June 21, 2015 – Macalester-Groveland, West End/West 7th, West Side – 14.7 miles
Today is the summer solstice, one of my favorite days, mainly because it’s the longest day of the year (more play time!) In Saint Paul, we enjoy 15 hours, 37 minutes, and 4 seconds of daylight. To top it off, it’s also Father’s Day.
Pascal and Palace – Glad I’m on my bike. If I was walking, I might still be at this intersection trying figure out which way to go.
Down the Hill
After that brief stop in Mac-Groveland, I flew, figuratively speaking, down the Jefferson Avenue hill, peaking at 30 miles per hour, according to my GPS. Enjoying the descent almost, almost makes up for the slow, grueling, sometimes painful pedal I frequently face on the way home.
As Jefferson leveled out, I came to the Palace Recreation Center and the Sergeant James M. Wosika Jr. Memorial Fields, where I paused.
Sergeant Wosika, a Saint Paul native and 2000 graduate of Highland Park High School, was assigned to the 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 136th Infantry in Crookston. He died January 9, 2007 in Fallujah, Iraq, from wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit while on combat patrol. The Saint Paul City Council approved the memorial in August of 2007.
Behind the Palace Rec Center/Wosika Memorial Fields sign is an obviously iceless hockey rink. That meant inline rather than ice skates for Auggie Garcia and his children. “We’re an active family. We like to hang out and play sports,” Auggie told me.
“We decided to come out here and spend a nice day, and being Father’s Day, they gotta listen to me,” Auggie added, laughing.
Auggie grew up on the West Side of Saint Paul, where he spent most of his time, though he occasionally visited North Minneapolis. “My mother is from Minneapolis and going over to Grandma and Grandpa’s house was a little different from being here in Saint Paul.
“My first experience with remembering anything about Minneapolis is going over to the North Commons (a park on the near north side of Minneapolis) and getting my bike stolen. That’s probably one of the reasons I don’t like it as much.”
So it’s no surprise that Auggie remains a Saint Paul person to the core. “I coach boys basketball at Saint Paul Humboldt and then I coach girls softball at Cretin-Derham Hall and I’m working for the City of Saint Paul.”
Auggie and I talked for a few more minutes, mostly about children and what we like about Saint Paul, before I moved on.
Palace Recreation Center, just south of the ice rink, is in the throes of a major and much-needed expansion and upgrade.
Money ($40,000) was allocated back in the City’s 2008 Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) for preliminary planning and design work. Although the renovation and expansion were ranked in ’08 as the sixth most important CIB project, planning the architectural design didn’t begin until September 2014. As one of Saint Paul’s most used rec centers, the repeated delays in funding the construction project understandably caused a great amount of unhappiness among area residents. The $5.8 million expansion is expected to be completed in 2016, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Reminders of Schmidt
Several blocks away, on Toronto Street, are a couple of surviving buildings from the old Schmidt Brewing Company. Today, multiple business are located within what was Schmidt’s shipping warehouse.
Back on the bike for a couple of blocks as I rode to 855 West 7th Street. That’s where I took my first close look at the one-time home that figured prominently in the history of beer brewing in Saint Paul.
The house was built in the early to mid-1870s for brewery owner Christopher Stahlmann and his family. (The Stahlmann Brewery was the largest in Minnesota at the time.) The limestone mansion remained in the family until the about 1900.
Jacob Schmidt, a German immigrant and brewmaster at Hamm’s on Saint Paul’s East Side, purchased the brewery (and the house) in 1902, the start of more than 50 prosperous years producing beer, and during Prohibition, soda and near-beer.
This block evolved from what is most accurately described as an estate, to what is now a rather typical city neighborhood. The St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission described the neighborhood this way in a 2011 report:
“In the Stahlmann and Schmidt years the block was densely planted with trees, with orchards to the rear as well as boulevard plantings. The major alterations to the landscape that took place in the last century were the replacement of the beer garden and saloon by two quite typical residential lots and the filling of bare land at the northwest corner with a growing number of connected buildings and parking lots. These changes all took place within the period of significance and in fact were brought about by the brewery ownership.”
The 1934 kidnapping of Edward Bremer, Jr. spurred his father, Adolf Bremer, to have a tunnel built from the Bremer home, under West 7th, to the brewery.Today, although the house still has the Marie Schmidt Bremer sign on the porch overhang, it is no longer a single family home.
Reentry West, as it’s now called, is a group home for men who’ve had contact with the correctional system in Ramsey County, Hennepin County or the State of Minnesota. The house is owned by the non-profit RS Eden, where counselors assist former inmates with educational support, job and housing help and other support as residents re-enter society.
For many years, the West 7th Car Wash was more conspicuous than now, as it wore a two-tone coat of Dodger blue with navy accents. Some of its charm was lost with the cement block expansion and its boring beige and coffee brown color scheme. The official address of the car wash is not on West 7th, rather 356 Clay Street.
Several blocks east of the car wash is an odd intersection, where two streets with three names, intersect. South Ann Street runs into and ends at St. Clair Avenue, an east-west street. St. Clair also ends at this intersection and becomes Cliff Street.
On the north side of the street, across from the granite blocks, is a vexillologist’s dream. (A vexillologist studies flags and there are dozens to study in this yard.)
