The End of the Line

May 4, 2014

9.8 miles

Macalester-Groveland, Union Park (Merriam Park, Midway)

The intersection of Snelling and Jefferson Avenues.

The intersection of Snelling and Jefferson Avenues.

Snelling Avenue is one of Saint Paul’s best known, most diverse and busiest streets. Snelling is slightly more than six miles from Saint Paul’s border with Falcon Heights on the north to the southern end at West 7th Street. Also known as State Highway 51, everything from homes, apartments, restaurants and schools, to churches, hardware stores and two colleges line Snelling Avenue in Saint Paul.
Today I rode two different segments of Snelling totaling about a mile and a quarter.

 

betty and carl sign

An old neon sign for Betty and Carl Cafe is the first site that stopped me. The sign sat on the lawn outside an antique store at Snelling and Palace. I stumped Google trying to find a clue about where the Betty and Carl Cafe is or was.

The building that now holds a nail salon and fitness center at Jefferson Avenue and Snelling previously was home to Macalester Bike and Skate. Although it closed at least 20 years ago, the business’s old sign clings tenaciously to the south brick wall.

nail salon

mac bike & skate 1

Remnants of the long departed Macalester Bike and Skate are still visible.

 

This is how Snelling Avenue at St. Clair looked in 1952.

This is how the intersection of Snelling Avenue at St. Clair looked in 1952. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

In the days of the streetcar, multiple businesses sprang up at the corners of intersecting lines. Snelling Avenue and St. Clair Avenue is a good example. In many cases, apartments were constructed on the second floor of the buildings.

St. Paul Corner Drug hugs the northeast corner of St. Clair and Snelling. Other business there include an Italian restaurant, a veterinary clinic and an Oriental medicine clinic.

St. Paul Corner Drug hugs the northeast corner of St. Clair and Snelling. Other business there include an Italian restaurant, a veterinary clinic and an Oriental medicine clinic.

The restaurant on the southwest corner features a great neon sign.

The restaurant on the southwest corner features a great neon sign.

The Snelling Avenue entrance to the Snelling Apartments.

The Snelling Avenue entrance to the Snelling Apartments.

The businesses in the complex on the southwest corner of Snelling and St. Clair. The Snelling Apartments occupy the second floor.

The businesses in the complex on the southwest corner of Snelling and St. Clair. The Snelling Apartments are on the second floor.

A window display of slippers at Snelling and St. Clair.

A window display of slippers at Snelling and St. Clair.

 

The Macalester College, a.k.a. “Mac,” campus occupies seven blocks along the west side of Snelling from St. Clair to Summit Avenue. Macalester was established in 1874 as a liberal arts college by the Reverend Edward D. Neill. The college relocated from Minneapolis to the present location in 1885.

Macalester College stadium abuts the northwest corner of Snelling and St. Clair.

Macalester College stadium abuts the northwest corner of Snelling and St. Clair.

The Macalester Stadium building, opened in 1965, interestingly includes student housing on the second and third floors.

The Macalester Stadium building opened in 1965. The second and third floor windows are dorm rooms.

Macalester had the windmill installed in 2003.

Macalester had the windmill installed in 2003. There isn’t much electrical generation happening today.

The view westward at Snelling and Grand Avenues. The two buildings on the right are part of Macalester.

The view westward at Snelling and Grand Avenues. The two buildings on the right are part of Macalester.

For you celebrity spotters, Garrison Keillor owns Common Good Books at 38 South Snelling.

For you celebrity spotters, Garrison Keillor owns Common Good Books at 38 South Snelling.

And the Macalester Bookstore, Highlander, is next door at 32 South Snelling.

And the Macalester Book and school store, Highlander, is next door at 32 South Snelling.

The northeastern edge of campus at Snelling and Summit. The bookstore is in the background.

The northeastern edge of campus at Snelling and Summit. The brick building in the background is the bookstore.

 

At Summit Avenue, I went west two blocks and traveled north along Pierce Street until I came to a curiously painted and long-dead tree in front of 1664 Hague Avenue. Three portraits of exotic, and possibly mythical women adorn the trunk.

Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, perhaps.

Looking west, Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, perhaps?

 

pierce tree2

This woman has what looks to be a pet lion.

pierce tree 3

Shading, brushwork and the subtle hues of the paintings are apparent up close.

An array of art, including a neon address sign, decorate 1664 Hague.

An array of art, including a neon address sign, decorate 1664 Hague.

The Amtrak train “Empire Builder” crosses Pierce Street about six hours late on its way east to Milwaukee and Chicago.

