Stone and Diamonds

August 2, 2014

Lexington-Hamline, Summit-University, Midway, Como

14.5 miles

Athletes and sports have played a big part in Saint Paul history. In recent years much of the recognition has gone to those from Cretin-Derham Hall High School. Decades ago, however, several neighborhoods, especially the East Side and the Midway were well-known for their athletes and teams. One of the best baseball players to come out of any Saint Paul neighborhood is not who you think. It happened to be an African-American woman named Toni Stone. I knew a little about Toni Stone and her baseball legacy and I learned more with a stop at the stadium that bares her name.

The plaque posted near the entrance to Toni Stone Field with details about her

The plaque posted near the entrance to Toni Stone Field with details about her

A modest sign welcomes visitors and presents the very basics about Toni Stone.

A modest sign welcomes visitors and presents the very basics about Toni Stone.

Most sources credit Toni (given name Marcenia Lyle Stone) as the first woman to play in the Negro American League, with the Indianapolis Clowns, in 1953.(1) I found conflicting information while researching Toni Stone. Some of the confusion was intentional-to enhance Stone’s appeal to fans. For example, promoters claimed she was 10 years younger than her actual age and was paid much more than she truly made.(2) However, Toni’s given first name is spelled differently on two signs at the field baring her name. Compare the previous two pictures to see what I mean.

Toni Stone in her Indianapolis Indians uni.

Toni Stone in her Indianapolis Indians uni. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The entrance and bleachers at Toni Stone Field, part of the Dunning Sports Complex.

The entrance and bleachers at Toni Stone Field, part of the Dunning Sports Complex.

Toni was born in Saint Paul in 1921, seemingly on a baseball diamond. By the time she was 16, she was pitching for the men’s semipro Twin Cities Colored Giants. Other stops during her career were with the semipro San Francisco Sea Lions and New Orleans Creoles and the Negro American League’s Indianapolis Clowns and Kansas City Monarchs. After one season each with the Clowns and Monarchs, Toni Stone retired from the Negro Leagues after the 1954 season with a .243 batting average but continued to play amateur ball for many years.

toni-stone-aka-marcenia-lyle-alberga

Toni posed in her New Orleans Creoles uniform. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The main entrance …

The main entrance …

...and a peek through the gate onto the infield.

…and a peek through the gate onto the infield.

Never having been inside Toni Stone Field and finding the gate locked, I felt it my duty to climb the fence next to the bleachers to gain access, not for me, but for you, the followers of my blog.

A look-see along the bleachers toward the middle of the stadium. The wood table on the right background is the press area.

A look-see along the bleachers toward the middle of the stadium. The wood table on the right background is the press area.

Peering at the field through the foul ball screen.

Peering at the field through the foul ball screen.

As you can imagine, Toni faced the same race-based adversity as male players in the Negro Leagues. But she also endured the hardships of being the only woman on the team, including being shunned by many teammates.

The scoreboard towers above the left-center field outfield fence.

The scoreboard towers above the left-center field outfield fence.

It is 372 feet from home plate to the centerfield fence.

It is 372 feet from home plate to the centerfield fence.

Toni Stone died in California on November 2, 1996 at the age of 75 but thanks to her groundbreaking success in baseball and this field, she’ll be remembered for years.

The Wilder Center, headquarters of the Wilder Foundation.

The Wilder Center, headquarters of the Wilder Foundation. This side faces University Avenue.

The Wilder Foundation headquarters is at the southwest corner Lexington Avenue and University. Wilder is a philanthropic organization started in 1906 by Saint Paul businessman Amherst H. Wilder to “relieve, aid and assist the poor, sick and needy people of the city of St. Paul.” (3)

The entrance of the Wilder Foundation’s headquarters, which opened in 2007.

The main entrance of the Wilder Foundation’s headquarters, which opened in 2007.

In more than 100 years since its inception, the Foundation has provided many health and human services to Saint Paul residents, including some that weren’t available anywhere else in the City. Examples of the Wilder services from the first several decades of the 1900s are public health nurses and the Wilder Baths and Pool, which gave those with inadequate or nonexistent bathing facilities a place to clean up.(4)

Wilder mantras line the exterior of the building.

Wilder mantras line the exterior of the building.

Signatures of several members of the Wilder family were etched into the building facade. This is Amherst Wilder's signature.

Signatures of Amherst, Fanny and Cornelia Wilder were etched into the building facade. This is Amherst (A.H.) Wilder’s signature.

This is  Wilder's signature.

Cornelia Day Wilder, daughter of Amherst and Fanny Spencer Wilder.

The Wilder Center is linked to Saint Paul’s baseball history in that it sits on the spot of Lexington Park, home of the original Saint Paul Saints from 1897 through the 1956 season. (5) A brass marker commemorating Lexington Park sits on the spot of the stadium’s home plate (although I couldn’t find it.)

This areal view of Lexington Park is toward the east. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

This areal view of Lexington Park is toward the east. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The Minneapolis Millers and Saint Paul Saints get ready to square off in the battle of the Twin Cities at Lexington Park in 1926. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The Minneapolis Millers and Saint Paul Saints get ready to square off in the battle of the Twin Cities at Lexington Park in 1926. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

(6) The original Saints moved to Midway Stadium for 1957 and the ‘new’ Saints played the last game ever at Midway last August.

Now north of University Avenue, I found Griggs Playground in the midst of renovation at North Dunlap and West Hubbard. (Griggs Avenue borders the western side of the playground, hence the name.

Now north of University Avenue, I found Griggs Playground in the midst of renovation at North Dunlap and West Hubbard. (Griggs Avenue borders the western side of the playground, hence the name.)

With softball season done for most teams, the fields were wide open this beautiful Saturday.

With softball season done for most teams, the diamonds were wide open this beautiful Saturday.

McMurray Athletic Fields are 32 acres of softball, soccer and football fields between Como Avenue on the north, Jessamine to the south and Lexington on the east. Como Avenue separates McMurray from the southern edge of Como Regional Park.

These solar-powered electric car charging stations are something I've not seen at any other public facility in Saint Paul but McMurray.

These solar-powered electric car charging stations are something I’ve not seen at any other public facility in Saint Paul but McMurray.

A close look at the pump-like charger.

A close look at the pump-like charger.

McMurray's soccer fields, which double as the lacrosse fields, are covered in artificial turf.

McMurray’s soccer fields, which double as the lacrosse fields, are covered with artificial turf.

These athletic fields opened in 1927 and named two years later for William McMurray, an Irish-born tea merchant. McMurray was a benefactor of money to many good causes as well as the donor to the City of 25 acres of land along Battle Creek that became part of the park with the same name. (7)

Saint Paul’s Animal Control Center is just across Beulah Lane from McMurray. The old school name for it is the dog pound. According to its website, Animal Control officers respond to violations of animal ordinances, impound stray or dangerous dogs and investigate reports of animal bites.

Saint Paul’s Animal Control Center is just across Beulah Lane from McMurray. The old school name for it is the dog pound. According to its website, Animal Control officers respond to violations of animal ordinances, impound stray or dangerous dogs and investigate reports of animal bites.

I don’t know whether it’s a coincidence or not, but the Saint Paul office of the Animal Humane Society at 1115 Beulah Lane is next door to Animal Control.

The animal Humane Society’s humble home.

The Animal Humane Society’s humble home.

As I rolled by, I met Faith Donovan, a Humane Society volunteer officially known as a “dog adoption support person,” who was walking a puppy named Lexi.

Faith Donovan and ????.

Faith Donovan and four-month old Lexi walk along Beulah Lane and one of the McMurray Park baseball diamonds.

Faith explained reason for volunteering with the Humane Society this way, “In Duluth I have four dogs and I miss them a lot and I can’t have dogs where I’m living currently, so I come and volunteer at the Humane Society. That way I can get my dog fix and then go home.”

Back from her walk, Lexi beckons to me with her puppy dog eyes.

Back from her walk, Lexi beckons to me with her puppy dog eyes.

Faith added, “I just find that animals are really healing and very therapeutic and when you know you’re having a bad day, to just get to walk dogs and play with them, it’s just really relaxing.”

Faith mentioned that the Humane Society started a program for dogs who aren’t ready for adoption. “Walk Stars” go through rehabilitation for behaviors like guarding their food or a history of biting, so ultimately they can be adopted. She added, “…they started up this program so that they could reduce the amount of euthanization that they have to do.”

humane society cat

KotKu waits patiently for someone to adopt her.

humane society cat

Every animal up for adoption at the Humane Society is accompanied by fact sheet like KotKu the cat’s.

The Humane Society takes in and tries to place many animals besides cats and dogs.

The Humane Society takes in and tries to place many animals besides cats and dogs.

Beulah Lane is less than a block long. It runs into Como Avenue and Como Park. That’s where I came upon the obviously new sign for the park’s outdoor classroom.

como woodland 1This seemed like a good place to hop off my bike and on to the outdoor classroom’s trail. A couple dozen steps later I came to a clearing in which stood a sizable stone fireplace.

The stone fireplace, I later learned, is a memorial to Joyce Kilmer , writer,  poet and World War I hero.

The stone fireplace, I later learned, is a memorial to Joyce Kilmer , writer, poet and World War I hero.

