A Sizeable Spud, A Titanic Tuber, A Prolific Potato

Downtown, Irvine Park      12.8 Miles

August 12, 2013

Now that’s a nice looking spud!

That is one large potato!

On this evening, downtown Saint Paul’s biggest attraction was not the Children’s Museum, the Capitol or the Science Museum. No, it was the giant Idaho potato sitting on a 53 foot trailer in front of Xcel Energy Center.

tater 3Truth be told, it’s the reason I rode downtown. In the 30 or so minutes I hung around the potato, a couple of dozen folks, including a uniformed postal worker and several families, came by with quizzical looks on their faces and cameras in their hands.

tater 4

“It’s a beautiful night to gaze upon a potato.” Holly, Como Park, Saint Paul

tater 5

A woman poses in front of the potato while her friend prepares to shoot a picture.

Holly and Todd (last name withheld at their request) of Como Park were driving home from dinner when they noticed the potato and stopped to check it out. Their amusing banter began almost instantly. Holly’s first question to me was, “Do you want me to be a tater commentator?”

Holly and Todd. Photo courtesy of Holly and Todd

Holly and Todd. Photo courtesy of Holly and Todd

Todd explained their motive for shooting pictures of the prodigious potato. “I have a buddy from the Marines that is from Idaho and I’m always giving him crap about Idaho. Especially Larry Craig1 and everything else and what better thing than to get a commentator on the potato. “

That will be a family photo they'll never forget.

That will be a family photo they’ll never forget.

Todd and Holly have excellent rapport, finishing each others’ sentences. One exchange went like this:

Todd. “ it’s not a real potato. “

Holly. “Somebody went up and scratched it.”

Todd. “And they were disappointed I think.”

Holly’s final comment, “We only have eyes for that potato.”

tater 10The idea of the giant potato, according to www.BigIdahoPotato.com is to raise awareness and money for Meals on Wheels, a non-profit that delivers meals to the homes of seniors and some senior centers.

Two blocks west of the temporary resting spot for the potato and its 18 wheeler is the intersection of West Seventh and Chestnut.

cossettas

The recently expanded Cossetta’s at the northeast corner of Chestnut and West Seventh.

What is now formally called Cossetta Alimentari but is still known to locals simply as Cossetta’s, is 102 years old. The Italian restaurant and market completed a $10 million expansion and renovation this year. The expansion stirred up lots of controversy because the City of Saint Paul provided $1.175 million in forgivable loans for the project.

This blue piano, one of the ‘Pianos On Parade’ series, sits in front of Cossetta’s and beckons passers by to play.

This blue piano, one of the ‘Pianos On Parade’ series, sits in front of Cossetta’s and beckons passers-by to play.

According to the ‘Pianos On Parade’ website and Facebook page, 25 pianos were repaired and redecorated by various artists and placed in public locations, primarily in Saint Paul, from June through August. Pianos are sold with the proceeds funding charitable programs. More details at https://www.facebook.com/PianosOnParade or http://www.pianosonparade.com .

According to the ‘Pianos On Parade’ website and Facebook page, 25 pianos were repaired and redecorated by various artists and placed in public locations, primarily in Saint Paul, from June through August. Pianos are sold with the proceeds funding charitable programs. More details at https://www.facebook.com/PianosOnParade or http://www.pianosonparade.com .

Seven Corners Hardware has occupied the southeast corner of West Seventh and Chestnut since 1933. The store is known for its substantial selection of power tools.

Seven Corners Hardware has occupied the southeast corner of West Seventh and Chestnut since 1933. The store is known for its substantial selection of power tools.

Moving south and west I approached the historic Irvine Park neighborhood, the only remaining frontier neighborhood in Saint Paul. John Irvine and Henry Rice platted the area in 1849, six years before Saint Paul became a city. Eight of the homes still standing in the Irvine Park Historic District were built before 1853 and many of the others were built by 1890.

One of the signs announcing the Irvine Park Historic Preservation District features a silhouette of the park’s oft photographed fountain.)

One of the signs announcing the Irvine Park Historic Preservation District features a silhouette of the park’s oft photographed fountain.

While nice for a time, the 1920s marked the beginning of a precipitous deterioration of the neighborhood. A 1930s housing report said the neighborhood “…takes in the less desirable rooming-house district,” according to “The Street Where You Live: A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul” by Donald Empson.

Two Irvine Park homes are in a state of disrepare in this 1972 picture. Note the two homes have been joined.

These Irvine Park homes are in a state of disrepair in this 1972 picture. Note the two homes have been connected. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

By 1979, a whopping 96 percent of the Irvine Park housing was classified as “substandard”, leading city officials to plan to bulldoze the area and construct high-rise apartments.

A concentrated effort by resolute area residents and others forced the city to reconsider and then scrap the idea. A restoration plan led to the renovation of many historic homes, the demolition of some and relocation of others to Irvine Park. In 1973, much of the neighborhood was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, signaling success of the gutsy, unwavering preservationists.

The front of the Alexander Ramsey House, 265 South Exchange Street.

The front of the Alexander Ramsey House, 265 South Exchange Street, is partially obscured by the trees.