In the back yard, many small flags represent nautical codes.
The nature of the flags changed as I moved from the back to the side yard and then to the front of 320 Michigan Street.
I knocked on the door to get the explanation behind the flags but either no one was home or they chose not to answer, perhaps mistaking me for a solicitor.
From Michigan Street, off to the West Side via the High Bridge, always a great view and good exercise.
Annapolis Avenue is Saint Paul’s southern border with West St. Paul for all but about four blocks. That made me curious about why several street lamps on Smith Avenue south of Annapolis (in West St. Paul) are the same style as those on the Saint Paul side of Smith.
Back in Saint Paul on Wyoming Street, (one block north of the Saint Paul/West St. Paul border) I stopped to peer at the home at 412 Wyoming. Ramsey County records say the house was built in 1894.
Cherokee Avenue east of Smith Avenue offers the best views of downtown anywhere in Saint Paul.
Back in the West End, I passed another two mortuaries barely two blocks apart.
The addition of an awning, subtraction of the sign, new windows (and a name change) aside, the Wulff Godbout Funeral Home has changed little from when this postcard was printed in 1945. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
The ride up St. Clair Avenue from West 7th Street to Lexington Avenue is nearly a mile and a half. In that span, according to Google Maps, there is a 125 foot elevation increase. Perhaps it’s that grade that (sub)consciously caused me to turn right on Milton Street, thus avoiding some of the hill. One block north, at Linwood and Milton Street, a front yard punctuated with green and red brought me to a standstill.
Krishna Wilson told me he’s growing about 30 varieties of chili peppers in his front and side yards. “I grow a lot of the hottest varieties in the world. I have the Carolina Reaper, which is the world’s hottest at 2.5 million Scoville units. And then I have Trinidad Scorpion Morougas. They’re the second hottest in the world at 2.2 million.”
There’s more to peppers than just heat, Krishna said, “I also have some of the most flavorful peppers in the world. These Nu Mex Heritage 64s–that’s the base for my mild sauce. I smoke ‘em and roast ‘em and then make a sauce with it.”
I asked Krishna where his pepper passion blossomed. “I started growing peppers about eight years ago when I read an article in the newspaper about the Bhut Jolokia Pepper, which is referred to as the Ghost Pepper.
“They (the newspaper article) said I could buy seed from the Chili Pepper Institute of New Mexico. I decided to order some seeds and started growing ‘em and I was just hooked on it. I’ve loved gardening all my life; I’ve been gardening since I was knee-high to a grasshopper and this was just the thing for me.”
Growing peppers led to eating peppers, which Krishna said, “changed his life.”
“I feel like it helps stimulate your metabolism, it promotes health. So I feel it’s a healthful tonic. Then, also, there’s the exhilaration; I’m sure you’ve heard of chili heads and the endorphins and that kind of stuff. It’s just good, clean fun!”
“I like having a hobby and I never do anything half way.”
Krishna likely harvested thousands of chili peppers this year. The yield, Krishna explained, depends upon the variety of the peppers. “These Nu Mex Heritage are very productive. I’d say you get maybe 20 to 30 peppers per plant through the season. The Inca Red Drops, they’re maybe as big as your thumbnail, they’re about Cayenne heat level, but you can get 2 or 300 peppers off of a plant.”
In addition to homemade chili sauces, Krishna creates chili flake seasonings and gives peppers as gifts.
The chili peppers, sprouting in regimented columns began as seeds, according to Krishna. “I start these inside in mid-March in my sunroom under a big grow light. By the time I set them out, they’re usually a foot tall or so. I plant ‘em out the first week of June usually. I was two weeks earlier than that this year because of the fair weather that we had.”
Watering the dozens of pepper plants daily could be a full-time job, which is why Krishna set up an irrigation system. “When you have this many chili plants it’s pretty laborious to hand water them, so I started to use the drip emitter system about four or five years ago. All I have to do is go to my hose, turn on a timer and flip a switch and it waters all my plants at once. It also saves a lot of water because it only puts it at the plants where it needs to go.”
The red plastic lining the garden rows keeps weeds down and cuts evaporation of soil moisture, and enhances plant growth. “It reflects the infrared light back up under the plants which stimulates a plant hormone called phytochrome and it can give up to 150 percent more yield of fruit because it stimulates fruit production.”
Next, we chitchatted about the hanging garden, new this year, on the east side of the property. “I lucked into this structure here and I thought, ‘Let’s see how much you can grow in a six-foot by eight foot area.’ I call it the ‘Hanging Gardens of Babylon.’ I have two chili peppers in the bottom of each bag and then something else in the top–rosemary, tomatillos, lettuce, tomatoes, herbs, thyme, basil; all kinds of fun stuff.”
Toward the end of my visit, Krishna mentioned he grows hops plants, which naturally led to a conversation about beer. Then, blissfully, Krisha offered me a glass of his latest ale, which I gladly accepted after a feigned moment of indecision. The lovely golden brew was highly satisfying considering the 12 or so miles I’d ridden in 85 degree heat.
There is an abundance of thinking time when I’m riding. On the way home I recounted Krishna’s garden and our conversation. I was impressed and appreciative–impressed with his effort and commitment to his gardens and grateful for his time and insights.
Click on the link below to see the map of this ride, courtesy of my Garmin GPS.