The Diminutive and the Colossal

July 11, 2015         12.05 miles         Highland Park, Summit-University (Summit Hill)

The small house movement caught on in the late 1990s. It’s easy to understand, with the dramatic rise in housing prices. Even so, there’s been a steady surge in home size with the average U.S. home growing from 2,521 square feet in 2007 to about 2,600 in 2015. In reality, smaller, simpler homes have been built for many years. The house at 1243 Highland is a nice example. Built in 1911, this home has a mere 640 square foot of living space. As you can see, small doesn’t limit creativity.

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From the bush-covered front steps and mailbox…

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… to Dylan and the ‘Hippies’ and ‘For Sale’ signs, the small size has no relation to the objects of interest.


Summit Hill

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The house at 1130 St. Clair Avenue as seen from the bridge over Ayd Mill Road.

I’ve passed this unusual and tiny home at 1160 St. Clair dozens of times on my bike and in the car and have always wondered about it. The exterior has undergone major changes, most recently encased in corrugated metal.

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1160 St. Clair wore a white exterior with magenta trim that looked like gaudy nail polish prior to Todd Fink undertaking the total renovation of the house. I took this picture on a ride in May of 2012.

Over the years of biking I’d even stopped to knock on the door, hoping to talk to someone, but without success. As I rode by today, I noticed a pickup in the driveway and knew this was my opportunity to finally uncover the story of this small, unconventional structure.

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To say that 1160 St. Clair looks better clad in a new metal coat, new windows and landscaping  vastly understates the improvement.

When I met Todd Fink It was obvious he was heavy into renovating the property. He was wearing a paint-stained t-shirt with the sleeves cut off and blue jean cutoffs smudged with dirt. Todd explained that he and his wife bought 1160 St. Clair out of foreclosure on January 2, 2015. “Since then,” Todd said, “we’ve put six months into cleaning up the inside and fixing it up and finally turning to the outside and starting some of the solar and re-siding and landscaping.”

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Todd, standing beside the front door, pauses from his work for a picture.

By trade, Todd is in the solar energy business. He owns 45 North Solar, a company that designs and installs solar electric and thermal systems. In renovating the house, Todd put those skills to work and honed his carpentry and landscaping know-how. I asked Todd about the condition of the house when he purchased it and without hesitation, he answered, “Unhealthy,” and laughed heartily.

“I want to be able to heat this thing with a cat.”  Todd Fink on the energy efficiency of the house

Based upon the condition, Todd knew he’d need to gut the interior. “I was able to find a place with practically nothing to save and that enabled me to go pretty deep in my remodel. And that’s a really good reason to resolve the energy issues that exist in all these old houses. A lot of these houses that don’t get a remodel are going to be energy irrelevant.

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Peering at the kitchen and living room through the door separating the bedroom from the rest of the house.

“I want to be able to heat this thing with a cat. The solar air collection will help but we want to put in some hydronic heating in the floor to make the heating a little more mellow and comfortable.”

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The bathroom needs a tub and some finishing touches.

Winter is the off-season for the solar industry so Todd kept his employees busy working on the St. Clair residence. The Earth-friendly efforts extend outside the home, starting with the roof-mounted solar panels. “The PV (photovoltaic) system is anticipated to take care of the whole house load. At 540 square feet there are a limited number of places to use electricity.”

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Todd removed buckthorn but has more work to do to convert the backyard into gardens. Ayd Mill Road is in the background.

According to Todd, “We’re thinking of using the triangular lot as well as we can to permaculture. We’ve got great exposure on the southwest side, so building terraces and continuing some of the gardening we’ve started here is going to happening.” Todd continued, “It’s a 3000 square foot lot. It’s about as small as they get in the Twin Cities but it does have an amazing amount of space that can only be used to garden.” They’ll likely plant fruit trees or vegetable beds along the nine foot setback in front of the railroad tracks.

Todd’s research of 1160 St. Clair and uncovered some unexpected history. The structure was built in 1927 as a store at a cost of $700. “When it was a store front, as far as I can tell, it was divided into three 10 foot rooms on an 18 foot wide building. So there was a front area, there was a workshop and probably a storage room in back.”

He also learned the building had no plumbing until 1947, which is when Todd speculates it was converted to a residence.

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“The walls are basically where they were except for the closet, which is now the entryway to the bathroom and the laundry area.”

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Todd describes the light fixtures as ‘Steampunk.’ He used faucets and other left over plumbing remnants to create light fixtures.

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This light has been fashioned from a faucet.

 

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The part of the bedroom with the Murphy bed in its closed position. Todd told me, “The bedroom needs to function as a corridor to the back porch and having a bed in the way would not make it very good for entertaining so I used an old futon frame to make a Murphy bed.”

Todd’s biggest concern was over the smallest room. “We’re just trying to fit a kitchen in as small an area as possible and when it all fleshes out with furniture we’ll see if it’s enough room.”

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The fruit crates above and below the vent hood are for storage. “We took the laundry sink out of the basement. It weighed about 500 pounds. So that took a couple of really strong guys and four Aleve.” The doorway leads to the bedroom and then to the back exit.

Todd noted that I was one of many visitors, “On St. Clair we get a lot of walkers. I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody said, ‘I’ve always been fascinated by this place.’ That one sentence has come out close to a dozen times now.”

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From small on St. Clair to stately on Summit — 1006 Summit — the Governor’s Mansion. The house, 20 rooms and 14,700 square feet, was built for lawyer and lumber executive Horace Hills Irvine and his wife Clotilde. The brick and stone home was completed in 1912 for about $50,000. The Irvines spent another $7,000 acquiring the one and a-half acre property on which their mansion was built. 

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The Governor’s Mansion at 1006 Summit Avenue. Little has changed in the front since it was built for Horace and Clotilde Irvine more than 100 years ago.

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Though difficult to see, Clotilde Emily Irvine, Elizabeth Hills Irvine and Thomas Edward Irvine stood in the yard for this picture circa 1915. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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The marker on the right stone support of the entrance gate commemorates the gift of the house to the State of Minnesota. A similar marker on the left entrance gate support notes that this property is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Tudor-related design uses very little wood on the exterior, which is ironic in that Horace Irvine’s primary business was lumber.

The Irvine House stayed in the family until August 1965, when Clotilde and Horace’s two youngest daughters, Clotilde Irvine Moles and Olivia Irvine Dodge, donated it to the State of Minnesota in honor of their parents. Later that year the legislature authorized using the home as the governor’s residence.

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The front entrance of the governor’s mansion. Wrought iron adds a decorative touch to the windows.

One consequential update to the home is security enhancements.

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Two of the plethora of security cameras which seem to keep watch over every inch of the home and grounds.

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I’m guessing this sign is a delicate way of saying you’ll have company should you get into the yard.

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Although not new, the wrought iron fence remains a deterrent to the uninvited.

I spent a solid 20 minutes walking back and forth past the mansion, taking pictures, and peering through the wrought iron fence. I am sure the security detail was following my wanderings and I’m a bit surprised nobody questioned me.

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The Ford Crown Victoria framed in the mansion’s porte cochere most likely belongs to the Governor’s security detail.

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This shot of the driveway from more than 100 years ago shows, that aside from the car, this part of the property has changed little. In fact, the front yard and the Summit Avenue side of the house are nearly the same as in 1912.

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This sculpture, titled “Man-Nam”, inhabits a prominent spot on the western side of the yard. Sculptor Paul T. Granlund created “Man-Nam” to honor sacrifices made by Minnesotans who served in Vietnam.

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The backyard had more open space in 1912, with flowers and shrubs planted primarily around the perimeter. Since the building became the Governor’s Mansion, the yard has had occasional redesigns to meet the needs of the governor and his family. Today, unfortunately, passers-by cannot see the stunning gardens and brick walkways and other features of the backyard. One can only glimpse the side yard and porch. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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The Groves historic landscape report – Another update of the grounds is in progress, based upon this 2013 landscape plan.

 There is much more to learn the colorful history and preservation of the Governor’s Mansion. Two of the best sites are the official Governor’s Mansion website at http://mn.gov/admin/governors-residence/history-preservation/history/index.jsp and The 1006 Summit Avenue Society, the non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the Minnesota Governor’s Residence at http://www.1006society.org/.

If you want to do more than read about the mansion, it opens occasionally for public tours. Contact residence.gov@state.mn.us for information.

A couple of blocks east of the Governor’s Mansion is a disjointed series of interconnected buildings that make up Mitchell Hamline School of Law. (The law school was called William Mitchell School of Law from 1956 until the end of 2015, when a merger with Hamline University’s law school was approved.)

The buildings that make up the law school were built over 60-some years for distinct and disparate functions.

The Mitchell Hamline campus sits upon about four square blocks bounded by Summit Avenue, Portland Avenue and Milton and Victoria Streets.

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Now known as the LEC Building, offices and a few classrooms are the bulk of what’s inside.

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The three story building at 40 West Milton was built as the Our Lady of Peace Convent.

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This building is the first of two on Portland Avenue. It is known as the 1953 Building although it looks much newer. Perhaps this section was added later.

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Continuing east on Portland is the Our Lady of Peace Auditorium, a part of the 1931 Building.

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The Summit Avenue side of the 1931 Building carries reminders of the long gone Our Lady of Peace High School.

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Looking at Mitchell Hamline from near the corner of Summit and Victoria, the vastly different architecture makes it apparent that the buildings are of distinctly different eras. The 1931 Building is on the right and the 1953 Building is on the left.

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The clay roof tiles of the 1931 building form geometric designs from multiple perspectives.

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From Summit Avenue, the Burger Library, center; the 1953 Building just to the right; and the tower at the far right is the 1931 Building.

The Steppingstone Theatre, perched above Victoria Street North, and Holly Avenue, lords over the neighborhood like the mythical temple on Mount Olympus. Steppingstone offers programs for children through plays, camps and an artist in residence program. Prior to the Steppingstone Theatre moving into this building in 2007, three different churches used the building at 55 Victoria Avenue North.

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The Steppingstone Theatre building is dramatic from across Victoria Street. 

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Stained glass windows on the Portland Avenue side of the building.

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The Ionic pillars and what was the front entrance to the church.

The original occupant was the First Methodist Episcopal Church. The cornerstone of the building was laid in October 1907 and the Church moved in the next year. A highlight of the First M.E. Church‘s 850 seat auditorium was the organ built for $7,600 by the Austin Organ Company of Connecticut, according to information from the Minnesota Annual Conference United Methodist Church.

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This postcard of the First M.E. Church dates back to about 1910. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The First M.E. Church moved out in 1959 and sometime around 1964 Saints Volodymer and Olga Ukranian Orthodox Church moved in. Grace Community Church was the last religious congregation to own the building. In 2007, 100 years after the construction began, Steppingstone Theatre moved in.

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In 1964, Saints Volodymer and Olga Ukranian Orthodox Church was the occupant. The photo was shot from Holly Avenue. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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The mosaic sculpture of Princess Amariadevi brightens the day of all who pass the Steppingstone on Victoria.

 


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Built in 1903 as the all-boys St. Paul Academy, it has been renovated and converted to an office building called The Academy.

The Academy, as it’s known today, is a meticulously restored building at 25 North Dale Street which now holds offices. The former St. Paul Academy School for boys is the site of a first for one of Saint Paul’s most famous natives. According to the book “Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald: A Literary Reference to His Life And Work” by Mary Jo Tate, in 1909 a 13 year old F. Scott Fitzgerald got his first byline with the short story “The Mystery of the Raymond Mortgage,” which he wrote for the school newspaper, “St. Paul Academy Now and Then.”

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Scott himself; well, a bronze sculpture of Scott, sits with books in hand on the wall next to the entrance to The Academy. Artist Aaron Dysart created the Scott sculpture in 2006.

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This marker recognizes the statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his attendance at St. Paul Academy.

Apparently, Scotty was not a favorite of at least one fellow student. “Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald” by Mary Jo Tate says the school newspaper published a note penned by student Sam Kennedy that said, “If anybody can poison Scotty or stop his mouth in some way, the school at large and myself will be obliged.” One hundred years ago this was likely considered humorous or at least sarcastic. But if written today, no doubt Sam Kennedy would get at least a suspension and possibly, have criminal charges filed against him.

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A look inside The Academy through a window in the front door.

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In need of more space, Saint Paul Academy left 25 North Dale for a larger, modern building at 1712 Randolph Avenue in 1931.

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Sometime later the Amherst H. Wilder Nursery moved into 25 Dale. Aside from the lighter colored doorway and dormer, the building looks almost identical today. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

 –

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The corner of Lawton and Summit Lane, not to be confused by the much better known Summit Avenue or the nearby Summit Court. These are the first street signs I’ve noticed that do not include address numbers on them.

On Summit Hill near The University Club is narrow street which resembles an alley. Summit Lane, for all practical purposes, is an alley – garages, driveways and backyards line the street and there is not a front door to be seen along its four block run. One block of Summit Lane retains what is probably its original brick pavement.

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Don’t be fooled by the look of Summit Lane — it’s a street, not an alley, at least in the eyes of the City of Saint Paul.

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The end of Lawton Street, looking north. The rock and concrete gully was built to channel runoff and reduce flooding from rain and snow melt.

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Turning 180 degrees to face south and there are the Lawton Steps. While I didn’t count them, Don Empson says in “The Street Where You Live” that there are 77 steps from here, the top, to Grand Avenue at the bottom.

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This house at 70 Lawton Street is built into the hillside, giving residents a spectacular panorama of the Mississippi River valley. The bridge in the background is the High Bridge.

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The walkway from the Lawton Steps to 70 Lawton. What makes this home unique is the only access is by foot.

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Standing on the sidewalk on Grand Avenue, this is the way the Lawton Steps looking heading up the hill.

Back up the 77 steps to the top of the Lawton Steps and I doubled back on Lawton Street for a block to Summit Court. After about a block, seemingly in the middle of the street, sat a large brick and stone building.

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The four story brick and stone building directly to the north turned out to be an apartment building.

 

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The summit of Summit and Summit. The Summit Court condo building is just out of frame to the right.

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Turns out the brick and stone building is called Summit Court Condominiums. Notice the mailboxes to the extreme right. It is worth noting that Summit Court Condos has two addresses. This entrance is 11 Summit Court.

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The meticulous detailing on each level and the rounded ‘corner’ are striking.

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The front entrance of the Summit Court Condominiums is at 442 Summit Avenue.

 

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There is so much to love about the Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House at 432 Summit Avenue. For years I’ve wanted to explore the inside.

The Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House has such a extensive and extraordinary history it is worthy of an entire book. The mansion was designed and built for wealthy stagecoach owner James C. Burbank. Burbank’s other ventures included partnering with notable early Saint Paulites J.L. Merriam and Amherst H. Wilder in a wholesale grocery business and working as a forwarding agent (logistics in today’s jargon) for the Hudson Bay Company, according to “St. Paul’s Historic Summit Avenue” by Ernest R. Sandeen.

