A Visit to Rondo

July 4, 2014 (Independence Day)

Macalester-Groveland, Rondo (Summi-University), Downtown, Lowertown, Crocus Hill

19.9 miles

Even the Minneapolis Fire Department prefers Saint Paul! 1387 Sargent Avenue.

Even the Minneapolis Fire Department prefers Saint Paul! 1387 Sargent Avenue.

The not-for-profit Express Bike Shop at Selby and Dunlap.

The not-for-profit Express Bike Shop at Selby and Dunlap.

The non-profit Express Bike Shop on Selby Avenue is an excellent example of a business doing good. Staff has been teaching young people how to fix bikes since 1995. Youth interns work with the trained bike mechanics to rehab donated bikes, which are then sold. Interns also learn most aspects of operating a bicycle repair and sales business. Express Bike repairs bikes and carries accessories. Express Bike Shop’s website is http://www.exbike.com/home/.

The bike rack in front of Express Bike.

The bike rack in front of Express Bike.

The wall mural at Express Bike Shop features a compendium of cartoon characters, including Captain Crunch and Mr. Peabody.

The wall mural at Express Bike Shop features a compendium of cartoon characters, including Captain Crunch and Mr. Peabody.

The pedestrian/bike bridge over I-94. The view looks north.

The pedestrian/bike bridge at Chatsworth Street over I-94. This view is to the north.

Most folks are aware that the cavernous valley that is Interstate 94 was for decades the flourishing Rondo neighborhood, home of the majority of Saint Paul’s African American community. From ‘street level’, a look down at the freeway channel makes it blatantly obvious how this large, deep and wide road ruined a neighborhood. A great dealhas been written about how the decision to push I-94 through the heart of Rondo devastated it. Among the books that provide excellent first-hand accounts and the sociological results of uprooting the neighborhood are “Voices of Rondo: Oral Histories of Saint Paul’s Historic Black Community” and “The Days of Rondo.”

Cars speed along I-94.  It's been more than 50 years since the Rondo neighborhood made way for this highway.

Cars speed along I-94. It’s been more than 50 years since the Rondo neighborhood made way for this highway.

The New Birth Baptist Church on Central Avenue and Chatsworth was the Christ Chapel when built.

The New Birth Baptist Church on Central Avenue and Chatsworth was originally called Christ Chapel.

Apparently Christ Chapel, a Pentecostal church, was founded in 1935 and opened this facility a year later. That church, now known as Christ Temple Apostolic Church, is located in Roseville.

Apparently Christ Chapel, a Pentecostal church, was founded in 1935 and opened this facility a year later. That church, now known as Christ Temple Apostolic Church, is located in Roseville.

I admit I’m a bit too fascinated with some of the minutia I spot on my rides. Manhole covers are a perfect example. Still, maybe someone (besides me) is even mildly interested in the fact that manhole covers are dated. This one has graced Central Avenue for nearly 90 years!

I admit I’m a bit too fascinated with some of the minutia I spot on my rides. Manhole covers are a perfect example. Still, maybe someone (besides me) is even mildly interested in the fact that manhole covers are dated. This one has graced Central Avenue for nearly 90 years!

Cell phone coverage is important but putting a large tower on the playground of a school? I bet money factored in to this phone tower reaching skyward at Maxfield Elementary.

Cell phone coverage is important but putting a large tower on the playground of a school? I bet money factored in to this phone tower reaching skyward at Maxfield Elementary. The picture was shot from Avon Street, just south of Central.

Established in 1863, Pilgrim Baptist Church was the first congregation for African Americans in Minnesota.

Established in 1863, Pilgrim Baptist Church was the first congregation for African-Americans in Minnesota.

Pilgrim Baptist Church is the first of two houses of worship I visited on this ride that are intimately connected with the settlement of African-Americans in Saint Paul. Pilgrim Baptist, Saint Paul’s first congregation formed by African-Americans, has roots dating to 1863(1) when a group of about 50 escaped slaves, including the Rev. Robert Hickman, came north from Missouri. The former slaves officially formed Pilgrim Baptist Church in November 1866. Although the congregation was black, it would be 12 years and two white ministers before Rev. Hickman finally became the minister at the church he helped start.(2)

The church at 732 Central Avenue West is the third building for the Pilgrim Baptist congregation. The first two were located Downtown.

