Victoria Park Revisited

The view east all the way to Downtown, the Ecolab Building (formerly The Saint Paul Company Building) and behind it, the Wells Fargo tower.

October 1, 2016

Highland Park, West End (West 7th)

16 miles

Rather than ride the Samuel Morgan Trail that parallels Shepard Road, I slipped into the tranquil Crosby Farm Regional Park for the scenery. I had no plans to stop until I spotted a gaggle of geese along the south shore of Upper Lake. The mooning geese mesmerized me so that I watched and shot pictures for nearly a half hour.

A group moon near shore of Upper Lake in Crosby Farm Regional Park.
A group moon near shore of Upper Lake in Crosby Farm Regional Park.
Mooning geese near the shore of Upper Lake in Crosby Nature Center.
More mooning geese.
Mooning each other?
Mooning each other?

After biking through Crosby Farm Nature Center, I rejoined the Sam Morgan Trail along Shepard Road. Continuing northeast just over a mile to Otto Avenue, I saw an apartment building under construction. Seems like many new apartments and condos are built with similar style and materials.

The V2 Apartments under construction at Otto Avenue and Shepard Road.
The V2 Apartments under construction at Otto Avenue and Shepard Road. V2 is a regrettable name for a building when you consider that V-2 is the name of the Nazi rockets that rained down upon London during World War II.

The four to six story structures are primarily dark brick – brown, maroon or charcoal – with light colored accents of various materials and balconies here and there. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this general design; it’s not off-putting in any way. But in its inoffensiveness comes an intrinsic boredom. Another example of this design aesthetic is the V2 Apartments in the Victoria Park neighborhood at the southwestern corner of Otto Avenue and Shepard Road.

A left turn on Otto and another quick left on a gravel road and there I was, on the other side of the apartments.

Construction equipment was parked in a way to reduce the chance the Bobcat or trailer with the white tank would be stolen. The V2 Apartments are in the background.
Construction equipment was parked in a way to reduce the chance the Bobcat or trailer with the white tank would be stolen. The V2 Apartments are in the background.
Cherry pickers reach for the sky.
Cherry pickers reach for the sky.
A heavy duty roller (technically called a ‘vibratory compactor’ dissuades would-be joy riders from cruising on the unfinished road.
A heavy duty roller (technically called a ‘vibratory compactor’ dissuades would-be joy riders from cruising on the unfinished road.

It’s natural to think of the street grid of Saint Paul as being complete and unchanging. The truth is that small changes – directional adjustments – dead ends added to through streets or dead ends removed to make a through street – occur regularly to accommodate business expansions and traffic flow improvement.

Since the mid-2000s, senior living facilities, apartments, townhomes, a couple of businesses and a school have gradually filled some of the more than 40 acres of open land that was once packed with large oil storage tanks.

In 1970, the tank farms dominated the future Victoria Park neighborhood. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online from the John R. Borchert Map Library
In 1970, the tank farms dominated what would become the Victoria Park neighborhood. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online from the John R. Borchert Map Library

Over the past 15 or so years at least five new streets were platted and built as part of the Victoria Park neighborhood. On this ride I helped myself to an early preview of the newest street, a westward extension of Stewart Avenue.

It’s difficult to tell that this new subdivision and park are surrounded by busy streets and highways. The building on the horizon on the right is the Montreal Hi-Rise located about a mile away on Montreal, just east of Lexington and West 7th Street.
It’s difficult to tell that this new subdivision and park are surrounded by busy streets and highways. The building on the horizon on the right is the Montreal Hi-Rise located about a mile away on Montreal, just east of Lexington and West 7th Street.
Quite a view from what looked to be a bike/walking path next to the V2 Apartments. That’s Shepard Road, and the Mississippi behind it.
Quite a view from what looked to be a bike/walking path next to the V2 Apartments. That’s Shepard Road, and the Mississippi behind it.
Construction to the left of me, Shepard Road and the ADM grain elevator to the right.
Construction to the left of me, Shepard Road and the ADM grain elevator to the right.
Stakes mark a sidewalk or path.
Stakes mark a sidewalk or path.

Because this area was a brownfield, dozens of wells were drilled to monitor the soil. Some of the wells remained.