Construction on the 8,000 square foot home began in 1862 and took three years to complete. The mansion is universally considered by historians and architects to be among the preeminent early Saint Paul homes.

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This drawing was made about 1867 when the house was still owned and occupied by Joseph C. Burbank and family. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Modern amenities built into the home included steam heating, hot and cold running water and gas lighting, all rarities in the early 1860s. The exterior is grey Mendota limestone, with an interior lining of brick and an air chamber between, ostensibly to make the home rat and frost-proof.

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An 1874 drawing of the Burbank House included the tree-covered property and a glimpse of Victorian Summit Avenue. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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One of the sitting rooms in the mansion in 1884, shortly after the George Finch family it. In true Victorian splendor, there is hardly space anywhere in the room to add another decoration. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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Another room in the mansion in 1884. This room has a more masculine decorating theme with tiger skin rug in the center of the picture. It appears as though a couple of other animal skins sit along the edges of the photo.

The Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House changed hands several times over the years. In the late 1880s, Crawford Livingston purchased 432 Summit Avenue. Livingston and wife Mary had a daughter, also named Mary, who in 1915, married Theodore Wright Griggs, ultimately providing the other two names attached to the mansion.

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The front doors and a bit of the porch of the Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House.

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The cupola (with windows on all four sides) and finial atop the house are the most captivating exterior features.

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The backyard has a greenhouse for people for those days when you want to sit outside even if it’s too cool or wet to sit outside.

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The beauty and detail of the limestone exterior and the skill of the stone cutters becomes apparent when you move close to the house.

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Dentils and the elaborately detailed brackets under the cornice decorate the entire roof line. (One bracket does need some repair.)

 

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The leaded and arched windows are set into the granite. The Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House is on the National Historic Register.

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The front porch as seen from the east side of the house.

The Burbank-Livingston-Griggs house is now three meticulously renovated apartments of varying sizes. At the time of this writing, it appears that all three are available to rent. See recent photos of the elegant interior of the Burbank-Livingston-Griggs house here: http://www.griggsmansion.com/.

The creativity, function and design are intertwined, no matter what the size of the house. Today’s encounters with houses of vastly different size and purpose made me realize that. The creativity Todd Fink put into making his small house not just functional, but comfortable, is as great an accomplishment as that of the architect and builders of the Burbank-Livingston-Griggs House and Saint Paul’s other great mansions.

Click here to review the map of this ride.

 

Hidden, but Not Really

June 26, 2015     19.96 miles (but I’m saying 20 miles)

Macalester-Groveland, Summit-University, St. Anthony Park, Hamline-Midway

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When you mention Summit Avenue, most people think of the eastern part of the Avenue, home to the mansions built for industrialists like the Hills, Weyerhaeusers and Ordways. Summit became the place favored to live by Saint Paul’s most prosperous in the late 1880s. The expansion of industry in Lowertown, and the accompanying noise and pollution, prompted the exodus. The development of Summit Avenue started on the east end, just outside of Downtown and gradually moved west.

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The western portion of Summit Avenue features a boulevard lined with mature trees separating the east and west bound lanes. It gives a more leisurely feeling to the neighborhood.

Summit west of Snelling Avenue has a much different atmosphere than the eastern portion – with the grass and tree-lined boulevard dividing the lanes it feels less formal and hurried. Though the homes are newer, you’ll find many beautiful and historical residences.

The August M.P. Cowley Cottage

The August M.P. Cowley Cottage at 1994 West Summit.

For example, take the A.M.P Cowley House at 1994 West Summit, built for the August Crowley family in 1913. Cowley worked as an “industrialist” when his Summit Avenue home was built. According to the July 29, 1913 edition of the Construction News publication, Cowley spent $8,000 to have his cottage built.

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MacQueen Equipment at 595 Aldine Street.

There is a brick building with several large garage doors on the southwest corner of Thomas and Aldine. The only signage is a distinct yellow and black banner baring the name ‘MacQueen Equipment’. No doubt neighbors know about MacQueen, but many, including me, either have no idea or haven’t considered it. This first-rate summer day was the perfect time to find out for myself.

Not being a shrinking violet, I stepped through the front door and revealed why I was there. General Manager Mike Hawkins led me back outside to talk about the business.

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MacQueen Equipment General Manager Mike Hawkins.

He explained that MacQueen is much like an auto dealership, but for municipal equipment. MacQueen, he said, sells and services new and used street sweepers, snow plows, garbage trucks and sewer vacuum trucks, most often to government agencies.

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This lot behind MacQueen’s headquarters building is where much of the used equipment is parked. Garbage trucks, street sweepers and a sewer vacuum are on the lot, waiting on buyers.

“The City of Saint Paul is one of many municipal customers and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport is one of our biggest customers. We’ll sell the big tractors to them as well that go down the runways. We can put either a blower or broom on the front of that or a plow.” Hawkins added, “We also sell snow blowers that are used mostly for the D.O.T. (Department of Transportation) but in some cases, cities will have them too.”

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A MacQueen mechanic prepares a new snow plow for deployment at Twin Cities International Airport.

MacQueen Equipment was founded in 1961 by Jack MacQueen and has been at 595 Aldine Street for decades. However the company will be leaving in 2016. “We’ve been at this location for close to 50 years and we’ve simply outgrown it. We’re hiring more people; we don’t have anywhere to put them.”

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Colorful sweeper brushes are stacked in a corner of the back lot.

MacQueen’s new home will be on the East Side, in the Beacon Bluff Industrial Park. The 40,000 square foot building will have 14 bays. “The additional bays,” said Hawkins, “will help us get more of our customers’ work in and out efficiently.”

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By the nature of their job, street sweepers require regular maintenance. A mechanic cleans some brushes inside one of the service bays.

“These bays,” he said pointing toward the garages, “are much smaller and as the equipment gets bigger it’s very difficult for our guys to get underneath it. With this new shop we’ll have much higher bays so they can lift up the equipment and get underneath it, as well as more space in between each bay.”

Efficiency will come in other ways too. Hawkins said features of the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Program will be used in the new building.

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Winter is nearly six months away but June is a great time to prepare snow removal equipment. Several MacQueen mechanics refurbish an industrial snow blower.

All but two mechanics have worked at MacQueen for 10 years or more. “The majority of our guys have been here from 10 to 25 years. It’s a pretty loyal business. People don’t like to leave which says a little about our management and the company itself.”

Even with the low turnover, Hawkins told me the plan is to hire some 10 employees. However, it has been difficult finding qualified mechanics. That led the company to partner with an area school. “We’re working with the Dakota County Technical College to create a new program with them to get some young people coming up out of school.”

MacQueen Equipment is supposed to move to the new East Side headquarters by April 2016. I’ll have an update when a ride takes me to Beacon Bluff Industrial Park.

Hamline-Midway

With the interview and photos at MacQueen Equipment complete, I rode north to Pierce Butler Route. This unusual east-west road parallels the BNSF railroad tracks, which are just to the north. Pierce Butler Route, which runs primarily through industrial parts of the Midway between Prior Avenue and Dale Street, is named after the first (of three) U.S. Supreme Court Justices from Saint Paul.

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Supreme Court Associate Justice Pierce Butler served on the high court from 1923 until he died in 1939.

On the western-most end of Pierce Butler Route, a thicket of trees conceals a good-sized pond that I learned about by looking at maps.

Behind this thicket of trees and bushes is large pond. The foliage is so thick that the pond isn’t visible until you get within 10 feet of it.

Behind this thicket of trees and bushes is large pond. The foliage is so thick that the pond isn’t visible until you get within 10 feet of it.

Labeled as Great Northern Pond on the official Saint Paul city map, the pond's name comes from the nearby railroad once owned by James J. Hill. That railroad is now part of the BNSF. According to “The Street Where You Live” by Don Empson, Great Northern Pond now drains into the storm sewer system and then into the Mississippi River.

Labeled as Great Northern Pond on the official Saint Paul city map, the pond’s name comes from the nearby railroad once owned by James J. Hill. That railroad is now part of the BNSF. According to “The Street Where You Live” by Don Empson, Great Northern Pond now drains into the storm sewer system and then into the Mississippi River.

The secluded Great Northern Pond is also nearly impossible to see from the Ramsey County compost site though the northern third juts into the pond.

The size and seclusion of the Great Northern Pond is apparent in the screen grab from Google Earth.

The size and seclusion of the Great Northern Pond is apparent in the screen grab from Google Earth.

 

The main entrance to the former headquarters of Koppers Coke is at 1000 Hamline Avenue.

The main entrance to the former headquarters of Koppers Coke is at 1000 Hamline Avenue.

A mile east on Pierce Butler Route at Hamline Avenue, I stopped at an unconventional three-plus story brick building in the midst of major renovation. The structure at 1000 Hamline Avenue North was constructed in 1917 as the Saint Paul office of the Minnesota By-Product Coke Company (later Koppers Coke.) This building is all that is left of the 38 acre facility that, from 1917 until 1979, turned coal into coke. (Coke, a pure fuel used in blast furnaces primarily for making steel, is created by heating coal to 212 to 752 degrees Fahrenheit in special furnaces.)

A steam engine sits idle at Koppers Coke in August 1961. Photo by Douglas Bailey

A steam engine sits idle at Koppers Coke in August 1961. Photo by Douglas Bailey

Several of the structures at Koppers Coke in April 1978, about a year before they were torn down.

Several of the structures at Koppers Coke in April 1978, about a year before they were torn down. Photo by Steve Plattner

 The coking process creates highly polluting coal tar and distillates (including creosote) as by-products. In fact, storage, disposal, leaks and spills over the 82 years of production led the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place the Koppers Coke site on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

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By November of 1979, Koppers Coke had shut down and the structures in various states of demolition. Photo by Henry Benbrook Hall. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

All of the old Koppers land is now part of Energy Park. Kemp’s headquarters building occupies at least some of the area in the photo above.

St. Anthony Park

Hamline Avenue is interrupted several dozen feet north of the old Koppers building by a valley through which the BNSF Railroad tracks run. There is a convenient pedestrian/bike bridge that I used to cross over the tracks and down to Energy Park. I was there to pick up a couple of private streets I’d missed on previous visits.

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Private roads usually display signs significantly different than Saint Paul’s public street signs. Carling Drive is between Energy Park Drive and the BNSF tracks.

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The Burlington is one of several apartment and condo complexes in the Bandana Square area given names tied to the Northern Pacific Railroad’s shops once located here. The name comes from James J. Hill’s Burlington Route Railroad.

 

Como Avenue is an east-west street that is parallel to, but north of, the same BNSF tracks that Pierce Butler Route runs along. Hints of the State Fair, still two months off, are frequently seen in this area.

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These doughnut stands are parked in a lot at Como and Winston Street.

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The CW television station for the Twin Cities is across the street, on the southwest corner of Como and Winston.

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And behind the TV station are satellite dishes and a microwave tower that plainly stood out nicely against the indigo blue sky.

Continuing west on Como, the light industrial make up south of Como Avenue unexpectedly turns residential. Bounded by Fifield Street on the east, those ever-present BNSF tracks on the south and the heavily-traveled Raymond Avenue to the west, several dozen homes and apartment buildings create a very distinct and charming neighborhood.

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Priscilla Street, like the others nearby, is lined with mature trees and nicely kept homes.

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Priscilla Street is only one block long, though it is a lengthy block, comparable to at least two average blocks.

As Priscilla Street angles south toward the railroad tracks, homes are replaced by thick woods (above). About a tenth of a mile farther, Priscilla makes a sharp right turn and becomes Gibbs. In front of 1114 Gibbs, unexpectedly sat an Irish phone booth amidst an attractively landscaped garden. What a fun yard decoration that must spur lots of comments.

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The stone path from Gibbs Street to the Irish phone booth.

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The book resting on the bench is “So You Think You’re Irish” by Margaret Kelleher.

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Right across Gibbs Avenue is Alden Square Park, a one-third acre triangular shaped spit of land. The park is named after John and Priscilla Alden. As you probably guessed, the aforementioned Priscilla Street got its name from Mrs. Alden, according to Don Empson’s ‘The Street Where You Live.’

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The finest feature of the park is a beautiful wood gazebo, which is open to all comers.


Riding south toward University Avenue I traversed the Raymond Avenue bridge and crossed over the Midway rail yard. Then I turned west on Robbins Street to get in position to take a couple of railroad pictures. It’s a great spot to get into the yard with a minimum of obstacles. Be warned – it is illegal to walk onto railroad property and the railroads have clamped down on violators.

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Looking east at the undulating tracks of the Midway Rail Yard. The pillar on the left is one of the supports for the Raymond Avenue Bridge.

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Two Twin Cities & Western locomotives roll through the dusty air while hauling some cars out of the rail yard.

 –

Mattresses were among the many products that have been manufactured in Saint Paul. The former United States Bedding Company/King Koil Mattress factory at 550-558 Vandalia Avenue (immediately north of I-94) is where I next stopped. Detailed information about the building was difficult to find but Ramsey County records say the first and largest portion was built in 1918, with additions in 1927 and 1948.

Russian immigrant Samuel Bronstien founded United States Bedding in 1898, according to the King Koil website. (http://www.kingkoil.com/about-us/). Bronstien and six family members first made mattresses in their Saint Paul home. Business grew so production was relocated to a true factory. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, United States Bedding Company moved to the Vandalia Avenue building. In the ‘30s, the King Koil name was coined as the United States Bedding brand name.

King Koil CoilMan

King Koil was introduced as the brand name for United States Bedding during the 1930s. This logo was part of the rebranding. Courtesy of Comfort Solutions

 Following the departure of King Koil from Saint Paul, the hulking brick warehouse slowly decayed while many tenants, including a high school for recording arts and an HVAC company, came and went. Other small companies and non-profits hung in at 550 Vandalia because of the low rent and favorable location between I-94 and University Avenue.

The King Koil factory is the largest of several buildings in the complex purchased in 2012 by First & First LLC for more than $3 million. Renovation of the buildings into Vandalia Tower has attracted some interesting new tenants like Lake Monster Brewing and Saint Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN).

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Several renderings of Vandalia Tower hang inside. This is the Vandalia Avenue side looking north, the most familiar part of the building.

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This rendering looks Northeast toward the southwest at what was likely the back of the complex. Vandalia Avenue runs along the upper right corner.

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A closer view of the courtyard to the east of the main building. Lake Monster Brewing is in the building with the red roof, behind the water tower.

water tower back yard 1

This is how the area looks as of this ride. Extensive work needs to be done to the buildings and grounds to make the architectural drawings a reality. Once completed, this will be one of the toughest seats to get when the weather is magnificent in Saint Paul.

Inside V Tower 1

The lobby and some of the tenants of Vandalia Tower. Note the tall ceilings and polished concrete floors.

inside V Tower 2

A renovated first floor hallway in the main building.

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Another part of the first floor. I wonder what Samuel Bronstien would say about the look and function of his former factory?