The church at 732 Central Avenue West is the third building for the Pilgrim Baptist congregation. The first two were located Downtown.

An addition stretches south and east from the original church building.

An addition stretches south and east from the original church building.

Pilgrim Baptist has a thriving community garden on church property.

There is a thriving community garden on church property.

pilgrim baptist garden 1

pilgrim baptist garden 2

pilgrm baptist garden 3

pilgrim baptist garden 4

A modest nod to the Fourth but an A for effort.

A modest nod to the Fourth but an A for effort.

The main entrance to St. James A.M.E. Church, the second oldest African-American church in the City, is but a block east of Pilgrim Baptist.

The main entrance to St. James A.M.E. Church, the second oldest African-American church in the City, is but two blocks east of Pilgrim Baptist.

St. James A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church, on Central Avenue at Dale, is just two blocks east of Pilgrim Baptist. The churches share similarities besides being in the same neighborhood. St. James was formed by a small group of African-American settlers who met in a one room house in the mid-to-late 1800s, although there is disagreement about exactly when.

st.james ame 2

St. James A.M.E. Church.

And like Pilgrim, the St. James congregation remains active in Rondo and beyond. Designed by notable architect Cap Wigington, the foundation of the current church was completed and dedicated in 1924. Money woes and World War II prevented construction of the superstructure of St. James until 1948-24 years after the basement.(3)

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James' previous site (below) and completion of this building.

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James’ previous site (below) and completion of this building.

The captions on the cornerstones reflect the time at St. James' previous site (below) and completion of this building.

St. James parishioners add the cornerstone to the church, circa 1948. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

There is a considerable amount of subsidized housing in this small section of Rondo. These housing complexes were built in the name of ‘urban renewal’ during or shortly after the destruction of hundreds of single family homes in Rondo. There remains a great need for affordable housing in Saint Paul, but many studies have shown it is beneficial to mix housing for lower-income residents in all parts of the city.

The Malcom Shabbaz Apartments (named for the African-American leader commonly known as Malcom X) are 73 units of affordable rentals at 586 Central Avenue. Originally called Jamestown Homes, the complex was sold last summer and a major rehabilitation of interiors and exteriors is planned for 2016.

The Malcolm Shabbaz Apartments (named for the African-American leader commonly known as Malcolm X) are 73 units of affordable rentals at 586 Central Avenue. Originally called Jamestown Homes, the complex was sold last summer and a major rehabilitation of interiors and exteriors is planned for 2016.

Central Hi-Rise at 554 Central Avenue West.

Central Hi-Rise at 554 Central Avenue West.

It is not an understatement to say I intensely dislike much of the 1960s and ‘70s architecture. I’m not sure why that style, used on many government and educational buildings, known as Brutalism, is so stark and impersonal, but perhaps it’s an expression of societal turmoil of the era. The Central Hi-Rise apartment building is a rare exception to the architectural despair, especially in public housing. First, it’s hexagonal shape-apparently a one-of-a-kind in St. Paul-is much more stylish than the usual cement rectangles of most of the buildings built during this period. Secondly, the variety of geometric play of the Central Hi-Rise is easy to spot and it changes depending upon angle from which the building his viewed.

The outward facing balconies create an interesting pattern

The outward facing balconies create an interesting pattern

Central Hi-Rise features a balcony for every apartment.

Central Hi-Rise features a balcony for every apartment.

The Central Hi-Rise Apartment building is just east of the Malcolm Shabbaz Apartments on Central Avenue. Like the Shabbaz complex, Central Hi-Rise apartments offers affordable rentals.

playground 2

Central Park and Playground has amenities for nearly every age.