The Amtrak train “Empire Builder” (named after Saint Paul’s James J. Hill) crosses Pierce Street about six hours late on its way east to Milwaukee and Chicago.

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Snelling-U sign 1

Yes, more light rail construction along Snelling and University Avenues.

Back on Snelling where, just north of I-94, a digital display and orange cones and warning signs foretell more Midway construction and congestion. Chicago-based Walsh Construction is ripping up and replacing faulty concrete panels that the company screwed up at Snelling and University. Green Line officials aren’t saying what mistake Walsh made to cause cracks in the concrete at this and 10 other intersections along University Avenue but have been quick to say the construction company is paying for the fixes.

The zoom lens used to take this picture compressed the distance along Snelling between University Avenue and the State Fairgrounds. The State Fair Space Tower and water tower are in the background.

The zoom lens used to take this picture compressed the 1.7 mile distance along Snelling between University Avenue and the State Fairgrounds. The State Fair Space Tower and water tower are in the background.

 

A large tract of land surrounded by cyclone fence sits immediately east of the digital warning sign. Nearly two blocks long and a block deep, the area served as the staging area for light rail construction equipment and supplies. Now, many remnants of the project are haphazardly situated along the fence next to Midway Center.
construction area 2

Concrete barriers are stacked neatly along the north fence.

Concrete barriers are stacked neatly along the north fence.

The eastern portion is a temporary graveyard for old Metro Transit buses and shelters, while the largest section of the lot sits virtually empty, an unsightly but valuable wasteland; prime property begging for redevelopment.

The view south across the large parcel of land that stretches from Midway Center to St. Anthony Avenue. Light rail construction equipment is on the left and the homes and building in the background are on Concordia Avenue, on the south side of the I-94 corridor.

The view south across the large parcel of land that stretches from Midway Center to St. Anthony Avenue. Light rail construction equipment is on the left and the homes and building in the background are on Concordia Avenue, on the south side of the I-94 corridor.

It’s the end of the line for these decommissioned Metro Transit buses, which are reflected in a large puddle.

It’s the end of the line for these decommissioned Metro Transit buses, which are reflected in a large puddle.

Seats and electrical parts have been salvaged from this bus.

Seats and electrical parts have been salvaged from this bus.

It's not just buses. Surplus bus shelters sit…and lay…ready for disposal.

It’s not just buses. Surplus bus shelters sit…and lay…ready for disposal.

Shelters take on a distorted look when viewed through the translucent roof of another shelter.

Shelters take on a distorted look when viewed through the translucent roof of another shelter.

This tract of land (and the area now occupied by Midway Center) used to be home to the main streetcar manufacturing, repair and storage facility.

snelling car shop 53

The Snelling shops in 1953, about a year before streetcars were replaced with buses in the Twin Cities. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

 

A block west of Snelling, two churches occupy corners of the intersection of Shields Avenue and Roy Street.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church In-the-Midway.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church In-the-Midway.

central baptist 1

Central Baptist Church. The steeple of Bethlehem Lutheran is in the background.

Bethlehem Lutheran Church In-The-Midway (as it’s called to differentiate from another Bethlehem Lutheran on the East Side) is on the northeast corner and Central Baptist Church sits just across Shields on the southeast corner. Considering the extreme difference in architecture of the churches I am surprised they were both built in the early 1910s. Central Baptist is one of the few Prairie Style churches in Saint Paul. An addition, now the main part of Central Baptist, was built in 1974.

bethlehem 3

The cornerstone at Bethlehem Lutheran.

The cornerstone of Central Baptist.)

The cornerstone of Central Baptist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street, 6-year-old Zakias was riding his scooter along the sidewalk with his mom, Zuki Ellis, when we struck up a conversation. The neighborhood is very quiet, despite being within two blocks of I-94 on the south, Snelling to the east, and University to the north. Zuki told me it’s one of the things she loves about the area. “It’s so funny because he (Zakias) said, ‘Look! There are people!’ because you usually don’t see kids unless it’s early in the morning catching the bus. During the weekend it’s usually pretty quiet.”

Another thing Zuki really appreciates about the neighborhood is that so much, including the grocery store and the doctor’s office, is close enough to walk to.

zakiasZuki added she just enjoys walking Snelling Avenue to see its slow evolution.

“I was just walking down that way (south) on the other side of the freeway and they’re doing all of this construction. And I was like, ‘When did that start?’ Because I guess I hadn’t even been down that way. And then this way (north) walking in the opposite direction toward Minnehaha and toward Midway Hotel and there was a coffin store. At first I thought I read that wrong and I was like I have to check that out when I come back this way. It’s always changing down Snelling, both ways.”

Zakias and Zuki Ellis.

