You Live In a What?

July 3, 2013

Lexington-Hamline, Macalester-Groveland

The former Richards Gordon School opened to students and staff in 1911.

Built as Richards Gordon School, this building opened to students and staff in 1911.

The former Richards Gordon Elementary might be the best looking school building, current or past, still standing in Saint Paul. That’s a hefty complement considering the number of beautiful schools in the City. Distinctive with a cream-colored brick exterior, the Richards Gordon Office Building displays an assortment of ornamentation.

The elaborate modillions and dentils line the top of the building.

The elaborate modillions and dentils line the top of the building.

Ionic-style decorations

Ionic-style decorations.

Light fixtures from the ‘80s clash with the classically designed building.

Light fixtures from the ‘80s clash with the classically designed building.

Decorations above one of the entrances.

Decorations above one of the entrances.

As the cornerstone concisely says, Richards Gordon was built in 1911. Additions in 1917 and 1923 are not marked as far as I could tell.

As the cornerstone concisely says, Richards Gordon was built in 1911. Additions in 1917 and 1923 are not marked as far as I could tell.

The original entrance of Richards Gordon School.

The original entrance of Richards Gordon School. Look at the gorgeous cornices and other ornamentation above.

Looking out through the original entrance of Richards Gordon. The foyer is where the table is.

Looking out through the original entrance of Richards Gordon. The foyer is where the table is.

The tenant list at

The tenant list at the Richards Gordon Building.

Richards Gordon’s days as an elementary school ended in 1974 when it was closed and converted into an adult education center. The school district sold the building in 1987 and it was adapted for use as an office building, which it continues to serve as today.

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The former studios of KNOF radio at Selby and Hamline Avenues.

The antenna and two satellite dishes are remnants of when 1347 Selby at Hamline Avenue was home to KNOF-AM radio. A religious station, KNOF broadcast for 40 years or so, until about 2000.

Hamline bridge 1

Looking south on Hamline Avenue at its intersection with Selby.

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A shot of the northern bridge approach (left) and a support.

Construction is in full swing on the Hamline Avenue Bridge, which crosses over Ayd Mill Road and railroad tracks between Selby and Ashland. Plans call for the bridge to reopen to traffic this November 1st and final work completed by July 2014.

The names of railroads and famous trains line the base of the Selby Avenue Bridge, two blocks from the Hamline Bridge. The afternoon Hiawatha and Kansas City Rocket are the two trains names in this picture.

The names of railroads and famous trains line the base of the Selby Avenue Bridge, two blocks from the Hamline Bridge. The afternoon Hiawatha and Kansas City Rocket are the two trains names in this picture. It’s a nod to the area’s importance in the railroad industry.

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The two vehicles on the left are northbound on Ayd Mill Road, near Selby Avenue. Ayd Mill was called Short Line Road from its opening in 1965 until being renamed by the City in 1993.

Ayd Mill road is an odd, slightly bumpy thoroughfare with several blocked on and off ramps. The area near Ayd Mill Road and the road itself have a long and convoluted history.

ayd mill 1

The tracks on the left are frequented by freight trains and two Amtrak passenger trains each day.

Ayd house

The John Ayd house, 987 Jefferson, was demolished in 1966.

The ravine through which Ayd Mill Road runs is natural, unlike most below grade streets and highways. The road is named after John Ayd, a German immigrant who in the 1860s owned land in the area and operated a mill. According to the website http://amrtf.weebly.com/history.html, sometime in the 1870s the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad obtained the right-of-way through the ravine and built a “short line” railroad.

The City of Saint Paul acquired its own right-of-way in the ravine around 1960 with plans to build a highway to connect I-94 and I-35E. Short Line Road was built between 1962 and ’64 but neither end was linked to the interstates as planned due to residents’ objections and the delay in constructing I-35E.

Ayd Mill’s southern connection to 35E was finally made in 2002 as a test and for the most part, has remained connected since. Controversy continues to this day over what the ultimate fate of Ayd Mill Road will be.

ayd mill 3

It’s decision time at the south end of Ayd Mill. Either you exit onto Jefferson or you’re going south on I-35E.

One entrance to Wilder Park at Edgcumbe, just west of Lexington Parkway.

One entrance to Wilder Park at Edgcumbe, just west of Lexington Avenue.

Wilder Park is the catchall name for a 136-unit senior high-rise and single family condos bordered by Edgcumbe, Lexington Avenue, Ayd Mill and the Edgcumbe Recreation Center. The 16-floor high-rise is officially at 1181 Edgcumbe.

Wilder Park under construction in

Wilder Park under construction circa 1970. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

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The unembellished exterior is indicative of many mid-1970s highrise designs.

The curve of the building and window placement creates an interesting view from the ground.

The curve of the building and window placement create an interesting view from the ground.

No, you don’t have double vision, it’s a pair of Honda Pilots parked in front of one of the Wilder Park town homes.

No, you don’t have double vision, it’s a pair of Honda Pilots parked in front of one of the Wilder Park town homes.

Several town homes with the senior apartment building in the background.

Several town homes with the senior apartment building in the background.

This sign welcomes all who pass Edgcumbe at Jefferson Avenue.

This sign welcomes all who pass Edgcumbe at Jefferson Avenue.

The route Edgcumbe Road takes is idiosyncratic to say the least. It is primarily a boulevard but considerable sections are a standard two-way street.

It runs both east-west and north-south for significant and multiple stretches. Anyone touring the street’s entire length will make five 90 degree turns. Several times Edgcumbe seems to end at an intersection but in reality, one must turn right or left to continue along. The most perplexing spot on Edgcumbe is a block north of Montreal Avenue. The road continues north at this intersection but becomes Hamline Avenue while Edgcumbe turns due east here.

edgcumbe map flat

The red line marks Edgcumbe Road.

