

Soapy Joe’s strives to cut water use by recapturing water, processing and reusing it.

The grime of winter gets wiped from a car.

The grime of winter gets wiped from a car.

Joe encourages everyone at the car wash to be personable. “We’re really pushing our people to smile, show your personality, have fun. I want people to wake up and enjoy coming to work, not, ‘Shoot, I gotta go punch the clock.’”
Despite 12 hour days, six days a week, Joe couldn’t be happier. “I really enjoy it. There’s a lot of people that come in who are just genuinely happy. I’ve met a lot of people through here. My employees are great.”

The sheen of a freshly cleaned car reflects two car wash employees.

The sheen of a freshly cleaned car reflects two car wash employees.

 

I jumped off West 7th to escape traffic and explore the nearby residential neighborhoods. I rode upon streets with women’s names like Ann, Emma and Grace (which actually isn’t having been named after Bishop Thomas Grace in 1872.) About a block away, on Banfil Street, is a uniquely renovated building that is home to an advertising agency.

The eclectic look of 159 Banfil Street befits the headquarters of an ad agency.

The eclectic look of 159 Banfil Street befits the headquarters of an ad agency.

A second story window and an old City Club Beer sign above it at 159 Banfil.

A second story window and an old City Club Beer sign above it at 159 Banfil.

 

A few doors to the east, Julia Reimer was working on her yard at 261 Banfil. She sincerely told me she lives in the best neighborhood in the City. “It’s people who are pretty community-minded. People really watch out for each other.”

Julia Reimer sits on her front steps at  Banfil Street.

Julia Reimer sits on her front steps at 261 Banfil Street.

Julia also told me about the neighborhood garden on Dousman and West 7th and a puppet theater that performs in the summer in what is known as the driveway tour or garage tour.


“It’s very diverse in terms of income, in terms of ethnicity, but people get along, partly because it’s (the street) blocked off on both sides, it’s pretty quiet.”

“People who really know Saint Paul, it’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah. I do know where that is.’ But really, there’s this block and on the other side of 7th there’s maybe four or five more blocks. But it’s just a really small street. I think that’s one of the things that makes it a hidden treasure.”

Julia discovered Banfil Street about a dozen years ago when visiting friends who live down the block. “It just happened that this house was for sale. I had lived in this general neighborhood before, just on the other side of Smith. The history is part of it. The fact that you are on the street here and you have to get to know your neighbors. So you can sit on your porch and you see people, you’re not just shut away in your house all the time and I really wanted something like that.”

Julia Reimer's home, 261 Banfil.

Julia Reimer’s home, 261 Banfil.

Some of Saint Paul’s oldest homes line Banfil and other nearby streets. Julia believes her house was built in 1858 by a shoe store owner with the last name of Dolan. The age of the homes means some unusual ‘charms.’ “Everybody has limestone basements, everybody has garter snakes in their house ‘cause you kinda can’t help, the snakes get in there. Kinda yucky basements but some really neat details on the inside of houses.”

Another draw is the many small businesses. A favorite of Julia’s is the nearby Claddagh Coffee Shop on West 7th. “One of the things that’s particularly wonderful about it is it used to be an adult book store. Jeffrey, the guy who owns the whole building, he kinda polled the neighborhood and said, ‘What would you guys want to see there because I don’t want the adult bookstore to be here anymore.’ And people said, ‘A place with wine, a coffee bar kind of place.’”

Moving on from Banfil Street, I cruised several other side streets, then on to West 7th. I didn’t know it then but the planned Holman Field trip was about to get canceled. On 7th, just east of Forbes Avenue, a van with two women and five children inside sat in the parking lane with a flat tire. I stopped and offered to change the flat. I don’t change tires like a NASCAR pit crew, but I’ve changed enough tires to be confident in my skills. Stephanie and her family piled out of the car and onto the sidewalk and I began lowering the spare tire stored underneath the back of vehicle. For some reason the cable and bracket holding the spare descended but the spare tire didn’t. ‘I’ll come back to it,’ I thought, ‘I’ll remove the lug nuts from the flat tire first.’ The first four came off as they should but the last one wouldn’t budge. Try as I might, I succeeded only in stripping the lug nut. Time for a call to AAA Roadside Assistance for help.