I didn’t see any historical marker or other explanation about the fireplace or its significance. Not until I researched the Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom did I discover the fascinating account of this monument.

In the 1930s, Saint Paul Parks Department officials proposed setting aside a small slice of woods in the southwest part of Como Park as an arboretum. Parks Superintendent William LaMont Kaufman designed the arboretum, with the stone fireplace and some gentle waterfalls as focal points. (8)

Kaufman and lamont

Parks Superintendent (William) LaMont Kaufman and Parks Commissioner Fred Truax stand in front of the fireplace at the dedication ceremony in 1936. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

In 1935 the United States was still mired in the Great Depression-unemployment sat at just over 20%- so Kaufman sought and got funding from the Kilmer Post of the American Legion for the project. Men in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of Roosevelt’s New Deal, began construction of the arboretum, including the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Fireplace, that same year. Less than a year later the arboretum and Joyce Kilmer Memorials were dedicated. Kilmer is best known for his poem “Trees”, which begins “I think that I shall never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”

The chimney of the fireplace has the date construction began and the initials of LaMont Kaufman, Superintendent of Parks, and Park commissioner Fred Truax.

The chimney of the fireplace has the date construction began and the initials of LaMont Kaufman, Superintendent of Parks, and Park Commissioner Fred Truax.

The fireplace and waterfalls, called the Joyce Kilmer Cascade, were very popular and well-used for decades. By the 60s, however, the fireplace and surrounding arboretum became a nighttime hangout for ne’er do wells. Move ahead to the 80s and the Kilmer Cascades had been, for all practical purposes, destroyed by vandals and the arboretum overgrown. The fireplace also showed its age but not to the same extent.

In 2003 local volunteers pitched in to clean up the garbage and invasive species in the arboretum. Three years later planning began in earnest to formally restore the area, but it took until 2010 for the project to land funding. The fireplace rededication ceremony took place on May 19, 2011.

Also on Como Avenue, less than a block east, is the revitalized Como Pool. More a water park than traditional municipal pool, the lively and colorful Como Pool reopened in June 2012. (I would have enjoyed a swim today.)

It's no surprise the pool is extremely popular on days like this, a sunny Saturday with the temperature in the 80s.

It’s no surprise there’s a line to get into the Como Pool on a sunny Saturday with the temperature in the 80s.

The “aquatic climbing wall” and zip line (right) and oodles of lounge chairs are a couple of the reasons for the pool’s popularity.

The “aquatic climbing wall” and zip line (right) and oodles of lounge chairs are a couple of the reasons for the pool’s popularity.

The pergola is one of several that offer some welcome shade.

The pergola is one of several that offer some welcome shade.

The always energetic children’s activity pool.

The always energetic children’s activity pool.

A crowded section of the 400 foot long Lazy River.

A crowded section of the 400 foot long Lazy River.

From the Como Park Pool, I basically went around the McMurray Athletic Fields, continuing east on Como, south on Lexington, then back to Jessamine and west again.

The Como Central Service Facility houses the Parks and Recreation Department’s Operations Division. The address is 1100 Hamline although the building faces Jessamine.

The Como Central Service Facility houses the Parks and Recreation Department’s Operations Division. The address is 1100 Hamline although the building faces Jessamine.

Continuing west, Jessamine ends at Pascal Street where a large parking lot is filled with semi-trailers. Just down the street and around the corner on Brewster Street, there are two unique public charter schools. The first is the Metro Deaf School.

The Metro Deaf School offers a bilingual education using American Sign Language (ASL) and English for primarily deaf, and hard-of-hearing students, according to its website.

The Metro Deaf School offers a bilingual education using American Sign Language (ASL) and English for primarily deaf, and hard-of-hearing students, according to its website.

The Hmong College Prep School is next door at 1515 Brewster.

The Hmong College Prep School is the first Hmong-focused high school in the US and has more than 900 students, according to the school’s website.

The Hmong College Prep School is the first Hmong-focused high school in the US and has more than 900 students, according to the school’s website.

Hmong College Prep Academy is at least the third occupant of 1515 Brewster. Built as an athletic and health club, it was purchased and converted to a film studio in 1995. Energy Park Studios had four soundstages, two of which were 12,500 square feet each and two others which were 5,000 square feet each. “Little Big League,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” “Grumpier Old Men,” “Jingle All The Way,” “A Simple Plan,” and “Drop Dead Gorgeous” are among the flicks that used Energy Park Studios for production.(10) Energy Park Studios left the building in the early to mid-2000s.
Trailers line one side of the parking lot at 1102 Snelling Avenue. In the background you can see the Metro Deaf School and Hmong College Prep.

Trailers line one side of the parking lot at 1102 Snelling Avenue. In the background you can see the Metro Deaf School and Hmong College Prep.

Around the corner, on the East Snelling Avenue frontage road, is the lot of semi-trailers and garages filled with school buses.

Shiny new buses sit in the garage awaiting the start of school in about a month.

Shiny new buses sit in the garage awaiting the start of school in about a month.

A third charter school, the Dugsi Academy is on the Snelling Avenue West Frontage road. About 300 students attend Dugsi.

A third charter school, the Dugsi Academy is on the Snelling Avenue West Frontage road. About 300 students attend Dugsi.

The sign on this plain building gives a clue as to what the McDowell Agency does. On either side of the sign, you'll notice, are fingerprints, and the company is a private investigation firm that specializes in background investigations, according to the website. It goes on to say products and services include “criminal background screening” and the nebulous “additional verification services” and “industry specific services.”

Just north of Dugsi Academy is this plain building. The sign gives a clue as to what the McDowell Agency does. On either side of the sign, you’ll notice, are fingerprints, and the company is a private investigation firm that specializes in background investigations, according to the website. It goes on to say products and services include “criminal background screening” and the nebulous “additional verification services” and “industry specific services.”

The ride-by of the West Snelling Frontage Road concluded the discoveries for the ride. The map of the entire journey is here:

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/642205132

Footnotes

1. Stew Thornley, SABR Baseball Biography Project http://sabr.org/bioproj/park/7a06f6cb

2. Ibid

3. https://www.wilder.org/AboutUs/Wilder-History/Pages/default.aspx

4. Ibid

5. Stew Thornley, SABR Baseball Biography Project http://sabr.org/bioproj/park/7a06f6cb

6. https://www.wilder.org/AboutUs/Locations/Pages/Wilder-Center-Overview.aspx

(7) The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul, Donald Empson

(8) Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom website http://www.comowoodland.org/joyce-kilmer-memorial-fireplace.html

(9) Kilmer Fireplace Rededication booklet, Sharon Shinomiya, Deb Robinson and Katie Plese; Como Woodland Advisory Committee ©2011

(10) Saint Paul Pioneer Press; January 15, 1995

(11) IMDb, http://www.imdb.com/search/title?locations=Energy+Park+Studios+-+1515+Brewster+Street%2C+St.+Paul%2C+Minnesota%2C+USA

Junctions with History

Rondo, Downtown, West Side (West Side Flats)

July 19, 2014

29 Miles

Traces of history are all around us. Finding them can be a matter of unintentionally stumbling upon something or by consciously searching out plaques or markers. One can also be in the right place when a significant event occurs. The most deliberate and methodical approach is through researching a specific incident, place or time and visiting. Today’s ride featured examples of all these.

My first stop of the day, Central Avenue and Chatsworth Street, is the same intersection I visited on July 4th. Today, I came to experience a bit of the annual Rondo Days parade, which snakes its way east to the Rondo Education Center off Dale Street. Rondo Days celebrates the old Rondo neighborhood.

One of the many floats, this one representing Saint Paul Public Schools.

One of the many floats, this one representing Saint Paul Public Schools.

Rondo Days participants come from beyond Saint Paul. The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Rondo Days participants come from beyond Saint Paul. The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity of Indianapolis, Indiana.

Vehicles are popular in the Rondo Days parade.

Vehicles of many eras are popular in the Rondo Days parade.

A Saint Paul Fire Department Rig.

A Saint Paul Fire Department Rig.

An energetic drill team shows off some fine moves.

An energetic drill team shows off some fine moves.

While a very nice sized crowd looked on.

And a nice sized crowd watched it all go by.

From Central and Chatsworth, I rode south, back over I-94 via the Chatsworth Avenue bike bridge and then west a couple of blocks to Oxford Community Center, officially at 270 North Lexington Parkway.

The Oxford Community Center sign fronts Lexington Avenue.

The Oxford Community Center sign fronts Lexington Avenue.

Oxford Community Center consists of Great River Water Park and Jimmy Lee Recreation Center, which is more than a building. Great River Water Park was known as Oxford Community Pool until a 2009 remodeling and expansion. Back then, the neighboring rec center and adjacent softball fields were named Jimmy Lee Rec Center and Fields, respectively.

Jimmy Lee moved to Saint Paul in the early 1920s and before long, became a part of the Rondo neighborhood. He worked at the Hallie Q. Brown Center and was an avid baseball player. Lee got a chance to umpire softball games for the City of Saint Paul and later, added officiating at basketball and baseball games. Lee was the first African American to ump a Big Ten baseball game and eventually was inducted into the Minnesota High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. (1)

The main entrance to Oxford Community Center is on Iglehart Avenue, on the east side of the building.