Being July 3rd, I expected to see numerous decorations celebrating Independence Day but 1191 Edgcumbe was the only display I passed.

Being July 3rd, I expected to see numerous decorations celebrating Independence Day but 1191 Edgcumbe was the only display I passed.

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1191 James Avenue is not an apartment building and never was.

Two blocks to the south, at the corner of Edgcumbe and James Avenue, sits this building, a building that I had for years assumed was an apartment building. That’s a common misconception, according to Laura Hlavac, who lives in what is actually a former Masonic Temple.

temple 2The building at 1191 James was the Twin Cities Masonic Lodge Number 217 from its completion in 1923 until the mid-1980s when the gradual but consistent membership decline forced the Masons to sell.

According to Minnesota Historical Society documents, the Twin Cities Masonic Lodge 217 descended directly from a Masonic Lodge formed in 1895 by eight Chicago, St. Paul & Omaha Railway Company repair shop employees. From its inception until the 1923 move to 1191 James, the “Railway Lodge” was located near the railroad car shops at Toronto and Randolph Streets.

Laura said she found the building by chance. “We literally found this one by driving around nice neighborhoods. It was our hobby for a good year, just driving around and prospecting.

The Masonic symbol featuring the letter "G" is displayed prominently on the front of the building.

Masonic symbolism  is displayed prominently on the front of the building.

“My husband at the time, we looked at churches, warehouse spaces. There’s always something wrong with every property when you’re looking to buy something.”

My next question was why did she buy a former Masonic Temple? “I must have been crazy,” Laura replied, laughing and then added, “I wanted to live and work in the same place, which was not really popular 18 years ago.

Laura's lower level kitchen.

Laura’s lower level kitchen.

“I was able to continue working and raise my three kids here and I’m continuing to do that. It’s a unique lifestyle.”

The front doors of Laura Hlavac's home.

The front doors of Laura Hlavac’s home.

Laura said she removed paneling and repainted some rooms but has left the building nearly as it was when she purchased it. “We really wanted to maintain the integrity and the history of the building and the beauty of it. We did upgrade the electrical. We tiled the kitchen floor when my first child was starting to crawl. In a building this size, it’s almost 10,000 square feet, really you just stay on top of the priorities unless you have an unlimited budget, which of course we do not.”

The decorations on the stairway between the first and second floors reflects Laura's career.

The decorations on the stairway between the first and second floors reflects Laura’s career.

By far the most dazzling feature is the second floor auditorium where, for many years, the Masons held their secret meetings.

Guests enjoy themselves at a party in the auditorium. Did you notice there are no windows in the room? Photo courtesy Laura Hlavac

The auditorium retains the original chairs used during Masonic meetings.

The auditorium still has the original chairs that were used during Masonic meetings.

“That just creates its own entertainment when you walk in that room. It just blows people away. It has hand painted stencil detail, art on the walls and the ceiling, and the stage, it’s a beautiful stage. “

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A lamp hangs from the ornate ceiling of the auditorium.

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Another portion of the ceiling and the elaborate decoration.

An example of the detailed hand painting that was done on the auditorium walls.

An example of the detailed hand painting that was done on the auditorium walls.

Laura mentioned that she rents out the auditorium for parties, concerts, plays and weddings. (If you’re interested in learning more, see http://www.jewelofstpaul.com/)

Laura has worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years. Now she designs women’s clothing. “I focus on women’s knitwear and my demographic is really age 25 to 100. I focus on practical, comfortable, unique. I don’t do super trendy looks. I do things that you’ll have in your wardrobe for years and years ‘cause they’ll look nice, they travel well; you can smash them in your suitcase.”

Laura Hlavac shows off one of her clothing designs.

Laura Hlavac proudly shows off one of her clothing designs. Behind her is a rack of clothing samples she uses to sell retailers on her line of women’s clothing.

Laura was very clear in saying she loves her job, which is apparent by her smile.

At one time, Laura manufactured her clothing line in her basement. “…there have been weeks and months and years where that has been filled with sewing machines and sewing workers. At the peak, there were 20-plus people working down there.

“I’ve scaled back and maintained that as my sample room and I still have help come in when I need it or for finishing.“

The sewing area in Laura's lower level.

Laura uses the basement sewing area occasionally for finishing clothes but several years ago this area teamed with more than a dozen sewing machines and up to 20 people sewing garments.

Laura still does some manufacturing in the US but increased competition forced her to move most of her production overseas.

By this time, Laura had spent more than an hour with me, graciously giving me a tour of her distinctive and beautiful Masonic temple-turned-home, so I expressed my genuine gratitude for the tour and her time, got back on my bike and made my way home.

Click on this link to see the map of this ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/260587523/

6 thoughts on “You Live In a What?

  1. I really enjoy your blog. I think it’s fun that you have now covered both schools where I went to kindergarden. I started kindergarden at Gorden School and then my family moved, so I finished the year at Mattocks. I enjoy learning more about Saint Paul. Thanks for doing this.

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  2. Thanks for sharing Wolfie! I have walked past the old Masonic Temple so many times and wondered who/what was living there. I no longer have to wonder. Also good to know that there is a nice venue for rent just down the street.

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  3. Just happened upon your blog. So interesting. I attended Webster, Richards Gordon and Central High School. I will come back and read more of your blogs. I look forward to future entries.

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    • Thank you very much for your comments. I’m glad you find it interesting. Let me know if there is something I should see or someone I should talk to.

      What do you recall about your time at Richards Gordon? Did you go to Central before or after the horrific renovation?

      Regards, Wolfie

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