As I worked on the tire, Stephanie called her husband for help. Rockett arrived soon after with a four-way lug wrench that fit better than the multipurpose wrench/jack handle that came with the van. A few turns and the lug nut came off, so I canceled AAA.

Rockett and some of the crew pose in front of their Chevy van.

Rockett and some of the crew pose in front of their Chevy van.

Back to getting the spare to drop from the undercarriage. Despite multiple readings of the car’s manual, Rockett, his son Jeremiah and I still couldn’t get the tire to release. (This may be one reason GM no longer makes minivans.) I made a second call to AAA. Rockett grabbed the spare from his Mercury hoping it would fit the Chevy, but no such luck. As this man-against-machine battle played out, Stephanie left with the younger children and took the flat to a tire store in Rockett’s car to buy a replacement.

There we sat, waiting for AAA, when a gentleman stopped to help. Less than a minute after he crawled under the back of the van, the spare tire released. We all thanked the man and I made my fourth call to AAA, this time to cancel the service request. Rockett talked about the man and a couple of others who offered assistance. “I’ve been in this world a long time, 54 years, and I haven’t seen three people in one day stop to help me do nothin’ really. That just lets me know that I’m at the right place and I live in the right town.”

After two and a half hours and the van finally ready for the new tire, Rockett suggested I take off and thanked me for my help. There wasn’t time to get to the Holman Field area so I visited a few more West End roads, including Douglas Street.

Built in 1880, 118 Douglas Street is fronted by a well worn sandstone wall.

Built in 1880, 118 Douglas Street is fronted by a well-worn sandstone wall.

The address is faded but still legible more than 130 years after being built!

The address is faded but still legible more than 130 years after being built!

 

Giant butterflies rest on the front of 232 Goodrich Avenue.

Giant butterflies rest on the front of 232 Goodrich Avenue.

Some interesting notes from Don Empson’s “The Street Where You Live” on a couple of the West End streets I traveled.

  • Dousman Street was named for Hercules Dousman of Prairie du Chien, WI who is recognized as the first person to suggest the name ‘Minnesota’ for the territory.
  • Douglas Street, named in 1851 for U.S. senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, who ran unsuccessfully for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860.

It felt great to be back on my bike. It was a nice first ride of 2014, even though it didn’t follow my plan. A March ride is a huge win, especially since the weather last year didn’t allow me to get out until May.

Click the link below to see the map of today’s ride.

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/390052026

The Piano Man

9/22/2013

4.6 miles    Highland Park

Sunday afternoons in fall I play football which really cuts my bike riding time. But with the weather in the mid-70s, I jumped on the bike after football for a short spin around some of the Highland Park streets I’d not yet ridden. I found a shrunken version of an Easter Island statue on Mount Curve Avenue.

The statue at 493 Mount Curve Avenue is reminiscent of those on Easter Island.
The statue at 493 Mount Curve Avenue is reminiscent of those on Easter Island.
Sue meets Eleanor in Highland Park.

Sue meets Eleanor in Highland Park.

Three neighboring streets in Highland Park between Fairview Avenue on the east and Cleveland to the west boast the women’s names Josephine, Eleanor and Sue. My go-to source on street names, Don Empson’s “The Street Where You Live”, only offers the source for Sue Place. According to the book, it was named after Sue Fry, who with her husband James, platted one of the neighborhoods nearby.

The intersection of Josephine & Eleanor.

The intersection of Josephine & Eleanor.

I buzzed around a couple other streets in the immediate neighborhood and rode north and west to Juno Avenue where I met up with Mark Humphrey. Mark is a piano technician who refurbishes pianos in his fully equipped, climate controlled, two level garage workshop.

The left side of the garage is Mark Humphrey's workshop for piano restoration.

The left side of the garage is Mark Humphrey’s workshop for piano restoration.

Mark Humphrey with a 100-plus year old Steinway piano in the final stage of renovation.

Mark Humphrey with a 100-plus year old Steinway piano in the final stage of renovation.

This day he had three grand pianos in various stages of repair in the workshop.

The way Mark explained it, his piano fixing career is the result of a series of things he did as a boy and young man. Mark’s interest in pianos began as a boy; he loved to play but wasn’t, in his words, “ambitious enough to practice very hard.”

