Gary and Marcus have a four car garage which Marcus called, “perfect for parking both of our cars as well as pots, potting soil, overwintering plants.”

Como Mingling

July 2, 2019

Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway, Como Park

Living in the southwestern part of Saint Paul means I almost always have to ride east, north, or both, and so it was with this ride to the Como Park neighborhood.

Chair-ity at 1645 Charles Avenue.
Chair-ity at 1645 Charles Avenue.

From the pause at Charles, I moved almost due north along Fry Street until Taylor Avenue, where I was effectively forced to turn. (Fry dead ends half a block north of Taylor because of the limited access to Pierce Butler Route.) Pedaling one block east on Taylor and I was at Snelling, one of the busiest and least bike-friendly streets in Saint Paul.

Photo courtesy Google Maps
Photo courtesy Google Maps

At this spot there are two options; take the risk of riding north on Snelling a half mile from Taylor over Pierce Butler and two sets of railroad tracks to the off ramp to Como Avenue, all the while vehicles whip past at 40 miles per hour or faster. The much safer but much longer route is to continue east along Taylor to Hamline Avenue, then go north over multiple railroad tracks to Energy Park Drive, east to Lexington, and north to Como Avenue. The disadvantage is its about a mile and a half longer.

Being inherently lazy I chose the Snelling Avenue route, which I regretted almost immediately. It’s an understatement to call vehicles whipping past at 40 miles per hour or faster disconcerting. I considered taking pictures to better explain this but knew the smartest move was to get off Snelling as quickly as I could.

Many windows have been broken out of the back (south) side of the old Sholom Home East building.
Many windows have been broken out of the back (south) side of the old Sholom Home East building.

After exiting Snelling I continued north a couple of blocks to Canfield Avenue and the former Sholom Home East campus that is in shockingly bad condition. The four building complex occupies one city block and one of Saint Paul’s most visible corners on Snelling Avenue, across  from the main entrance of the State Fair. Since the building at 1554 Midway Parkway closed in 2009 several plans for redevelopment have fallen through because of a lack of funding. Meanwhile, the building falls apart and the grounds deteriorate, victimized by neglect and vandalism.

While the buildings don’t look quite as bad from this angle the grounds have been ignored.
While the buildings don’t look quite as bad from this angle there’s no question the grounds have been ignored.
Clearly this sign did little to discourage people from vandalizing the building.
Clearly this sign did little to discourage people from vandalizing the building.
After years of neglect, bushes grow out of control on the west (Snelling Avenue) side of the property. Not a good look for those who go to the State Fair.
After years of neglect, bushes grow out of control on the west (Snelling Avenue) side of the property. Not a good look for those who go to the State Fair.
This is the original building opened in the early 1920s. At that time the facility was known as the Jewish Home.
This is the original building opened in the early 1920s. At that time the facility was known as the Jewish Home for the Aged.
This is the original building opened in the early 1920s. At that time the facility was known as the Jewish Home.
The original Jewish Home for the Aged building about 1925. Photo by Norton & Peel. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

A couple of nearby streets are peculiarly aligned. McKinley Street is basically a two block-long thoroughfare and it’s the northern block that is oddly laid out. As you can see below, McKinley actually becomes Holton Street at Arlington going north for 10 or so feet and then reappears to the west. McKinley then diagonally bisects the block bounded Holton on the east and Pascal to the west.

McKinley runs diagonally between Pascal Street on the west and Holton Street to the east. Courtesy Google Maps
McKinley runs diagonally between Pascal Street on the west and Holton Street to the east. Courtesy Google Maps
Surprisingly, the block in question of McKinley Street has been a diagonal between Holton and Pascal.
Surprisingly, the block in question of McKinley Street has been a diagonal between Holton and Pascal since at least 1916. Lake Como & Phalen Avenue is now Arlington Avenue.

This street alignment resulted in the unusual intersection and signage.

There’s the peculiar double intersections of McKinley Street and Arlington Avenue and Holton and McKinley.
Here is the peculiar double intersections of McKinley Street and Arlington Avenue and Holton and McKinley.

Many of Saint Paul’s residential lots, including those in this chunk of Como, are between 40 and 50 feet wide and about 125 feet deep. A couple of the homes here use their lots in unusual ways.

