Macalester-Groveland, Highland Park, West End
Saturday, September 6, 2014 11.9 miles:
Students in Saint Paul went back to school this week, making the visit to one of my favorite school buildings, Randolph Heights Elementary, apropos. This gorgeous 1916 building has several uncommon and attractive elements. The first is the Spanish-influenced design itself. Lead architect Charles Hausler visited schools in California and adopted qualities (stucco exterior, flat roof, curves and arches) into the design of Randolph Heights. (1)
The frescoes above the front entrance are the second striking decorative element. The young man sitting atop books with another in his hand while the young woman rests upon a bench with her needlework is a great reflection of gender roles 100 years ago. Another atypical aspect of the original design of Randolph Heights is the swimming pool, long since covered, with the space used for other purposes.
Randolph Heights Elementary School cost $101,356 and some change to build, a premium price for a school with eight classrooms and 320 students. (By my figures, construction of the Randolph Heights classrooms averaged more than $12,600.) The May 1917 edition of the publication “School Education” strongly criticized Saint Paul school officials for their spending.
“The present city policy of erecting school buildings by force account is shown to be extravagant, and the cost of the recently completed Randolph Heights and Como schools is shown to be excessive. The proper unit cost of elementary school buildings is placed at approximately $7,000 per room…” (3)
On the other hand, the one-story design selected by Randolph Heights architects and the school district started a new trend.
“There is today an awakening on the subject of the one-story school. This volume presents that subject, and asks: ‘Why the peril of the upstairs school?’ As this is written, the school world is throbbing with a menace and its question is ‘Fire!’ The one-story school is one safe answer to that dominant peril of the school. And the one-story school answers other big questions; questions of hygiene, of health, of education.” (4)
From Randolph Heights Elementary I went east to Lexington Avenue. Though tempting, I didn’t take full advantage of the long downhill slope from Jefferson all the way to the intersection of Lexington, Montreal and West 7th. Rather, I weaved in and out among some of the streets between Lexington and east to 35E. At Otto and Alaska I spotted this interesting design in the concrete steps.
Next, back to Lexington and to a relatively new development of townhomes called Deer Park.
I stopped at Deer Park because there is a ‘hidden park’ behind the townhomes. (In City lingo it’s called a ‘passive’ or ‘ghost’ park.) Though there is absolutely no signage or other identification of Dawson Park, you’ll find it on some official Saint Paul maps and on the City’s list of parks. Perhaps most surprising is this two acre wooded refuge has been a City park since 1884! (5)
A short distance beyond the line of trees, the terrain suddenly climbs steeply up a bluff toward Edgcumbe Road and Place. Swarming mosquitoes and the bike shoes I wore dissuaded me from attempting to scale the incline, but I’ll be back.
Walsh Park is another hidden park just south of Dawson, according to the Parks Department maps and website, but I have yet to search for it.
Back on the bike and moving north up the Lexington Hill, I stopped to talk with a woman on the sidewalk. Carol Sturgeleski told me she’s lived in Saint Paul her entire life and here at 759 Lexington, for 51 years. The way Carol and her husband, Bernie, found this home where they raised six children, is a story of coincidences. Her brother was selling his house in Eagan. The owner of 759 Lexington bought it. Carol and Bernie learned about 759 Lexington’s availability from her brother and they bought it.
“These are black walnut trees which are not too nice. Beautiful wood but when those black walnuts fall down they keep hitting my roof.”
At 50 feet wide and 170 deep Carol’s property is larger than the usual Saint Paul lot. Thick brush and woods at the back of the property make it more uncommon. “There’s a fence there. Can you see it right there in the middle part? It goes back there and I think there’s a nine foot easement in between and the people on the hill have the rest of it.” The woods, Carol said, are home to some animal friends like deer and turkey, that occasionally visit her yard. “We’ve had turkeys ‘cause my husband used to always feed the birds. At first it was fun and cute but after a while, they were digging up all my grass. They had such big claws and they just chewed up all the grass and whatever. So I said, ‘That’s enough of that. The cuteness is gone.’”