Water tower ladder 1

Looking up the ladder toward the top of the water tower. I resisted the urge to climb up to take a few pictures.

water tower plaque

The water tower was manufactured by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Works plate detailing the manufacture of the water tower is still legible through cracked paint and rust more than nine decades after it was built. The plaque says “Chicago Bridge and Iron Works Builders; Chicago, ILL”

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This building is being transformed into Lake Monster Brewing.

Lake Monster renovation

Some signs of renovation of the Lake Monster space.

leaf covered window

Evidence of the complete disregard for the former King Koil Mattress factory are still visible throughout. Here the unchecked foliage has covered all the windows of the Lake Monster premises. The numerous patterns and colors caused by the frosted glass led me to take about 20 pictures.

king coil sign

Unfortunately, only the lower half of the King Koil mascot remains visible. I’m hoping for restoration of the sign, which is one of those details that would elevate the project.

King Koil signs

My hope is that the ‘office’ sign also figures into the renovation plan.

 

In the six months since I took this ride, the renovation of Vandalia Tower has continued at a steady pace. Independent Filmmaker Project Minnesota (IFP Minnesota) opened in early 2015, Lake Monster Brewing began serving its beer in December, and many small businesses like Bootstrap Coffee Roasters, artists and photographers are successfully doing business there. Once the courtyard is completed and nice weather arrives, the former mattress factory will hum like never before.

Click here  for a map of the June 26, 2015 ride. 

 

Making Peter Piper Jealous

June 21, 2015 – Macalester-Groveland, West End/West 7th, West Side – 14.7 miles

 

Today is the summer solstice, one of my favorite days, mainly because it’s the longest day of the year (more play time!) In Saint Paul, we enjoy 15 hours, 37 minutes, and 4 seconds of daylight. To top it off, it’s also Father’s Day.

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Which way do I go?

Pascal and Palace – Glad I’m on my bike. If I was walking, I might still be at this intersection trying figure out which way to go.

 

Down the Hill

After that brief stop in Mac-Groveland, I flew, figuratively speaking, down the Jefferson Avenue Hill, peaking at 30 miles per hour, according to my GPS. Enjoying the descent almost, almost makes up for the slow, grueling, sometimes painful pedal I frequently face on the way home.

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Palace Recreation Center and the Sergeant James M. Wosika Jr. Memorial Fields.

As Jefferson leveled out, I came to the Palace Recreation Center and the Sergeant James M. Wosika Jr. Memorial Fields, where I paused.

Sergeant Wosika, a Saint Paul native and 2000 graduate of Highland Park High School, was assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry in Crookston. He died January 9, 2007 in Fallujah, Iraq, from wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit while on combat patrol. The Saint Paul City Council approved the memorial in August of 2007.

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In summer, the rink is set for boot or blade hockey. In the cooler months, ice hockey takes over thanks to Mother Nature and the attached refrigeration unit.

Behind the Palace Rec Center/Wosika Memorial Fields sign is an obviously iceless  hockey rink. That meant inline rather than ice skates for Auggie Garcia and his children. “We’re an active family. We like to hang out and play sports,” Auggie told me. “We decided to come out here and spend a nice day, and being Father’s Day, they gotta listen to me.” Auggie added, laughing.

Auggie grew up on the West Side of Saint Paul, where he spent most of his time, though he occasionally visited North Minneapolis. “My mother is from Minneapolis and going over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a little different from being here in Saint Paul.

“My first experience with remembering anything about Minneapolis is going over to the North Commons (a park on the near north side of Minneapolis) and getting my bike stolen. That’s probably one of the reasons I don’t like it as much.”

So it’s no surprise that Auggie remains a Saint Paul person to the core. “I coach boys basketball at Saint Paul Humboldt and then I coach girls softball at Cretin-Derham Hall and I’m working for the City of Saint Paul.”

Athena, 17, Isaac, 7, and Olivia, 10, pause for a picture.

Athena, 17, Isaac, 7, and Olivia, 10, pause for a picture.

Auggie and I talked for a few more minutes, mostly about children and what we like about Saint Paul, before I moved on.

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Issac and Olivia battle as Athena skates on her own.

Palace Recreation Center, just south of the ice rink, is in the throes of a major and much-needed expansion and upgrade.

Work began this past spring on the expansion and remodeling of the Palace Recreation Center. This is the part of the original structure, built in 1974, that will be part of the improved rec center.

Work began this past spring on the expansion and remodeling of the Palace Recreation Center. This is the part of the original structure, built in 1974, that will be part of the improved rec center.

 Money ($40,000) was allocated back in the City’s 2008 Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) for preliminary planning and design work. Although the renovation and expansion were ranked in ’08 as the sixth most important CIB project, planning the architectural design didn’t begin until September 2014. As one of Saint Paul’s most used rec centers, the repeated delays in funding the construction project understandably caused a great amount of unhappiness among area residents. The $5.8 million expansion is expected to be completed in 2016, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The fields at Palace Rec Center.

The fields at Palace Rec Center.

 

Reminders of Schmidt

Several blocks away, on Toronto Street, are a couple of surviving buildings from the old Schmidt Brewing Company. Today, multiple business are located within what was Schmidt’s shipping warehouse.

This creative, unique sign belongs to Vantage Painting, 360 Toronto.

This creative, unique sign belongs to Vantage Painting, 360 Toronto.

The AAA Automotive Member Services is at the other end of the building, at 370 Toronto.

The AAA Automotive Member Services is at the other end of the building, at 370 Toronto.

Several Triple-A vehicles remain in the garage, awaiting a call, on this fine summer day.

Several Triple-A vehicles remain in the garage, awaiting a call, on this fine summer day.

Back on the bike for a couple of blocks as I rode to 855 West 7th Street. That’s where I took my first close look at the one-time home that figured prominently in the history of beer brewing in Saint Paul.

Built for the Stahlmann family, this became home to the Schmidt family in the early 1900s.

Built for the Stahlmann family, this became home to the Schmidt family in the early 1900s.

The house was built in the early to mid-1870s for brewery owner Christopher Stahlmann and his family. (The Stahlmann Brewery was the largest in Minnesota at the time.) The limestone mansion remained in the family until the about 1900.

Jacob Schmidt, a German  immigrant and brewmaster at Hamm’s on Saint Paul’s East Side, purchased the brewery (and the house) in 1902, the start of more than 50 prosperous years producing beer, and during Prohibition, soda and near-beer.

855 W 7th Street c 1920

The Marie Schmidt Bremer House and grounds in 1920. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

This block evolved from what is most accurately described as an estate, to what is now a rather typical city neighborhood. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission described the neighborhood this way in a 2011 report:

“In the Stahlmann and Schmidt years the block was densely planted with trees, with orchards to the rear as well as boulevard plantings. The major alterations to the landscape that took place in the last century were the replacement of the beer garden and saloon by two quite typical residential lots and the filling of bare land at the northwest corner with a growing number of connected buildings and parking lots. These changes all took place within the period of significance and in fact were brought about by the brewery ownership.”

Even with the heavy traffic along West 7th, it’s not hard envisioning he convenience the Stahlmanns and later the Schmidt family enjoyed living across the street from their brewery. This is the view from the front porch of the former Bremer home.

Even with the heavy traffic along West 7th, it’s not hard envisioning the convenience the Stahlmanns, and later the Schmidt family, enjoyed living across the street from their brewery. This is the view from the front porch of the former Bremer home.

 The 1934 kidnapping of Edward Bremer, Jr. spurred his father, Adolf Bremer, to have a tunnel built from the Bremer home, under West 7th, to the brewery Bremer 5Today, although the house still has the Marie Schmidt Bremer sign on the porch overhang, it is no longer a single family home.

It's hard to see the Marie Schmidt Bremer Home sign mounted on the overhang of the porch.

It’s hard to see the Marie Schmidt Bremer Home lettering on the overhang of the porch.

Reentry West, as it’s now called, is a group home for men who’ve had contact with the correctional system in Ramsey County, Hennepin County or the State of Minnesota. The house is owned by the non-profit RS Eden, where counselors assist former inmates with educational support, job and housing help and other support as residents re-enter society. (RS Eden website: http://www.rseden.org/index.asp?SEC=FF8128CB-5207-4BB3-A1D6-3ACA2190E0B1&Type=B_BASIC)

For many years, the West 7th Car Wash was more conspicuous than now, as it wore a two-tone coat of Dodger blue with navy accents. Some of its charm was lost with the cement block expansion and its boring beige and coffee brown color scheme. The official address of the car wash is not on West 7th, rather 356 Clay Street.

The West 7th Car Wash isn’t anymore. The self-service car wash closed and the property forfeited to Ramsey County for nonpayment of taxes. Some 90 years newer than many of the nearby homes and businesses, the unusual architecture and construction (pointy Quonset huts) make it stand out.

The defunct West 7th Car Wash. The self-service wash closed and the property forfeited to Ramsey County for nonpayment of taxes. Some 90 years newer than many of the nearby homes and businesses, the unusual architecture and construction (pointy Quonset huts) make it stand out.

In 1976, the car wash was called Mr. B’s Royal Car Wash. It has been enlarged since this photo was taken. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

In 1976, the car wash was called Mr. B’s Royal Car Wash. It was enlarged since this photo was taken. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

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The most recent addition to the West 7th Car Wash is along Clay Street.

Several blocks east of the car wash is an odd intersection, where two streets with three names, intersect. South Ann Street runs into and ends at St. Clair Avenue, an east-west street. St. Clair also ends at this intersection and becomes Cliff Street.

The street changes in absolutely no observable way, but St. Clair Avenue becomes Cliff Street. Even the address numbers continue uninterrupted.

The street changes in absolutely no observable way, but St. Clair Avenue becomes Cliff Street. Even the address numbers continue uninterrupted.

These granite blocks and a couple of others not in the frame sit among the grass just south of where St. Clair and Bluff Streets meet. Google, nor the Facebook group "Old St. Paul minn", shed much light on what these are, who placed them and when.

These granite blocks and a couple of others not in the frame sit among the grass just south of where St. Clair and Bluff Streets meet. Google, nor the Facebook group “Old St. Paul Minn”, shed much light on what these are, who placed them and why.

 On the north side of the street, across from the granite blocks, is a vexillologist’s dream. (A vexillologist studies flags and there are dozens to study in this yard.)

The three flags, left to right, are the United Kingdom Naval Ensign "White Ensign", the flag of the United Kingdom and Dhekelia, and the United Kingdom Royal Air Force Ensign flag.

The three flags, left to right, are the United Kingdom Naval Ensign “White Ensign”, the flag of the United Kingdom and Dhekelia, and the United Kingdom Royal Air Force Ensign flag.

 In the back yard, many small flags represent nautical codes.

The flags in the background are primarily nautical.

The flags in the background are primarily nautical.

The skull and crossbones represent another side of sailing.

The skull and crossbones represent another side of sailing.

The nature of the flags changed as I moved from the back to the side yard and then to the front of 320 Michigan Street.

On the front porch the vibe is “N’Orlins.”

On the front porch the vibe is “N’Orlins.”

I knocked on the door to get the explanation behind the flags but either no one was home or they chose not to answer, perhaps mistaking me for a solicitor.

From Michigan Street, off to the West Side via the High Bridge, always a great view and good exercise.

This goldenrod-color door, with its French greeting, is a 543 Smith Avenue South, at George Street.

This goldenrod-color door, with its French greeting, is a 543 Smith Avenue South, at George Street.

Annapolis Avenue is Saint Paul’s southern border with West St. Paul for all but about four blocks. That made me curious about why several street lamps on Smith Avenue south of Annapolis (in West St. Paul) are the same style as those on the Saint Paul side of Smith.

Annapolis Avenue and Saint Paul's border with West St. Paul. The street light post on the left is one of several of the same style as those in Saint Paul.

Looking north on Smith Avenue toward Annapolis Avenue, Saint Paul’s border with West St. Paul. The light post on the left is one of several of the same style as those in Saint Paul.

This is one of several light posts in West St. Paul labeled this way.

This is the base of one of several light posts in West St. Paul labeled this way.

 Back in Saint Paul on Wyoming Street, (one block north of the Saint Paul/West St. Paul border) I stopped to peer at the home at 412 Wyoming. Ramsey County records say the house was built in 1894.

Among the reasons this house induced me to examine it is the mixed stone, brick and woodwork.

Among the reasons this house enticed me to stop is the mixed stone, brick and woodwork, the porch and the semi-circular window above the front door.

The foundation, likely limestone, supports two levels of brick and the wood siding on the top floor. The different non-matching brick on the side has me wondering about the story behind it.

The foundation, likely limestone, supports two levels of brick and the wood siding on the top floor. The different non-matching brick on the side has me wondering about the story behind it.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to homes that feature a turret, like 412 Wyoming. I think it has to do with wanting a “secret” space to retreat to.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to homes that feature a turret, like 412 Wyoming. I think it has to do with wanting a “secret” space to retreat to.

This unusual building is the Johnson Peterson Funeral and Cremation, 612 Smith Avenue South. Construction of the original two story structure was completed in 1906.

This unusual building is the Johnson Peterson Funeral and Cremation, 612 Smith Avenue South. Construction of the original two-story structure was completed in 1906.

Cherokee Avenue east of Smith Avenue offers the best views of Downtown anywhere in Saint Paul.

Among the buildings along the skyline (left to right) are: the 37 story Wells Fargo Place; Saint Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse; three Century Link buildings; the former Ramsey County Jail and Government Center East; Crown Plaza Hotel; First National Bank Building and Kellogg Square.

Among the buildings along the skyline (left to right) are: the 37 story Wells Fargo Place; Saint Paul City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse; three Century Link buildings; the former Ramsey County Jail and Government Center East; Crown Plaza Hotel; First National Bank Building and Kellogg Square.

The Cathedral dominates the scene, overlooking several medical buildings at the United and Childrens Hospital campus.

The Cathedral dominates the scene, overlooking several medical buildings at the United and Children’s Hospital campus.

The Minnesota State Capitol, in the midst of a $200-million renovation, also hovers prominently above the rest of Downtown.

The Minnesota State Capitol, in the midst of a $200-million renovation, also hovers prominently above the rest of Downtown.

another dt from west side

The shuttered Ramsey County Government Center East and old County Jail stretch across the bottom of the shot. Both are in the process of demolition, which Ramsey County officials hope will open the scenic area to redevelopment. Other recognizable buildings in the shot, left to right, are two Century Link telecommunications facilities, a Securian skyscraper, the shared City and County Hall, Crowne Plaza Hotel and the 1st Minnesota Building, with the large red First sign.

More Mortuaries

Back in the West End, I passed another two mortuaries barely two blocks apart.

Wulff Godbout, a neatly built stone structure with a spotless lawn and impeccably manicured bushes, at Superior Street and West 7th.

Wulff Godbout, a neatly built stone structure with a spotless lawn and impeccably manicured bushes, at Superior Street and West 7th.

The addition of an awning, subtraction of the sign, new windows (and a name change) aside, the Wulff Godbout Funeral Home has changed little from when this postcard was printed in 1945. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Just southwest is the Kessler & Maguire Funeral Home, which has been at St. Clair and West 7th since about 1926. That’s the original neon sign on the roof of the Tudor style building.

