October 10, 2013
(Southern) Highland Park 11.1 miles
St. Paul Avenue is a diagonal route through the heart of Highland Park, from Cleveland Avenue on the north to Edgcumbe Road to the south. There St. Paul Avenue turns east and travels about half a mile to West 7th, where it ends. According to “The Street Where You Live” by Donald Empson, St. Paul Avenue opened in 1925 to provide a truck route to the Ford plant. It is curious that City fathers chose this particular street to wear the City’s moniker. For one thing, St. Paul Avenue extends only slightly more than a mile and a half. Second, it travels through only a small southern part of one section of the City.
Much of this part of Highland Park was developed beginning in the early 1950s by Len, Charles and Norbert Bisanz and several streets were named after family members.
The rapid construction of homes in this part of the City, sparked by the post-World World II baby boom, also created the need for new schools. Highland Park Elementary was the first, in 1952. Six years later, Highland Park Junior High, (now Highland Park Middle School) opened on the southwest corner of Snelling and Montreal Avenues.
Highland Park Senior High welcomed its first students in 1964, as baby boomers swelled the high school ranks. Highland Park High is immediately south of and connected to the Middle School, and in fact the schools share one cafeteria.
Traveling past Highland Park High School on Snelling, you’d be hard pressed to miss the old school-house sitting right in front. Perhaps the two school buildings are an allegory for the transformation of our educational system over nearly 140 years.
When the one room school-house opened in 1871 as Webster School near the corner of Randolph and Snelling, the area wasn’t even part of Saint Paul. Six years later, that section of Reserve Township was annexed and the school was renamed Mattocks School, in honor of the Reverend John Mattocks, Saint Paul Schools Superintendent from 1860 through 1872.
In 1964, Mattocks School was taken apart, stone by stone, moved to the HPHS grounds and reassembled in the same meticulous way.
And that brings us to the present and my fortuitous meeting with Carmen Lundberg, the HPHS Spanish teacher who has taught in the former Mattocks School building for 22 years. “I always was captivated by this room. And it used to be a classroom for special Ed and I talked to the teacher who taught here and I said, ‘Would it be possible if we trade rooms.’ I used to teach on the third floor and she said, ‘Not at all. We can switch.’”
As you can see, the interior of Carmen’s classroom looks fantastic, something she says hasn’t always been true. “So I started here and it was really pretty much run down then. Since then it’s been repainted and they redid the floors with marine varnish like three years ago. It’s just wonderful. It has a sense of home, a homey kind of feel. “
Carmen added, “It’s very peaceful and we have wonderful light and cross ventilation and it’s big enough that you can do things and in the spring time we’ll go outside and do reading and activities.”
Occasionally winter weather, said Carmen, causes challenges for her and her students. “Last winter, one day I couldn’t even get into the door because the snow had snow drifts up to my head so I had to wait until they cleared the way so I could come in.”
Carmen’s historic classroom is justifiably popular, especially with the freshmen. “Usually ninth graders come in and they are perplexed. They go ‘Ohhhhh…’ But yeah, I tell them it’s an old building and a historical building and so we need to take care of it. Everybody that comes in just loves it.”
I suggested to Carmen that she might want to keep quiet about the advantages of her classroom until she retires and she replied, “I’m close to retirement so maybe somebody would come and make me an offer I can’t refuse.” Followed by a hearty laugh.
Next stop, Sibley Manor Apartments, West 7th Street and Maynard Avenue.
The first tenants moved into Sibley Manor in the early 1950s. Many were Korean War vets and their families. In the 60s, airport and airline employees lived at Sibley Manor because of its convenient location. A few early Minnesota Twins players, like Billy Martin and Zoilo Versalles, rented apartments, according to a story in the July 2011 edition of the Community Reporter newspaper.
Sibley Manor is a deceptively large apartment complex that is three blocks deep and wide. From West 7th Street, Sibley Manor appears to be a few three-story red brick and white stucco buildings.The trip south along West Maynard Drive and back on East Maynard Drive gave me a better but still incomplete picture of the size of the campus.
All told, there are roughly 2,000 residents and about 550 apartments in 55 buildings at Sibley Manor. Many of the tenants are recent immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and other east African nations. Others have come from Russia and South America, creating an ethnic amalgam.
Moving west along Stewart Avenue I spotted a large, all but empty parking lot. The type and condition of the vehicles parked here-a trailer and three old cars in the far corner-made me think it was being used as a storage area.
With better care, the three cars, a 1963 Dodge 300, a 1973 Buick Electra 225 and a 1976 Buick Electra 225, would be a car lover’s dream. Instead, they sit, slowly succumbing to the elements.
This now vacant corporate campus at 2751 Shepard Road has an interesting and controversial past. In 1956 the building opened as Sperry-UNIVAC, a division of the Sperry Rand Corporation. Employees designed and built computers for the military and government, including NASA and the FAA.
According to documents in the Hagley Library in Wilmington, DE, the U.S. Navy used UNIVAC computers for NIKE intercept missile guidance systems and for communications during Apollo space missions. Design and manufacture of fast, powerful computers for the defense industry continued through a 1979 name change to Sperry Corporation.
Protests against defense contractors became common in the early 1980s. On October 1st, 1983, those protests came here when a couple dozen women set up a peace camp on the west end of Sperry property.
Eventually, the anti-war activists were forced to move their camp off Sperry property and onto adjacent Minnesota Department of Transportation land along Gannon Road.
More than 80 people were arrested as the well-publicized protests continued for exactly a year. The tents, picket lines and signs all came down on September 30, 1984, but not without a final flurry of activity.
In 1986, about the time of the 30th anniversary of the Shepard Road plant’s opening, Sperry Corporation merged with Pennsylvania-based Burroughs Corporation (which led to one of the early MBA-invented, nonsensical company names-Unisys.) It may not have been apparent at the time, but the merger also continued the decline in importance of the 2751 Shepard facility as employees and products lines were shifted to other Unisys plants.
Unisys sold much of its defense business, including this campus, to Loral Defense Systems in 1995. The change in ownership gave short-lived hope to workers but Loral’s July 1995 plant closing announcement quickly ended the optimism and the facility’s 40 year involvement in the defense industry. One hundred seventy production workers were laid off and between 75 and 100 non-production employees were transferred to a Loral plant in Eagan.
The large building sat without a main tenant for a couple of years before it was renovated into office space, which was gobbled up by several U.S. Bancorp departments. Officially known as the U.S. Bank RiverBank Business Center, the corporate campus housed human resources, IT, credit and product management employees from 1998 until late 2010. At the end of the U.S. Bank lease the 1,600 RiverBank Center employees were gradually relocated to a newer building in Richfield. Despite the best efforts of the City of Saint Paul and the building’s owner, a new tenant could not be found.
At the time of my ride, preparations for demolition were underway. As I write this in February, the 320,000 square foot building is virtually gone and site cleanup is underway. While no redevelopment plan for the old Sperry-UNIVAC site has been unveiled, luxury housing may be built.
I can’t think of a better reason to take a day off than for a bike ride on a sunny, unseasonably warm Thursday in October. I freely admit that I’m a ‘fair weather biker’ and I make no apologies for it. I find little pleasure in riding when the temperature descends below the mid-50s. As a result, my riding season can be over with one sharp cold front. As it turned out, this was my last ride for 2013.
Here’s the route of my southern Highland trip: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/copy/347447249/