The main entrance to Oxford Community Center is on Iglehart Avenue, on the east side of the building.

In 2013 the softball fields were converted to a wonderful modern football/soccer/softball complex with accouterments such as artificial turf, a scoreboard and bleachers. Stacey Robinson was honored posthumously when the facility was rededicated in his name.

A scoreboard and mural welcome all to Stacy Robinson Field, part of Oxford Community Center.

A scoreboard and mural welcome all to Stacy Robinson Field, part of Oxford Community Center.

Stacy Robinson Field.

Stacy Robinson Field is set up for football and soccer.

The Stacy Robinson Field turf. In the background you can see part of the Oxford Community Center.

The Stacy Robinson Field turf. In the background you can see part of the Oxford Community Center.

Stacy Robinson won two Super Bowls as a wide receiver for the New York Giants. Robinson played ball on the Jimmy Lee fields and graduated from Saint Paul Central High School. He was another of the elite athletes born in Saint Paul, in the same company as Dave and Steve Winfield, Jack Morris and Paul Molitor. Robinson was an executive with the NFL Players Association after retiring from playing. He died of multiple melanoma , a type of blood cancer, in May 2012.

Oxford has a playground for younger children.

The Oxford Rec Center playground.

This building, now the Natural Sound Studios, opened as the Selby theater in 1912. It was Saint Paul’s first theater designed exclusively for movies (2) and sits at 989 Selby.

This building, now the Natural Sound Studios, opened as the Selby theater in 1912. It was Saint Paul’s first theater designed exclusively for movies (1). Budding movie house mogul Ted Mann bought the Selby in 1936 and changed the name to the Oxford (2). By the mid-50s, the Oxford closed, like many other neighborhood theaters. The history of the old Oxford is fuzzy until sometime in the 1980s when it became a church. Around 2000, the building was purchased and converted to a recording studio.

Budding movie house mogul Ted Mann bought the Selby in 1936 and changed the name to the Oxford (2). By the mid-50s, the Oxford closed, like many other neighborhood theaters. The history of the old Oxford is fuzzy until sometime in the 1980s when it became a church. Around 2000, the building was purchased and converted to a recording studio.

The logo on the door of the Chatsworth Crossing Apartments is a reminder of the streetcars that traversed Selby Avenue until the mid-1950s. Chatsworth Crossing is one building east of

The logo on the door of the Chatsworth Crossing Apartments is a reminder of the streetcars that traversed Selby Avenue until the mid-1950s. Chatsworth Crossing is one building east of Natural Sound Studios.

The Chatsworth Crossing Apartments occupy the second floor of this building. Businesses, including Northwest Architectural Salvage, are on the first floor.

The Chatsworth Crossing Apartments occupy the second floor of this building. Businesses, including Northwest Architectural Salvage, are on the first floor.

The West Side Flats (south of Downtown)

All of Saint Paul’s West Side, including the West Side Flats, were part of Dakota County at one time. That changed in 1874 when the West Side was annexed from West Saint Paul by the City of Saint Paul, and at the same time became part of Ramsey County. (4)

Just south of the Mississippi River and across from Downtown is a large piece of undeveloped land.

Just south of the Mississippi River and across from Downtown is a large piece of undeveloped land. This is looking north-northwest.

The view of another part of the land, looking west.

The view of another portion of the land

An aerial look at American Hoist and Derrick in 1963.

An aerial look at American Hoist and Derrick in 1963. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

It’s almost impossible to believe from the way it looks now, but for a century this area hummed with the industrial activity of American Hoist and Derrick. American, or “The Hoist”, as the company was sometimes called, built heavy equipment primarily for the construction and mining industries.

When this photo was taken in 1882, the company name was a few years from being changed to American Hoist and Derrick.

When this photo was taken in 1882, the company name was a few years from being changed to American Hoist and Derrick. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

The story of American Hoist and Derrick is all too familiar to Saint Paul-a manufacturing giant for decades, with thousands of good paying jobs, gradually succumbs to the changing economics that lured those jobs, and eventually the company itself, to the southern US. North Carolina to be exact, in 1985.

Construction of an American Hoist and Derrick plant circa 1895. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Construction of an American Hoist and Derrick plant circa 1895.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

American Hoist and Derrick workers posed for this picture in 1899.

American Hoist and Derrick workers posed for this picture in 1899. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Oliver T. Crosby and Frank J. Johnson started American’s predecessor, the Franklin Manufacturing Company, in 1882 to maintain and repair logging and iron ore mining equipment, (5) Ten years and two name changes later, the company bore the American Hoist and Derrick moniker. The Panama Canal and Mount Rushmore are two well-known projects that used American Hoist equipment.

I biked along several roads that crisscrossed much of the former American Hoist and Derrick land and I saw no telltale signs of the one-time industrial giant. No dilapidated buildings, no rusting equipment pieces hidden in the scrub-covered earth.

Much of this open space is waiting for a developer.

Much of this open space is waiting for a developer.

The U.S. Bank West Side Flats Operations Center at 60 Livingston Avenue.

The U.S. Bank West Side Flats Operations Center at 60 Livingston Avenue.

Still, not all of the old factory site sits idle and covered in weeds. The U.S. Bank West Side Flats Operations Center and parking ramp occupy some property between Robert Street and Livingston Avenue.

vertical-lift Rail Bridge 1

St. Paul Union Pacific Vertical-lift Rail Bridge. That’s a mouth full.

The vertical-lift Rail Bridge, while not built for American Hoist, has bisected the former company’s land since being put up for the Chicago Great Western Railroad in 1913. Now called the St. Paul Union Pacific Vertical-lift Rail Bridge, it handles about 10 freight trains each day. The neighboring Robert Street Bridge, constructed in 1926, had to be carefully designed and built over and around the vertical-lift bridge.

vertical-lift Rail Bridge 2

Riverwalk 1

Looking west along the riverwalk, which travels through Harriet Island and into Lilydale Park. (The Robert Street Bridge is in the background.) The riverwalk is nicely landscaped, well-lit and has many benches to rest or watch the river roll on by.

One very nice improvement to the acreage is a riverwalk (and boat docks) along the southern bank of the Mississippi.

If you’re a train-lover, this is a great spot to watch because you can get very close to passing freights.

If you’re a train-lover, this is a great spot to watch because you can get very close to passing freights.

This is the line that passes over the St. Paul Union Pacific Vertical–lift bridge.

This is the line that passes over the St. Paul Union Pacific Vertical–lift bridge.

Flooding in the spring left tree branches and other debris in the wood fence that separates the Mississippi navigational waterway from another channel.

Flooding in the spring left tree branches and other debris in the wood fence that separates the Mississippi navigational waterway from another channel.

Comcast's regional headquarters are the major tenant in this building.

Comcast’s regional headquarters are the major tenant in this building.

There is a large area east of Robert Street, between the river and Plato Boulevard, that is nearly all industrial. The River Park Plaza building, just east of Robert Street, is one of the few non-industrial tenants on the West Side Flats. It’s likely you’ve never traveled to this corner of the West Side unless you’ve visited either Comcast or the Saint Paul Downtown Airport, Holman Field. The Saint Paul Pioneer Press newspaper owns a couple of facilities in the area that I visited on the ride. I am unable to determine exactly what the Twin Cities Newspaper Service at 220 Fillmore Street does or did.

The odd spacing between the words “Saint Paul” and “Pioneer Press” undoubtedly once was occupied by the name of the afternoon newspaper, the Dispatch, which ceased publication in 1985.

The odd spacing between the words “Saint Paul” and “Pioneer Press” undoubtedly once was occupied by the name of the afternoon newspaper, the Dispatch, which ceased publication in 1985.

Behind the building about a dozen delivery trucks sat, presumably awaiting the next load.

Behind the building about a dozen delivery trucks sat, presumably awaiting the next load.

Some of the heavy industry located in the area is a metal casting company and a barge maintenance corporation.

Pier Foundry does metal casting for many industries. According to the company website, the factory remains in the same place as the original building which opened in 1889.

Pier Foundry does metal casting for many industries. According to the company website, the factory remains in the same place as the original building which opened in 1889.

Upper River Services has two facilities in Saint Paul. This one handles the barge cleaning and repair and has a dry dock.

Upper River Services has two facilities in Saint Paul. This one handles the barge cleaning and repair and has a dry dock.

A quintessential American Hoist and Derrick 5299 crawler crane.

A quintessential American Hoist and Derrick 5299 crawler crane.

Coincidentally, less than half a mile from the former plant site, an American Hoist & Derrick model 5299 crawler crane in the company’s iconic yellow, black and white paint scheme is part of the construction of the new Lafayette Freeway bridge. In the background a freshly poured bridge supports is encased in a concrete form.

A view of the back of the model 5299.

A view of the back of the model 5299.

This American crane is between 30 and 50 years old, and is still mechanically sound, despite scratches, rust and peeling paint.

This American crane is between 30 and 50 years old, and is still mechanically sound, despite scratches, rust and peeling paint.