Just southwest is the Kessler & Maguire Funeral Home, which has been at St. Clair and West 7th since about 1926. That’s the original neon sign on the roof of the Tudor-style building.

 –

The ride up St. Clair Avenue from West 7th Street to Lexington Avenue is nearly a mile and a half. In that span, according to Google Maps, there is a 125 foot elevation increase. Perhaps it’s that grade that (sub)consciously caused me to turn right on Milton Street, thus avoiding some of the hill. One block north, at Linwood and Milton Street, a front yard punctuated with green and red brought me to a standstill.

This garden at 922 Linwood is one of the most elaborate home gardens I’ve seen on my travels around Saint Paul.

This garden at 922 Linwood is one of the most elaborate home gardens I’ve seen on my travels around Saint Paul.

Krishna Wilson told me he’s growing about 30 varieties of chili peppers in his front and side yards. “I grow a lot of the hottest varieties in the world. I have the Carolina Reaper, which is the world’s hottest at 2.5 million Scoville units. And then I have Trinidad Scorpion Morougas. They’re the second hottest in the world at 2.2 million.”

The Trinidad Scorpion Morouga pepper is considered to be the hottest in the world.

The Trinidad Scorpion Morouga pepper is considered to be the hottest in the world.

There’s more to peppers than just heat, Krishna said, “I also have some of the most flavorful peppers in the world. These Nu Mex Heritage 64s-that’s the base for my mild sauce. I smoke ‘em and roast ‘em and then make a sauce with it.”

I asked Krishna where his pepper passion blossomed. “I started growing peppers about eight years ago when I read an article in the newspaper about the Bhut Jolokia Pepper, which is referred to as the Ghost Pepper.   

“They (the newspaper article) said I could buy seed from the Chili Pepper Institute of New Mexico. I decided to order some seeds and started growing ‘em and I was just hooked on it. I’ve loved gardening all my life; I’ve been gardening since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and this was just the thing for me.”

Krishna Wilson stands in his front yard. Behind him are some of his pepper plants.

Krishna Wilson stands in his front yard. Behind him are some of his pepper plants.

Growing peppers led to eating peppers, which Krishna said, “changed his life.”

“I feel like it helps stimulate your metabolism, it promotes health. So I feel it’s a healthful tonic. Then, also,  there’s the exhilaration; I’m sure you’ve heard of chili heads and the endorphins and that kind of stuff. It’s just good, clean fun!”

“I like having a hobby and I never do anything half way.”

Krishna likely harvested thousands of chili peppers this year. The yield, Krishna explained, depends upon the variety of the peppers. “These Nu Mex Heritage are very productive. I’d say you get maybe 20 to 30 peppers per plant through the season. The Inca Red Drops, they’re maybe as big as your thumbnail, they’re about Cayenne heat level, but you can get 2 or 300 peppers off of a plant.”

In addition to homemade chili sauces, Krishna creates chili flake seasonings and gives peppers as gifts.

Neat rows of peppers in Krishna Wilson's front yard.

Neat rows of peppers in Krishna Wilson’s front yard.

The chili peppers, sprouting in regimented columns began as seeds, according to Krishna. “I start these inside in mid-March in my sunroom under a big grow light. By the time I set them out, they’re usually a foot tall or so. I plant ‘em out the first week of June usually. I was two weeks earlier than that this year because of the fair weather that we had.”

Watering the dozens of pepper plants daily could be a full-time job, which is why Krishna set up an irrigation system. “When you have this many chili plants it’s pretty laborious to hand water them, so I started to use the drip emitter system about four or five years ago. All I have to do is go to my hose, turn on a timer and flip a switch and it waters all my plants at once. It also saves a lot of water because it only puts it at the plants where it needs to go.”

Krishna's irrigation system puts water where it's needed-on the plants.

Krishna’s irrigation system puts water where it’s needed-on the plants.

The red plastic lining the garden rows keeps weeds down and cuts evaporation of soil moisture, and enhances plant growth. “It reflects the infrared light back up under the plants which stimulates a plant hormone called phytochrome and it can give up to 150 percent more yield of fruit because it stimulates fruit production.”

Krisha experimented with hanging plants, quite successfully.

Krisha experimented with hanging plants, quite successfully.

Next, we chitchatted about the hanging garden, new this year, on the east side of the property. “I lucked into this structure here and I thought, ‘Let’s see how much you can grow in a six-foot by eight foot area.’ I call it the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon.’ I have two chili peppers in the bottom of each bag and then something else in the top – rosemary, tomatillos, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, thyme, basil; all kinds of fun stuff.”

Toward the end of my visit, Krishna mentioned he grows hops plants, which naturally led to a conversation about beer. Then, blissfully, Krisha offered me a glass of his latest ale, which I gladly accepted after a feigned moment of indecision. The lovely golden brew was  highly satisfying considering the 12 or so miles I’d ridden in 85 degree heat.

There is an abundance of thinking time when I’m riding. On the way home I recounted Krishna’s garden and our conversation. I was impressed and appreciative – impressed with his effort and commitment to his gardens and grateful for his time and insights.

Click on the link below to see the map of this ride, courtesy of my Garmin GPS.

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/933009223

 

 –

On the Way to Jail

June 16, 2015 – Highland Park, West End/West 7th, Downtown – 16.2 miles

It was fabulous to be back on my bike. First, it had been almost two months since my last ride due to a medley of out-of-town travel, bad weather and a non-biking related injury. Second, it got me out of work on a spectacular June afternoon. Third, my primary destination, Downtown, and the story to come with it, were arresting.

I took Montreal Avenue east, down the hill toward West 7th Street. The stoplight at Montreal, Lexington and West 7th was red so, as I waited, I studied two public works employees re-striping the crosswalk on the opposite side of Montreal. One worker muscled the obviously bulky road striping machine while the other struggled to protect herself and her partner from inattentive drivers.Crosswalk painting

I take self-preservation seriously on each and every bike ride. Frequently, therefore, I’ll opt for an indirect, even serpentine, route along lightly traveled side streets (called non-arterial streets in public works lingo.) Instead of riding along the occasionally perilous West 7th Street, I followed Montreal east through the Crosby Lake Business Center and into the Victoria Park neighborhood in the West End, where Montreal almost magically becomes Adrian Street. Two blocks east, at Perlman, Adrian Street is forsaken for Kay Avenue.

The signs make it look as though three streets intersect here. In reality, Adrian Street undergoes a name change to Kay Avenue. I’m wondering if the Perlman family has or had members named Adrian and Kay? Niether street existed when the latest edition of “The Street Where You Live” by Don Empson, was published.

The signs make it look as though three streets intersect here. In reality, Adrian Street undergoes a name change to Kay Avenue. I’m wondering if the Perlman family has or had members named Adrian and Kay? Neither street existed when the latest edition of “The Street Where You Live” by Don Empson, was published.

The Sholom Home East at 740 is the only address on Kay Avenue. Richard Shaller owned and operated Big Wheel Rossi, a chain of auto parts stores, for more than 30 years. (1) Rossy was his wife.

The Sholom East Campus on Kay Avenue provides short-term rehabilitation to long-term care and specialized end-of-life care.(2)

The Sholom East Campus on Kay Avenue provides short-term rehabilitation to long-term care and specialized end-of-life care.(2)

The gaudily painted garage belonging to 881 Otto Avenue appears to have been self-tagged.

The gaudily painted garage belonging to 881 Otto Avenue appears to have been self-tagged.

The engrossing array of colors, images and symbols up close.

The engrossing array of colors, images and symbols up close.

As a car guy, I’ll always brake for classic American metal like this ’58 Chevrolet Biscayne.

The dual headlights and toothy chrome grill of the classic 1958 Chevy.

The dual headlights and toothy chrome grill of the classic 1958 Chevy.

Some ’58 Biscaynes have the exterior mirror unusually placed forward of the windshield.

Some ’58 Biscaynes have the exterior mirror unusually placed forward of the windshield.

Taken from Randolph Avenue facing southwest; West 7th is just out of the picture on the left; Oneida Street parallels the sidewalk on the right.

Taken from Randolph Avenue facing southwest; West 7th is just out of the picture on the left; Oneida Street parallels the sidewalk on the right.

There is an odd little triangular spit of land at the intersection of West 7th, Jefferson and Oneida Street. The green space is not labeled on any official city map, nor is it among the designated parks on the City of Saint Paul website.

Standing on the edge of the triangular green space, the Schmidt Artists Lofts dominate the center of the picture.

Standing on the edge of the triangular green space, the Schmidt Artists Lofts dominate the center of the picture.

So what is this place? Who owns it and maintains it? And what are the sandstone formations? Those questions remain unanswered for the time being.

Paulina Flats 1

Although tough to tell from here, the Paulina Flats building is triangularly shaped.

This building at along West 7th and Leech Street on the western edge of Downtown intrigued me enough to pause. Among the curiosities of the building known both as the Paulina Apartments and Paulina Flats is its address. Ramsey County tax records declare the address as 6 Leech Street, which jibes with the entrance on Leech. However, on 7th Street, the ground floor unit nearest Downtown is posted as 327 West 7th.

Paulina Flats or Apartments, built in 1902, has retail and apartments. The Leech Street entrance, and above it, the address.

Paulina Flats or Apartments, built in 1902, has retail and apartments. The Leech Street entrance, and above it, the address.

Construction holds a special allure for men. A crew is demolishing the building that held 7 Corners Hardware for decades.

Construction holds a special allure for men. Several are watching the crew demolishing the building that held 7 Corners Hardware for decades.

It’s the demolition of the landmark 7 Corners Hardware, which will be replaced by a building combining the ubiquitous “ground floor retail”, with a hotel and apartments above.

Now in the heart of Downtown, I stopped and locked my bike at the corner of St. Peter Street and Kellogg Boulevard, next to the Art Deco wonder that is the Saint Paul City Hall and Ramsey County Courthouse. There I waited for Ramsey County Deputy Sergeant John Eastham and John Siqveland, County Public Communications Director, who were going to take me on a tour of the shuttered former Ramsey County Jail, officially called the Adult Detention Center. (Be aware that I’ll use Adult Detention Center, ADC and jail interchangeably.)

The Adult Detention Center, or ADC for short, opened to ‘customers’ in 1979 and was used 24 years. Sergeant Eastham worked at the ADC from 2000 until its 2003 closure.

Prior to becoming part of the Ramsey County Government Center-West, these buildings were part of Drover's Market and West Publishing. Taken in December 1960. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Prior to becoming part of the Ramsey County Government Center West, these buildings were Drover’s Markets (left) and West Publishing (right). Taken in December 1960, West’s building was newly renovated. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

We entered the jail through the attached Ramsey County Government Center West building at 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, in actuality several buildings that housed West Publishing until its 1991 move to Eagan.

6th and 1/2 floorThe first item of interest Sergeant Eastham pointed out was a sign for the 6 and ½th floor. He explained that the floors in the jail were at different levels than those in the old West Publishing building. After Ramsey County bought the West building and removed walls to connect it to the ADC, the West structure’s extra level between the Jail’s 6th and 7th floor became the 6 and 1/2th floor.

Nicknamed 'the pillbox,' this is the only part of the old ADC above Kellogg Boulevard.

Nicknamed ‘the pillbox,’ this is the only part of the old ADC above Kellogg Boulevard. Many people have no idea that a jail sat below.

The 'pillbox' sits near the southwest corner of Kellogg Boulevard and Wabasha Street.

The ‘pillbox’ sits near the southwest corner of Kellogg Boulevard and Wabasha Street. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The 7th floor is the upper-most level in the building. Simply known as “The Floor” by jail staff, the 7th story primarily held offices.

The entrance to the sheriff’s department on the 6th level of the former jail.

The entrance to the sheriff’s department on the 6th level of the former jail.

The magnificent view from the 6th story office of the sheriff in the old ADC spans more than 90 degrees. That’s Shepard Road in the foreground and the Smith Avenue High Bridge in the distance.

The magnificent view from the 7th story office of the sheriff in the old ADC spans more than 90 degrees. That’s Shepard Road in the foreground and the Smith Avenue High Bridge in the distance.

Harriet Island and the Wabasha Avenue Bridge dominate the southerly view from the same office.

Harriet Island and the Wabasha Avenue Bridge dominate the southerly view from the sheriff’s office.

Two other offices have a similar view toward the west of the sheriff’s office.

Two other offices have a similar view, toward the west, as the sheriff’s office.

Between the era in which the ADC was built and the building’s use, I wasn’t surprised by the austere, even grim interior. What is surprising is the jail received a National AIA Honor Award for its design. Perhaps it was based upon the exterior design and unusual location.

Even empty, marks on the carpet clearly show a cube farm once sat here.

Even empty, marks on the carpet clearly show a cube farm once sat here.

“I told people I did five years in the jail…eight hours at a time.” Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy John Eastham on his time working at the old county jail on Kellogg Boulevard

Prisoners were brought into the Ramsey County Jail through two entrances. Those who arrived in a sheriff’s department vehicle rode in via a driveway off Kellogg Boulevard that dipped from street level to one story below.

An aerial of the sally port via Google Earth.

At the bottom of the picture, the ramp disappears under ground on the way to the sally port. Kellogg Boulevard is roughly in the middle of the shot and the building at the top is the Ramsey County Courthouse/Saint Paul City Hall. Aerial image courtesy Google Earth.

According to Sergeant Eastham, “The paddy wagon would come in here and this is where they would do ‘the dump,’ where they would bring the prisoners in and transfer them from the annex and then they would come into the jail population.” This spot is called the sally port.

The sally port, a secure, below-ground entrance where some prisoners entered the ADC.

The sally port, a secure, below-ground entrance where some prisoners entered the ADC.

Other prisoners were escorted from the courthouse to the jail via a tunnel which ran underneath Kellogg Boulevard.

The two tunnels between the courthouse and the former jail are partially exposed because of the demolition. Prisoners were always escorted by deputies through the tunnel to the right. The public, including family members and attorneys, came to the jail from the courthouse via the left tunnel.

The two tunnels between the courthouse and the former jail are partially exposed because of the demolition. Prisoners were always escorted by deputies through the tunnel to the left. The public, including family members and attorneys, came to the jail from the courthouse via the right tunnel.

Dust from demolition hovers in the air around the tunnel that connect the Courthouse to the ADC.

Dust from demolition hovers in the air around the tunnel that connect the Courthouse to the ADC.

“This, said Sergeant Eastham, is the door that led to the staircase that went up to the inmate tunnel. All the prisoner transports between the main courthouse and the adult detention center took place through this tunnel. So literally thousands of inmates over the life of this detention center were walked underneath Kellogg Street and nobody ever knew that we were even doing it.”

“This, said Sergeant Eastham, is the door that led to the staircase that went up to the inmate tunnel. All the prisoner transports between the main courthouse and the adult detention center took place through this tunnel. So literally thousands of inmates over the life of this detention center were walked underneath Kellogg Street and nobody ever knew that we were even doing it.”