1537 Albert Street is set waaaay back near the alley. Other houses on the block have the more usual placement close to the sidewalk.
1537 Albert Street is set waaaay back near the alley. Other houses on the block have the more usual placement close to the sidewalk.
From the alley, the unusual placement of 1537 Albert is clear. The blue car was sitting in the driveway.
From the alley, the unusual placement of 1537 Albert is clear. The blue car was sitting in the driveway.
The house at 1529 Sheldon Street is in a very similar spot on the lot.
The house at 1529 Sheldon Street is in a very similar spot on the lot.
1529 Sheldon abuts the alley much like the Albert Street house.
1529 Sheldon abuts the alley much like the Albert Street house.

The Victorian home and its gravel driveway and large lot at 1371 Nebraska Avenue.
The Victorian home and its gravel driveway and large lot at 1371 Nebraska Avenue.

There is nothing like an unanticipated discovery. Today it was seeing the copula-capped Victorian house on Nebraska Avenue at Sheldon Street. Oriented with its front porch and entrance facing the east rather than Nebraska Avenue like neighboring homes, 1371 Nebraska, best known as the George H. and Hannah Hazzard house for its original occupants, was built about 1870. With its semicircular gravel driveway, large lot and abundant trees and bushes, I felt as if I had been transported to a country farmstead.

The front porch and entrance to 1371 Nebraska, on the left, face the side of 1359 Nebraska, on the right.
The front porch and entrance to 1371 Nebraska, on the left, face the side of 1359 Nebraska, on the right.

Circumstantial evidence suggests the front yard once went all the way to Hamline Avenue, a plausible explanation for its east-facing entrance. Plat maps available online don’t confirm this but I found a late 18th century reference to the home’s address being 1511 Hamline Avenue North.

The three properties to the east of 1371 Nebraska. Hamline Avenue is on the opposite side of the building with the red awnings.
The three properties to the east of 1371 Nebraska. Hamline Avenue is on the opposite side of the building with the red awnings.
The south side of the house, facing Nebraska Avenue.
The south side of the George H. and Hannah Hazzard house, facing Nebraska Avenue.

The property and the Hazzards have a long and fascinating history. Accounts differ as to whether Hannah (Hoyt) Hazzard and George Hazzard were given the 10 acre property by Hannah’s brother, Lorenzo Hoyt, as a wedding gift or if they purchased it from him. No matter, George and Hannah Hazzard had the Italianate-style house built in the early 1870s. At that time the house had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. (Both were added to the home in the early 1900s, long after Hannah and George had moved out.)

The cupola was an original feature of the Hazzard home and remained at least into 1910. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
The cupola was an original feature of the Hazzard home and remained at least into 1910. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
For many years the home was without the cupola. The Park Bugle newspaper says Ron Dorumsgaard built a replacement cupola in 2004. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
For many years the home was without the cupola. The Park Bugle newspaper says Ron Dorumsgaard built a replacement cupola in 2004. Undated photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

After the Hazzards sold the home, it changed hands several times through 1950, according to the May 1991 Park Bugle newspaper. Como Presbyterian Church bought the home in 1950 and used it until 1958 when it was sold again. About 1951 the Hazzard Home was split into a duplex and gradually deteriorated. And so it went until 1986 when, according to the Park Bugle, Ron Dorumsgaard and his mother purchased the property. They returned the Hazzard home to its original glory, ultimately turning the Victorian beauty into the Como Villa bed and breakfast. Information is sparse, but some years later, Como Villa closed and the home was again sold.

As for Hannah (Hoyt) Hazzard, she (and her brother Lorenzo) were part of the influential early Saint Paul Hoyt family, from which Hoyt Avenue draws its name. Their father, Benjamin Hoyt, was a Methodist minister, one of the founders of Hamline University and a prolific investor in real estate.

George H. Hazzard in 1889. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
George H. Hazzard in 1889. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

George Hazzard, meanwhile, had a far less comfortable upbringing than his bride. After the death of George’s father when George was four, his mother raised him and his two sisters. The family moved to Winona, then the Taylors Falls area where George formed a deep love of the Dalles of the St. Croix. Several years later they relocated to Saint Paul, where George found success unloading barges.