Continuing east on Central, I spotted a nice playground and behind it, a good-sized patch of green. An interesting footnote about the playground is that the sign crediting Saturn auto dealers of St. Paul for supporting it remains while not a single Saturn dealer does.

playground 1

This is the only sign about the park and playground I could find along Central Avenue.

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church at 451 Central is another church with a long history in Rondo.)

Mt. Olivet Baptist Church at 451 Central is another church with a long history in Rondo.

Central Avenue ends two blocks to the east, so from there, I wound my way along Western to Fuller and over to Virginia Street. All three streets are primarily lined with single family homes, until the Hanover Townhomes appear on the east side of Virginia. The grounds, small patches of bright green grass interspersed with attractive flower gardens, were well-kept, yet I was pretty certain these townhomes were another low-income complex. The reason is the liberal use of cement and the repetitive design of the complex.

Hanover Townhomes officially has the address of 408 Farrington Street. The  were constructed in 1968 and 1969.

Hanover Townhomes officially has the address of 408 Farrington Street. The were constructed in 1968 and 1969.

The Hanover Townhomes complex may not meet the architectural definition of Brutalism, at the least it shares many of the same traits.

The Hanover Townhomes complex may not meet the architectural definition of Brutalism, at the least it shares many of the same traits.

The preponderance of concrete is broken up by some nice landscaping.

Some nice landscaping breaks up the preponderance of concrete.

The lawns and gardens are a dramatic improvement.

The lawns and gardens are a much better look.

The apartment complex on the east side of Farrington, across the street from Hanover Townhomes, is called Capitol Plaza South.

The apartment complex on the east side of Farrington, across the street from Hanover Townhomes, is called Capitol Plaza South.

The decorative block incorporated into the 1961 building is visual revelry.

The decorative block incorporated into the 1961 building provides some visual revelry.

Birds love the blocks. Many have built nests in them while others just use them to roost.

Birds love the blocks. Many have built nests in them while others just use them to roost.

Capitol Plaza South 3

Look closely and you’ll see about 10 nests and birds hanging out in the blocks.

The Fuller Apartments not surprisingly sit on Fuller Street. Built in 1962 primarily of brick, a nice touch is that cement blocks above the entry of each building are painted a different color.

The suburban-style Sears store as viewed from the east, near Rice Street.

The suburban-style Sears store as viewed from the east, near Rice Street.

The Sears store on Rice Street, just north of I-94, can, and likely has been described by terms such as isolated, bleak, dreary and uninviting, among others. The clouds that gradually rolled over as I rode didn’t improve the look of the building and the 14 acres of land surrounding it.

Before the Interstate and urban renewal in the early 60s, this portion of Rice Street hummed with shoppers going in and out of small businesses.(4)

Shops at the intersection of Rice and Aurora Streets in 1951. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Shops at the intersection of Rice and Aurora Streets in 1951. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The view looking south from the Sears parking lot. The Kelly Inn, home to many state legislators during session, is in the background.

The view looking south from the Sears parking lot. The Kelly Inn, home to many state legislators during session, is in the background.

In early 2013 there were rumblings of redevelopment of this property featuring an apartments, a modern Sears and other stores but the precarious health of the Sears-Kmart parent company has snuffed out those conversations.

The Minnesota Legislative Library, under construction along Rice Street, is one of the three major construction projects underway at the Capitol complex. The others are renovation of the Capitol and the construction of the contentious Senate Office Building.

The Minnesota Legislative Library, under construction along Rice Street, is one of the three major construction projects underway at the Capitol complex. The others are renovation of the Capitol and the construction of the contentious Senate Office Building.

The Colonnade occupies St. Peter Street between East 10th and 11th Streets.

The Colonnade occupies St. Peter Street between East 10th and 11th Streets.

Today it’s the Colonnade Apartments, one of at least five monikers the building has had since being opening in 1889. It was the Renaissance Revival Hotel originally, when several hotels lined St. Peter Street. Other names included the Alexandria Apartments, Rex Am Apartments and the Willard Hotel-twice.(5)

The building was known as the Colonade Apartment Homes when this picture was taken circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The building was known as the Colonade Apartment Homes when this picture was taken circa 1900. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The entrance to the Colonnade Apartments is under the curved awning, to the left of the car. Businesses occupy street level spaces to the right.

