Sunday Sketch – The Ruins of Saint Paul

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

From Ozymandias by Percy Blythe Shelley (listen to Bryan Cranston’s recital of the poem on You Tube)

I  love drawing ruins. Ruins are lots of fun to draw and paint. Ruins have way more character with outlines that are all gnarly  so they can be sketched with wiggly, jagged lines. The weathered stones and rusty iron are best rendered in muted earth tones; iron oxides, sepia and shades of grey. There is mystery, history and the drama of life and death locked up inside the tumbled rocks, charred beams and twisted iron of wrecked buildings awaiting the artist’s pencil, pen and brush to tease out the timeless tale of civilization’s proud, built structures yielding to the unrelenting millstone of nature that grinds buildings into dust.

But I live in Saint Paul, not Rome like  Giovanni Piranesi.  We don’t have romantic ruins of ancient temples, colosseums, forums or aqueducts. When buildings get old and decrepit in Saint Paul, they knock them down and replace them with a parking ramp or another building no artist on or off his or her meds would be interested in sketching . There are a few ruins in Saint Paul that have not yet been leveled by the wrecking ball – here’s some sketches by Roberta Avidor and myself (click on the sketches to make them bigger).

The following two sketches, the first one by Roberta is a classic ruin that can be viewed from West Irvine Avenue, a steep switchback street behind the mansions on Summit Avenue. We have no idea what this building was or how it became a ruin. If you know, let us know in the comments.



A few weeks ago, the venerable Saint Paul reporter and columnist Nick Coleman posted a photo of a building in Highland Park in severe disrepair. Roberta and I took a bike ride up there to sketch it. This is Roberta’s sketch:


My sketch is from another angle. Notice that the two figures playing “disk (Frisbee) golf”. The metal contraption with the chains is a hole (basket). The Highland disk golf course is very popular. We saw many disk golf players pass by as we sketched the ruin. And that is how we learned why the roof of the building is terrible shape.


A sudden gust of wind blew one player’s Frisbee off course and onto the roof.  He selected one of the tree branches leaning against the building  and attempted to retrieve his disk. He failed, but in the process knocked several tiles off the roof – an interesting case of a sport destroying a landmark building:


This is a sketch of the Lowertown Depot building nestled in the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary  from the Kellogg Street Bridge. For some interesting history of the building go to the website. There are plans to renovate the building. On the other hand, it may just remain a ruin.


Ruins with modernist architecture are especially haunting in a mocking and ironic way. Buildings like the old Greyhound terminal on University Avenue were built for the future and now… the future is here! There are weeds  growing through the cracks in the pavement and shards of peeling paint hang like stalactites from the canopy. The highways and rubber-wheeled transport like Greyhound was supposed to replace traveling by rail, but that’s not how it turned out. The new Green Line LRT speeds past the old Greyhound building. Greyhound buses now stop at the recently renovated Union Depot train station.


Another sad ruin from the heyday of the Automobile Age sits on  University Avenue opposite the Green Line Hamline Station. An old used car dealership building covered in graffiti (“Impeach Nixon”) and a recently painted mural. There is a sign alongside the sidewalk with an architectural rendering of a new building that will soon replace the “Home of the $30.00 Tire”.


If you know of other sketchable ruins in Saint Paul, please let me know in the comments.



Ken Avidor

About Ken Avidor

Ken Avidor is an illustrator, cartoonist and occasional courtroom sketch artist. Ken Avidor is an active urban sketcher and maintains a daily, illustrated journal. Ken is married to urban cartographer and talented sketch artist Roberta Avidor in the Union Depot in Lowertown, Saint Paul. Follow Ken and Roberta's sketching/bicycling adventures on their travel blog.

8 thoughts on “Sunday Sketch – The Ruins of Saint Paul

  1. Ken AvidorKen Avidor Post author

    There’s a ruin of a castle in the Hudson River you can see from Amtrak near Garrison. It’s a “folly” some rich guy built to entertain visitors. Maybe the next Winter Carnival castle could be a replica of a ruined castle – would be less work to build.

    1. Pete Doughty

      Are you referring to the Bannerman Castle? ( ) It’s between Beacon and Cold Spring, a bit north of Garrison (though there are a couple of castles on the hills near there), and now part of a state park. I don’t know if the ruin has been stabilized at all, but surely a fine subject for sketchers.

  2. Andy SingerAndy Singer

    Nice piece. There are a bunch of great factory buildings in varying states of decay on Prior Avenue north of University. The giant grain elevators near the UMN (north of University and east of Dinky Town) are nice. Of course you know the railroad bridge next to Roberts Street Bridge (which is basically a “Ruin still in use”) …as is the Jackson Street Roundhouse and Minnehaha Avenue Grain Elevators …and there are tons of small structures like the Greyhound Station that litter our arterial boulevards. For a while in North Minneapolis, there were a ton of abandoned houses. There’s the big rotating RR bridge near the old electric plant that they recently imploded. For really hardcore ruins, I guess you have to go to a place like Detroit or a rust belt city like, Cleveland, Lowell Massachusetts or various places in New Jersey.

  3. Ken AvidorKen Avidor Post author

    Andy, good suggestions. I will be doing a future post on railroad bridge sketches which will include your sketch of the Robert Street RR bridge. I’ve sketched the swing bridge near Lilydale – it is a gem. That bridge is 99 years old. It deserves a post all its own.

    1. Ken AvidorKen Avidor Post author

      Dang, how did I forget Hamms? I’d sure like to sketch the indoor farm and distillery in the ruined part.

  4. Claire VanderEykClaire

    This is so awesome! You are artistically documenting buildings that many people have probably cast-off as worthless. I really like it!

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