That’s a House of a Different Color. And Size and Shape

September 3, 2012 (Labor Day)

11.4 miles

magenta house

The magenta house at 1693 Selby Avenue

Color, being extremely subjective, is a good way to express one’s individuality. This is especially true for clothing and cars but less often with houses. Home owners might select the exterior tint based upon the historical context or preference but usually the colors are inoffensive greys, whites or earth tones. Occasionally, however, folks choose to make a statement. I didn’t know it when I began the ride, but I was about to come upon several unique paint schemes.

The intersection of Hamline and Hague Avenues is unusual in that there are actually two Hamline-Hague intersections. The bridge that carries Hamline Avenue over CP Rail railroad tracks and Ayd Mill Road interrupts east-west bound Hague, creating the two junctions. (See the map of today’s ride for clarification.) I visited the eastern Hamline-Hague corner earlier this year. Today, my cruise took me to the western intersection.

Part of the mural on the east side of the Hamline Avenue Bridge approach

Part of the mural on the east side of the Hamline Avenue Bridge approach

east hamline bridge 2The east Hamline bridge approach sports a playful mural. Like the similar mural on the western bridge approach, its days are numbered as reconstruction of the Hamline bridge draws near.

Eight year old Grace and mom Darlene

Eight year old Grace and mom Darlene

Across the street is a small park where I met eight year old Grace and her mom, Darlene.  At first Grace was on the playground with other children. Said Darlene in regards to Grace. “She can make new friends anywhere. Any park we go to she makes new friends. She may not know their names but they’re her friends.”

Grace joined us a short time later and I asked her what she was going to do for the last few hours of summer break. She enthusiastically told me. “Go home and relax and watch TV and watch a movie.”

Darlene laughed and said “I don’t know about the movie part or the TV but we are going to relax.”

J.J. Hill Montessori is named after Saint Paul's James Hill, the "Empire Builder," who owned the Great Northern and other railroads.

J.J. Hill Montessori is named after Saint Paul’s James Hill, the “Empire Builder,” who owned the Great Northern and other railroads.

Hague Avenue is interrupted for one block by J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School. The school’s address is 998 Selby but the main entrance is on the vacated portion of Hague.

Two portable classrooms at J.J. Hill Montessori.

Two portable classrooms at J.J. Hill Montessori.

Less than a block to the east I paused at 929 Hague.

The structure on the right side of the photo, partially obscured by the tree, is called a porte cochere, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.”

The structure on the right side of the photo, partially obscured by the tree, is called a ‘porte cochere’, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “a roofed structure extending from the entrance of a building over an adjacent driveway and sheltering those getting in or out of vehicles.”

The two things I like best about 929 Hague are the great front porch and the multi-leveled roof, which add visual complexity and interest. According to architecture critic Larry Millett’s “AIA Guide to St. Paul’s Summit Avenue & Hill District,” the house was designed in 1900 by Louis Lockwood, an architect of the same period as Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson but not as well-known.

822 Hague Avenue East

822 Hague Avenue East

Love the two story turret!

Love the two-story turret!

Renovations at 822 Hague aren’t complete but the house looks great. And who wouldn’t love to have a bedroom with the turret!

817 Hague Avenue East.

817 Hague Avenue East. Gorgeous Victorian details abound.

Stunning! The combination of the paint scheme, the windows on the top two floors of this home and the porch are incredible. It appears this was a recent renovation.

(0490 I’m hoping the rocking horse is only decorative.)

I hope no one rides the rocking horse while it sits there.

Different eras and styles-753 and 751 Hague.

Different eras and styles-753 and 751 Hague.

At 646 Hague it’s not the main house that jumped out. In the back yard it looks like a playhouse with a climbing wall built on it.

The house at 646 Hague is nice but that playhouse in back is a child's dream come true!

The house at 646 Hague is nice but that playhouse in back is a child’s dream come true!

The playhouse blends in with the houses of the neighborhood.

The playhouse blends in with the houses of the neighborhood.

I’m guessing, but the roll up door makes me think the upper level is the children’s playhouse and the lower level may be for storage.

I’m guessing, but the roll up door makes me think the lower level may be for storage and the upper level is the playhouse.

Looks like the climbing wall is the way to get into the upper level play area.

Looks like the climbing wall is the way to get into the upper level play area.

A side note about 646 Hague. Research indicates that lithographer-landscape artist-architect-carpenter Grafton Tyler Brown lived in this house at the time of his death in 1918. Among art circles Brown is well-known and is considered to be the first African-American painter of the American west. I haven’t been able to determine whether he was the architect or builder of the house. Although I haven’t found conclusive evidence, it appears Brown worked for the railroads and the City of Saint Paul as a draftsman for some of the 25 years he lived here.

Artist Grafton T. Brown painting one of his famous and now collectable images of the wild west.

Artist Grafton T. Brown painting one of his famous and now collectible images of the wild west.

Brown's 1882 painting "View of Lake Okanagan" most recently sold at auction in 2006 for $48,000!

