Opening Day 2013! (part 2)

April 27, 2013

20.33 miles

It was after 1 o’clock, I’d been riding for more than two and a-half hours and I felt my blood sugar dropping. I had no luck finding a place Downtown where I could pick up a quick energy boost so I pushed on to the near east side. I do my best to spend money at small businesses but today I had to settle for the Holiday Station on East 7th and Kittson Street. I bought some dried fruit and something to drink and came out of the store to see this:

Car1 I was one of several gawkers eyeballing the car with a mixture of confusion and wonder. Over the next several minutes, customers repeated the scene as I looked on and ate. Then two guys came out of the store and walked up to the car. I boldly assumed the one who went to the driver’s side was the owner,which he confirmed.

His told me his name is Rob Lombardi so I had to ask if he was a member of the famous football Lombardis. “I wish! Every time I get checked for my ID I get that.”

People notice his custom Pontiac Sunfire wherever he goes but bus riders react most conspicuously, Rob told me.

“They usually seem to crowd around, everybody stands up, just looking out. Same thing at bus stops. It’s just something interesting to look at. It takes you a minute to figure out what’s happening on it.”

Rob added, “It definitely grabs attention. I just wished it ran as good as it looks. She’s worn out but she looks good.”

car 2I questioned Rob about the symbolism of the artwork, which he said is esoteric but contains elements of the solar system, clouds, a sunset and sand dunes. Rob’s artist friend Greg, aka ‘Garvin’, created the design and did most of the painting, while Rob assisted with prep work.

According to Rob, the paint job was laborious, “The prep work took more effort than the actual painting ‘cause we had to first start off…the car was white in the beginning and we just started the pencil outline. We had to go color by color except for the fade here. We did that in kinda a one shot. We did the fade back here first and then we pencil outlined over it in the rear. Started with that and then we had to mask it off and then cover it with plastic and go color by color so the lines would be crisp.”

car 3Other facts about Rob’s custom Sunfire: He and ‘Garvin’ devoted three to four times longer to prep the car than to actually paint. They spent about 60 hours painting and used “rattle” (spray) paint.

car 4

Rob Lombardi, right, and his buddy Travis, at the Holiday Station on East 7th Street. I can’t help thinking of “Wayne’s World” even though the car is a Pontiac, not a Pacer.

Rob added the he’s in a band called “The Friendly Beers” and you can hear some of their tunes and learn about upcoming gigs at http://www.reverbnation.com/thefriendlybeers

From Kittson and East 7th it was only a couple of blocks to Payne Avenue and the Railroad Island neighborhood, so named because of the……..railroads.

A trains moves nor

A train moves north on one of the tracks along the western border of Railroad Island.

Railroad Island is bounded by tracks to the west, and to the north along Phalen Boulevard, by East 7th Street on the south and Swede Hollow to the east.

Payne Avenue and East 7th Street, on the fringe of Downtown, is not the best place to view the skyline.

Payne Avenue and East 7th Street, on the fringe of Downtown, is not the best place to view the skyline.

The same intersection, looking east at Dayton’s Bluff. The tall building is part of Metro State University. When the trees bares leaves the building is hidden.

The same intersection, looking east at Dayton’s Bluff. The tall building is part of Metro State University. The building is hidden as soon as the trees bear leaves.

One more view, this time looking north.

One more view, this time looking north up Payne Avenue.

Global Beat banners line Payne Avenue.

The Minnesota Music Café, 499 Payne, plays host to live music most nights. The MMC has garnered very good reviews for the variety and quality of local and national acts that perform there.

The Minnesota Music Café, 499 Payne, plays host to live music most nights. The MMC has garnered very good reviews for the variety and quality of local and national acts that perform there.

I really enjoy investigating neighborhoods to which I’ve never been-there’s a surprise in almost every block.  Railroad Island is one such place. The southern-most portion is an unusual mix of light industrial buildings and single family homes.

Houses and warehouses intermingle in this part of Railroad Island

Houses and warehouses intermingle in this part of Railroad Island

One unexpected gem of a house is the obviously old brick home at 485 Kenny Road at Brunson Street. Not until I got home did I learn that this charming house, constructed in 1855, is one of the oldest surviving homes in Saint Paul and is on the National Historic Register.

The Benjamin Brunson House and a neighboring warehouse.

According to Larry Millett’s AIA Guide to the Twin Cities, Benjamin Brunson and his brother are attributed as having made the first land survey of Saint Paul in 1847.

The Benjamin Brunson House and a neighboring warehouse.

The Benjamin Brunson House sits at the corner of Kenny (originally Partridge Street) and Brunson.

IMG_1963

One of the residents of the Brunson House keeps watch.

Back on Payne Avenue for a short spell, I stopped at this interesting building. I’m can’t tell whether this was built as a residence, business or combination.

Back on Payne Avenue for a short spell, I stopped at this interesting building. I can’t tell whether this was built as a residence, business or combination.

1967 Another pet wonders what I’m doing.

Another pet wonders what I’m doing.

Potholes have been prolific this spring, as you know. The public works department is working hard to catch up by sending crews out on a rare Saturday shifts. I met a crew  repairing potholes on Desoto Street between North and Tedesco.

First, tar is put into the pothole.

First, tar is poured into the pothole.

Then, the hole is filled with hot blacktop and packed down.

Then, the hole is filled with hot blacktop and packed down.

One of the workers told me the heavy snows exacerbated the pothole problem in two ways; first, by adding to the freeze-thaw cycle that causes potholes and second, by interrupting the patching process.

Rivoli Street is a block west of Desoto and it looks over Downtown and a valley next to 35E. This open space, sometimes called Pavilion Point, is at the south end of Rivoli. It wasn’t apparent to me whether the recent grading is for development or something else.