When he was about 10, Mark’s father taught him to use tools. “He worked with his hands and taught me how to use saws, chisels, screwdrivers and hammers and all that kind of stuff.”

His subsequent experience came several years later, “When I was about 17 I built myself a harpsichord. They used to have harpsichord kits-well they still have them-where you don’t have to make any of the action pieces or anything like that, you just make the body of the instrument and you assemble the action from a kit.”

Mark’s next major opportunity came as a counselor for a summer camp where there were four ‘low quality’ pianos. “I set out to get the piano in the main lodge (so) that every key would work, that it would be close to being in tune. And I did it! It took me the whole summer but I got it done and I just really enjoyed that.”

Then Mark went to college, got his degree and landed a job-as an economic researcher for a consulting firm. “Twenty minutes into my first morning at work I knew I hated my job.” Mark stuck it out for two months before quitting.

He enrolled in the piano tuning class at the McPhail Center in Minneapolis. Upon completion, Mark worked in the restaurant industry while he built his piano business. “The first two to three years I basically didn’t charge for anything. I called up daycare centers, I called up churches. I said, ‘You know, I’m learning this trade. If you have pianos in your basement that your regular piano tuner doesn’t want to mess around with, you know, I’m really happy to do this for free.’”

Most of those pianos were old-style uprights but the experience got him a freelance gig tuning pianos on the store floor for Schmidt Music. It took about eight years for Mark’s business to become self-supporting.

A concert piano doing an impression of an upright in Mark's workshop.

A concert piano doing an impression of an upright in Mark’s workshop.

Mark landed his first big client, Augsburg College, in 1979. At the time Augsburg had three Steinway concert pianos; now they have nine that Mark keeps in pristine shape.

“People don’t have to have great pianos, I just have to like them (the people.) If I don’t like the people I don’t care what their piano’s like.” Mark Humphrey

Other clients include the Minnesota Orchestra (it’s been more than a year since he’s worked there because of the lockout of the musicians), the Ordway, Prairie Home Companion, Carleton College and many private home customers.

“I love my private home customers. They almost become friends to me after all these years.”

Mark checks the strings of one of the Steinway pianos in his workshop.

Mark checks the strings of one of the Steinway pianos in his workshop.

Mark’s 35 year career has involved some memorable pianos and experiences. The most expensive instrument he’s repaired is a $150,000 Steingraeber piano, with an all black exterior. Inside it is decorated with a Birdseye maple veneer and the underside of the lid is quartered mahogany burl veneer splashing out in four directions.

The Steinway mark on one of the pianos in Mark's shop.

The Steinway mark on one of the pianos in Mark’s shop.

Still, Steinway concert pianos remain his favorite. “They’re the work of absolute engineering genius. They’re a truly amazing piano. There is no other piano in the world that provides the combination of power, beauty and color that a Steinway piano does.”

One notable experience involved rehabbing a piano inside a home that suffered a freak lightning strike that blew the soundboard to smithereens.

Another began with an 11 p.m. phone call from the Ordway. During a performance the pianist dropped his cufflink into the piano and insisted it be retrieved right away. So Mark drove to the Ordway and met the unnamed pianist . ” And he says, ‘I have to get my cufflink.’ So I take the piano apart and find the cufflink and it had a diamond that big around. No wonder he wanted his cufflink back right away.”

Mark gave me some history on the most complete piano, a Steinway, in his workshop. “This piano was built before the first World War. Kaiser Wilhelm, Nicholas the Second, Czar of Russia, Abdul Hamid, the Sultan of Turkey. About 1915 they no longer put these on their pianos.”

The names and coats of arms of some of the world's leaders who owned Steinway and Sons pianos around 1912.

The names and coats of arms of some of the world’s leaders who owned Steinway and Sons pianos around 1912.

Surprisingly, pianos are not collectible as antiques. “There is absolutely zero antique value in pianos because there are 500,000 of these, almost 600,000. They are not rare at all. The value that they have is because of their value as musical instruments.”

These planks of five ply hard rock maple are used to make new pin blocks. Today one of these five foot boards costs about $800, compared to about $100 25 years ago.

These planks of five ply hard rock maple are used to make new pin blocks. Today one of these five foot boards costs about $800, compared to about $100 25 years ago.