Brown’s 1882 painting “View of Lake Okanagan” most recently sold at auction in 2006 for $48,000!

The blue-grey hued 599 Laurel Avenue is an apartment building constructed in 1902.

The grey hued 599 Laurel Avenue is an apartment building constructed in 1902.

Looking in at McQuillan Park from Laurel Avenue

Looking in at McQuillan Park from Laurel Avenue

McQuillan Park 2

The historical marker outside McQillan Park explains the significance of the McQuillan family in Saint Paul.

The now shuttered McQuillan Brothers Plumbing headquarters

The now shuttered McQuillan Brothers Plumbing headquarters, 668 Laurel Avenue

McQuillan Brothers plumbing closed in late 2011 after four generations and more than 100 years in business. It was reportedly Saint Paul’s oldest plumbing company and one of the oldest in Minnesota.

The Sea Foam Green house at 661 Hague is one of three smaller Victorian homes on this block built around 1880.

The Sea Foam Green house at 661 Hague is one of three smaller Victorian homes on this block built around 1880.

There is a heartbreaking story connected to the house. According to “Minnesota Mayhem: A History of Calamitous Events, Horrific Accidents …” by Ben Welter, a young resident of 661 Hague was the first person killed by an automobile in Saint Paul. Eight year old Irene Max was playing with a friend when she was hit by a car and killed on May 29, 1903.

The birthplace, literally, of noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 481 Laurel Avenue.

The birthplace, literally, of noted novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, 481 Laurel Avenue.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is likely Saint Paul’s most famous native son. As such, nearly everything possible has been written about his time here. Still, with all he touched in our fair city, I’d be remiss if I didn’t expend a few electrons and pixels on him. Several of the stops I made today on Ramsey Hill were Fitzgerald’s haunts.

A plaque recognizing F. Scott Fitzgerald on the front entrance of 481 Laurel. When Fitzgerald lived here, the building was called San Mateo Flats.

A plaque recognizing F. Scott Fitzgerald on the front entrance of 481 Laurel. When Fitzgerald lived here, the building was called San Mateo Flats.

The entrance to the brownstone where Fitzgerald was born and lived until 1898.

The entrance to the brownstone where Fitzgerald was born and lived until 1898.

baby F. Scott

F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother on Laurel Avenue in approximately 1897. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Fitzgerald was named for Francis Scott Key, who composed The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key was a distant cousin on Fitzgerald’s father’s side.

Laurel Terrace, built in 1887 is considered among the finest Victorian row houses in the United States. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his family lived here in 1908 and 1909.

RileyRow 1

Laurel Terrace, also known as Riley’s Row, 286-294 Laurel Avenue. I took this picture looking east on Laurel.

The building, originally known as “Riley’s Row, was named after William C. Riley, the building’s first owner who ran the local telegraph firm Northern News Company.

Riley's Row shortly after completion in the late 1880s. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Riley’s Row shortly after completion in the late 1880s. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Some of the unique decorative elements of Laurel Terrace, 286-294 Laurel Avenue.

A woman walking by took notice of my interest in Laurel Terrace and we struck up a conversation. Judy didn’t want to share her last name but she was eager to tell me about the neighborhood. She lived about three blocks away at 487 Ashland and she invited me over to see it.

Abbott home 1

The Thomas Alden Abbott home, 487-489 Ashland Avenue.

487 Ashland Avenue was built as a single family home about 1888 for Thomas Alden Abbott and his family. Mr. Abbott owned Abbott Brothers Sash, Doors and Blinds. The house was converted to a duplex sometime in the 20th Century.

abbott house 5Judy and her then-husband bought the house in 1978, only a few years after the worst of Ramsey Hill’s urban decay had slowed and re-emergent signs of Victorian grandeur were becoming more common. According to Judy, there was a real excitement in the neighborhood back then. “At least half of the houses on the block had been bought by some crazy young person who was trying to save that house. My husband at the time talks about being out on the porch and the roof and basically every house had someone out on the porch and the roof  banging away so there was a lot of camaraderie…”

Judy told me she purchased the house because of the asbestos tiles covering the exterior. “The tiles, which actually saved that house, because underneath it was pretty good clapboard sidings and fabulous trim. When that (asbestos siding) was taken off … there was fabulous Victorian detail underneath that.”

Abbott house 2

Some of the detail revealed during renovation of on Judy’s home. Often called “gingerbread,” it is common on Victorian homes.

According to Judy, other exterior work the house needed included “…restoring a porch; recutting porch pillars, carrying the porch pillars that were rotten to a woodworker who would recut them to match. Taking off that siding and repairing the wood and repainting all four sides, essentially three and a-half stories.”

The restoration took 20 years and included the obligatory new furnace, new plumbing, new windows, new kitchen and general improvements to meet building code.

The entrances to 487 and 489 Ashland.

The entrances to 487 and 489 Ashland.