Rivoli Street is a block west of Desoto and it looks over Downtown and a valley next to 35E. This open space, sometimes called Pavilion Point, is at the south end of Rivoli. It wasn’t apparent to me whether the recent grading is for development or something else.

Evidence that this part of Rivoli doesn't get a lot of traffic..or police patrols.

Evidence that this part of Rivoli doesn’t get a lot of traffic..or police patrols.

Like some other neighborhoods in which I’ve ridden, Railroad Island has too many vacant homes.

Like some other neighborhoods in which I’ve ridden, Railroad Island has too many vacant homes.

This one is located at 672 Rivoli.

This vacant home is located at 672 Rivoli.

And another on Desoto)

And here’s another a couple of blocks away on Desoto.

Still, there are signs that better days are ahead for the neighborhood.

East Side Pride

This house is being renovated under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Federal grands fun the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which is targeted toward vacant homes and residential properties in neighborhoods most affected by the recent mortgage foreclosure crisis.

A couple doors south at Bradley and Beaumont Streets is the Railroad Island Community Garden.

A couple doors south at Bradley and Beaumont Streets is the Railroad Island Community Garden.

The Christmas spirit runs into the last of April at 745 DeSoto Street.

The Christmas spirit runs into the end of April at 745 Desoto Street.

Eileen Weida Park features a playground and softball fields. The Railroad Island park was renamed in 1988 to honor a neighborhood activist of the same name. The park occupies the block bordered by Fred, Tedesco, Burr and DeSoto Streets.

Eileen Weida Park features a playground and softball fields. The Railroad Island park was renamed in 1988 to honor Eileen Weida, who was a neighborhood activist. The park occupies the block bordered by Fred, Tedesco, Burr and DeSoto Streets.

Now a Fire Department maintenance shop, the building opened in 1890 as Fire Station 11 for horse-drawn fire equipment.

Now a Fire Department maintenance shop, this building opened in 1890 as Fire Station 11 and was home to horse-drawn fire equipment in its early years.

The original Fire Station 11 carving and below it, the current sign.

The original Fire Station 11 carving and below it, the current sign.

Fire station 11 circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Fire station 11 circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

With that, it was time to return to my headquarters, with a few stops Downtown first. Tenth and Wacouta is an intersection that most have little reason to visit, though there is a lot to see.

10th & Wacouta sign

District Energy St. Paul’s secondary cooling facility at 229 10th Street East.

District Energy St. Paul’s secondary cooling facility at 229 10th Street East.

This is the secondary cooling plant for District Cooling St. Paul, part of District Energy St. Paul. (The primary plant is on Kellogg Boulevard) According to Nina Axelson, Director of Public Relations for District Energy St. Paul, the building holds electrical chillers to cool water for distribution to more than 100 Downtown buildings. These buildings receive chilled water primarily for air conditioning. Nina Axelson told me in an email that utilizing chilled water from District Cooling St. Paul eliminates the need for buildings to rely on on-site air conditioning.

Are the colorful panels on the cooling tank functional or decorative? Nina wasn't sure but said the District Cooling Plant won several design awards.

Are the colorful panels on the cooling tank functional or decorative? Nina Axelson wasn’t sure but said the District Cooling Plant won several design awards.

This tank stores 4 million gallons of chilled water for air conditioning. The water in this tank is “charged” overnight during off-peak electricity hours, which keeps costs down and cuts the load on the electrical grid.

District Energy cooling

The 10th Street side of the District Cooling plant.

There is one of these obelisks and wrought iron fence on either side of Wacouta Street where it meets 10th. There is no marking, no plaque, no explanation of when or why these are here. My guess is that they mark the entrance to Downtown for drivers exiting 35E.)

There is one of these obelisks and wrought iron fences on either side of Wacouta Street where it meets 10th. There is no marking, no plaque, no explanation of when or why these are here. My guess is that they let drivers exiting 35E know they’re entering Downtown Saint Paul.

Today it’s Renaissance Box, an apartment building with 70 recently built efficiency, one and two bedroom units for people with low to moderate incomes. Quite a change from its original use as a shoe factory.

Today it’s Renaissance Box, an apartment building with 70 recently built efficiency, one and two bedroom units for people with low to moderate incomes. Quite a change from its original use as a shoe factory.

This entrance was built as part of the conversion to the Renaissance Box Apartments.

This entrance was built as part of the conversion to the Renaissance Box Apartments.

Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

The entrance to the O’Donnell Shoe Factory was on Sibley Street, unlike today. Note the cars and the horse-drawn buggy next to the building. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society

Built in 1914 as the O’Donnell Shoe Factory, by 1928 it was Minnesota’s biggest manufacturer of shoes. But just seven years later, the factory closed, succumbing to a variety of economic factors. For the next several decades the building was used for an array of commercial and retail ventures until 2006 when it was purchased for redevelopment.

The fire escape on the 10th Street side of Renaissance Box.

The fire escape on the 10th Street side of Renaissance Box has some interesting lines and angles.

The Embassy Suites Hotel, 175 East 10th Street, has witnessed many of Downtown’s ups and downs since opening about 30 years ago.

The Embassy Suites Hotel, 175 East 10th Street, has witnessed many of Downtown’s ups and downs since opening about 30 years ago.

It doesn’t look like it but Eisenberg’s Market, a Downtown mainstay for about 75 years, shut its doors in fall of 2012. The Eisenberg’s building is located at 10th and Jackson.

It doesn’t look like it but Eisenberg’s Market, a Downtown mainstay for about 75 years, shut its doors in fall of 2012. The Eisenberg’s building is located at 10th and Jackson.

My thoughts regarding the plethora of subjects Downtown to photograph, research and write about was affirmed by this ride. So was the strategy of investigating bits and pieces on the way to other neighborhoods.

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