A block east at 50 Chester Street is a CHS (Cenex-Harvest States) crop nutrients warehouse which handles bulk fertilizer and phosphates. The building doesn’t look like much from this direction but the 1944 section to the east is rife with photo ops.

A block east at 50 Chester Street is a CHS (Cenex-Harvest States) crop nutrients warehouse which handles bulk fertilizer and phosphates. The building doesn’t look like much from this direction but the 1944 section to the east is rife with photo ops.

This part of the CHS warehouse is visually appealing because of all the textures, angles and shapes.

This part of the CHS warehouse is visually appealing because of all the textures, angles and shapes.

 It’s an all you can eat buffet for birds in front of the CHS building where grain has spilled from railroad cars.

It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for birds in front of the CHS building where grain has spilled from railroad cars.

The industrial nature of the West Side Flats is due to the nearly annual spring deluge of water from the Mississippi River. Because of the propensity to flood, as early as the 1850s, the Flats became the place in Saint Paul where the newest immigrants settled. First the French, and then the Italians and Irish moved here. Next it was Eastern European Jews in the 1880s. As they moved on, Mexican and other immigrants from Latin America moved in. Members of each group formed strong bonds within its respective group despite, or perhaps because of the poverty in which they lived.

The West Side Flats overrun by water in the 1916 flood.

The West Side Flats overrun by water in the 1916 flood. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Many years the floods were an inconvenience, but occasionally they devastated the West Side Flats. The ruinous flood of the spring of 1952 convinced City officials to permanently relocate residents from the Flats. More than 2,600 residents of the Flats and the Upper Levee neighborhoods were evacuated. Amphibious military vehicles trudged to homes, rescuing not only people, but chickens, dogs, cows, and furniture that was stored in a downtown warehouse.(7)

A family is rescued from the flooding in April 1952.

A family is rescued from the flooding in April 1952.

The Mississippi River is in the foreground and the Flats just beyond in this picture taken from the First National Bank Building Downtown. Minnesota Historical Society.

The Mississippi River is in the foreground and the Flats just beyond in this picture taken from the First National Bank Building Downtown. Minnesota Historical Society.

It wasn’t until the end of the decade that the City began clearing the Flats of homes and it took nearly 10 years to complete the work of obliterating the West Side Flats into the Riverview Industrial Park.

This concrete levee is one way the City, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, designed flood protection. The section is behind the CHS plant.

This concrete levee is one way the City, with the help of the Army Corps of Engineers, designed flood protection. The section is behind the CHS plant.

Here the concrete levee gives way to an earthen berm.

Here the concrete levee gives way to an earthen berm, also built to hold back the waters of the Mississippi.

Alabama Street turns to gravel here and ceases to be an official road, according to several maps. Road or not, it serves as a holding area for old railroad ties.

Discarded railroad ties are piled high along the gravel-covered extension of Alabama Street.

Discarded railroad ties are piled high along the gravel-covered extension of Alabama Street.

The main entrance to the now quiet Pioneer Press printing plant.

The main entrance to the now quiet Pioneer Press printing plant.

This is the other Pioneer Press facility on the West Side. It was the newspaper’s printing plant until February 2014 when the Pioneer Press turned production over to the Minneapolis StarTribune. At the time of this writing, the building at 1 Ridder Court (named after long-time PP publisher Bernard Ridder) remains for sale. Price $3.4 million.)

Perhaps a sign of the health of the Pioneer Press? Dozens of discarded paper boxes line the parking lot behind the former Pioneer Press printing plant.

Perhaps a sign of the health of the Pioneer Press? Dozens of discarded paper boxes line the parking lot behind the former Pioneer Press printing plant.

Although only a mile away, Downtown looks farther away than that.

Although only a mile away, Downtown looks farther away than that.

Remnants of the newspaper’s printing presses sat in a large, vibrant, gooey heap just outside the building. Ignoring the ecological questions this raises, the ink-slathered hoses created exotic designs which kept my camera and me busy for more than 15 minutes.

I got back on my bike and noticed to my displeasure that I came away with a magenta souvenir. The bottoms and a bit of the sides of both shoes, my bike pedals and some of the frame were coated to one degree or another with magenta printer ink. I learned quickly it is not water-based.

I rode to the east a short distance and headed onto Saint Paul Downtown Airport property, more commonly known as Holman Field.

Getting close to Holman Field on Bayfield Street, which becomes a private road just past the railroad tracks.

Getting close to Holman Field on Bayfield Street, which becomes a private road just past the railroad tracks.

The berm through the middle of the picture is part of the flood protection for Holman Field.

The berm through the middle of the picture is part of the flood protection for Holman Field.

Holman Field is busier than you’d think than this list of tenants would lead you to believe. There are more than 69,000 take offs and landings each year according Metropolitan Airports Commission figures.

Holman Field is busier than you’d think than this list of tenants would lead you to believe. There are more than 69,000 take offs and landings each year according Metropolitan Airports Commission figures.

Most people give Holman Field barely a thought, if that. Yet, the assemblage of history here surprised me.

The north-south runway is in the foreground and the control tower and private hangers can be seen in the background.

The north-south runway is in the foreground and the control tower and private hangers can be seen in the background.

The City of Saint Paul opened the Saint Paul Municipal Airport in 1926 with a single grass runway.

horse on runway

A family rode its horse-drawn buggy to visit the Saint Paul Airfield. This occurred when the airfield was relatively new as the runway still hadn’t been paved. Minnesota Historical Society

WPA workers take a break during construction at Holman Field about 1940. This is likely part of the filling in of Lamprey Lake to create more space for the airport.

WPA workers take a break during construction at Holman Field about 1940. This is likely part of the filling in of Lamprey Lake to create more space for the airport.

Two asphalt runways replaced the grass landing strip in 1928, only two years later.

Works Progress Administration participants pave a runway about 1940. Minnesota Historical Society

Works Progress Administration participants pave a runway about 1940. Minnesota Historical Society

In 1930, Northwest Airways (later Northwest Airlines) built a hanger at Saint Paul Municipal and moved its operations there, where it remained for the next 30 years.

Part of the Northwest Airlines fleet of Lockheed Electras sit on the tarmac in 1935. Minnesota Historical Society

Part of the Northwest Airlines fleet of Lockheed Electras sit on the tarmac in 1935. Minnesota Historical Society

Holman Field is named in honor of Charles W. “Speed” Holman, famed pilot who died when his plane crashed during an Omaha, NE airshow in 1931. Holman, a Bloomington native, flew air mail planes for Northwest Airlines and worked as the airline’s operations manager. Holman is standing in front of his mail plane about 1930. Minnesota Historical Society

Holman Field is named in honor of Charles W. “Speed” Holman, famed pilot who died when his plane crashed during an Omaha, NE airshow in 1931. Holman, a Bloomington native, flew air mail planes for Northwest Airlines and worked as the airline’s operations manager. Holman is standing in front of his mail plane about 1930. Minnesota Historical Society

The limestone airport building is another of the many structures in Saint Paul designed by Clarence “Cap” Wiggington and built as a WPA project. It opened in 1939.

The limestone airport building is another of the many structures in Saint Paul designed by Clarence “Cap” Wiggington and built as a WPA project. It opened in 1939.

In response to a critical need for indoor workspace to shield planes and workers from the weather, two new hangers, dubbed “Riverside,” were built on the eastern edge of Holman Field property.

During World War II, Northwest employed as many as 5,000 people at Holman Field, where they modified B-24 Liberator bombers for photographic reconnaissance. (8)

During World War II, Northwest employed as many as 5,000 people at Holman Field, where they modified B-24 Liberator bombers for photographic reconnaissance. (8)

 The Riverside hangers today as seen from the south, east and north.

The Riverside hangers today as seen from the south, east and north.

Up close, the steep pitch of the Riverside roof is evident.

Up close, the steep pitch of the Riverside roof is evident.

Today 3M uses one of the former Riverside Hangers.

Today 3M uses one of the former Riverside Hangers.

The City of Saint Paul still owns the largest parcel of airport land, about 383 acres of 576 total.  Although commercial airlines no longer serve Holman Field, it has an airport code-‘STP.’ That code is the three letter designation that represents the name of airports on tickets and baggage.

The airport had an operational seaplane harbor from 1922 to 1997.

The airport had an operational seaplane harbor from 1922 to 1997.

Today, there are recreated access stairs to what was the seaplane loading dock. This is part of the 2009 flood diversion project.

Today, there are recreated access stairs to what was the seaplane loading dock. This is part of the 2009 flood diversion project.

Prior to the construction of this floodwall, the airport was forced to cease operations for days or weeks almost yearly. Years with heavy flooding left Holman Field closed for upwards of 80 days, a huge impediment to customers and the National Guard company stationed here.

The floodwall constructed in 2009 was an effort by the Metropolitan Airports Commission to minimize the time Holman Field is closed by flooding. The metal sections are temporary, put up only when there is a good chance of flooding.

The floodwall constructed in 2009 is an effort by the Metropolitan Airports Commission to minimize the time Holman Field is closed by flooding. The metal sections are temporary, put up only when there is a good chance of flooding.

Further south along Bayfield Street is a memorial to “Speed” Holman.

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This serene spot carries the dispassionate name of the Holman Airfield Floodwall Overlook. One can bike, drive and hike to this pleasant setting to watch planes take off and land, barges float by and birds flutter past.)

