Langford Park on a July afternoon is a hive of activity.
Kids buzz around the playground, scampering across its jungle gyms and catapulting themselves off its swing sets. Moms hover over the general mayhem trying to enforce some level of order on the chaos.
Kids slightly older and with a higher capacity for organized activity play baseball in the diamonds on the other side of the community center. A man in a wheel chair tosses out pitches for them along with pointers for fundamentally-sound fielding and baserunning. Perhaps among their ranks is the next Joe Mauer—or at least Drew Butera.
Inevitably a young couple arrives to play a game of tennis in the park’s court. They spend a long time coquettishly stretching out their hamstrings. Finally getting around to playing, they gently volley to one another. They seem too in love to take the competition too seriously.
Middle-aged spouses emerge from the handsome bungalows abutting the park to walk their dog on its sidewalks. I expect one spouse could have done the job just as effectively, but, on a sunny evening like this, who’d pass up such a serene stroll in the peaceful sanctuary of Langford Park?
An older gentleman with a little dog rests on a park bench to just luxuriate in the sun, people-watch, or perhaps wait in comfort for his dog’s after dinner bowel movement.
Not all is Norman Rockwell. Some days, a teen paces around the park loudly muttering undecipherable phrases to himself, and occasionally pausing to jot things down in his notebook. He seems a bit like a Dungeons and Dragons kid in the midst of an intense game. Except of course there aren’t any partners.
Me, I usually come to shooters jumpers at the park’s basketball court. Some days there’s a pick up game going with a rag tag complication spanning several generations: university age kids, 30-somethings, and wily older players who I imagine probably teach physics at the U of M when they are not draining pull up jumpers.
Ancient, haggard but still towering trees anchor the park like sentinels. These gnarled trees have weathered the neighborhood’s meteorological calamities, and a few probably predate white settlement in the area. The trees watched over as a streetcar line was laid down Como Avenue and the neighborhood grew up around it. The tree watched over at the streetcar line was torn out and Como Avenue was turned over wholly to the automobile. Perhaps they’ll still be watching over when Como Avenue is turned back over to streetcar. A transit nerd can hope.
Langford Park is one of the unifying common spaces on the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood. The Saint Anthony Park Elementary School shields it from hustle and bustle of busy Como Avenue. It stretches and snakes back 3 blocks from the school to the barrier formed by the railroad tracks bisecting the neighborhood to the south. In typical Saint Paul fashion, road names around the park are a mess. What starts as Gordon Street on the east edge of the park turns into a road called simply Langford Park and rings back around the circumference of the park before turning into Knapp Street along the northern edge of the park and continuing on back to Como Avenue.
Being separated from Como Avenue and ringed by non-linear streets gives Langford Park a hidden feel that only contributes to its sereneness. The neighborhood is a mix of million dollar Victorian mansions, handsome middle class bungalows, and some solid early 20th century apartment buildings housing droves of university students and young graduates (or dropouts) wading out in the turbulent waters of a fledging career.
Sometimes it can be an uneasy truce between old and young in Saint Anthony Park. Well-to-do families who’ve occupied familial estates for generations share the space with college students and young adults who’ve just moved in and who’ve moreover been known to stumble out of the #3 late at night and tear a drunken path of merriment home to their apartments and disturbing the quiet of the neighborhood.
But Langford Park is where everyone in the neighborhood comes together and, for the most part, co-exists in harmony.