One of the remaining Minnesota Department of Health soil monitoring wells is wrapped in plastic DayGlo Blaze Orange fence to in an effort to protect it from bulldozers and loaders.
One of the remaining Minnesota Department of Health soil monitoring wells is wrapped in plastic DayGlo Blaze Orange fence to in an effort to protect it from bulldozers and loaders.
This monitoring well was drilled in January 2000 to a depth of 110 feet and remains active at the time of writing, according to the Minnesota Well Index.
This monitoring well was drilled in January 2000 to a depth of 110 feet and remains active at the time of writing, according to the Minnesota Well Index.
A road or path was staked, covered in gravel and sand, and compacted in preparation for asphalt.
A road or path was staked, covered in gravel and sand, and compacted in preparation for asphalt.
Closer to the Mississippi, grading was completed but the layer of gravel and sand hadn’t been put down.
Closer to the Mississippi, grading was completed but the layer of gravel and sand hadn’t been put down.
The graded path ended under a bridge that carries Shepard Road.
The graded path ended under a bridge that carries Shepard Road.
Under the Shepard Road bridge it was obvious I entered a party and painting zone.
Under the Shepard Road bridge it was obvious I entered a party and painting zone.
After the trail toward the Mississippi ended I came upon more signs of partying. My guess is this area remains from the tank farms.
After the trail toward the Mississippi ended I came upon more signs of partying. My guess is this area remains from the tank farms.
I have no idea what caused the odd bubbling in this backwater area between the Mississippi River and shore but it was very strange. Note the soil monitoring well to the middle right.
Going back up to Victoria Park.
Going back up to Victoria Park.

Prior to the decades as Koch Refinery and Mobil Oil storage tank farms, at least part of the land was the St. Paul Crushed Stone Company quarry. As the company’s name suggests, most of the Platteville limestone quarried here was crushed and used for paving streets in Saint Paul and elsewhere.

The company’s land was described in the 1935 edition of the U of M’s Minnesota Geological Survey Bulletin Architectural, Structural, and Monumental Stones of Minnesota this way: “The St. Paul Crushed Stone Company controls a large acreage and operates on an extensive scale. The quarry is located on a rock terrace one hundred feet above the river.”

An interesting side story I stumbled upon is the small but important role the St. Paul Crushed Stone Company played in a highly publicized mid-1910s’ construction project in Minneapolis. The Twin City Motor Speedway was a two mile concrete oval race track with seating for 100,000 spectators that was supposed to be the Twin Cities version of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 1915 edition of Stone, a publication “devoted to the quarrying and cutting of stone for architectural uses,” noted that the St. Paul Crushed Stone Company won the contract to supply $50,000 (nearly $1.25 million today!) of crushed stone for the base of the speedway track. At the time it was the largest contract ever for crushed stone in Saint Paul.

At least two of the people behind the famous Indianapolis track in 1914 selected Minnesota for their second auto racing venue, according to “The Twin City Motor Speedway,” written by Alvin W. Waters for the Winter 2007–08 edition of Minnesota History. The article goes on to say that the Minneapolis developers of the track purchased more than 340 acres of farm land just west of Fort Snelling.

The June 27, 1915 Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Tribune trumpets the construction work necessary to have the Twin City Speedway ready for its September 4 inaugural race.
The June 27, 1915 Sunday edition of the Minneapolis Tribune trumpets the construction work that was put in to get the Twin City Speedway ready for its September 4 inaugural race.

Construction of the two mile concrete oval track began in late spring of 1915, only a few months before the inaugural 500 mile Labor Day weekend race. To call the pace of construction frantic is a serious understatement. The Minnesota History article says 1,500 workers worked each day to complete construction in time for the September 4 race.

The cover of the official program of the September 4, 1915 500 mile race at Twin City Speedway. Courtesy progcovers.com
The cover of the official program of the September 4, 1915 500 mile race at Twin City Speedway. Courtesy progcovers.com

I had not heard of the Twin City Motor Speedway prior to my research for this post, which might be a clue as to how grand a failure the track was. “The Twin City Motor Speedway” article claims that a mere 14 drivers entered the race, far fewer than expected. The drivers weren’t the only group that organizers overestimated. Only 28,000 spectators – 28 percent of capacity – watched the event.

Most of the stories recapping the September 4 race were very complementary despite the many problems.