Restoring a concert-quality piano is an expensive proposition-$30,000 or more. Over the past 25 years the cost of materials have soared, according to Mark. “They were probably about 15% of the cost of a restoration, now they’re over 50% of the cost. Labor costs have not gone up that much but materials are just outrageous.”

A close look at a portion of the duplex bridge and strings.

A close look at a portion of the duplex bridge and strings.

Technology has little to no effect upon the piano manufacturing industry. However, the business has shrunk by 90% so it’s much harder to get quality materials. Steinway makes only 1,500 pianos a year.

Dampers awaiting installation.

Dampers awaiting installation.

Mark disclosed several other interesting facts:

  • A good piano renovation should last about 100 years
  • He spends about 130 hours on an average refurbishing a piano.
  • Mark estimates he’s restored at least 150 Steinways and tuned roughly 30,000 pianos.
  • Mark still feels his business is fun but has cut back to about half-time.

This ride was a departure from my others, mainly because of the short distance I covered. And like nearly every other ride, I learned from and was entertained by someone I met on my trek.

All the details of the huge 4.6 mile ride can be found here: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/347494789

I’m Out of Saint Paul!

August 28, 2012

17.6 miles Edyth Bush 1

Cleveland Avenue, Highland Park. The routine look of this Tudor style building at 690 Cleveland Avenue South belies its noteworthy origin. Opened in 1940 as the Edyth Bush Little Theater, the building was a gift to Edyth from her husband Archibald Bush, a 3M executive.

Edyth Bush poses during construction in front of the theater that will bear her name.

Edyth Bush poses during construction in front of the theater that will bear her name.

The main entrance to the Edyth Bush Building nee the Edyth Bush Theater.

The main entrance to the Edyth Bush Building nee the Edyth Bush Theater.

For the next quarter century the playhouse, at Edyth Bush’s direction, put on new community productions as frequently as monthly. The facility was donated to Hamline University in 1964, sold to the Chimera Theater in 1975 and converted to offices in the late ‘70s. Now known as the Edyth Bush Building, it remains an office building.

The Highland Theater from the west side of Cleveland Avenue

The Highland Theater from the west side of Cleveland Avenue

At the same time as the Edyth Bush Theater was under construction, a movie house opened about a block south on Cleveland Avenue. The Moderne style Highland Theater premiered its first movie in 1939. The interior was remodeled at least once, in the ‘70s, which included the addition of a second screen. However the exterior still displays many original decorative flourishes.

The box office features a chrome and stone exterior.

The box office features a chrome and stone exterior.

The Highland Theater marquee features some Moderne (Art Deco) cues.

The Highland Theater marquee features some Moderne (Art Deco) cues.

OK, I left Highland Park and then I left Saint Paul for this ride. It’s the first time I’ve left the city while riding for this blog but I had to do it. Cutting through Mendota Heights is the shortest way to the southwestern corner of Cherokee Heights, which was my next stop.

I’m trying really hard to get back into Saint Paul but the Construction Gods have made it difficult.

I’m trying really hard to get back into Saint Paul but the Construction Gods have made it difficult.

My destination was Bruce Vento’s View overlook (named in honor of the late congressman and environmentalist) and Lilydale Regional Park.

I locked my bike to this chain link fence just out of the picture.

I locked my bike to this chain link fence just out of the picture.

The trail winds though brush on the bluff high above the Mississippi River, providing dramatic views.

That’s downtown Minneapolis in the distant haze.

That’s downtown Minneapolis in the distant haze.

The three water towers are on the western edge of the Highland National Golf Course along South Snelling Avenue.

The three water towers are on the western edge of the Highland National Golf Course along South Snelling Avenue.

The view of Vento’s View.

The view of Vento’s View.

A shady place to sit near Vento’s View. Reclaimed limestone from the old Saint Paul City Hall, demolished more than 80 years ago, was used to build the viewing site, according to Watchable Wildlife Inc.,a non-profit that played a role in the construction of Vento’s View.

A shady place to sit near Vento’s View. Reclaimed limestone from the old Saint Paul City Hall demolished more than 80 years ago, was used to build the viewing site, according to Watchable Wildlife Inc., a non-profit that played a role in the construction of Vento’s View.