As a Ramsey County commissioner he led the effort to create a permanent spot for the Minnesota State Fairgrounds on what was the county’s Poor Farm.

Hazzard’s lobbying efforts resulted in the creation of Interstate State Park in both Minnesota in 1895 and Wisconsin in 1900, protecting in perpetuity his beloved Dalles of the St. Croix from development. Interstate State Park was the first in the nation operated by two states.

Back on the road, or street, Sheldon Street to be precise, was a garden loom, something that was unknown to me prior to this stop.

The Sheldon Street Garden Loom. An interesting but apparently underused diversion at 1474 Sheldon.
The Sheldon Street Garden Loom. An interesting but apparently underused diversion at 1474 Sheldon.
A project using cloth and vines had been started.
A project using cloth and vines had been started.

I continued the journey south on Sheldon which ended at Frankson Avenue. Taking a right on Frankson I almost immediately came upon a grand fence that framed a luxuriously landscaped yard.

I’ve included many gardens in the blog because of the nearly endless variety, style and quality of the plots. From the sidewalk the view of this yard at Frankson and Hamline was even more splendid, bursting with color from many dozens of flowers precisely placed in gardens and pots around the yard.

Another look at 1359 Hamline from Frankson Avenue.
Another look at 1359 Hamline from Frankson Avenue.

Marcus Phelps-Munson was playing with his dog Nina as I peered through the fence. I complemented him on the garden and we chatted for a few moments before he invited me in for a tour.

Marcus Phelps-Munson and Nina spend a great deal of time playing and working in their lavish back yard.
Marcus Phelps-Munson and Nina spend a great deal of time playing and working in their lavish back yard.
Gary Epperley enjoys a glass of wine in the yard he and Marcus meticulously attend to. Photo courtesy Marcus Phelps-Munson
Gary Epperley enjoys a glass of wine in the yard he and Marcus meticulously attend to. Photo courtesy Marcus Phelps-Munson

Marcus and his husband Gary Epperley, moved from Sammamish, Washington, near Seattle, to 1359 Hamline Avenue (at Frankson) in the winter of 2017 when Gary took a job at 3M.

Not surprisingly, Marcus said the cold winter is the biggest difference between Washington and Saint Paul. Gardening here, said Marcus, is another thing he and Gary are adjusting to. “We needed to live through it for a year to see what was there (in the yard.) This year we’re slowly doing some things.

“There was arborvitae all around the perimeter (of the yard.) But a dog does not respect arborvitae, especially on a main road where people go biking by or walking by with all their dogs. She would want to run out and say hello to everyone.”

Marcus solved the problem by designing a wooden fence with alternating panels of solid and lattice, which replaced the arborvitae in September of 2018. “This allows us to be out here and just like when you went by, interact with the neighborhood, still be in our yard, but be able to talk and invite people up.”

Lilies that Marcus and Gary relocated to another garden.
Lilies that Marcus and Gary relocated from another garden.

“I love the neighborhood,” continued Marcus. “The people out here are even friendlier than they were out in Washington, which is nice. Gardening was a little easier out there and I’m learning what you can grow and what you can’t grow.”

Marcus likes to push boundaries with his gardening. “I’ve always had a certain amount of zonal denial. We’ll try to grow things there that you can’t. A lot of the older homes have a small sunroom that is part of the house. I utilize that room to overwinter a lot of different things and started some seeds in there too.”

Gary and Marcus have a four car garage which Marcus called, “perfect for parking both of our cars as well as pots, potting soil, overwintering plants.”
Gary and Marcus have a four car garage which Marcus called, “perfect for parking both of our cars as well as pots, potting soil and overwintering plants.”

Marcus explained, “We have some large purple datura and brugmansias that I’ve started from seed. I collected those brugmansia seeds when we went to France last year. We stopped at a park and in that park was a beautiful brugmansia plant that had some seed pods hanging off of it. So I collected a seed pod. I started those seeds this year and the plants are out here.”

Berggenia or “pigsqueak” plants that Gary and Marcus brough with them from Washington.
Bergenia or “pigsqueak” plants that Gary and Marcus brought with them from Washington.

One of the plants that Marcus and Gary brought from Washington is Bergenia. “It’s common name is pigsqueak because when the leaves rub against one another they make sort of a squeak. This variegated version we found when we were out plant hunting when we lived in Washington state.”