Adding to the problems was the track itself. The rough concrete surface, as the Sunday, September 5 Minneapolis Tribune reported, “sent most of the cars frequently to the pits for tire changes.” As a result, the average speed of the cars was only 86.5 miles an hour, so it took drivers nearly six long hours to finish.

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not another race was ever held at Twin City Motor Speedway. There is no dispute that speedway owners were in financial trouble and promised improvements to the concrete track were never made.

In this aerial view of the Twin City Motor Speedway area from about 1920, the two mile concrete oval is about all that remains. The grandstands, pits and other structures had been removed as part of the transition to an air field. Notice the runway in the center of the picture. Courtesy Hennepin County Library

By 1920, the property had been purchased by a corporation to build an airfield named Speedway Field, renamed Wold-Chamberlain Field in 1923, and ultimately, MSP International Airport. 

Back at Victoria Park, there are several ruins from past industrial uses of this land.

Part of a wall or steps stand amongst the weeds and bushes.
Part of a wall or steps stand among the weeds and bushes.
Concrete supports or bases remain from a previous use.
Concrete supports or bases remain from a previous use.
The biggest artifact of past industrial use is this concrete structure. I could find no indication of what these remains are from.
The biggest artifact of past industrial use is this concrete structure. I could find no indication of what these remains are from.

Victoria Park is not just buildings and streets. The western portion is a park bisected by some railroad tracks where paved and crushed stone paths meandered through.

The railroad bridge over one of the paths through park.
The railroad bridge over one of the paths through park.
The view north from atop the railroad bridge. The structures from left to right are an apartment building on Adrian Street, the A hiking/biking path, Mississippi Market, the Shalom Home East campus (center) and Nova Classical Academy.
The view north from atop the railroad bridge. The structures from left to right are an apartment building on Adrian Street, the A hiking/biking path, Mississippi Market, the Shalom Home East campus (center) and Nova Classical Academy.
Again from the bridge, now looking northwest, a large prairie.
Again from the bridge, now looking northwest, a large prairie.
Southeast, the unfinished paths through the park.
Southeast, the unfinished paths through the park.
The view east all the way to Downtown, the Ecolab Building (formerly The Saint Paul Company Building) and behind it, the Wells Fargo tower.
The view east all the way to Downtown, the Ecolab Building (formerly The Saint Paul Company Building) and behind it, the Wells Fargo tower.
Flowers still bloomed and bees continued to pollinate on a warm October afternoon.
Flowers still bloomed and bees continued to pollinate on a warm October afternoon.
While mere feet away, fall was on display.
While mere feet away, fall was on display.

After finishing the exploration of Victoria Park it was onward to the Schmidt Artist Lofts along West 7th Street. There I took a quick look at the shuttered Minnesota Brewing Rathskeller building.

Minnesota Brewing – gone but not forgotten.
Minnesota Brewing – gone but not forgotten.
Although shuttered in 2002, this remnant of Minnesota Brewing remained undisturbed for 14 years.
Although shuttered in 2002, this remnant of Minnesota Brewing remained undisturbed for 14 years.

Slightly more than half a mile northeast of the Rathskeller building is Nugent Street. It’s unusual in that it has always been a short block-long street. At 276 Nugent Street there was an amazing renovation in progress. The City of Saint Paul and others went to great lengths to save this house.

The house, built in 1880 in the West End, was already quite an improvement from how the house looked on Google Maps in 2009. By 2014, 276 Nugent was listed among Saint Paul properties most likely candidates for demolition. Project for Pride in Living purchased 276 Nugent in late 2015 and almost miraculously restored it. The property was sold in March 2018 for more than $226,000.
The house, built in 1880 in the West End, was already mightily improved from how it looked on Google maps in 2009.
276 Nugent Street as it looked in 2009, prior to renovation. Courtesy Google Maps
276 Nugent Street as it looked in 2009, prior to renovation. Courtesy Google Maps

By 2014, 276 Nugent was listed among Saint Paul properties most likely candidates for demolition. Project for Pride in Living purchased 276 Nugent in late 2015 and almost miraculously restored it. The property was sold in March 2018 for more than $226,000.

That completed the October 1st ride and the 2016 bike season. Here’s the map of this ride.

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