Zakias and Zuki Ellis.

Zakias wanted to start another lap around the block so Zuki and I said our farewells and I rode the opposite way, to Midway Center.

 

Midway Center 2014

Midway Center, 2014.

Midway Center, on the southeastern corner of Snelling and University, is one of several large shopping districts nearby along University Avenue. Like the others, it features mostly national and regional chain stores, a phenomenon I call “Anytown U.S.A.” The Midway Center property went from the main mass transit hub in the Twin Cities to retail center in 1960, after buses replaced streetcars.

The Snelling-University intersection and streetcar shops in the mid-1920s. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The Snelling-University intersection and streetcar shops in the mid-1920s. Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

A billboard announced the pending development of Midway Center. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

A billboard announced the pending development of Midway Center. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

The recently opened Midway Center in 1960. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

The recently opened Midway Center in 1960. University Avenue is in the foreground. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Historical Society.

Spruce Tree Center office building is nothing if not eye-catching.

The eye-catching Spruce Tree Center office building.

Despite its sprawling size of Midway Center, it is overshadowed by the nearby Spruce Tree Center, the peculiar Kelly green office building on the southwest corner of Snelling and University. Distinctive doesn’t quite capture the feeling. With its blocky design, including the tiles, windows and sections of the building, there is nothing like it in Saint Paul and likely far beyond. Although not obvious to me, Spruce Tree Center’s design resembles a spruce tree, according to a 2008 article in the “Midway Monitor”.

Does anybody know what time it is? Does anybody really care? Rock group Chicago

Does anybody know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

The green tiles and windows along the University Avenue side of Spruce Tree Center.

The green tiles and windows along the University Avenue side of Spruce Tree Center.

Spruce Tree Center is Green too.

Spruce Tree Center is Green too.

 

A test train eastbound on University awaits the green light at Snelling Avenue. Spruce Tree Center is in the background.

A test train eastbound on University awaits the green light at Snelling Avenue. Spruce Tree Center is in the background.

The light rail tracks on University have been placed in almost the exact position of the Twin City Rapid Transit Company streetcar tracks that were removed some 60 years ago.

Metro Transit employees ready a broken down bus for the trip to an East Side maintenance base.

Metro Transit employees ready a broken down bus for the trip to an East Side maintenance base. One of the mechanics told me an average of one bus a day breaks down on routes in Saint Paul.

Buses still roam University Avenue, at least for the time being, although this one, not so much.

There were a lot of sights packed into today’s relatively short ride. One last one is the beautiful 30-plus year old “woody” station wagon parked on Herschel Street.

I love “classic” cars like this Chevy Malibu Classic Estate station wagon with faux wood paneling. It’s a 1978, ’79 or ’80. Hershel Street, slightly north of St. Anthony Avenue.

I love “classic” cars like this Chevy Malibu Classic Estate station wagon with faux wood paneling. It’s a 1978, ’79 or ’80. Hershel Street, slightly north of St. Anthony Avenue.

Click on the link below to view a map of today’s ride.

http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/copy/408120322/

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5 Responses to The End of the Line

  1. brad May 15, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    One interesting detail you missed at the NE corner of St Clair and Snelling: there’s a little enclosed patio (or something) between second floor apartments, below the solar panels

    • Matt Steele
      Matt Steele May 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

      The SE corner there is ripe for redevelopment – most of it is a parking lot. Maybe if Snelling were more human-scale, it would encourage such redevelopment.

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke May 15, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    I can’t believe you biked on Snelling. Really taking your life into your hands there…

    IMO Snelling is the #1 casualty of MNDOT policies in the Twin Cities. Much of the sidewalk walkability has been eroded to the point of vacancy, particularly north of 94.

    Love the history of the bus barn and Midway shopping center photos.

    • Jeff Christenson May 20, 2014 at 12:07 pm #

      Bill, I agree about what a harrowing experience biking on Snelling must be. I know it’s a state highway, and am curious as to why it couldn’t be a county road, since presumably Ramsey County would be more sensitive to walkability/complete streets.

  3. Monica Millsap Rasmussen
    Monica Rasmussen May 15, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    I thoroughly enjoyed this and am glad that someone took the time to explore parts close to my neighborhood! While development is always exciting, it is great that people sometimes take the time to get to know what is unique and likeable about the neighborhood. Like the woman interviewed in here, I enjoy walking along Snelling (or even University) and find that between University and Minnehaha, there are often friendly people sitting on their stoops outside apartments or business owners/employees hanging out the front door greeting passers by. Many unique businesses in this area, which is always what has attracted me to the neighborhood. Thank you for writing this.

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