The Vento trail and some defaced stones.

The Vento trail and some defaced stones.

From Vento’s View I retraced my steps for about a fifth of a mile but instead of returning to my bike, I hung a left on the gravel path called the Brickyard Trail that went down the bluff. Twin Cities Brick Company used the trail to haul bricks that were made here to construction sites. According to the National Park Service, the company was founded in 1894 and made bricks here until sometime in the 1970s.

Hiking down the trail I met Monica and Mark McCleary, a couple who live nearby and frequent Lilydale Park. Monica grew up in Saint Paul less than a mile from the brickyard, “We didn’t really come here,” she said, “because it was still a functioning brick yard.  But we went to Cherokee Park a lot. And when you went across the High Bridge you could see the big stacks of bricks.”

Monica and Mark McCleary, Lilydale Park hikers and guides for my trek.

Monica and Mark McCleary, Lilydale Park hikers and guides for my trek.

Monica and Mark are quite knowledgeable about Lilydale Park, its layout and history. They turned their excursion into a guided tour and showed me assorted Brickyard artifacts.

brickyard 2

Support structures are the graffiti-covered remains of what was part of the Twin Cities Brick Company.

Support structures are the graffiti-covered remains of what was part of the Twin Cities Brick Company.

Relics of one of the Twin Cities Brick Company's brick ovens.

Relics of one of the Twin Cities Brick Company’s brick ovens.

Bricks, both whole

Bricks, both whole

and remnants are everywhere. My shoe gives you an idea of the size of the bricks.

and in pieces, are everywhere. My shoe gives you an idea of the size of the bricks.

Echo Cave, from which sand was mined for bricks. Now, the cave is the winter home to hundreds, if not thousands, of big brown bats. The steel keeps curious and destructive visitors out but allow bats to come and go at will.

Echo Cave, from which sand was mined for bricks. Now, the cave is the winter home to hundreds, if not thousands, of big brown bats. The steel keeps curious and destructive visitors out but allows bats to come and go at will.

Another brick oven.

Another brick kiln.

A rail from a long-gone narrow gauge railroad.

A rail from a long-gone narrow gauge railroad.

Looking down from the top of hardened clay that was once used in the manufacture of bricks.

Looking down from the top of hardened clay that was once used in the manufacture of bricks.

Mark brought up the unusual topography of the Brickyard, “You come down here in spring or late fall then you will see things like terrain that just doesn’t make sense in any other way than that a human did that with trucks but it clearly is not its natural landscape.”

Fossils are plentiful here and may legally be collected but a permit from the City of Saint Paul is required.

brickyard 12

An interpretive sign and a garbage bucket, both clearly vandalized.

An interpretive sign and a garbage bucket, both clearly vandalized.

brickyard 14

One of several quotes about walking found around the Brickyard.

The Brickyard and Lilydale Regional Park remains largely undeveloped other than a few benches, garbage containers and signs, interpretive and other.Many park users, especially the Friends of Lilydale Park, stridently want to keep the park that way. However changes will very likely come to some degree beginning in the spring of 2013. The City of Saint Paul has applied for a permit to improve about 1.7 miles of the road through the north side of the park and longer-term plans call for bathrooms, shelters and other enhancements. Here are some links to learn more.

http://www.stpaul.gov/index.aspx?NID=2693

http://www.nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/lilydale_park.htm

http://www.oldmanriver.com/

This was my first trip to Vento’s View and the Brickyard portion of Lilydale Regional Park and I found both were remarkable. From any perspective-historical, archeological or recreational, there are a vast number of things to see and do.

After more than 90 minutes in Lilydale Park, I hiked back up the Brickyard Trail, got on my bike and rode a couple of blocks to neighboring Cherokee Park. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of activity on this gorgeous summer afternoon.

Things were swinging at Cherokee Regional Park.

Things were swinging at Cherokee Regional Park.

tom 1Not far away, Tom McGregor was enthusiastically painting when I rode up and began talking with him. He continued painting as he explained, “This is called en plein air painting which means basically that you’re painting outside trying to capture a moment in time. You’ve got a couple of hours max to get your key notes down. This could be something that I finish up in the studio or leave rough like this or I do a large painting from.”

tom 3Tom said he won’t know for a while which of the three ways he’ll go with this painting, “I’m standing here painting this fast and furious trying to capture the effect and I don’t know how I feel about it yet. So I have to actually take another look at it after I’ve taken a little break.”