Alexander Ramsey, Minnesota’s first territorial governor and second governor of the state, had a lavish home constructed in 1868 on Exchange Street. Among the accoutrements Ramsey added to his home were hot and cold running water, gas lighting and hot water radiators (all considered luxuries at the time.) Anna Ramsey, the wife of the governor, went to New York in 1872 to shop for furnishings for the house. According to the Minnesota  Historical Society, which owns and operates the Ramsey House, she was so successful that her purchases filled two box cars!

Ramsey’s legacy is mixed-he’s likely best known for being the first governor to offer the services of troops for the Union Army for the Civil War. Ramsey also was deeply involved in the forced relocation of the Sioux (Dakota) Indians of Minnesota. Ramsey called for them to “be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.” One of the best places to get more information about Alexander Ramsey, his family and home, is through a tour of the Ramsey House and at the Minnesota Historical Society’s website at http://collections.mnhs.org/governors/index.php/10003972 and http://www.usdakotawar.org/history/alexander-ramsey .

The porch of the Alexander Ramsey House. Ramsey’s two granddaughters lived in the house until the 1960s at which time the mansion and furnishings were donated to the Historical Society.

The porch of the Alexander Ramsey House. Ramsey’s two granddaughters lived in the house until the 1960s at which time the mansion and furnishings were donated to the Historical Society.

Limestone blocks quarried in Minnesota were used for the Ramsey House.

Limestone blocks quarried in Minnesota were used for the Ramsey House.

A gallery of Irvine Park sights. Click on any image to enlarge.

This is a mailbox for USPS mail carriers. It’s called a relay box and is used by letter carriers to leave packages and mail for later delivery by another postal worker. The elements have faded this relay box from its original olive drab color.

This is a mailbox for USPS mail carriers. It’s called a relay box and is used by letter carriers to leave packages and mail for later delivery by another postal worker. The elements have faded this relay box from its original olive drab color.

The Little Sisters of the Poor began in Saint Paul in 1883 when Bishops Thomas Grace and John Ireland saw the need to for housing for poor elderly residents of the city. That resulted in the creation of Saint Paul’s Little Sisters of the Poor home in 1883.  Today the Little Sisters of the Poor Residence provides assisted living facilities at 330 Exchange street.

The Little Sisters of the Poor began in Saint Paul in 1883 when Bishops Thomas Grace and John Ireland saw the need to for housing for poor elderly residents of the city. That resulted in the creation of Saint Paul’s Little Sisters of the Poor home in 1883. Today the Little Sisters of the Poor Residence provides assisted living facilities at 330 Exchange Street.

The Jeanine Jugan Apartments, a part of The Little Sisters of the Poor facilities, houses low income senior citizens.

The Jeanine Jugan Apartments, a part of The Little Sisters of the Poor facilities, houses low-income senior citizens. You’ll find it at the corner of Exchange and Elm Streets.

Elm Street, according to City records, was the western boundary of the Town of Saint Paul when it was established in November 1849.

Elm Street, according to City records, was the western boundary of the Town of Saint Paul when it was established in November 1849.

John Gladis in front of his home at 170 McBoal Street.

John Gladis in front of his duplex at 170 McBoal Street.

It was close to 8:30 and the cloud-filtered sun was dimming. That meant time to start my trip home. However John Gladis was moving a recycling bin in front of his McBoal Street house as I rode up. We struck up a conversation, the topic of which turned to his duplex. When John bought the house in March 2005 its condition was “Terrible. I brought it back to life. It was neglected for, I would say, easy 50 years.”

John told me he’s been fixing up the house almost since he bought it and he’s still not done. He estimates he’s put in between 2400 to 2600 hours (300 to 325 days at eight hours per!) renovating the house. He called it, “Ten rooms of gutting and starting over.”

Ramsey County records indicate 170 McBoal Street dates to 1900, but John suspects the house was built in 1882 based upon relics he found during renovation. “I have an old summer kitchen which still has the chimney there. Underneath that I found, I don’t know if you call them artifacts or just things, but I found an old pop bottle…and then an early toothbrush I think was made of bone.”

Two of the bottles John Gladis uncovered beneath his home.

One of the bottles John Gladis uncovered beneath his home.

John brought me into his home and showed me the results of his vast remodeling project. He talked about the neighborhood and Irvine Park, the park. “It’s pretty tight-knit. Everybody walks. Irvine Park helps. It’s not a child’s park; it’s for the adults. It’s just where you can meander and gather. It’s just kind of a little gathering pot for the whole little neighborhood. “

I burned more than an hour of John’s time, it was approaching 10 p.m. and dark, so now it really was time to go. I normally don’t ride this late so I texted my wife, Sue, to let her know all was well and that I was on the way back. I wasn’t surprised to find she wasn’t the least bit worried. I come back from nearly every ride excited to share with her my latest sagas and tonight was no different.

Click the link to see a map of the ride into Downtown and Irvine Park.

Map http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/321068035

1Larry Craig was a U.S. Senator from Idaho when he was arrested in a men’s room sex sting at Twin Cities International Airport in June 2007 and charged with disorderly conduct.

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