We then stopped in the ADC Master Control center, where I learned about two Master Control stations, ‘Buttons’ and ‘The Pad’, worked by deputies. Sergeant Eastham explained that ‘Buttons’ controlled access to the main doors in the jail, “Somebody would call you on an airphone (an intercom), push a button, a light would light up; you would see what button was activated. You push the number in for the door. You talk to the person; the person would say open up, you’d push the button and it would cycle open.”

The original design called for a computerized system for ‘Buttons’, but technology hadn’t caught up to aspirations.

The original design called for a computerized system for ‘Buttons’, but technology hadn’t caught up to aspirations. Elevator controls are among those in this picture.

More buttons in Master Control.

Buttons for the main access doors which are (were) organized by floors and locations.

‘The Pad’, meanwhile, used no technology whatsoever. Almost inconceivably, according to Sergeant Eastham, details about all the inmates were hand-written on a pieces of paper. “We had to hand-write (the name of) every inmate that came in and keep track of them. You would keep track on a little piece of paper all the stuff about the inmates-who they were, what their charges were, the date they came in, the property number and you’d write it all down and then you’d have a metal flip page with a whole bunch of little slots where you’d put the paper in. It was for every physical cell inside this entire facility.

“You’d have to write on the pad who went out to court, when they came back, what happened with them when they came back, who left bails, bonds, all that stuff to keep track of every inmate in custody.“

Sergeant Eastham explains what he did when he worked in the control.

Sergeant Eastham talks about his jobs when he worked in the control room.

Sergeant Eastham’s first assignment at the ADC was ‘Buttons’ and then ‘The Pad.’ “I worked the Pad two and a-half years and in my two and a-half years I never had an errant release; I never had any mistakes and actually caught four or five before the guys walked out of the door. I was pretty proud of that.”

It is astonishing that inmates weren’t mistakenly released daily with this archaic system. Kudos to Sergeant Eastham and the others on ‘The Pad’ for their organization and focus.

Added Eastham. “These two spots (Buttons, the Pad) were the most difficult spots in the entire facility.”

After Master Control, we walked to the elevator. The first thing Sergeant Eastham pointed out is that there are no buttons inside, one of many security measures in the jail. The Sergeant went on to say, “(The elevator) was run by the Button person. Usually 12 to 15 inmates could fit in an elevator with one deputy. You’d pack ‘em all in, tell them to make some space and stand right here (in front of the doors). You’d face them and the door would shut behind you. The elevator would go down, As soon as the door would open up you’d back out.”

The button-less elevator for moving inmates to different levels.

The button-less elevator for moving inmates to different levels.

Surprisingly, neither Sergeant Eastham nor any other deputy were attacked on the elevator by an inmate. “You never, ever went on an elevator like that with anyone that previously had shown any hinky behavior. Everybody in the elevator knew there was no way out. Once you’re in here, what are you going to do? You’re going to run to one side of the building and you’re going to get tired and that’s all that’s going to happen.”

Sergeant Eastham mentioned that transporting inmates in the jail elevator changed how he rides public elevators, “You get on the elevator and everyone else would face toward the door and you’d face toward them. Then you wouldn’t push the buttons because here, when you walk by you tell person running the Buttons, ‘I need to go to floor three,’ or whatever. So you’d stand there and you’re staring at them AND you’re not pushing any buttons so you automatically ride down to their floor. So there were a lot of civilians that were freaked out.”

You might notice the two bunks are different. The plan for the ADC was to house one inmate per cell. However, not long after it opened in 1979, the jail filled to capacity, necessitating adding a second bunk to cells.

You might notice the two bunks are different. The plan for the ADC was to house one inmate per cell. However, not long after it opened in 1979, the jail filled to capacity, necessitating adding a second bunk to cells.

Inmates tried to escape from the Kellogg Avenue jail only two times. The first, in the early 80s, was discovered because of plumbing problems. The inmate attempted to tunnel his way out of the ADC by scraping away grout and cement from the blocks in his cell. He flushed the debris down the toilet, eventually amassing enough to obstruct the plumbing.

The other breakout attempt came one night as Sergeant Eastham worked the sixth floor. He heard loud pounding. “The thing about this building is that it reverberates because it’s just metal and brick. It was really hard to get a bead on where it was coming from.”

Eastham and a sergeant searched one section of cells (called a pod) and found nothing amiss.

Pod 5D

Pod 5D, like the other pods in the old jail, occupies two stories. Each level had cells, and tables and stools (both bolted to the concrete floor) for inmates to use when not locked up.

The second pod, said Eastham, was a different story. “As soon as I looked in, it just didn’t look right. So I called for the door to be opened and walked in and all the inmates came to ask me a whole bunch of questions so I knew something was up.”

The situation crystallized for Eastham when he walked to the entrance of a cell and saw jagged cracks and pits in the window.

Perhaps, the window was never replaced after the early 2000s escape attempt to remind ‘guests’ how difficult is was to leave on their own.

Perhaps, the window was never replaced after the early 2000s escape attempt to remind ‘guests’ how difficult is was to leave on their own.

At the time, Eastham didn’t know what the inmates used to try to break the window but he knew he needed help. “The first thing I thought of was that if they got something that can do that to the window I don’t want to be in here by myself.”

Inmates were ordered to return to their cells and that’s when Eastham figured out there was no way the man assigned to the cell with the damaged window was involved in the escape attempt. “I knew the guys that were working on this had been working hard and he didn’t have any sweat. Found out that two guys lived in that room,” he said, pointing over to a nearby cell, “actually were breaking out his window and threatened him.

“They also had about 100 feet of bed sheets tied end-to-end; they had shoved all the sheets up into the wash bucket when it wasn’t being used… So their goal was to break the window out, tie off and shimmy down.”

The special security windows, Eastham told me, had a strong poly sheath sandwiched between two pieces of glass, stronger than, but similar to, tempered glass in vehicles. That’s why the window cracked but wouldn’t break, even under assault from the sharp corner of a metal stool.

The stool that was used in the attempted escape was never put back. Inmates repeatedly beat the window with the square base of the stool which is the same shape but smaller than the table base in this shot.

The stool that was used in the attempted escape was never put back. Inmates repeatedly beat the window with the square base of the stool which is the same shape but smaller than the table base in this shot.

This spiral staircase, a quick and secure way for deputies to move between floors during emergencies, connected the control rooms and housing areas of the 4th and 5th floors to those on the 2nd and 3rd.

This spiral staircase, a quick and secure way for deputies to move between floors during emergencies, connected the control rooms and housing areas of the 4th and 5th floors to those on the 2nd and 3rd.

Architects and jail officials made some significant changes in the design and construction of the new Adult Detention Center because of incidents in this facility. For example, cells in the new jail have windows but they’re frosted, which has eliminated ‘mooning’ by inmates.

The most notable change is the location of deputies’ desks-in the middle of the pod, giving jail staff almost continuous access to the sights, sounds and smells. Direct supervision, as it’s called, has become the preferred design for jails.

In the old ADC, deputies watched over each pod from above from a secure control room. Not only couldn’t they directly interact with inmates from the there, deputies couldn’t hear much of what the inmates discussed.

In what is a remarkable engineering achievement, the old jail literally clings to the bluff above Shepard Road. It is attached to the cliff by hundreds (or more) thick bolts that were pounded into the rock below Kellogg Boulevard. Concrete was poured for a structural wall, supported by the bolts, nuts and metal plates. The building is also supported by the by the foundation on the ground about 100 feet below Kellogg Boulevard.

The bolt sticking out of the wall is one of many that were pounded into the bluff to keep the ADC from falling off the cliff.

The bolt sticking out of the wall is one of many that were pounded into the bluff to keep the ADC from falling off the cliff.

John Siqveland, Ramsey County Public Communications Director, also on the tour, related a practical joke a former maintenance man-turned-deputy pulled on new jail employees. “He’d have his big wrenches and he would go back here and start banging around and making a bunch of noise. The new employees would say, ‘What are you doin’ back there?’ And he’s like, ‘You know, it’s bolted into the cliff so every month we have to do an inspection. I gotta tighten up the bolts to make sure it doesn’t fall down onto Shepard Road and into the river.’

Siqveland continued, “When he (the maintenance man) finally gets his promotion to deputy, one of the guys, he never quite caught on, says, ‘Well, who’s going to check the bolts? How are we going to keep from falling into the river?’”

“The huge windows were a great idea, but not such a great idea all at the same time.” Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy John Eastham on the expansive and exposed windows at the old county jail on Kellogg Boulevard

Though he worked in a jail, there were some interesting, unusual and humorous happenings. The large south-facing widows encouraged creativity among some inmates and family members. As Deputy Eastham recounted, “Most people realize that taking off clothes for strangers ain’t a good idea. If it was somebody who just couldn’t figure out that clothes weren’t really optional we’d take ‘em off the prime real estate where they had opportunities and we’d move ‘em to a spot where there were no opportunity.” While every cell had a window, a few offered obstructed views.

As for family members, Eastham recalled, “They’d stand on the Wabasha Street Bridge with posters (like) ’love you’, so it was cool but you’d have to go out there and say, ‘you can’t do that.’”

“This is the only place I ever saw a full contact chess game.” Sergeant John Eastham, recalling a fight between two inmates over a chess match

Another time, Eastham recalled, a fight broke out over a chess match. Two inmates were playing as a third watched. One of the players castled, the only chess play when more than one piece can be moved in a turn. Eastham continued, “The guy (who castled) looked up when he (the observer) pointed at him, as soon as he looked up, punched him and knocked him out colder than a fish. I went in there and I put the guy up against the wall and handcuffed the guy like I was supposed to and I’m like, ‘What on earth did he say to you?’

“’Nothin’, man, he was cheatin’!’

“And I go, ‘What do you mean he was cheatin?’

“He goes, ‘He moved two pieces at once!’

“I looked down at the board and I go, ‘That’s a castle. That’s a legitimate move.’

“And he goes, ‘No, really?’

“I’m like, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘Ah man, sorry. My bad.’”

My tour guide, and former ADC jailer, Sergeant John Eastham .

My tour guide, and former ADC jailer and current Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department and Public Information Officer (PIO), Sergeant John Eastham.

Sergeant Eastham paused for a photo on Kellogg Boulevard, just outside to closed jail, to wrap up the fascinating tour. Getting permission to tour the riveting former ADC took months of negotiating. For that I offer sincere thanks to John Siquiveland, Sergeant John Eastham, Ken Iosso, Commissioner Raphael Ortega and several other Ramsey County employees.

The entrance to 345 Cedar Street.

The entrance to 345 Cedar Street.

After my release from the ADC, my jaunt continued Downtown with a stop at 345 Cedar Street, the soon-to-be the former home of the Pioneer Press newspaper. Originally built as the headquarters of Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Company, 345 Cedar was constructed in 1955. The Pioneer Press replaced Minnesota Mutual as the tenant in 1984.(3)

Pioneer Press building 1

Two skyways over Cedar Street. Nearly all the skyways in Saint Paul are identical to these two.

Two skyways over Cedar Street. The skyway in the foreground connects the Pioneer Press building with the St. Paul Athletic Club. Nearly all the skyways in Saint Paul are identical to these two.

The College of St. Scholastica, based in Duluth, has a satellite site at 340 Cedar Street.

The College of St. Scholastica, based in Duluth, has a satellite site at 340 Cedar Street.

340 Cedar is also the address of the St. Paul Athletic Club and Hotel 340, the east metro’s first boutique hotel, according to its website.

340 Cedar is also the address of the St. Paul Athletic Club and Hotel 340, the east metro’s first boutique hotel, according to its website.

A close look at the ornate awning over the entrance of the St. Paul Athletic Club/Hotel 340.

A close look at the ornate awning over the entrance of the St. Paul Athletic Club/Hotel 340.

The original part of the St. Paul Athletic Club building.

The original part of the St. Paul Athletic Club building.

From Cedar Street, I went south to Shepard Road to look at the old jail from ground level.

ADC/West 2

The entire former Ramsey County Adult Detention Center is best seen from Shepard Road. The pillbox is the upper-most part of the ADC, above the tree farthest to the right.

The 'pillbox', again, from Shepard Road.

The ‘pillbox’, again, from Shepard Road.

The former office of the sheriff is behind the widows in the middle of the picture.

The former office of the sheriff is behind the widows in the middle of the picture.

The damaged window of the cell from which two inmates tried to escape in the early 2000s is plainly visible.

The damaged window of the cell from which two inmates tried to escape in the early 2000s is plainly visible.

At least three of the bygone Ramsey County West (and before that, West Publishing) buildings are evident while a corner of the jail is visible on the far right of the picture.

At least three of the bygone Ramsey County West (and before that, West Publishing) buildings are evident while a corner of the jail is visible on the far right of the picture.

Now looking northeast from the Samuel Morgan Trail (which parallels Shepard Road), the size of the closed government center, previously West Publishing, is more easily seen.

Now looking northeast from the Samuel Morgan Trail (which parallels Shepard Road), the size of the closed government center, previously West Publishing, is more easily seen.

Here's a similar view from 1965. Notice the empty space to the right of Booth Cold Storage. That's where the ADC was built. Nearly every building in this picture still stands. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Here’s a similar view from 1965. Notice the space to the right of Booth Cold Storage. That’s where the ADC was built. Nearly every building in this picture still stands. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

At one-time a secure lower parking lot for the Government Center West and the Jail, it has been all but forgotten. It’s located just north of Shepard Road.

At one-time this lower parking lot was used for the Government Center West and the Jail; now it has been all but forgotten. It’s located just north of Shepard Road.

Although West Publishing moved to Eagan in 1991, one of the company’s signs remains nearly 25 years later. Only when the building comes down will the sign do so.

Although West Publishing moved to Eagan in 1991, one of the company’s signs remains nearly 25 years later. Only when the building comes down will the sign do so.

Weeds reach skyward from cracks in the pavement at a vacated entrance.

Weeds reach skyward from cracks in the pavement at a vacated entrance.

These arches haven’t always been sealed with bricks. Were they loading docks to move ink, paper and other supplies into and finished law books out of the plant?

These arches haven’t always been sealed with bricks. Were they loading docks to move ink, paper and other supplies into and finished law books out of the plant?

The old jail induces an ominous feeling from here.

The old jail induces an ominous feeling from this angle.

Resuming my eastward travel, I saw some grocery carts parked amidst some bushes growing out of the bluff.

Almost certainly the belongings of some homeless folks, authorities have “red tagged” them, a warning to move them or lose them.

Almost certainly the belongings of some homeless folks, authorities have “red tagged” them, a warning to move them or lose them.

A clear and concise warning.

A clear and concise warning from authorities.

Continuing east in the parking lot, it merged with 2nd Street as I neared Jackson Street. As I explored, I went the wrong way on two one-way streets; first Jackson and then 2nd. My reasoning – that turning around and riding the correct direction would add at least a mile and some valuable time to my ride. I was unwilling to sacrifice time with the sky portending rain.