The entrance to the Colonnade Apartments is under the curved awning, to the left of the car. Businesses occupy street level spaces to the right.

Multiple fire crews struggle to put out the extensive blaze that killed a maid at the Willard Hotel on December 13, 1955.

Multiple fire crews struggle to put out the extensive blaze that killed a maid at the Willard Hotel on December 13, 1955. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

A tragic fire just before Christmas in 1955 killed a hotel chamber maid and so extensively damaged the building that the top two floors had to be removed. Vestiges of one of those floors remains plainly visible just below the roof.

The rectangular areas just below the roof were windows prior to the 1955 fire.

The rectangular areas just below the roof were windows prior to the 1955 fire.

The newest building at St. Joseph's Hospital is on St. Peter Street.

The newest building at St. Joseph’s Hospital is on St. Peter Street.

Minnesota’s oldest hospital is across St. Peter Street from the Colonnade. Construction of St. Joseph’s Hospital began in 1852 as cholera descended upon Saint Paul. Three men provided the necessary resources for the hospital: Henry Rice donated the land, Bishop Joseph Cretin gave his 10,000 franc inheritance and Anishinabe (Ojibwe) Chief White Cloud supplied the lumber.(6) The cholera outbreak became an epidemic in 1853 but the hospital wasn’t finished so four Catholic sisters/teachers quickly converted the log cabin school-house into an improvised hospital.

Dr. John Fulton and Dr. Charles Wheaton in an operating room at St. Joseph's Hospital in 1906. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

Dr. John Fulton and Dr. Charles Wheaton in an operating room at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1906. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

St. Joseph’s Hospital, a three and a-half story stone building, opened September 20, 1854, with a blessing by Bishop Joseph Cretin, on the same grounds upon which the hospital still stands.(7)

In the mid-1990s Saint Paul’s older hospitals, including St. Joseph’s, faced threats from declining patient counts, health care reform and greater competition. St. Joseph’s corporate owner announced on August 8, 1996 plans to close the hospital in 2000 and open a new St. Joseph’s Hospital in Woodbury. In a surprising reversal, HealthEast Corporation declared in early 1998 that the hospital would remain open after all, to the great delight of the staff and patients of St. Joe’s and Saint Paul supporters.

One of my favorite street names, Temperance Street, is located on the edge of Downtown and Lowertown. An Alcoholic Anonymous club should be located somewhere on Temperance.

One of my favorite street names, Temperance Street, is located on the edge of Downtown and Lowertown. An Alcoholic Anonymous club should be located somewhere on Temperance.

The front of 175 East 9th Street.

The front of 175 East 9th Street. This is reportedly the only single family home in Downtown, according to several real estate websites.

The back of 175 East Recent listings have the 5500-plus square foot home priced just below $3 million!

The back of 175 East 9th. Recent listings have the 5500-plus square foot home priced just below $3 million!

If you can block out the East 7th Street traffic, you can transport yourself to a bygone era. The three buildings on the south side of East 7th between Wacouta and Wall are among the best examples, with their brick work, arched windows and decorative facades.

If you can block out the East 7th Street traffic, you can transport yourself to a bygone era. The three buildings on the south side of East 7th between Wacouta and Wall are among the best examples, with their brick work, arched windows and decorative facades.

I believe the window sign did say “endangered space.” How many walkers have been startled by the life-size animals in the windows?

I believe the window sign did say “endangered space.” How many walkers have been startled by the life-size animals in the windows?

The O’Connor Building, like the two next door, was built in 1888 and has survived more than 125 years nearly intact.

The O’Connor Building, like the two next door, was built in 1888 and has survived more than 125 years nearly intact.

A nearly life-sized sculpture of Kirby Pucket is the only occupant of the first floor of the O’Connor building. The plaque on the base says the sculpture, called “Out of the Park”, was made by Chris Madonna.