This serene spot at the southeast corner of the airport carries the dispassionate name of the Holman Airfield Floodwall Overlook. One can bike, drive or hike to this pleasant setting to watch planes take off and land, barges float by and birds flutter past. It is a great, but little-known spot that offers relative quiet and solitude.

The last stop on this ride was the Brown and Bigelow plant at 345 Plato Boulevard East.

Brown and Bigelow is a national distributor of promotional products, according to the company website.

Brown and Bigelow is a national distributor of promotional products, according to the company website.

Brown and Bigelow is best known for the calendars it’s published for nearly 100 years. In 1925, the company started printing calendars for the Boy Scouts of America. The illustrator of many was Norman Rockwell. Today some of the best known and most valuable are the “Dogs Playing Poker”, Norman Rockwell Boy Scout and pinup calendars. Playing cards and greeting cards are other products that have been made by Brown and Bigelow.

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Brown and Bigelow’s continues to print calendars under the HotLine Products banner today but Its main business is distribution and sales of promotional products.

A couple of final thoughts about today’s ride, the link to the route map and footnotes:

  • History happens everywhere but Rondo and the West Side Flats have experienced more important and disruptive events than most.
  • The details of the days gone by at the Saint Paul Downtown Airfield/Holman Field touch upon the prescient days of flight beyond Minnesota.
  • The riverwalk just south of the Mississippi and the Holman Airfield Floodwall Overlook are worthy of more time.

http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/868485633

Footnotes

1. Twin Cities Daily Planet website; February 20, 2013 by Charles Hallman Originally published in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

2. “Tour Saint Paul Selby Avenue” by Historic Saint Paul

3. “Twin Cities Picture Show: A Century of Moviegoing,” By Dave Kenney

4. National Park Service National River and Recreation website http://www.nps.gov/miss/planyourvisit/kapoindi.htm

5. Ramsey County Historical Society

6. AOL Crane History; http://www.aolcrane.com/cranehistory.html

7. National Park Service National River & Recreation Area Minnesota website

http://www.nps.gov/miss/historyculture/1952relieffo.htm

8. Accentuating the Positive: The Role of Northwest Airline’s Modification Center in WW II by Johannes R. Allert

I’ve Got Your Number

Unlike my usual posts, this one is not about a particular ride. Instead, it is a sort of compilation of many rides, most of them in 2014. Today’s post focuses on address, or house numbers, as they are officially known.

You might correctly suspect that properties were first given addresses in the early days of Saint Paul, July 29, 1874 to be exact.(1) Just six years later a new ordinance was approved that more precisely defined how addresses were assigned.(2) Don Empson, in The Street Where You Live, tells the fascinating and sometimes confusing story of how addresses are assigned now and the progression of the process since 1874.

There is a vast melange of house and building numbers around town, something I really noticed last year. Some differences, like size and materials (i.e. metal, wood) might be obvious. But there is a whole lot more to this numbers game than those characteristics.

The address numbers in Saint Paul range from a single digit to four. The ‘zero point’ or place where single digit house numbers for north-south streets start roughly follows Summit Avenue to Ramsey Street, the Mississippi River and effectively along Upper Afton Road. Address numbers grow larger as one moves north or south of this imaginary line.

The ‘zero point’ for east west streets is basically along Sylvan Street south to Wabasha through Downtown and to the West Side to Humbolt Avenue to the Saint Paul’s border with West Saint Paul.

5 Heather Place in the Crocus Hill neighborhood.

5 Heather Place in the Crocus Hill neighborhood.

1636 englewood

1636 Englewood in Hamline-Midway.

Some have home made house numerals.

The address numbers at 1394 Englewood Avenue in the Midway neighborhood.

The address numbers at 1394 Englewood Avenue in the Midway neighborhood.

1211 ????

Not all house numbers are posted on the house (at first glace that doesn’t really make sense.) From signs to stoops to steps, addresses appear in assorted places on Saint Paulites’ property.

At this Dayton Avenue home, the address number adorns the wrought iron fence.

At this Dayton Avenue home, the address number adorns the wrought iron fence.

882 James?

I’m not certain if this is a step or a stoop, but here the address sits.

1541 on 6-22-14

Not just an ordinary sign, but a decorative one!

1362 ???

Sign posts.

881 james

I don’t know that there were house numbers at the time represented by the horse and buggy.

Of course, homes are not the only structures that have address numbers. Even undeveloped lots have an address, although it might not be posted. Buildings, too, must display an address and do so with nearly the variety of homes.

1455 fulham

One of the buildings at Luther Seminary in the Como Park neighborhood.

632 snelling?

These painted numbers are from two or three colors ago. From the building on Snelling at Charles Avenue.

362 cleveland

Horizontal and vertical address numbers at 362 Cleveland.

600 Central

Really BIG, brown numbers on an apartment building on Central Avenue in Frogtown.

540 cedar

The Elmer L. Andersen Human Services Building Downtown.

250 fuller

250 Fuller is the only one of the Fuller Apartment buildings to have address numbers like this above the main entrance.

1955 prior

The yellow awning with the building’s address stands out like no other. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Although uncommon, there are fractional addresses. This one is on a building on St. Peter Street Downtown.

Although uncommon, there are fractional addresses. This one is on a building on St. Peter Street Downtown.

There are horizontally, vertically and diagonally-oriented house numbers.

1707 ???

Vertical.

1763 5-18-14

Vertically AND horizontally oriented. Juliet and Wheeler, Frogtown.

A diagonal, on Charles Avenue, Frogtown

A diagonal, on Charles Avenue, Frogtown.

Duplexes, naturally, require two house numbers.

1395 1397 oxford

On Oxford Street, two address numbers keep Snoopy company.

The address numbers at 1051-1053 Ashland Avenue, a duplex.

No caption necessary.

Tile and ceramics add some panache to the lowly house number.

1286 la fond

Tiles on Lafond.

1363 ?? 1703 ???

Scripted addresses are rare, perhaps because people aren’t learning how to write or read it.

1246 Lafond, Frogtown.

1246 Lafond, Frogtown.

Finally, a smattering of unusual house numbers.

118 Douglas, West End

An old and worn house number on the stone fence in front of 118 Douglas, West End.

Neon numbers on Hague Avenue.

Neon numbers on Hague Avenue.

335 ???

These address numbers were really popular during the 60s and early 70s, at least where I grew up. Usually they were placed on the storm door.

st columba rectory lafond

The fish is on the rectory of The Church of St. Columba on Lafond.

1947 grand

Another Art Deco beauty on a Grand Avenue apartment building.

2040 grand

Finally, my favorite address sign. This beautifully crafted Art Deco address sign has so many things to look at-different color and type of stone, various textures and nearly flawless symmetry. The Grand Avenue apartment building on which this sits was built in 1926.

This assortment is just a sample of the creative, odd, mundane, lavish and gaudy ways house numbers are presented. Let me know if you see an interesting address number on your travels in Saint Paul.

Footnotes:

(1) The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul by Donald Empson; page 248

(2) The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul by Donald Empson; page 249

A Visit to Rondo

July 4, 2014 (Independence Day)

Macalester-Groveland, Rondo (Summi-University), Downtown, Lowertown, Crocus Hill

19.9 miles

Even the Minneapolis Fire Department prefers Saint Paul! 1387 Sargent Avenue.

Even the Minneapolis Fire Department prefers Saint Paul! 1387 Sargent Avenue.

The not-for-profit Express Bike Shop at Selby and Dunlap.

The not-for-profit Express Bike Shop at Selby and Dunlap.

The non-profit Express Bike Shop on Selby Avenue is an excellent example of a business doing good. Staff has been teaching young people how to fix bikes since 1995. Youth interns work with the trained bike mechanics to rehab donated bikes, which are then sold. Interns also learn most aspects of operating a bicycle repair and sales business. Express Bike repairs bikes and carries accessories. Express Bike Shop’s website is http://www.exbike.com/home/.

The bike rack in front of Express Bike.

The bike rack in front of Express Bike.

The wall mural at Express Bike Shop features a compendium of cartoon characters, including Captain Crunch and Mr. Peabody.

The wall mural at Express Bike Shop features a compendium of cartoon characters, including Captain Crunch and Mr. Peabody.

The pedestrian/bike bridge over I-94. The view looks north.

The pedestrian/bike bridge at Chatsworth Street over I-94. This view is to the north.

Most folks are aware that the cavernous valley that is Interstate 94 was for decades the flourishing Rondo neighborhood, home of the majority of Saint Paul’s African American community. From ‘street level’, a look down at the freeway channel makes it blatantly obvious how this large, deep and wide road ruined a neighborhood. A great dealhas been written about how the decision to push I-94 through the heart of Rondo devastated it. Among the books that provide excellent first-hand accounts and the sociological results of uprooting the neighborhood are “Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul’s Historic Black Community” and “The Days of Rondo.”

Cars speed along I-94.  It's been more than 50 years since the Rondo neighborhood made way for this highway.

Cars speed along I-94. It’s been more than 50 years since the Rondo neighborhood made way for this highway.

The New Birth Baptist Church on Central Avenue and Chatsworth was the Christ Chapel when built.