In the lower left corner of this picture you can just make out where the parking lot meets 2nd Street. Second Street, running along the edge of the building (the Ramsey County Government Center East), seems to disappear into darkness as it dips under the viaduct.

In the lower left corner of this picture you can just make out where the parking lot meets 2nd Street. Second Street, running along the edge of the building (the Ramsey County Government Center East), seems to disappear into darkness as it dips under the viaduct.

In reality, there is plenty light as 2nd Street passes under the viaduct.

In reality, there is plenty light as 2nd Street passes under the viaduct.

The pitch of Jackson Street is obvious in this shot. It must have been an unusually difficult assignment for the bricklayers and masons who built the building.

The pitch of Jackson Street is obvious in this shot. It must have been an unusually difficult assignment for the bricklayers and masons who built the building.

Determining the exact history of the building that now is the Ramsey County Government Center East has been elusive.

This is the front of the Ramsey County Government Center East which is at 160 East Kellogg Boulevard.

This is the front of the Ramsey County Government Center East which is at 160 East Kellogg Boulevard. While I’m nothing near an architectural expert, something about the windows at the Government Center doesn’t feel right.

A better view of the entrance to the Government Center.

A better view of the entrance to the Government Center.

The west side of the Government Center features an expansive lawn, which is not apparent in this photo.

The west side of the Government Center- there’s an expansive lawn here, most of which is not visible in this photo.

The landscape on the west side of the Government Center is a public area, part of which is The Saint Paul Cultural Garden. There is no prominent signage pointing that out, only a granite block with a metal marker. Dedicated in 1993, the Saint Paul Cultural Garden was created by 10 artists(5) for the 150th anniversary of the naming of the City of Saint Paul.

(click on any thumbnail to enlarge the images and see the captions.)

Leaving Downtown, I saw how drastically the demolition of 7 Corners Hardware alters the area.

Seven Corners without 7 Corners Hardware is like someone without their front teeth.

Seven Corners without 7 Corners Hardware is like someone without their front teeth.

A portion of one building is all that remained of the iconic hardware store.

A portion of one building is all that remained of the iconic hardware store.

Girders from the store are piled to the side in preparation for recycling.

Girders from the store are piled to the side in preparation for recycling.

Nearly every bike ride is an adventure. This one is stands out because of the visit to the former Ramsey County jail. It was a fun and educational experience; one that I was very lucky to have. I hope you’ll felt some of my enthusiasm as you read this post.

Wolfie

Click HERE to see the map of this ride.

Bibliography

  1. Richard B. Shaller obituary; http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/twincities/obituary.aspx?pid=153192581
  2. Sholom Home online brochure; http://www.sholom.com/assets/documents/facility-brochures/shirley-chapman-brochure.pdf
  3. Minnesota Mutual Building and Saint Paul Urban Renewal Historic District: National Register Evaluation; Metropolitan Council website; http://www.metrocouncil.org/METC/files/92/92bc5727-84d3-4256-84a5-469209a57fe2.pdf
  4. St. Paul Foundation website; http://www.saintpaulfoundation.org/_asset/wz4n0b/
  5. Grammar and Dictionary of the Dakota Language: Collected by the Members of the Dakota Mission; Minnesota Historical Society ©1832
  6. Ibid

Booted From The Hollow, Bounced From the Flats

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Macalester-Groveland, Hamline-Midway, Frogtown, Payne-Phalen (Swede Hollow), Downtown, West End, Highland Park

Garages: intentionally functional but not usually stylish and seldom worth more than a glance, but today I saw two within a couple of blocks of each other that break the stereotype.

This garage sits on the alley behind Lincoln Avenue, just east of Finn.

This garage sits on the alley behind Lincoln Avenue, just east of Finn.

It’s not a garage in the strict sense of the word because the structure lacks a door for a vehicle. And that makes me wonder if it really ever was a garage.

The second garage looks nicer than some homes. Obviously well kept up, it belongs to a Summit Avenue home.

Summit Garage 1

1311 Van Buren Avenue

The decorative bird houses of 1311 Van Buren Avenue.

Bird houses are much-loved by the residents here judging by the dozen or so in the front yard. Among them are a barn-style, duplex and one that’s in need of some paint.

It's a barn bird house.

It’s a barn bird house.

Here's a duplex bird house.

Here’s a duplex bird house.

Some birds need to take more pride in their home.

Some birds need to take more pride in their home.

.

Kaitlin Fierst, her sister, their children and mom.

Kaitlin Fierst, her sister, their children and mom take a break from picking up litter in their neighborhood.

The City proclaimed Saturday the 18th the annual Citywide Spring Cleanup event. I was pleased to see a group of young children and moms tidying up the boulevards on Lexington and then Blair Avenues. Kaitlin Fierst told me she and her group picked up trash on several blocks. “We started down at the park and then decided to come into our own neighborhood and clean up our own neighborhood.”

City clean up 2

The clean up continues.

The annual City-wide clean up is a tradition for Kaitlin. “My mom used to take us when we were little and it’s something we feel like we need to do. We enjoy the (Griggs) park and the city and we need to be out here cleaning it up as well.”

.The cruise continued east out of Hamline-Midway and through the heart of Frogtown.

In a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, neighbors chat over the fence.

In a scene reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting, neighbors chat over the fence in the 400 block on Van Buren Avenue.

.

Still on Van Buren, I cut onto Como Avenue, taking me southeast for three blocks to Pennsylvania. There I continue eastward for nearly a mile to L’Orient, the scene of major I-35E construction.

Several Downtown buildings are framed by the boom of a Caterpillar excavator. Before construction began to widen I-35E, this was the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and L’Orient Street.

Several Downtown buildings are framed by the boom of a Caterpillar excavator. Before construction began to widen I-35E, this was the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and L’Orient Street.

Through the construction I rode, on Pennsylvania under I-35E and when I emerged, the street name changed from Pennsylvania to Phalen Boulevard. 35E also serves as the border between the North End and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods.

Phalen Boulevard is a major piece of the renaissance of the Railroad Island and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods. Even as far back as 1978, area business owners and residents saw they needed “To encourage existing compatible industrial uses to remain and expand in District 5.”(1) So they created a guide called the Payne-Phalen District 5 Plan.

Unfortunately, just the opposite occurred over the next 20-plus years. Economic changes doomed the Payne-Phalen District 5 Plan. Several thousand manufacturing jobs

The Griffin Wheel Company, circa 1918

The Griffin Wheel Company, circa 1918

disappeared with the closings of Whirlpool, Hamm’s (Stroh’s) Brewing, 3M, Globe Building Materials, Griffin Wheel Works and others. The laid off workers who managed to find new jobs either settled for much lower pay or moved away to get work. The social fabric of the East Side, including the Railroad Island and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods, was devastated. In fewer than two decades, much of the East Side went from a place with pleasantly maintained homes and thousands of dependable, good paying, manufacturing jobs to that of high unemployment, expanding social ills and falling property values.

Whirlpool Corporation in the early 1970s. Courtesy Ramsey County Historical Society.

Whirlpool Corporation in the early 1970s. Courtesy Ramsey County Historical Society.

More recent efforts to improve the fortunes of East Side residents and businesses have been successful. A major catalyst has been the Phalen Corridor that reclaimed and cleaned up unsightly, polluted, former railroad right-of-way. In its place is Phalen Boulevard, parks and ‘green space’ and business centers.

My destination this April morning was 833 Burr Street (at Whitall) in Payne-Phalen. I was there to meet with George Rodriguez, who told me the fascinating story of his family’s move to and around Saint Paul.

The story begins in the mid-1950s. George Rodriguez, his brothers, father and grandmother moved from Arkansas to Swede Hollow when George was 2 years old. The Rodriguez family, like many others of Mexican decent were in the last wave of immigrants to settle in the Hollow.

The first settlers came to Swede Hollow beginning in the 1850s. Not surprisingly, they were Swedish. Irish settlers, escaping the hardships of the potato famine, weren’t far behind. When folks saved enough money, they moved up from the Hollow to nearby neighborhoods.

Swede Hollow in 1885. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Swede Hollow in 1885. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

In the decades to come, Italian immigrants, followed in the 1940s and early 50s, by those from Mexico, settled in Swede Hollow to be with people with similar customs and language. The housing, although cheap – residents supposedly paid only $5 a year to the Hamm’s Realty Company(2) – was barely adequate.

 George Rodriguez stands on the deck between his house and garage at 833 Burr Street.

George Rodriguez stands on the deck between his house and garage at 833 Burr Street.

According to George, “Our address as far as I recall was 49 Phalen Creek. That was the very first house as you came down into (Swede Hollow) on the left side. “It wasn’t very big. Maybe three rooms.”

None of the three rooms happened to be a bathroom, George told me. “I asked my brother some time ago, I said, ‘I knew we had an outhouse but I don’t remember where it was.’ And he goes, ‘Well, we had two or three different locations.’” That’s because when one pit filled with waste, it was covered, another pit dug and the outhouse moved.

It’s important to note that most of the outhouses hung over Phalen Creek, which for all intents, turned it into a sewer.

It’s important to note that most of the outhouses hung over Phalen Creek, which for all intents, turned it into a sewer. You can see several examples in this shot. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The only running water in the Hollow was that of Phalen Creek, though George recalls his father and uncle digging a well and running pipes to a pump and into the house.

Scan from loan for copy negative on Epson Expression 10000XL.

Swede Hollow on the left, stands in stark contrast to the castle-like Hamm’s mansion on the hill. The Hamm’s Brewery is in the background. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Although George lived in Swede Hollow for no more than five years, he has some vivid memories of the neighborhood. “There was a path that went up the hill, across the railroad tracks, up onto Payne Avenue to get to school. Right next to the pathway there was another family, a Mexican family, and then down aways, there was a white family. Then on our side, there was a house just past ours up on the hill; a Mexican family. And you’d go down further and there were a lot of small houses. My aunt used to live in one.

“Then you come to the part where it splits like a raised roadway, then it dips down on both sides. On the right side, the Gardners used to live on the end. I know them well because my cousin married one of the Gardner women. They had geese, animals and stuff like that.”

George and his family left Swede Hollow in 1955 or ’56-when he was about 7 years old because the City condemned the area. Saint Paul officials determined the lack of running water, sewers and other necessary infrastructure was enough reason to condemn the housing, remove the remaining residents (who numbered no more than 40) and eventually redevelop the Hollow.

After all the residents of Swede Hollow were gone, the City of Saint Paul burned down the remaining structures. December 1956. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

After all the residents of Swede Hollow were gone, the City of Saint Paul burned down the remaining structures. December 1956. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Rodriguezes moved less than three miles south to the West Side Flats, joining many other families of Mexican descent. “Our address over there was 251 State Street. There used to be a tannery down there; a stinky tannery. The tannery was across the street from our house and maybe two houses down.”

The State Street home was spacious – two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen, a full basement and a garage – compared to their home in the Hollow.

For fun, George and his buddies did some of the same things kids do today. “We rode our bikes; we walked around; go out to the junkyard to see what we could find; go out there and do something with slingshots-shoot at birds and stuff.”

The Mississippi River was hard to resist even though it was about a mile away from George’s house. “We used to go fishing a lot down by the river. My cousin came over from this (East) side to our house over there on his bike. Occasionally we’d go swimming but not that often.”

You can see the industry, which replaced homes on the West Side Flats in this 1965 picture. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

You can see the industry, which replaced homes on the West Side Flats in this 1965 picture. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Only a couple years later, the City (again) sent out letters, this time to West Side Flats residents, telling them frequent flooding of the Mississippi led to the decision to condemn the area. “They gave a little bit of money to help moving and stuff. I was in the 6th grade and then we moved to the upper West Side. From there, we lived in a couple of different houses but we stayed on the upper West Side until I was drafted in 1969.”

“They kicked everybody out (of the West Side Flats) and then they put up all these new dikes and all these walls and everything and they put industry in there.”

Two years later, when he returned from his military service, George moved back in with his Grandmother, who lived on Robie Street. Then, said George, “We moved from there to the projects (Dunedin Terrace) when they were freshly made; the very first ones by Roosevelt Junior High.”

A short time later George bought a car and started spending time on the East Side. “I came over here (to the East Side) to my cousin’s house ‘cause he lived over here on Arkwright and that’s where I met my wife, Tina, for the first time. That was in the summer of ’71.“

George added that it was two years before he and Tina started dating. They married in 1975 and a year later, bought their house at 833 Burr Street. Tina and George celebrated their 40 year anniversary in June 2015.

George and Tina Rodriguez have lived at 833 Burr (at Willldork)for 35 years.

George and Tina Rodriguez have lived at 833 Burr (at Whitall Street) since 1976. They’ve raised their three daughters in the home.

“When I first got back (from the service) I was just doing odd jobs here and there. I went back to school and got my GED. It was St. Paul TVI at the time  (Saint Paul College today) to learn welding.” George worked as a welder at for eight or nine years at a company so close to their home that he usually walked to and from work. The company shut down in the early 80s so George went to the Veterans Administration for help finding for a new job.

The VA placed him at the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam in Minneapolis. “They were hiring summer jobs then, so I spent two, three years in summer jobs and I finally got hired on full time.”

George went from a temporary summer employee to the Head Lockman of the Upper and Lower St. Anthony Locks and Dam when he retired in 2009. He had many experiences during his years at the locks but nothing prepared him or his crew for the tragic August 1, 2007 collapse of the I-35W bridge.

George and Tina were on a Target run when one of their daughters called to tell him about the bridge collapse. George told me he immediately checked in with the office to see what was happening. “I said, ‘Do you need me to come in?’ And he said, ‘Yeah!’ So off to work I went and my wife came with me. So we spent the night there helping people the best way we can, like getting people out of the water, getting equipment into the water to help the firemen and the policemen and all the rescue workers. We were there until one o’clock in the morning. And the next day, back to work again.”

Thirteen people died and 145 were hurt when the bridge fell.

“Essentially we were closed down. We couldn’t lock boats anymore. We were just there helping with getting the bodies out and getting the cars out of the way, just lending help to the people who are doing that work.”

George and others from the Upper St. Anthony Lock and Dam remained involved during debris removal and construction of the new bridge.

Before construction of Phalen Boulevard (foreground), Burr Street went continued over the railroad tracks and industrial corridor. According to George, “It’s nice and quiet now actually compared to what it was then (before Phalen).”

Before construction of Phalen Boulevard (foreground), Burr Street continued over the railroad tracks and an industrial corridor. According to George, “It’s nice and quiet now actually compared to what it was then (before Phalen).” That’s the continuation of Burr Street across Phalen Boulevard and the railroad tracks.

Burr Street Bridge

Prior to the construction of the Phalen Cooridor, the Burr Street Bridge carried traffic over the railroad yard. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Now George is busy three days a week caring for one of his grandsons. He and Tina frequently volunteer at Merrick Community Services, an East Side social services non-profit.

Moves and all, George is pleased with how his life has played out. Simply put, “It’s been a good life here with my wife and kids.”