“A lot of times when I get plants. I will leave them in their pot and move them around prior to planting. It’s so much easier to move it when it’s still in the pot. So I get a feel for where it wants to be. It lets me know if it’s happy there. You listen to the plants, they’ll tell you.”

Marcus strives to layer plants from front to back, with different height plants and to maximize blooms throughout the growing season.

A major draw for Gary and Marcus they live across Hamline Avenue from Como Park. It didn’t take Marcus long to find the Como Conservatory, from which he’s gotten plants. “They periodically will sell different plants that they’re getting rid of. They have a really nice bromeliad collection that in the winter, they tend to thin out. They’ve grown beautifully, and naturally they spend the winter inside. Some people like to summer on the coast. Well, they summer out here on the patio.”

A corner of the gardens next to the garage is dedicated to vegis.
A corner of the gardens next to the garage is dedicated to veggies.
The Wolf Woods at Como Zoo are across Hamline Avenue and behind the line of trees. The photo was taken in the front yard of Marcus and Gary's house.
The Como Zoo wolves live across Hamline Avenue and just beyond the trees. The photo is from Gary and Marcus’s front yard.

Despite the proximity of their house to Como Park and Zoo, it’s rare for Marcus or Gary to hear much from either. “We do hear the occasional sound from the amusement park. Sometimes you’ll hear the kids squealing which is kind of nice.”

“In winter if I’m out here, I will hear people taunting the wolves because the wolf enclosure is directly across. In fact, we can see them from our living room in the winter because the trees have dropped their leaves.”

Planters with many varieties of foliage decorate the patio.
Planters with many varieties of foliage decorate the patio during the warm weather.

Right now the yard is more about work than leisure, according to Marcus. “Once we get things a little bit more established and down then yes, we’ll spend some more time on the patio.” But he added, “Sundays, we open up a bottle of wine and we’ll sit out here on the swinging bench and enjoy the area, talk with people as they go by.”

Marcus got the gardening bug when he was young. His first gardening memory is from when he was about five and living in West Palm Beach, Florida. “I wanted to put a little garden in the backyard and I dug out a small patch of dirt back there. I remember that I had planted lima beans up against a cyclone fence that the neighbor had so it was a perfect thing for lima beans to climb on and they did very well. Why I planted lima beans I have absolutely no idea because it’s one of the very few things I really don’t like!”

While taking their gardening seriously, Gary and Marcus have added a touch of frivolity to their garden – in the form of dinosaurs.

Two dinosaurs look at home among the ferns in this garden.
Two dinosaurs look at home among the ferns in this garden.
The T. rex shares a pot with the carnivorous Sarracenia Scarlet Belle, a plant with flashy red and white traps.
A Tyrannosaurus rex and some Sarracenia Scarlet Belle plants, both carnivores, share a planter.

The dinosaurs started by accident about 12 years ago. The way Marcus explained it, on a trip to one of the islands off the Washington coast, he and Gary stopped at an old-style drug store. “They had this fantastic heavy-duty, quality dinosaur. So I bought that and I thought it just looked wonderful in the garden.” Since then, on their yearly vacation, he or Gary will add another dinosaur to the herd.

As for enhancing the already amazing garden, Marcus has plans. “I would love to put in a small pond feature or waterfall. Something I had in my head was perhaps putting something at the corner of the garage having some boulders right up to the corner and then some of these bricks. Having them sort of splay out, intermixed with the boulders. So it looks like over eons and centuries the boulders were taking back the area and just pushing out from the garage.”

The front of Marcus and Gary’s home at 1359 Hamline.
The front of Marcus and Gary’s home at 1359 Hamline.

Marcus and I exchanged a couple of emails after our July 2 meeting. He very kindly set aside three plants for me. I am very pleased to say that all three are doing well (thanks to my wife’s green thumb.)

Note: This is where I usually post a link to the map of the ride. However, due to what most likely was operator error, the GPS recording of the ride is unavailable. I am in the process of recreating the route and will add it later.

9 comments

  1. Those little far back houses are often the garage that homesteaders built quickly, planning to live there while building the house. And then they never got around to building the house proper and instead added on to the garage to make it more habitable. There was a good article about it a few years back in the Park Bugle.

    Liked by 1 person

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