Judy ran into the house and brought out a remarkable early photo of her house that she has hung on a wall. It is from “Picturesque Saint Paul,” a period publication written by an organization similar to today’s chamber of commerce to entice people to move to Saint Paul. There are sections about jobs and industrial opportunities, Summit Avenue living and an article about off-Summit life which is where her house was featured.

The picture of Judy's house from the 1888 publication "Pyle's Picturesque Saint Paul"

The picture of Judy’s house from the 1888 publication “Pyle’s Picturesque Saint Paul”

Judy had a last suggestion for me-to go across the street to 484-494 Ashland, the     now-closed St. Paul’s Church Home.

This building opened in 1893 as the Ashland Hotel and became St. Paul’s Church Home in 1927.    This building opened in 1893 as the Ashland Hotel and became St. Paul’s Church Home in 1927.

This building opened in 1893 as the Ashland Hotel and became St. Paul’s Church Home in 1927.

The boarded up building opened in 1893 as either the Ashland Hotel or Ashland Avenue Family Hotel. It was converted to a nursing home called St. Paul’s Church Home in 1927. Large additions in 1964 and 1981 expanded the capacity of the home.

Additions to St. Paul's Church Home.

Additions to St. Paul’s Church Home.

Financial problems finally forced the closure of the St. Paul’s Church Home in 2006. While everyone agrees the deteriorating building is adversely affecting the neighborhood, that’s where the consensus ends. Many want the original Ashland Hotel building renovated and the additions from the ‘60s and ‘80s demolished as soon as possible. However, there are concerns about what a project would do to the character of the neighborhood.

walker tree sculpture 1

Moving west I encountered a pair of tree sculptures on the boulevard of 525 Ashland. Dennis Roghair created the sculptures of George Walker, his wife Aida Overton Walker and youngsters whom I assume were their children.

Walker tree sculpture 2walker sculpture plaqueThe Walkers were among the first African-American Vaudeville stars to appeal to both black and white audiences. They worked vigorously to change the negative stereotypes of African-Americans by performing authentic Black musicals which had been dominated by demeaning minstrel shows.

George Walker and Aida Overton Walker, on stage with Bert Williams, left. c1905.Photo courtesy The Granger Collection, NYC

George Walker and Aida Overton Walker, on stage with Bert Williams, left. c1905. Photo courtesy The Granger Collection, NYC

Working my west I came to a building labeled Webster School on St. Albans Street.

IMG_0577 - Version 2Webster Elementary School, on the corner of St. Albans Street and Holly Avenue, opened to students in 1926. It was named in honor of American statesman Daniel Webster.

The former Webster Elementary School, now part of Barack and Michelle Obama Service Elementary.

The former Webster Elementary School, now part of Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary.

In 1976, in response to a State-ordered desegregation effort, Webster became the first magnet school in Saint Paul, when it was reconfigured as a foreign language and enrichment program. It was hoped that Magnet schools like Webster would lead to ‘voluntary desegregation’ by offering unique programs or curriculum that would draw students from across Saint Paul. Webster Magnet School worked as hoped for more than a decade but was eventually done in by the introduction of newer magnet schools.

In 2009, the school was renamed Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary, which sparked community debate. The name change ended nearly 130 years of a Saint Paul school named Webster).

In 2009, the school was renamed Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary, which sparked community debate. The name change ended nearly 130 years of a Saint Paul school named Webster.

The former Marshall High School at Holly and Grotto, is also part of the Obama Elementary complex. The small antenna-like devices at the top of the building keep pigeons from roosting over the building entrance.

The former Marshall High School at Holly and Grotto, is also part of the Obama Elementary complex. The small antenna-like devices at the top of the building keep pigeons from roosting over the building entrance.

Marshall, named after early U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, opened as a junior high school about 1927. It's fir

Marshall, named after early U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, opened as a junior high school about 1927. Nineteen-forty marked the first high school graduating class. The last high school class graduated in 1953.

Three blocks west of the Obama School complex is this lovely church.

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 901 Portland Avenue.

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, 901 Portland Avenue, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

According to the Church’s website, architect Cass Gilbert designed St. Clement’s Episcopal just before he won a competition to design the Minnesota State Capitol.

The entrance to St. Clement’s Episcopal Church. Avenue.

The entrance to St. Clement’s Episcopal Church.

The discrepancy between the date on historic marker and that on the church’s cornerstone may be because ground was broken in 1894 and the church was consecrated in 1895.

The discrepancy between the date on historic marker…

The discrepancy between the date on historic marker and that on the church’s cornerstone may be because ground was broken in 1894 and the church was consecrated in 1895.

…and that on the church’s cornerstone may be because ground was broken in 1894 and the church was consecrated in 1895.

-From F. Scott Fitzgerald to McQuillan Park to Laurel Terrace to Judy’s renovation of the Abbott house, today’s ride was brimming with history, interesting buildings and stories, which I contemplated as I biked the last five or so miles home.

Today’s route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/180194732

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