The New Birth Baptist Church on Central Avenue and Chatsworth was originally called Christ Chapel.

Apparently Christ Chapel, a Pentecostal church, was founded in 1935 and opened this facility a year later. That church, now known as Christ Temple Apostolic Church, is located in Roseville.

Apparently Christ Chapel, a Pentecostal church, was founded in 1935 and opened this facility a year later. That church, now known as Christ Temple Apostolic Church, is located in Roseville.

I admit I’m a bit too fascinated with some of the minutia I spot on my rides. Manhole covers are a perfect example. Still, maybe someone (besides me) is even mildly interested in the fact that manhole covers are dated. This one has graced Central Avenue for nearly 90 years!

I admit I’m a bit too fascinated with some of the minutia I spot on my rides. Manhole covers are a perfect example. Still, maybe someone (besides me) is even mildly interested in the fact that manhole covers are dated. This one has graced Central Avenue for nearly 90 years!

Cell phone coverage is important but putting a large tower on the playground of a school? I bet money factored in to this phone tower reaching skyward at Maxfield Elementary.

Cell phone coverage is important but putting a large tower on the playground of a school? I bet money factored in to this phone tower reaching skyward at Maxfield Elementary. The picture was shot from Avon Street, just south of Central.

Established in 1863, Pilgrim Baptist Church was the first congregation for African Americans in Minnesota.

Established in 1863, Pilgrim Baptist Church was the first congregation for African-Americans in Minnesota.

Pilgrim Baptist Church is the first of two houses of worship I visited on this ride that are intimately connected with the settlement of African-Americans in Saint Paul. Pilgrim Baptist, Saint Paul’s first congregation formed by African-Americans, has roots dating to 1863(1) when a group of about 50 escaped slaves, including the Rev. Robert Hickman, came north from Missouri. The former slaves officially formed Pilgrim Baptist Church in November 1866. Although the congregation was black, it would be 12 years and two white ministers before Rev. Hickman finally became the minister at the church he helped start.(2)

The church at 732 Central Avenue West is the third building for the Pilgrim Baptist congregation. The first two were located Downtown.

The church at 732 Central Avenue West is the third building for the Pilgrim Baptist congregation. The first two were located Downtown.

An addition stretches south and east from the original church building.

An addition stretches south and east from the original church building.

Pilgrim Baptist has a thriving community garden on church property.

There is a thriving community garden on church property.

pilgrim baptist garden 1

pilgrim baptist garden 2

pilgrm baptist garden 3

pilgrim baptist garden 4

A modest nod to the Fourth but an A for effort.

A modest nod to the Fourth but an A for effort.

The main entrance to St. James A.M.E. Church, the second oldest African-American church in the City, is but a block east of Pilgrim Baptist.

The main entrance to St. James A.M.E. Church, the second oldest African-American church in the City, is but two blocks east of Pilgrim Baptist.

St. James A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, on Central Avenue at Dale, is just two blocks east of Pilgrim Baptist. The churches share similarities besides being in the same neighborhood. St. James was formed by a small group of African-American settlers who met in a one room house in the mid-to-late 1800s, although there is disagreement about exactly when.

st.james ame 2

St. James A.M.E. Church.

And like Pilgrim, the St. James congregation remains active in Rondo and beyond. Designed by notable architect Cap Wigington, the foundation of the current church was completed and dedicated in 1924. Money woes and World War II prevented construction of the superstructure of St. James until 1948-24 years after the basement.(3)

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James' previous site (below) and completion of this building.

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James’ previous site (below) and completion of this building.

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James' previous site (below) and completion of this building.

St. James parishioners add the cornerstone to the church, circa 1948. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

There is a considerable amount of subsidized housing in this small section of Rondo. These housing complexes were built in the name of ‘urban renewal’ during or shortly after the destruction of hundreds of single family homes in Rondo. There remains a great need for affordable housing in Saint Paul, but many studies have shown it is beneficial to mix housing for lower-income residents in all parts of the city.

The Malcom Shabbaz Apartments (named for the African-American leader commonly known as Malcom X) are 73 units of affordable rentals at 586 Central Avenue. Originally called Jamestown Homes, the complex was sold last summer and a major rehabilitation of interiors and exteriors is planned for 2016.

The Malcolm Shabbaz Apartments (named for the African-American leader commonly known as Malcolm X) are 73 units of affordable rentals at 586 Central Avenue. Originally called Jamestown Homes, the complex was sold last summer and a major rehabilitation of interiors and exteriors is planned for 2016.

Central Hi-Rise at 554 Central Avenue West.

Central Hi-Rise at 554 Central Avenue West.

It is not an understatement to say I intensely dislike much of the 1960s and ‘70s architecture. I’m not sure why that style, used on many government and educational buildings, known as Brutalism, is so stark and impersonal, but perhaps it’s an expression of societal turmoil of the era. The Central Hi-Rise apartment building is a rare exception to the architectural despair, especially in public housing. First, it’s hexagonal shape-apparently a one-of-a-kind in St. Paul-is much more stylish than the usual cement rectangles of most of the buildings built during this period. Secondly, the variety of geometric play of the Central Hi-Rise is easy to spot and it changes depending upon angle from which the building his viewed.

The outward facing balconies create an interesting pattern

The outward facing balconies create an interesting pattern

Central Hi-Rise features a balcony for every apartment.

Central Hi-Rise features a balcony for every apartment.

The Central Hi-Rise Apartment building is just east of the Malcolm Shabbaz Apartments on Central Avenue. Like the Shabbaz complex, Central Hi-Rise apartments offers affordable rentals.

playground 2

Central Park and Playground has amenities for nearly every age.

Continuing east on Central, I spotted a nice playground and behind it, a good-sized patch of green. An interesting footnote about the playground is that the sign crediting Saturn auto dealers of St. Paul for supporting it remains while not a single Saturn dealer does.

playground 1

This is the only sign about the park and playground I could find along Central Avenue.

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church at 451 Central is another church with a long history in Rondo.)

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church at 451 Central is another church with a long history in Rondo.

Central Avenue ends two blocks to the east, so from there, I wound my way along Western to Fuller and over to Virginia Street. All three streets are primarily lined with single family homes, until the Hanover Townhomes appear on the east side of Virginia. The grounds, small patches of bright green grass interspersed with attractive flower gardens, were well-kept, yet I was pretty certain these townhomes were another low-income complex. The reason is the liberal use of cement and the repetitive design of the complex.

Hanover Townhomes officially has the address of 408 Farrington Street. The  were constructed in 1968 and 1969.

Hanover Townhomes officially has the address of 408 Farrington Street. The were constructed in 1968 and 1969.

The Hanover Townhomes complex may not meet the architectural definition of Brutalism, at the least it shares many of the same traits.

The Hanover Townhomes complex may not meet the architectural definition of Brutalism, at the least it shares many of the same traits.

The preponderance of concrete is broken up by some nice landscaping.

Some nice landscaping breaks up the preponderance of concrete.

The lawns and gardens are a dramatic improvement.

The lawns and gardens are a much better look.

The apartment complex on the east side of Farrington, across the street from Hanover Townhomes, is called Capitol Plaza South.

The apartment complex on the east side of Farrington, across the street from Hanover Townhomes, is called Capitol Plaza South.

The decorative block incorporated into the 1961 building is visual revelry.

The decorative block incorporated into the 1961 building provides some visual revelry.

Birds love the blocks. Many have built nests in them while others just use them to roost.

Birds love the blocks. Many have built nests in them while others just use them to roost.

Capitol Plaza South 3

Look closely and you’ll see about 10 nests and birds hanging out in the blocks.

The Fuller Apartments not surprisingly sit on Fuller Street. Built in 1962 primarily of brick, a nice touch is that cement blocks above the entry of each building are painted a different color.

The suburban-style Sears store as viewed from the east, near Rice Street.

The suburban-style Sears store as viewed from the east, near Rice Street.

The Sears store on Rice Street, just north of I-94, can, and likely has been described by terms such as isolated, bleak, dreary and uninviting, among others. The clouds that gradually rolled over as I rode didn’t improve the look of the building and the 14 acres of land surrounding it.

Before the Interstate and urban renewal in the early 60s, this portion of Rice Street hummed with shoppers going in and out of small businesses.(4)

Shops at the intersection of Rice and Aurora Streets in 1951. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Shops at the intersection of Rice and Aurora Streets in 1951. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The view looking south from the Sears parking lot. The Kelly Inn, home to many state legislators during session, is in the background.

The view looking south from the Sears parking lot. The Kelly Inn, home to many state legislators during session, is in the background.

In early 2013 there were rumblings of redevelopment of this property featuring an apartments, a modern Sears and other stores but the precarious health of the Sears-Kmart parent company has snuffed out those conversations.

The Minnesota Legislative Library, under construction along Rice Street, is one of the three major construction projects underway at the Capitol complex. The others are renovation of the Capitol and the construction of the contentious Senate Office Building.

The Minnesota Legislative Library, under construction along Rice Street, is one of the three major construction projects underway at the Capitol complex. The others are renovation of the Capitol and the construction of the contentious Senate Office Building.

The Colonnade occupies St. Peter Street between East 10th and 11th Streets.