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Back on my bike, I made my way toward Swede Hollow Park to see if I could find any remnants of 100 years of settlements. As I rode east bound on Whitall toward Payne Avenue, I stopped at some fine-looking new town homes.

Some serious creativity is used in the description of the Homes of Whitall on its website.(4) “Homes of Whitall embraces nostalgic architecture and exudes the feeling of a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Some serious creativity is used in the description of the Homes of Whitall on its website.(3) “Homes of Whitall embraces nostalgic architecture and exudes the feeling of a Norman Rockwell painting.”

Next, on to Swede Hollow.

Looking south along Swede Hollow Park’s hiking and biking trail. The smoke stack on the left is part of the former Hamm’s Brewery.

Looking south along Swede Hollow Park’s hiking and biking trail. The smoke stack on the left is part of the former Hamm’s Brewery.

I entered Swede Hollow Park at the northern entrance. The park is a valley or ravine carved epochs ago by Phalen Creek, perhaps with some assistance from the railroads which pushed tracks through in the mid-1860s.

Some children pose along the railroad tracks that cut through Swede Hollow, circa 1910. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Some children pose along the railroad tracks that cut through Swede Hollow, circa 1910. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Phalen Creek disappeared decades ago, forced into underground culverts to make room for railroad tracks.

Swede Hollow, around 1965, the houses and train tracks only memories. trees and other folliage is reclaiming The Hollow.

Swede Hollow, around 1965, the houses and train tracks only memories. trees and other foliage is reclaiming The Hollow. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

By 1969, The Hollow had become a dumping ground for the City and others. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

By 1969, The Hollow had become a dumping ground for the City and others. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Then in 1973, neighborhood residents and the Saint Paul Garden Club began working with the Saint Paul Parks Department to make Swede Hollow a city park.(4)   The tracks that once snaked their way through Swede Hollow have been replaced by neatly paved biking/hiking trails, benches and art. And Phalen Creek once again runs through part of The Hollow.

A family walks north along one of the paths in Swede Hollow Park. Leaves are popping on one tree and the reeds and some grass are greening up nicely. In no way does Swede Hollow of today resemble that of where George Rodriguez and his family lived 60 years ago.

A family walks north along one of the paths in Swede Hollow Park. Leaves are popping on one tree and the reeds and some grass are greening up nicely. In no way does Swede Hollow of today resemble that of where George Rodriguez and his family lived 60 years ago.

Try as I might, I couldn't determine if any of the debris laying about the hills are pieces of The Hollow's past.

Try as I might, I couldn’t determine if any of the debris laying about the hills are pieces of The Hollow’s past.

At least several Hamm’s Brewery Brewery buildings have towered above Swede Hollow since the 1860s. Today, many remain in various conditions and levels of occupancy.

One of the unused buildings of the long-shuttered Hamm’s Brewery. The pipes from one building to another when the brewery expanded. At one time, Reany crossed over the Hollow here.

One of the unused buildings of the long-shuttered Hamm’s Brewery. The pipes from one building to another when the brewery expanded. At one time, Reany crossed over the Hollow here.

Another unoccupied Hamm’s building to the east of the Swede Hollow Park path.

Another unoccupied Hamm’s building to the east of the Swede Hollow Park path.

The windows will need replacement but the exterior brick and mortar looks to be in good shape.

The windows will need replacement but the exterior brick and mortar looks to be in good shape.

Several of the former brewery buildings are being put to new uses. The two on the right are part of the Flat Earth Brewery, which relocated more than a year ago from a small facility in Highland Park. I took the picture through the cyclone fence along the west side of the property.

Several of the former brewery buildings are being put to new uses. The two on the right are part of the Flat Earth Brewery, which relocated more than a year ago from a small facility in Highland Park. I took the picture through the cyclone fence along the west side of the property.

Another view of the Flat Earth Brewery, taken from the Swede Hollow path. The contrast between the vacant buildings and those in use is plain.

Another view of the Flat Earth Brewery, taken from the Swede Hollow path. The contrast between the vacant buildings and those in use is plain.

Volunteers gathered a considerable amount of debris at the spring cleanup in Swede Hollow Park.

Volunteers also gathered Swede Hollow Park for the Citywide Cleanup.

A used spare tire, a rusting fire extinguisher and bags full of discarded paper, plastic, glass and cans collected from the Hollow await disposal.

A used spare tire, a rusting fire extinguisher and bags full of discarded paper, plastic, glass and cans collected from the Hollow await disposal.

Swede Hollow Henge, in the foreground, is sculpture called the Swede Hollow “henge,” designed by local artist Christine Baeumler.

Swede Hollow Henge, in the foreground, is sculpture called the Swede Hollow “Henge,” designed by local artist Christine Baeumler.

The old Hamm’s smoke stack is framed in one of the Swede Hollow Henge pieces.

The old Hamm’s smoke stack is framed in one of the Swede Hollow Henge pieces.

Facing east you can see how deep the Hollow is. It’s almost inconceivable that homes once lined the hills on both sides of Swede Hollow.

Facing east you can see how deep the Hollow is. It’s almost inconceivable that homes once lined the hills on both sides of Swede Hollow.

Most likely, the house on the bluff far above Swede Hollow is on East North Street.

Most likely, the house on the bluff (center of the picture) far above Swede Hollow is on East North Street.

So much to see and so little time to see it all. I'll see where the stairs lead on a future visit.

So much to see and so little time to see it all. I’ll follow the stairs lead on a future visit.

The Seventh Street Improvement Arches (a.k.a. Bridge 90386), a focal point of Swede Hollow Park and an East Side landmark, practically oozes history. Construction began in September 1883 and traffic passed over the bridge and through the tunnels 15 months later. A challenge for architect William Truesdell and the stone cutters and masons who built it, the bridge needed to be constructed using a complex spiral method because of the angle at which East Seventh Street crossed Swede Hollow.

Stone tunnel

The Seventh Street Improvement Project is a bridge with two tunnels below that, for more than 100 years, routed as many as five tracks of the Saint Paul and Duluth Railway under East Seventh Street as vehicles crossed above. (5) Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The Seventh Street Improvement Project is a bridge with two tunnels that, for more than 100 years, routed as many as five tracks of the Saint Paul and Duluth Railway under East Seventh Street as vehicles crossed above. (6)

The Seventh Street Improvement Arches were placed on the National Historic Register in 1989.

William Truesdell designed the bridge using a complex and unusual helicoidal (spiral) technique because Seventh Street crossed over the railroad tracks at an odd and rare 63 degree angle. (7)

William Truesdell designed the bridge using a complex and unusual helicoidal (spiral) technique because Seventh Street crossed over the railroad tracks at an irregular and rare 63 degree angle. (6)

A closer look gives a better view of the stone work in one of the two tunnels.

A closer look gives a better view of the stone work in one of the two tunnels.

Two types of Minnesota limestone were used in the construction of the bridge. The walls outside the tunnels and parallel to the paths are grey limestone quarried in Saint Paul while the bulk of the structure is Kasota limestone. (8)

Two types of Minnesota limestone were used in the construction of the bridge. The walls outside the tunnels and parallel to the paths are grey limestone quarried in Saint Paul while the bulk of the structure is Kasota limestone. (7)

The rush of the I-94 traffic begins to intrude on the tranquility when you exit the tunnel and reach the south end of Swede Hollow Park. The on-ramp from Mounds Boulevard to west bound 94 is on the top of the hill in the background.

The rush of the I-94 traffic begins to intrude on the tranquility when you exit the tunnel and reach the south end of Swede Hollow Park. The on-ramp from Mounds Boulevard to west bound 94 is on the top of the hill in the background.

At the south end of Swede Hollow, a fork in the road. Continuing straight ahead leads to the Bruce Vento Nature Center; to the right is the Payne Avenue/7th Street business district.

At the south end of Swede Hollow, a fork in the road. Continuing straight ahead leads to the Bruce Vento Nature Center; and to the right is the Payne Avenue/7th Street business district.

After emerging from Swede Hollow Park I rode a couple of blocks to the corner of East 7th and Kittson, where I made made a lunch stop. The made-to-order tacos were a perfect way to re-energize.

After emerging from Swede Hollow Park I rode a couple of blocks to the corner of East 7th and Kittson, where I made made a lunch stop. The made-to-order tacos were a perfect way to re-energize.

We’ve all been told many times not to believe everything we read. This sign is a good example of why - nothing remains of the original Lafayette Park neighborhood nor the park. I’ll talk much more about the area on a future ride.

We’ve all been told many times not to believe everything we read. This sign is a good example of why – nothing remains of the original Lafayette Park neighborhood nor the park. I’ll talk much more about the area on a future ride.

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Closing in on home, I made a final stop on St. Clair Avenue just west of Pleasant Avenue.

 I stopped to admire a structure in an assemblage of backyard trees, visible due to their absence of leaves. The most interesting deck I’ve ever seen sits among the trees at least 20 feet up.

I stopped to admire a structure in an assemblage of backyard trees, visible due to their absence of leaves. The most interesting deck I’ve ever seen sits among the trees at least 20 feet up.

A b

The deck and the home it belongs to. What a great spot to spend time on a nice day or night!

Some final thoughts:

  • George Rodriguez has led a memorable life having experienced some significant events in Saint Paul and Minneapolis history.
  • Swede Hollow Park affords everyone-lover of the outdoors, history devotee, art fan, hiker, biker, beer aficionado-a fascinating experience.
  • The more I see of the East Side, Payne-Phalen in this case, the more I am impressed.
  • I wish the Hamm’s Brewery remained open and employed thousands of workers but I’m really glad we’re in the midst of a beer renaissance featuring ales from Flat Earth and other microbreweries.

To see the route of this ride and other details about it, click here.

Footnotes:

  1. Page 31; 1978 Payne-Phalen District 5 Plan
  2. Swede Hollow Archaeology blog; May 25, 2015
  3. Homes of Whitall website; http://www.sherman-associates.com/homes-of-whitall
  4. Friends of Swede Hollow website; http://www.swedehollow.org/About_Us.html
  5. Minnesota Department of Transportation website; http://www.dot.state.mn.us/historicbridges/90386.html
  6. http://historicbridges.org/bridges/browser/?bridgebrowser=minnesota/7thstreet/
  7. Steve Trimble, “Seventh Street Improvement Arches,” Saint Paul Historical, accessed September 21, 2015, http://saintpaulhistorical.com/items/show/26.

59 Years On Sunny Slope

March 31, 2015      9.9 miles      Highland Park

IMG_0072

The temporary No Parking sign is indeed a sign of spring. It means the post-winter street cleaning is imminent.

The trees remain bare, the sides of most streets are ensconced in five months of winter grit and the temperature dips quickly as evening approaches. But none of that matters because it’s March 31st and my bike and I are out of the basement and on the streets for the first ride of the year!

One has to look hard to find color this early in the spring – flowers aren’t poking out of the soil and the greening of lawns and trees is a few weeks off. At 1890 Yorkshire, the browns and grays made way for vibrant children’s artwork.

yorkshire artwork 1

yorkshire artwork 2

Colvin Avenue is another of the Highland Park streets, undulating and without sidewalks, that resemble the suburban landscape. Most of the homes are single story ramblers built on large lots in the 1950s The home at 1778 Colvin is in the midst of a major remodeling, but that’s not why I stopped. Rather, the movement of several deer in the front yard led me to scramble for my camera.

Three deer (on the right) ate while keeping watch on me at 1778 Colvin.

Three deer cautiously ate at 1778 Colvin Avenue.

One deer stared my camera and me down from about 20 feet away.

One deer stared my camera and me down from about 20 feet away.

Hilltop is a block long street that intersects Colvin on the south and Edgcumbe to the north. The name is a tipoff about the topography of the area.

Hilltop is a block long street that intersects Colvin on the south and Edgcumbe to the north. The name is a tip-off about the topography of the area.

After my dalliance with the deer, I followed Colvin Avenue north to Edgcumbe and traveled northwest on Edgcumbe for a block until the road turned south down the hill. About halfway down I saw this boulder retaining wall. Since I was moving at more than 20 miles per hour I had to turn around and climb back up Edgcumbe to take this picture.

about halfway down the Edgcumbe hill I saw this boulder retaining wall. Since I was moving at more than 20 miles per hour at the time I had to turn around and climb back up Edgcumbe to take this picture. I have dozens of questions about the construction of the wall.

I have dozens of questions about the construction of the wall, including, ‘How many boulders are in the wall?’, and ‘How are the rocks held in place?’.

Continuing down the Edgcumbe hill I shot right past the amusingly named Sunny Slope Lane. It’s one of the handful of streets in Highland Park I’d never ridden on in nearly 30 years living here, so I turned around to examine Sunny Slope Lane.

The Sunny Slope sign.

The Sunny Slope sign.

Sunny Slope is a cull-d-sac with about 10 houses built in the ‘50s and ‘60s on it.

Two of the homes on Sunny Slope Lane. Colvin Avenue sits atop the hill behind the grey house.

Two of the homes on Sunny Slope Lane. Colvin Avenue sits atop the hill behind the grey house.

A deer, quite likely one that I saw earlier on the ride, stands at the top of the hill, in what is the backyard of a Colvin Avenue home.

A deer, quite likely one that I saw earlier on the ride, stands at the top of the hill, in what is the backyard of a Colvin Avenue home.

As I took photos, one of the neighbors came out to ask me what I was doing. I explained the mission of my blog to Frank Windisch, a 59 year resident of Sunny Slope Lane. Frank and his wife Shirley had an appointment and couldn’t talk with me this evening but were quite willing to meet another time. That time ended up being the evening of April 6, and the temperature hovered below 40 as I rode to 1795 Sunny Slope for the interview.

Shirley and Frank Windisch in their home at 1795 Sunny Slope Lane.

Shirley and Frank Windisch in their home at 1795 Sunny Slope Lane.

Shirley explained that she and Frank moved to 1795 Sunny Slope in 1956 because Shirley’s father was a contractor who owned the lot on which the house was built. “Frank was in the service. When we came back from Germany – I was over there with him from 1954 to 56. And he (my Dad) had the lot and said, ‘I’d like to have you build a house on that lot.’ And so, we decided to do it.”

Shirley went on to say that her dad put some nice custom features into their home. “My dad had a real eye for construction. The ceiling is cedar and that’s 4 inches thick.” 4 x 4 tongue in groove boards.”

Another distinctive feature of their home arose from Shirley and Frank’s time overseas. “When we were in Germany in the Bavarian area there were homes that were ski chalets with the overhanging eaves; we loved those homes. So we said would like to have eaves that overhang further than the average eave does on the homes you’re building. He said, ‘We can do that.’”

The custom eaves on Shirley and Frank's home have a noticeably longer overhang than most.

The custom eaves on Shirley and Frank’s home have a noticeably longer overhang than most.

Frank added, “Aside from the design characteristics which we’ve always loved, it has prevented the sun from beating out the windows. The rains don’t come to the windows nearly as easily as if you had no eaves or very little eaves. These windows are the original windows when the house was constructed.”

The original driveway remains and is still used but instead of leading to the garage, there is the family room.

