May 18, 2012
“Cleveland Rocks” is a 1979 song by Ian Hunter celebrating the city of Cleveland, Ohio. But it is a fitting tune for Saint Paul’s Cleveland Avenue too (if you don’t listen too closely to the words.) Cleveland Avenue is a major north-south thoroughfare that connects the Highland Park, Mac-Groveland, Merriam Park, Lexington-Hamline and Hamline-Midway on the north. The character of the street changes frequently thanks to the mix of homes and apartments, coffee shops and restaurants, universities, light and heavy industrial facilities along its five-mile run.
I started my trek along Cleveland where it intersects Randolph Avenue. The southeast corner is one entrance to St. Catherine University, an all-women’s university that opened here in 1905. I’ll have more about the 5,000-plus-student St. Kate’s in future blogs.
The northeast corner of Cleveland and Randolph features some interesting businesses.
South on Cleveland I found some interesting homes.
This is confusing so grab a map and follow along. Cleveland Avenue stops temporarily at University Avenue so this is as far north as I went tonight. (Cleveland becomes Transfer Avenue on the north side of University. There is another section of Cleveland farther north, in the Como Park neighborhood.)
The western corner of Cleveland and University is home to Rihm Kenworth, which sells and services 18 wheelers, a.k.a. over-the-road trucks. Although Rihm is officially at 2108 University Avenue, the fact that most of the company’s property is on Cleveland is why I tackled it on this ride. The company was established as a Hudson and Packard automobile dealer and took on commercial trucks in the early 1940s.
About a block south is a large but easily overlooked building that houses the Metro Transit Overhaul Base. Major bus maintenance, repair and equipment maintenance and purchasing are located in the facility according to the Metro Transit website.
Right across the street is the Twin Cities home of the Minnesota Commercial Railroad, a short line that serves Minneapolis, Bayport, Hugo, Fridley and New Brighton on about 150 miles of track around the metro area. It is probably the oldest railroad that you’ve never heard of.
The Minnesota Commercial and its predecessor, the Minnesota Transfer Railway, have been in operation since March 10, 1883 when the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company was incorporated. According to the University Avenue History website, (http://www.universityavenuehistory.com) the Minnesota Transfer was created after a derailment in Minneapolis caused delays for many trains, including that of Empire Builder James J. Hill. The Minnesota Transfer was owned by Hill’s Great Northern and Northern Pacific and the other major railroads that served the Twin Cities.
I’ve gone by this unremarkable building on the west side of Cleveland Avenue dare I say hundreds of times with it scarcely registering on my consciousness. Tonight, however, the farthest garage door was open and inside I spotted two people and three stunning classic cars.
Inside I met Jan and Bob Haven, who were giving their ’53 Chev Bel Air convertible a final once-over before tomorrow’s maiden trip with its new engine.
Besides the ’53 Bel Air, Bob and Jan have this ’59 Olds four-door hardtop in immaculate shape.
Then there is the ’38 Buick Special hot rod with a Chevy motor in it and a Mustang front end which they finished building last summer.
With three beautiful cars, how does Bob decide which to drive? “If I want a nice, comfortable ride I get in the Oldsmobile; and then if I want to be a hot rod I drive this thing; (the ’53 Bel Air) and that one (’38 Buick) is a kind of a hot rod too but it’s more of a classic hot rod.
Jan favors either the Bel Aire or the Buick over the Olds, which she says is “too big. I would never drive that one.”
Surprisingly, Bob and Jan didn’t visit the departed Porky’s very often, even though their garage is only about a mile from where Porky’s stood. They preferred to cruise on Friday and Saturday nights in downtown Saint Paul until that ended several years ago and since then, in North St. Paul, Anoka and Hastings.
I noticed several trophies on shelves and asked Bob about them, “I don’t go for trophies. (But at) Woodbury Days I picked up a couple of trophies. They have different age queens from adult all the way down to little girls and they voted for that Oldsmobile because it has a big back seat,” Bob said laughing. “They didn’t give a damn about the car.”
In recent years, Bob and Jan usually attended car shows in the seven county metro area but that’s going to change a bit, according to Bob. “We’re going to do a little more cruising. Usually we just go to shows and sit there like little old ladies.”
The Haven’s cars are obviously show quality but their garage/shop is top-notch too. Creature comforts include a bathroom, satellite TV, bathroom, grill, fridge, industrial heater, a full alarm system and much more. Jan told me, “He has gatherings with his car buddies. The call it the Cardiac Cruisers Car Club because most of them have had heart attacks or heart trouble.”
Both Jan and Bob are Saint Paul natives who have lived near the garage since 1974. Jan grew up on the east side near White Bear Avenue and East Seventh and Bob near Hamline University. He worked at the long gone Montgomery Wards on University Avenue for many years.
As I was about to conclude my interview, one of Bob’s car buddies stopped in and Jan said she had to get home. I took that as a clue to get back on my bike.
My next stop added a somber note to the ride. Our Lady of Peace Home, at the corner of Cleveland and St. Anthony Avenue, is a 20-bed hospice for adults with incurable cancer.
A friend spent his last days here several years ago and the facility and care he received impressed me. I think of Dennis each time I pass by.
The University of St. Thomas is the other institution of higher learning on Cleveland Avenue. (The western boundary of campus is Cretin Avenue, Grand to the south and Dayton on the north.) May 18th, it turns out, is move out day at St. Thomas. Dads and moms and yellow canvas carts loaded above the top are nearly as common as mosquitoes.
Meanwhile, the football field is poised for tomorrow’s graduation ceremonies. It doesn’t take much to envision the chairs full of hundreds of enthusiastic, purple-clad seniors awaiting their diplomas with friends and family members looking on.
OK, so maybe Cleveland Avenue doesn’t quite rock like the song says but it does offer a nice cross-section of Saint Paul and its wide assortment of sites, sounds and people.