The east end of downtown Saint Paul is a fascinating and desolate place. The gap between the East Side and downtown can sometimes feel like a grand canyon of asphalt, but with the new Lafayette bridge, road and trail connections, and the Saints’ stadium all under construction, maybe it’s going to begin to feel different in the future.
So I dived back into the amazing Minnesota Historic Aerial Photo Archive and put together a “then and now” showing what this neighborhood looked like back in the 1940s. As you can see, it was chock full of railroad tracks and industrial land.
For fun, I zoomed in on Red’s Savoy Inn pizza, a famous local landmark, known for its great atmosphere and for the fact that cars have kept slamming into the front of the building.
In my experience, it’s the areas just on the edge of downtowns that have seen the most historical change over the last century. This is a great example.
I’ve always tried to find out more, but with no luck. But apparently the area north of here (north of current 94 and east of current 35E) was a much larger hill complete with multiple railroad tunnels a century ago. Then much of the hill was removed. Anyone know about this?
stay tuned for Friday’s mystery photo
It’s the surface parking that’s almost more depressing than the freeways to me.
It seemed interesting that, upon clicking the link to the Savoy site, is that that particular restaurant was established in 1965 — before 35E was complete, but just after 94 was completed between the downtowns and around the planning and early construction for the Lafayette Freeway.
The building is obviously much older, so I can’t credit the construction to freeway building. But presumably the owners chose this site when establishing their restaurant, well aware of the surrounding freeway web. Is Savoy’s pizza a victim or beneficiary or its freeway access? Or both, I guess.
The more I look at it, the more I think that the ACTUAL Red’s Savoy building was built later, after they re-routed 7th street a bit, because its facade doesn’t seem to line up with those of the remnant old buildings on the next block to the West.
I was going off the Ramsey county property info site, which claims the building was built in 1878. If that’s correct, it’s perhaps the most unromantic still-standing building of that age around. According to property records (and the little year on the building), the Subway building on the other corner is slightly newer, 1883.
It’s good to remind ourselves that many sections of urban freeways did replace formerly desolate land instead of housing/businesses/etc. This is a good example.
As Sean notes, though, the freeways necessitate seas of parking and desolate streets, so it’s not a 1:1 comparison of the freeway right of way itself.
It’s so weird to imagine looking at a map of the city in 1950 and planning out which huge swaths of the city to bulldoze to build freeways…. Hard to believe it even happened, until you look at photos like this.
Yeah, seems like the priority for locating freeways generally followed a “slum clearance” -> path of least resistance for drivers -> under-used RR corridors -> riverfronts with abandoned manufacturing. Maybe I’m overgeneralizing.
I worked in the 444 Lafayette Road building for nine years. Red Savoy, Subway, and Big Wood are more or less in its parking lot. About eight years ago the building was completely redone. It was fascinating learning about the history of the building. While the DNR and PCA were built as offices, the Department of Human Services (DHS) rents the building. It was originally a warehouse. Trains ran through the building and were loaded from above. Once I knew that, the strange lobby design made sense.
Are there photos of the area prior to the 1940s? My “Streets Where You Live” tells me that “Lafayette Road and Grove Street [now the corner where DHS and DNR reside] was an elegant public park and fountain that graced a prestigious 1880s residential neighborhood.” The park was sold in 1948. That would be an interesting contrast to Swede Hollow and its shacks.