IMG_0212Tom lives on the West Side and takes advantage of the area’s magnificence, “I can stay on the West Side and go for several years without repeating myself.  You don’t have to go very far to find a painting. You just have to tune into what it is that you love. I come over here and I see the light coming through those trees. A dap of light just does something. I just know it’s something I want to try to capture. You have to really love it.  You can’t paint something you don’t really love.”

Perhaps surprisingly, summer is Tom’s least favorite season during which to paint because there is so much green, “I love winter, despite the cold. The sun is at a low angle. Artists like a low angle because the sun going through all that atmosphere you get beautiful golden colors. When that hits snow you get the pinks, you get the turquoise, the purples, you get all of these colors in the snow.”

tom 2I was intrigued by Tom’s multilevel easel, which he said he customized for the way he paints.

Tom majored in art with a concentration in graphic design. He worked full-time as a graphic artist but for the last few years he’s done much more painting.  Now, he says, it pays half his bills.

Tom has a website http://mcgregorart.com/ and a blog http://mcgregorpaintings.blogspot.com/ , both of which display many of his paintings and his musings.

The ride home from Cherokee park began with a trek east to Ohio Street, a wonderfully curvy road that is a fun alternate to the High Bridge to and from the West Side. At Plato Boulevard I went west through Harriet Island Regional Park and onto Water Street and the north entrance of Lilydale Park.

lilydale 1

Is it me or would a new sign improve the look of the north entrance to Lilydale Regional Park?

If my experience is at all common, this is the side of Lilydale Park that is most familiar.

This rutted, mostly dirt road, still technically Joy Street in Saint Paul, leads to a parking lot and entrance to the Brickyard. Shot from Water Street looking south.

This rutted, mostly dirt road, still technically Joy Street in Saint Paul, leads to a parking lot and entrance to the Brickyard. Shot from Water Street looking south.

The bike trail in this section of the park is wide, smooth and separated from the road by trees and bushes.

The bike trail in this section of the park is wide, smooth and separated from the road by trees and bushes.

The trees in the distance are on the bluffs of Lilydale Park. These rails, which cut through the park and are still used, were first laid before the turn of the last century.

The trees in the distance are on the bluffs of Lilydale Park. These rails, which cut through the park and are still used, were first laid before the turn of the last century.

Water Street imperceptibly turned into Lilydale Road meaning I had left Saint Paul again but in fewer than two miles, I’d be back in the city.

entering sp

My apology for the poor framing. It’s because I shot this (without looking through the viewfinder) while riding down hill on the bike path that parallels 35E.

Some takeaways from today’s ride:

  • I’m coming back to the Brickyard at Lilydale Park to do some more hiking.
  • The McClearys’ tour and insight to the area added to the experience.
  • There is far too much graffiti in the park.
  • West Side people and sites continue to educate and impress me.
  • Tom McGregor does a remarkable job of conveying a scene to canvas.
  • It’s much more fun to bike down from the West Side bluffs than it is to bike up.

The map of today’s ride:

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/130883163

A Quickie

July 19, 2012

8.2 Miles

A long day at work today meant a quick ride tonight.

Snelling Avenue is one of the busiest north-south roads in Saint Paul and the speed limit varies from 40 MPH on the north end of the city to a typical 30 MPH south of Pierce Butler Route.

At the extreme southern end, however, Snelling changes from a stick straight four-lane artery to a curvaceous, tree-lined, steeply sloped two-lane thoroughfare. (9493) For the bike rider, unless training for a race, going down this half-mile switchback is preferable than struggling up the steep hill.

Snelling Avenue ends at West Seventh Street

It doesn’t matter which direction you go, the lack of bike lanes or shoulders requires an acute awareness of cars.

From Snelling and West Seventh, it was onward to Shepard Road, then westward to where Shepard and Mississippi River Boulevard meet.

Two Rivers Overlook

Two Rivers Overlook is a beautiful sculpture garden, interpretive center, rest area and scenic view. Sculptor Philip Ricky and city landscape architect Jody Martinez created the sculptures.