The Colonnade occupies St. Peter Street between East 10th and 11th Streets.

Today it’s the Colonnade Apartments, one of at least five monikers the building has had since being opening in 1889. It was the Renaissance Revival Hotel originally, when several hotels lined St. Peter Street. Other names included the Alexandria Apartments, Rex Am Apartments and the Willard Hotel-twice.(5)

The building was known as the Colonade Apartment Homes when this picture was taken circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The building was known as the Colonade Apartment Homes when this picture was taken circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The entrance to the Colonnade Apartments is under the curved awning, to the left of the car. Businesses occupy street level spaces to the right.

The entrance to the Colonnade Apartments is under the curved awning, to the left of the car. Businesses occupy street level spaces to the right.

Multiple fire crews struggle to put out the extensive blaze that killed a maid at the Willard Hotel on December 13, 1955.

Multiple fire crews struggle to put out the extensive blaze that killed a maid at the Willard Hotel on December 13, 1955. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

A tragic fire just before Christmas in 1955 killed a hotel chamber maid and so extensively damaged the building that the top two floors had to be removed. Vestiges of one of those floors remains plainly visible just below the roof.

The rectangular areas just below the roof were windows prior to the 1955 fire.

The rectangular areas just below the roof were windows prior to the 1955 fire.

The newest building at St. Joseph's Hospital is on St. Peter Street.

The newest building at St. Joseph’s Hospital is on St. Peter Street.

Minnesota’s oldest hospital is across St. Peter Street from the Colonnade. Construction of St. Joseph’s Hospital began in 1852 as cholera descended upon Saint Paul. Three men provided the necessary resources for the hospital: Henry Rice donated the land, Bishop Joseph Cretin gave his 10,000 franc inheritance and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) Chief White Cloud supplied the lumber.(6) The cholera outbreak became an epidemic in 1853 but the hospital wasn’t finished so four Catholic sisters/teachers quickly converted the log cabin school-house into an improvised hospital.

Dr. John Fulton and Dr. Charles Wheaton in an operating room at St. Joseph's Hospital in 1906. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Dr. John Fulton and Dr. Charles Wheaton in an operating room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1906. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

St. Joseph’s Hospital, a three and a-half story stone building, opened September 20, 1854, with a blessing by Bishop Joseph Cretin, on the same grounds upon which the hospital still stands.(7)

In the mid-1990s Saint Paul’s older hospitals, including St. Joseph’s, faced threats from declining patient counts, health care reform and greater competition. St. Joseph’s corporate owner announced on August 8, 1996 plans to close the hospital in 2000 and open a new St. Joseph’s Hospital in Woodbury. In a surprising reversal, HealthEast Corporation declared in early 1998 that the hospital would remain open after all, to the great delight of the staff and patients of St. Joe’s and Saint Paul supporters.

One of my favorite street names, Temperance Street, is located on the edge of Downtown and Lowertown. An Alcoholic Anonymous club should be located somewhere on Temperance.

One of my favorite street names, Temperance Street, is located on the edge of Downtown and Lowertown. An Alcoholic Anonymous club should be located somewhere on Temperance.

The front of 175 East 9th Street.

The front of 175 East 9th Street. This is reportedly the only single family home in Downtown, according to several real estate websites.

The back of 175 East Recent listings have the 5500-plus square foot home priced just below $3 million!

The back of 175 East 9th. Recent listings have the 5500-plus square foot home priced just below $3 million!

If you can block out the East 7th Street traffic, you can transport yourself to a bygone era. The three buildings on the south side of East 7th between Wacouta and Wall are among the best examples, with their brick work, arched windows and decorative facades.

If you can block out the East 7th Street traffic, you can transport yourself to a bygone era. The three buildings on the south side of East 7th between Wacouta and Wall are among the best examples, with their brick work, arched windows and decorative facades.

I believe the window sign did say “endangered space.” How many walkers have been startled by the life-size animals in the windows?

I believe the window sign did say “endangered space.” How many walkers have been startled by the life-size animals in the windows?

The O’Connor Building, like the two next door, was built in 1888 and has survived more than 125 years nearly intact.

The O’Connor Building, like the two next door, was built in 1888 and has survived more than 125 years nearly intact.

A nearly life-sized sculpture of Kirby Pucket is the only occupant of the first floor of the O’Connor building. The plaque on the base says the sculpture, called “Out of the Park”, was made by Chris Madonna.

A nearly life-sized sculpture of Kirby Pucket is the only occupant of the first floor of the O’Connor building. The plaque on the base says the sculpture, called “Out of the Park”, was made by Chris Madonna.

I have never used Kat-Keys Safe and Lock but the vibe is cool. That cat looks an awful lot like the cartoon cat Felix.

I have never used Kat-Keys Safe and Lock but the vibe is cool. That cat looks an awful lot like the cartoon cat Felix.

Kat-Keys eye-catching window display.

Kat-Keys eye-catching window display.

Rope and tape on these cables-I'm doubtful they meet City codes. Market House Condos, 289 East 5th Street.

Rope and tape on these cables-I’m doubtful they meet City codes. Market House Condos, 289 East 5th Street.

A young girl with a sparkler as mom keeps an eye on her.

A young girl with a sparkler as mom keeps an eye on her in front of the Commerce Building at Eight 4th Street East.

Homeward bound along Grand Avenue at Victoria, I heard a flawlessly played ragtime tune. At first the music seemed to come from one of the businesses inside Victoria Crossing, but as I moved closer, I saw a young man playing a colorful piano on the sidewalk.

Parker Zachman plays one of the "Pianos On Parade" (POP) keyboards at Victoria Crossing.

Parker Zachman plays one of the “Pianos On Parade” (POP) keyboards at Victoria Crossing.

Fifteen-year-old Parker Zachman and his family came to Saint Paul to try Pianos On Parade at the behest of his piano teacher. The piece Parker played as I rode up is a Boogie-woogie tune called ‘Boogie Duet’.

Parker told me he’s played piano for about eight years, “I learned classical when I was young-second and third grade-and it was just boring. I didn’t like practicing classical because classical wasn’t any good until you’re actually able to play the piece after a month of practicing.”

Parker

Parker plays most pieces from memory.

Now, said Parker, he plays almost all his music from memory, “Everything has the same kind of pattern. You just got to know the chords and then after you know what it sounds like, you can kinda play it. So for me, after reading the music and after hearing it, and then I read it again and play it, and after that, if I keep playing it everyday I don’t have to look at the music ever again. So two or three times and I’m good.”

Parker and his family. From left to right, Dad John, Mom Lori, Parker and brother Elliot on top of the car.

Parker and his family. From left to right, Dad John, Mom Laurie, Parker and brother Elliot on top of the car.

Parker publicly performs a couple of times a year, almost always with his piano teacher. This year (2014), at the behest of his teacher, Parker auditioned and was selected to play at the State Fair, “I’m playing, it’s called ‘St. Sam’s March,’ which is a medley of two songs, one being ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and the other ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ so I said ‘St. Sam’ like Uncle Sam and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and that’s what I’m playing. I’m going to wear a Stars and Stripes polo and a giant top hat. My piano teacher was saying the State Fair is more about novelty so the more interesting you can make it the better it is.”

Parker treated me to one more Boogie-woogie selection before he and his family had to leave, which was my cue to resume the trip home.

Here is a link to today’s ride.

Footnotes:

  1. Pilgrim Baptist Church website – http://pilgrimbaptistchurch.org/about/history/
  2.  Pilgrim Baptist Church website – http://pilgrimbaptistchurch.org/about/history/
  3. St. James A.M.E. Church website – http://stjamesstpaul.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=2
  4. Historic St. Paul
  5. Ramsey County Historical Society website
  6. HealthEast-St. Joseph’s Hospital website – https://www.healtheast.org/st-josephs-hospital/about/history.html
  7. HealthEast-St. Joseph’s Hospital website – https://www.healtheast.org/st-josephs-hospital/about/history.html

Bopping Around the Midway

June 22, 2014     10 miles

Merriam Park, Frogtown, Hamline-Midway

The variety and number of happenings in Saint Paul are nearly boundless. I’m not talking about the big events, the ones you hear about, read about or see on the news. No, it’s those that receive little or no publicity but are vital to the (buzzword alert!) “quality of life” in Saint Paul.

I’ve seen many, shall I say, “out of the ordinary” sites on my rides but this is the first time there has been a group of such distinctively dressed characters.

I’ve seen many, shall I say, “out of the ordinary” sites on my rides but this is the first time there has been a group of such distinctively dressed characters.

I chanced upon such a situation riding north on the 2000 block of Wilder Avenue past Merriam Park (the park, not the neighborhood.) There was an assemblage of people dressed in a multiplicity of clothing, much of it more conducive to the Victorian era than 2014.

 An 'ah ha' moment at the corner of Wilder Avenue and Merriam Lane.

An ‘ah ha’ moment at the corner of Wilder Avenue and Merriam Lane.

The sign on the sidewalk answered the immediate question of what’s going on here, but that’s only the opening scene of the story.