The original driveway remains and is still used but instead of leading to the garage, there is the family room. (Photo shot August 2015)

As Shirley and Frank’s family grew so did their need for more space. Frank said, “The house was originally a three bedroom rambler and then we had the garage turned into a family room, ’cause we had six kids and we needed more space.” A dining room and new garage were also added to the home.

The Windischs built a new garage with a deck on top, on the east end of their property.

The Windischs built a new garage with a deck on top, on the east end of their property. (Photo shot August 2015)

“We have a problem with runoff and springs. We’ve had a number of landslides over the years.”   Frank Windisch

According to Frank, the steep slope in the backyard has meant battling land slides, “We had three major slides and the last one was like four years ago, but I think that’s the end of it because it’s (the dirt) found its own level.

According to Frank, the steep slope in the backyard has meant battling land slides, “We had three major slides and the last one was like four years ago, but I think that’s the end of it because it’s (the dirt) found its own level.” (Photo shot August 2015)

Among the dozens of memorable neighborhood events over their 59 years there, one involved then-mayor John Daubney, who purchased a lot on Colvin, directly north and up the bluff from Shirley and Frank. “He had the lot filled in because there was just a big ravine there and that was directly behind us,” Frank told me. “He brought in fill from construction projects around the city and dumped all of that into that ravine and built a house on top of it. It took months to dump, dump, dump.”

Plants and trees cover the dirt poured into the ravine for construction of former Mayor Daubney's house on Colvin Avenue, behind and above the Windisch home.

Plants and trees cover the dirt poured into the ravine for construction of former Mayor Daubney’s house on Colvin Avenue, behind and above the Windisch home. (Photo shot August 2015)

Before building the mayor’s house on top of the new fill, Frank told me the sound of a pile driver echoed throughout the neighborhood, “They pounded timbers down til they hit bedrock then they could build the house on those timbers. And I still remember that boom, boom, boom for days.”

Most moms did not work outside the home in the 1950s and ‘60s, which provided plentiful opportunities for neighbors to become good friends. That’s exactly what happened around the Sunny Slope neighborhood. One evening in 1961, Shirley, Frank and other folks from the area got together at a neighbor’s – Dr. Fischer’s – house. Frank explained, “One time we were playing cards there and Shirley says, ‘I’m getting contractions.’ So Doc Fischer says, ‘Let’s go into the bedroom. I’ll check you out.’ So he says, ‘You’re ready to go. Let’s get out of here! Card game’s over!’” In case you’re wondering, Shirley and Dr. Fischer made it to the hospital for the delivery of their daughter Monica.

Several years later, a developer’s plan to build an apartment building on unimproved land at the end of Sunny Slope Lane stunned area residents. The property was zoned for single- and two-family homes and neighboring property owners overwhelmingly opposed changing it. Frank told me, “The developer persisted and brought it before the city council and asked for a vote from the city council as to whether he would be allowed to build apartments.”

The City Council agreed to rezone the property, without the required written consent of two-thirds of the residents living within 100 feet of the proposed apartments, The Council’s rezoning violated a City ordinance passed nearly 50 years prior.

Frank told me that got neighbors swiftly organized against the development. “Linn Firestone, at the top of the hill on Colvin, sent a petition around to the neighbors that were involved in the process and asked them if they’d they would contribute costs for him to take it to the Minnesota Supreme Court. It would cover his costs he wouldn’t charge for his (legal) services.

“All the neighbors donated the necessary funds and it was brought before the Supreme Court and they squashed the Saint Paul City Council decision to allow the apartments to be built.

“It made the papers. They called this area ‘the silk stocking neighborhood.’” Frank told me, laughing.

St. Paul Dispatch 122669-1

The article in the Saint Paul Dispatch newspaper reporting on the ruling by the Supreme Court of Minnesota on O’Brien et al., v. City of Saint Paul.

“There are cogent reasons why local owners are entitled to a voice in rezoning. They are the ones most vitally concerned; the usefulness and value of their property may be involved. When zones are established, citizens buy and improve property relying on the restrictions provided by law. They have a right to the permanency and security that the law should afford.”
From the Supreme Court of Minnesota opinion written by Justice James C. Otis and  issued December 26, 1969 on O’Brien et al., v. City of Saint Paul upholding a lower court ruling banning construction of apartments on Sunny Slope Lane

Shirley and Frank are wonderful people with colorful stories about their part of the City and I am delighted that our paths crossed.

From Sunny Slope Lane I took a zigzagging course to the entrance to the southern section of Hidden Falls Regional Park, where Prior Avenue meets Mississippi River Boulevard South.

The sun hovers above the horizon as viewed from the Hidden Falls Park entrance.

The sun hovers above the horizon as viewed from the Hidden Falls Park entrance.

The park wasn’t open for the season yet but that didn’t deter me from a quick trip in. The road into the park, officially called Lower Hidden Falls Drive, or Road (depending upon the map), descends under the Highway 5 bridge and coils back under in the opposite direction, ending at a parking lot a few tenths of a mile to the east.

Lower Hidden Falls Drive dips out of sight. Above, the Highway 5 bridge over the Mississippi River .

Lower Hidden Falls Drive dips out of sight. Above, the Highway 5 bridge over the Mississippi River.

All in all, Lower Hidden Falls Road presented me with a 200-plus foot drop in about a quarter mile. I elected to return the way I came to burn some of those winter calories.

The view up the bluff toward Mississippi River Boulevard from the Hidden Falls Park lot. Once the leaves fully cover the trees, it will be virtually impossible to see even halfway up the slope.

The view up the bluff toward Mississippi River Boulevard from the Hidden Falls Park parking lot. Once the leaves fully cover the trees, it will be virtually impossible to see even halfway up the slope.

The underbelly of the Highway 5 Bridge, looking south-southwest toward Fort Snelling.

The underbelly of the Highway 5 Bridge, looking south-southwest toward Fort Snelling.

Before I began the upward climb to Mississippi River Boulevard, I stopped under the Highway 5 bridge. There I noticed a couple of things that caused me some unease-a basketball-sized chunk of concrete and several rebar that obviously dropped from the bridge; and upon looking up at the bridge, a considerable space from which concrete had fallen.

Metal rebar and a section of concrete that dropped from the underside of the Highway 5 bridge.

Metal rebar and a section of concrete that dropped from the underside of the Highway 5 bridge.

As you can see, several large pieces of concrete fell from the subsurface of the bridge.

Looking up at the underside of the bridge, I could see where several large pieces of concrete had fallen.

Fortunately, MNDOT was less than a month from starting the obviously necessary re-decking of the bridge. I adjusted my helmet and quickly and carefully zipped under the bridge. I paused a final time in the park to watch a well-bundled boater fishing.

Hidden Falls 8

An early-season angler works the Mississippi between Hidden Falls Park in Saint Paul and Fort Snelling.

With that, back on the bike to scale Lower Hidden Falls Road to go home. (Full disclosure: I needed a couple of rest stops on the way up to the River Road so even with the indoor biking, I’ve got to get back in shape.) Although the color pallet consisted almost exclusively of greys and browns, the bare trees and hills allowed me to see some regular scenery in distinctly different ways.

Click on the link for the map of this ride: Garmin Connect.

Halloween, Hedges (because trees don’t alliterate) and Hydrants

12.5 Miles

Macalester-Groveland, Merriam Park, South Como

The warm October continued for another day, which gave me another chance to ride. Like yesterday, Halloween ornamentation and leaves were plentiful.

The golden leaves of the maple trees are set off magnificently by the deep blue sky.

The golden leaves of the maple trees are set off magnificently by the deep blue sky.

On my bike rides I often see an object I otherwise wouldn’t lay eyes on. Many times it’s the unusual, but occasionally, it’s objects so commonplace most of us go about our lives never noticing them, though they’re in plain sight. An example, which regular readers of this blog know, is my atypical interest in manhole covers. This ride I spent an unusual amount of time scrutinizing fire hydrants, the result of the stop at and research of the former Waterous Company building on my October 24th journey. Never before did I know fire hydrants came in so many sizes, shapes and colors.

Finn and Lincoln. The silver object on the left side of the hydrant is a spring which holds an orange and white flag pole approximately two feet tall. When a big snow storm hits, the flag lets firefighters and nearby residents know where a snow-buried hydrant is.

Finn and Lincoln. The silver object on the left side of the hydrant is a spring which holds an orange and white flag pole approximately two feet tall. When a big snow storm hits, the flag lets firefighters and nearby residents know where a snow-buried hydrant is.

This old hydrant at the corner of Cleveland and Dayton Avenues is likely from the mid-1940s.

This old hydrant at the corner of Cleveland and Dayton Avenues is likely from the mid-1940s.

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I did see more than fire hydrants on the ride.

The Interstate 94 sign on Cleveland and Wabash Avenues. Older signs like this one have the name of the state between the word “Interstate” and the number. Newer signs are generic, no longer carrying the state in which they sit.

The Interstate 94 sign on Cleveland and Wabash Avenues. Older signs like this one have the name of the state between the word “Interstate” and the number. Newer signs are generic, no longer baring the name of the state in which they sit.

That is the smokestack of Rock-Tenn’s cardboard recycling plant in the background.

That is the smokestack of Rock-Tenn’s cardboard recycling plant in the background.

This unusal and diminutive Pro Stop gas station has sat on the northwest corner of Clevleland and Wabash since 1947. Among its more curious traits is that it is two stories tall.

This unusual and diminutive Pro Stop gas station has sat on the northwest corner of Cleveland and Wabash since 1947. Among its more curious traits is that it is two stories tall.

A sign from days gone by says “Cliff’s Gas & O” which I’m guessing is oil. I have not been able to find any record of Cliff’s.

A sign from days gone by says “Cliff’s Gas & O” which I’m guessing is oil. I have not been able to find any record of Cliff’s.

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A brand new 2014 Waterous hydrant at Lafond Avenue and Fry Avenue. Unlike most of the other hydrants around town it doesn’t have yellow hose caps.

A brand new 2014 Waterous hydrant at Lafond Avenue and Fry Avenue. Unlike most of the other hydrants around town it doesn’t have yellow hose caps.

I didn’t know whether the different color schemes on the fire hydrants have a particular meaning so I called the Saint Paul Regional Water Services. Turns out, the color of the hydrant lets firefighters know the size of the water main feeding it. A Water Utility engineer told me the diameter of the mains range from one inch for old pipes to 42 inches for what is called a feeder main. Feeder mains, as the name suggests, move a great volume of water from one end of the city to the other. Those hydrants, painted red and white, are rare; I’ve not seen one.

The red with yellow hydrants are located in residential neighborhoods and are fed by six inch mains.

The all-red hydrants, also found among residences, are the new standard with greater capacity eight inch mains. And the red and green fire hydrants are fed by mains 12 to 36 inches in diameter. Those hydrants have greater pressure and capacity and are often used in areas with larger buildings, warehouses and factories.

This higher capacity hydrant is located at Oxford Street and Front Avenue, where there are stores and businesses on all four corners.

This higher capacity hydrant, with the green caps, is located at Oxford Street and Front Avenue, where there are stores and businesses on all four corners.

Other fun facts about Saint Paul’s fire hydrants:

  • The first hydrants were installed on Lafayette Road and Grove Street in downtown
  • Today there are nearly 10,000 hydrants in the City
  • Every one is inspected at least once a year.
  • Any hydrant not properly accessible, that doesn’t provide the proper flow rate or that leaks is repaired or replaced.(1)
  • The Saint Paul Regional Water Utility attempts to keep its hydrants in service for about 100 years! (2)
  • A hydrant is knocked over nearly every day in the Capitol City.
An obviously non-functioning hydrant.

An obviously non-functioning hydrant.

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Still on Lafond, ghosts fly about the nearly leafless tree at 1306 Lafond.)

At 1306 Lafond, ghosts fly about the nearly leafless tree.

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This sign sits on the boulevard of the house at 1076 Churchill Street at Orchard Avenue in Como.

This sign sits on the boulevard of the house at 1076 Churchill Street at Orchard Avenue in Como.

Como curb cleanup 5

Curb cleaning along Churchill Street.

True to the sign in her yard, Ginny diligently vacuumed up leaves from along the curbs in front of her house. The idea, said Ginny, is to reduce the algae growth in Como Lake by keeping plant matter out of the storm sewers. “I volunteered to do it because I walk around Como and so I see the result of what’s going on. Before I knew the problem I used to try to keep the leaves off the gutter anyway just because they eventually blow down to someone else’s yard or they blow into mine.”

A similar sign Ginny’s seen around the neighborhood encourages neighbors to adopt a storm drain. Again, the goal is to improve Como Lake’s water quality.

Como curb cleanup 3

I asked Ginny whether neighbors have commented on her sign. “I just put the sign up two days ago so hopefully it will make a little difference.”

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Churchill Street is interrupted by a pair of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks. Tank cars filled with Bakken oil are frequently on the southbound BNSF trains that pass by.

Churchill Street is interrupted by a pair of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad tracks. Today so-called intermodal cars speed by. However, tank cars filled with Bakken oil are frequently on the southbound BNSF trains that pass by.

Caution-Churchill Street is also a Zombie Zone.

Be aware-Churchill Street is also a Zombie Zone.

A block east and to the south on Oxford are these (fraternal) twin garages.

A block east and to the south on Oxford are these (fraternal) twin garages.

The garage on the left has a cupola with a fun weather vane.

The garage on the right (south) has a cupola with a fun weather vane.

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991 North Oxford Street stands out from neighboring homes because of its uncommon stone construction and second story tablet between the two front windows. Research yielded little information about the home’s history. One early occupant, Joe Graus, is listed as a “washer” in the 1914 Polk City Directory

This unusual stone home was built in 1910 according to Ramsey County tax records…

This unusual stone home was built in 1910 according to Ramsey County tax records…

…and confirmed by the “cornerstone” of the house. Or visa versa.

…and confirmed by the “cornerstone” of the house. Or visa versa.

The north side of 993 Oxford Street. Note the two story porch in back.

The north side of 991 Oxford Street. Note the two story porch in back.

The exterior is uncommonly all stone, from the foundation to the roof, with the exception of the front porch. Curiously, the “J” on the “cornerstone” has been changed for some reason. It appears as if at one time it was a backward “J” that was corrected.

My research did not yield any information about who

My research did not yield any information about who “TJD” was.

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Frankenstein keeps watch on the unsuspecting from the second floor of 1636 Englewood Avenue, Merriam Park.

Frankenstein keeps watch on the unsuspecting from the second floor of 1636 Englewood Avenue, Merriam Park, at least through Halloween.

This link will take you to the map of the October 25, 2014 ride. Garmin Connect.

It came as no surprise that this ride was my last of 2014. For my blogging purposes, any ride after mid-October is a bonus, meaning I sneaked in two bonus rides in ’14! Of course I do not enjoy my winter biking hiatus-riding in place in the basement is decent exercise but exceedingly dull. Looking at it positively, I could be back biking streets of Saint Paul in five months, and the winter allows me to catch up on my blog posts.