This large house at 1590 Mississippi River Boulevard was the Hollyhocks Nightclub, a notorious gangster hangout in the early 1930s run by a shady character named Jack Peifer.

It was country living on South Cleveland Avenue in the early 1930s. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

This section of Saint Paul was nearly undeveloped at the time but Hollyhocks was still one of the city’s most popular nightclubs until its closure in 1934. In 1936 Peifer committed suicide after being convicted of kidnapping Saint Paul brewer William Hamm, Jr. I knocked on the door in an unsuccessful effort to talk to a resident about living in a home with such an interesting history.

The north entrance to Hidden Falls Regional Park. Down the hill, right, is a boat launch, picnic shelter and tables, biking and hiking trails and the hidden falls. A visit is in order on a future ride.

This tree house, at 1296 Mississippi River Boulevard, is almost across the street from the park. Nice use of the old tree…but I wonder where the entrance to the fort is?

Just around a curve to the south is this sculpture and parking lot used by Hidden Falls’ visitors. I haven’t been able to learning anything about the sculpture or the artist who made it.

Across the street is the shuttered Ford plant, which closed in December 2011.

A convex mirror reflects yours truly and the south building of the Ford plant.

There remain a few signs of life here as you’ll see shortly but nothing like the bustle of trains and trucks moving parts into the plant and glimmering new Ford Ranger pickups out. It makes me angry and sad to see this manufacturing facility idle after 86 years. So many good jobs lost and so many lives markedly changed, even as the Saint Paul plant remained near the top of Ford facilities in efficiency. I’m certain it’s the same feeling that many had when corporations like Hamm’s Brewery, Whirlpool, 3M and others abandoned their Saint Paul facilities.

The Ford plant looking south from Ford Parkway. Photo taken by author on July 2, 2011.

And what will rise from this spot once redevelopment begins? Right now, there are great expectations but I’m concerned we’ll end up with what we don’t need-more strip malls, fast food restaurants and chain stores. Of course I hope my fears about revitalization will be wrong and a creative developer, city officials and neighborhood interests come together to create a unique, useful, architecturally significant, well designed and cost-efficient project. On the bright side, come whatever, it will be more fodder for this blog.

The first vehicle to trundle off the assembly line in 1925 was the Model T on the right. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The last was a white Ranger pickup like these. Photo taken by author on July 2, 2011.

In between were venerable nameplates like the Galaxie, F150, LTD, Crown Victoria, more than 40 other lesser-known models and during World War II, armored cars and aircraft engines. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Mother Nature wasted little time in starting to reclaim this small portion of the plant, closed since December of 2011.

Peering through the window at the south end of the plant, pallets and carts are loaded and ready for moving out.

Henry Ford selected this spot in Highland Park for his new factory because of easy access to the Mississippi River, which Ford harnessed to generate inexpensive electricity.

The dam and power station, in the lower right, are still producing electricity.

Above the dam is a small interpretive area with benches…

…a 15-ton cast iron turbine, one of four Ford installed in the hydroelectric plant in 1924 that generated power for 70 years…

and a very nice kiosk detailing the history and anthropology of this part of the Mississippi River.

Architect Albert Kahn designed the original portion of the plant (and other Ford manufacturing facilities.) According to placeography.org, the plant was built with large exterior windows that allowed passersby to watch vehicles move along the assembly line. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

A 1968 expansion resulted in the look of the plant we see today. This is the office area of the plant looking east. That ’68 remodeling did great harm to the aesthetics of the facility viewed from both the outside and in. Photo shot by the author on July 2, 2011.

The lobby looks a little like set from “Mad Men.”

Architect Kahn‘s design features art deco touches like these frescoes.

An office that is still in use in the original section of the plant. I like the Snow Village decorations on the desk, but not in July.

There were many more photos I’d like to have taken had it not been 9 p.m. and the light fading quickly with sunset seven minutes past. I could say much more about the long history of the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant, but others have already done so. Here are a couple of links to learn more:

www.startribune.com/business/125652448.html

http://www.at.ford.com/news/cn/Pages/Twin%20Cities%20Event%20Celebrates%20Legacy%20Gives%20Back%20to%20Community.aspx

Click for route map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/157183625