In 2009 Classical Actors Ensemble was established to perform works from the English Renaissance period, including Shakespeare and other playwrights. Today’s play, “Love’s Labors Lost “, one of Shakespeare’s comedies, is centered around a king and three of his friends who take an oath to stay away from women. The play has a cast of 11 actors, a smaller group than the 20 or so performers in most of the Classical Actors Ensemble’s productions, according to Artistic Director Joseph Papke, whose tenor voice and precise diction revealed his training as an actor.

Artistic Director Joseph Papke tunes his guitar as show time grows near.

Artistic Director Joseph Papke tunes his guitar as show time grows near.

This performance of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost “ at Merriam Park is the first outdoor show ever for the traveling troupe, “So when you deal with nature and the public, yeah, there’s things you can’t control. Sometimes that’s frustrating but I’ve brought together a really talented group of actors and they’re really good at dealing with whatever is thrown at them; a lot of good improv experience in this group even though we’re doing a scripted play. So when weird stuff happens they respond to it very, very well.”

Joseph added that in the nice weather, the Ensemble frequently practices at the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, “It’s a public park, which is part of what’s great about it because we’re exposed to all kinds of new audience members. Also, you get people who just don’t give a damn. They’ll walk right through your play.”

Joseph shared a story with me about a recent practice, “There’s this guy who caught this giant carp, ‘cause everything is kind of flooded with about a foot of water around us, and he caught it with his bare hands. We’re in the middle of rehearsing this scene and this dude catches this giant fish and then, ‘Ahhh! I got this…’ and just like stops everything and well, we can’t pretend like this isn’t happening. Let’s watch this man with his fish.”

Joseph Papke provided the audience with some background about “Love’s Labor Lost”.

Joseph Papke provided the audience with some background about “Love’s Labor Lost”.

The outfits worn by the cast weren’t representative of the Renaissance period, which Joseph explained this way, “We try to modernize dress whenever possible. We don’t take it to the extreme of playing everything with cellphones and things like that. I mean we don’t change the language, although you’ll see some of the clowns in this play take a few liberties in order to get laughs. But that was a problem 400 years ago too. I figure if those problems were good enough for Shakespeare, they’re good enough for us.”

The actress in period clothing looking at her smartphone is an odd dichotomy.

The actress in period clothing looking at her smartphone is an odd dichotomy.

Several of the male actors discuss their women problems.

Several of the male actors discuss their women problems.

“We really believe that these plays are still very vibrant and have a lot to say about the human experience and that they shouldn’t be relegated to museum pieces or done necessarily in puffy pants.” Joseph Papke

classical actors 9

classical actors 10

The entrance to the recently closed Festival House, a low cost alternative to hotels for families of HealthEast patients.

The entrance to the recently closed Festival House, a low cost alternative to hotels for families of HealthEast patients.

The building at 1709 Shields Street known today as Festival House was built in the mid-1940s as a dormitory for the Mounds-Midway Hospital nursing program. In 1998 the dorm was converted to Festival House, a temporary residence for families of HealthEast patients. Festival House was shuttered in August of this year.

The plaque recognizing the history of the former Festival House as a dorm for nursing students.

The plaque recognizing the history of the former Festival House as a dorm for nursing students.

The Festival House building borders Aldine Avenue, across the street from HealthEast Midway Clinic, formerly Midway Hospital.

central mission 1The church on Charles Avenue just east of Snelling characterizes this mixed neighborhood. The sign in front of 1632 Charles Avenue identifies the building as The Central Mission Church.

Central Mission Church is one of at least three congregations using this building.

Central Mission Church is one of at least three congregations using this building.

The Central Mission website indicates that it shares its facilities with Zion Evangelical Fellowship Church, a predominantly Ethiopian house of worship. A Google search of 1632 Charles turned up City Life Church, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, as the third Christian denominational church located there. One previous iteration was the Midway Community Church at the same address.

bike boulevard 1The City of Saint Paul turned Charles Avenue into a ‘bike boulevard’ this year. This is one of the signs of that, both figuratively and literally. This formal designation giving bikers greater rights on Charles Avenue, has been quite controversial, as changes like this usually are. Among the most vocal opponents were Snelling Avenue business owners and their supporters, who complained a new Snelling median at Charles would limit access and cut into their businesses.

Tiled planters like this one line both sides of Snelling Avenue for several blocks north of University. The red Chevy in the background traveling south on Snelling had just left the Back to the ‘50s Weekend at the State Fair grounds.

Tiled planters like this one line both sides of Snelling Avenue for several blocks north of University. The red Chevy in the background traveling south on Snelling had just left the Back to the ‘50s Weekend at the State Fair grounds.

A close look at the colorful tile pattern on one of the planters.

A close look at the colorful tile pattern on one of the planters.

Today is the first full day of summer but 1363 Thomas displays a fully ornamented Christmas wreath. To the right the gutter has sprouted.

Today is the first full day of summer but 1363 Thomas displays a fully ornamented Christmas wreath. To the right the gutter has sprouted.

The colorful mural, a tribute to the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, decorates the west wall of Groundswell Coffee at Thomas and Hamline.

The colorful mural, a tribute to the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, decorates the west wall of Groundswell Coffee at Thomas and Hamline.

hamline mural 2

Across Hamline from Groundswell is Grand Paws Pet Grooming. There are signs in four windows along Hamline but the notice that garners the most attention has to be the one with the orange lettering. Yes, it says, “Over 1 million butts washed.”

Across Hamline from Groundswell is Grand Paws Pet Grooming. There are signs in four windows along Hamline but the notice that garners the most attention has to be the one with the orange lettering. Yes, it says, “Over 1 million butts washed.”

The Hamline Park Plaza office building.

The Hamline Park Plaza office building.

Hamline Park Plaza seems to appear out of nowhere. Bordered by Thomas Avenue, Simpson Street, Edmund Avenue and Asbury Street, it’s as if it were dropped into the center of a residential area. In reality, there have been buildings here, and on the block south (where Hamline Park Apartments and Townhomes are now located) since at least 1919 when the Northern Pacific Hospital opened. St. Paul’s Northern Pacific Hospital was one of seven the Northern Pacific Beneficial Association had built around the country to treat railroad workers.

Northern Pacific Hospital in 1925. The street has yet to be paved when the picture was taken. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Northern Pacific Hospital in 1925. The street had yet to be paved when the picture was taken. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

According to a 2014 article in the Midway Como Monitor newspaper, Northern Pacific Hospital stood at 1515 Charles for more than 50 years. Its name was changed to Samaritan Hospital around 1971, the name it kept until its closing in 1987.

The Physicians Plaza medical office building and adjacent parking garage opened at 570 Asbury Street in 1984 to serve Samaritan Hospital. Had hospital administrators known better, it’s doubtful either structure would have been built with building’s closing and demolition less than three years away.

With Samaritan Hospital gone, Physicians Plaza was converted to general office space and rechristened Hamline Park Plaza. Hamline University’s School of Business administrative offices moved in about 1990.

parking ramp sign

In addition to about 115 parking space for tenants and clients in the parking ramp, there are another 200-plus spaces for vehicle storage.

An uncommon amenity of the complex is a private park. private park 1

private park 2

The private park, originally featured a sculpture garden known as the Garden of Poetry. Now it is a well manicured spot with enough benches, walking paths and trees and flowers to allow people to forget they’re a block off Snelling Avenue.

Meanwhile, affordable apartments and townhomes were put up on the former site of Samaritan Hospital in 1990, according to Ramsey County records.

hamline townhomes 1

One section of the Hamline Townhomes which were constructed on the former site of Samaritan Hospital. The Hamline Park development at Charles and Asbury is a mix of townhomes and apartments.

hamline townhomes 1Some random sitings on the ride home…

A billboard at St. Anthony Avenue and Prior Avenue awaits its official unveiling.

A billboard at St. Anthony Avenue and Prior Avenue awaits its official unveiling.

A beautification effort on a utility pole on Prior Avenue.

A beautification effort on a utility pole on Prior Avenue.

Gilbert Avenue is the north frontage road of I-94 between Prior and Cleveland in Merriam Park. There is a community garden, a car repair facility and one house along Gilbert where these drums sat, neatly stacked on the on the front porch.

Gilbert Avenue is the north frontage road of I-94 between Prior and Cleveland in Merriam Park. There is a community garden, a car repair facility and one house along Gilbert where these drums sat, neatly stacked on the on the front porch.

Here is a link to today’s ride.

Flood Lore from Yore and More

June 20, 2014

Highland Park, West End, Lowertown, Downtown 16.5 Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

upper landing 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Upper Landing lies just south and west of Downtown.

The Upper Landing lies just south and west of Downtown.

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

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

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

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

The Mississippi Flats condominiums

The Mississippi Flats condominiums.

Two people shoot the breeze as the Mississippi rolls by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

armstrong house 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fancy footwork at Pleasant Place.

Fancy footwork at Pleasant Place.

Art or a pull up bar? Both!

Art or a pull up bar? Actually, both.

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

The Lemonade crew in front of 333 Goodrich.

The Lemonade crew in front of 333 Goodrich.

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

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

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

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

Here’s where I rode on June 20th.

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

Take Me to the River

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

Neil 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Lance chats with one of the crew.

Captain Lance chats with one of the crew.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah walks along the second deck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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