A nearly life-sized sculpture of Kirby Pucket is the only occupant of the first floor of the O’Connor building. The plaque on the base says the sculpture, called “Out of the Park”, was made by Chris Madonna.

I have never used Kat-Keys Safe and Lock but the vibe is cool. That cat looks an awful lot like the cartoon cat Felix.

I have never used Kat-Keys Safe and Lock but the vibe is cool. That cat looks an awful lot like the cartoon cat Felix.

Kat-Keys eye-catching window display.

Kat-Keys eye-catching window display.

Rope and tape on these cables-I'm doubtful they meet City codes. Market House Condos, 289 East 5th Street.

Rope and tape on these cables-I’m doubtful they meet City codes. Market House Condos, 289 East 5th Street.

A young girl with a sparkler as mom keeps an eye on her.

A young girl with a sparkler as mom keeps an eye on her in front of the Commerce Building at Eight 4th Street East.

Homeward bound along Grand Avenue at Victoria, I heard a flawlessly played ragtime tune. At first the music seemed to come from one of the businesses inside Victoria Crossing, but as I moved closer, I saw a young man playing a colorful piano on the sidewalk.

Parker Zachman plays one of the "Pianos On Parade" (POP) keyboards at Victoria Crossing.

Parker Zachman plays one of the “Pianos On Parade” (POP) keyboards at Victoria Crossing.

Fifteen-year-old Parker Zachman and his family came to Saint Paul to try Pianos On Parade at the behest of his piano teacher. The piece Parker played as I rode up is a Boogie-woogie tune called ‘Boogie Duet’.

Parker told me he’s played piano for about eight years, “I learned classical when I was young-second and third grade-and it was just boring. I didn’t like practicing classical because classical wasn’t any good until you’re actually able to play the piece after a month of practicing.”

Parker

Parker plays most pieces from memory.

Now, said Parker, he plays almost all his music from memory, “Everything has the same kind of pattern. You just got to know the chords and then after you know what it sounds like, you can kinda play it. So for me, after reading the music and after hearing it, and then I read it again and play it, and after that, if I keep playing it everyday I don’t have to look at the music ever again. So two or three times and I’m good.”

Parker and his family. From left to right, Dad John, Mom Lori, Parker and brother Elliot on top of the car.

Parker and his family. From left to right, Dad John, Mom Laurie, Parker and brother Elliot on top of the car.

Parker publicly performs a couple of times a year, almost always with his piano teacher. This year (2014), at the behest of his teacher, Parker auditioned and was selected to play at the State Fair, “I’m playing, it’s called ‘St. Sam’s March,’ which is a medley of two songs, one being ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’ and the other ‘When the Saints Go Marching In,’ so I said ‘St. Sam’ like Uncle Sam and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ and that’s what I’m playing. I’m going to wear a Stars and Stripes polo and a giant top hat. My piano teacher was saying the State Fair is more about novelty so the more interesting you can make it the better it is.”

Parker treated me to one more Boogie-woogie selection before he and his family had to leave, which was my cue to resume the trip home.

Here is a link to today’s ride.

Footnotes:

  1. Pilgrim Baptist Church website – http://pilgrimbaptistchurch.org/about/history/
  2.  Pilgrim Baptist Church website – http://pilgrimbaptistchurch.org/about/history/
  3. St. James A.M.E. Church website – http://stjamesstpaul.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=2
  4. Historic St. Paul
  5. Ramsey County Historical Society website
  6. HealthEast-St. Joseph’s Hospital website – https://www.healtheast.org/st-josephs-hospital/about/history.html
  7. HealthEast-St. Joseph’s Hospital website – https://www.healtheast.org/st-josephs-hospital/about/history.html

2 thoughts on “A Visit to Rondo

    • Don, I am not sure I know why manhole covers are round but could it have to do with a round cover being unable to fall into the manhole?

      I did come across Central Village in Rondo without realizing the story behind it. Thanks for pointing it out; now I’ll visit again in 2015 and write about it.

      Thanks for commenting Don!

      Like

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