Carol’s children enjoyed playing on the hill and woods, especially in winter. “When the kids were little they would slide down the hill. It was more open then. I’ll never forget when the second son came down and hit one of the trees. The kids brought him in the house and they brought him in the bathroom. All of a sudden he just collapsed, passed out.” Carol added that her son came to quickly. She also told me she wasn’t very worried because he had teeth knocked out playing hockey.
After 51 years, Carol still loves where she lives. “In the middle of the city, it’s beautiful, but there’s a lot of work with this yard.” Fortunately, one of Carol’s sons now cuts the lawn for her and she’s contemplating hiring someone to do some of the other jobs. Just up the block, the home at 687 Lexington Parkway is obscured by a thick growth of bushes and trees but there is no missing it because of two landmarks in front.
Crosby Lake Business Center is a brownfield turned industrial park just south of West 7th Street in the West End. According to Saint Paul Port Authority figures, up to 400 jobs have been created by the companies that built on the 26-acre site.
Crosby Lake Business Center is nearly filled with businesses including a bakery, brewery, publisher, mechanical subcontractor and a manufacturer of labels and guest checks for the food service industry.
Not only was Summit Brewery Minnesota’s first new brewery since World War II and the state’s first microbrewery, it’s also one of the most successful. Summit began production in 1986 in an old warehouse on University Avenue. (6) By 1997, demand for Summit’s beers grew so large it necessitated the construction of this brewery on Montreal Circle. Summit expanded in 2013 and in 2014, opened a canning facility. (7)
Thanks to the pioneering effort of Summit Brewing, new craft breweries now pop up like dandelions in spring. There are close to a dozen microbreweries in Saint Paul, not including brew pubs.
The Crosby Lake Business Center has been great for Saint Paul’s economy, but some creativity with street names would have made the development less confusing.
Otto Hummer posthumously received the honor of this street being named for him because he volunteered for many City committees and for about a decade with the Highland Business Association. (8) It’s very unusual to see the Highland Park Aquatic Center parking lot busy in September but the unseasonably warm weather convinced City officials to keep the pool open more than a week beyond its usual closing date.
This aquatic center opened in August 1979 as the Highland Park Pool and has since been remodeled. It is Highland’s second or third pool, depending on your perspective.
The original Highland Park Pool is long gone, but significant artifacts remain just north of the aquatic center, across Montreal Avenue at Edgcumbe, Most windows are covered in peeling plywood and the ones that aren’t have been smashed out. Sections of the Spanish-style terracotta roof tiles have fallen, exposing holes in the plywood deck and vegetation grows out of the building. The allure of the stone structure is obvious, despite the long list of indignities it’s suffered in the decades since closing.
The Parks and Recreation Department in 2013 proposed stabilizing the historic bath house and studying its renovation and reuse. However, neither the 2014 nor 2015 approved Capital Budget and Improvement Program set aside any money for either, meaning the landmark’s deterioration will continue through at least 2015. In that budget, about 80 proposals–fire station expansion, recreation center and playground improvements, street and bridge reconstruction, and many other worthy proposals–vie for the limited dollars. Preservation of historic facilities is important, but whether it’s a higher priority than fire and safety services, park development, or street maintenance and improvement is questionable. With far too little money for too many important projects, funding decisions will continue to be excruciatingly difficult, undoubtedly resulting in the loss of historic structures.
Click on the link to see the route of my September 6, 2014 ride:
(1) History of SPPS document
(3) Page 42; May 1917 “School Education Magazine”
(4) Introduction, Pamphlets on Forest Utilization, Volume 10, February 1917, The One-Story Schoolhouse Idea with Plans of Model Schools, Fitzherbert Leather
(5) The Street Where You Live-A Guide to the Place Names of St. Paul, Donald L. Empson, Page 70
(6) Page 296, Land of Amber Waters, Doug Hoverson
(7) Summit Brewery website, http://www.summitbrewing.com/culture/history
(8) Geni.com website, http://www.geni.com/people/Otto-Hummer/6000000001051774266
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