The Produce of St. Paul’s Past

I had a few minutes to spare in the general vicinity of downtown St. Paul, so I went on by to check out the Penfield. Because at the frequency at which I visit downtown St. Paul, it’s still something “new” over across the river. At the risk of going a little fanboy, it was great, and if I had reason to live abroad in foreign lands*, it would be a great place to live. There’s a beautiful grocery store right in the building and craft beer and good pizza right across the street.

Even better, there’s a nearby ghost sign at 10th and Jackson!

Produce Exchange Bank

Produce Exchange Bank

This sign, which reads, “Produce Exchange Bank” and offers residential, auto and real estate loans, is on the side of the Produce Exchange Building. The building apparently dates to 1915 and presumably was the home of the bank. It seems there used to be a large market next door, and the building was turned into lofts in 2004.

A newspaper called the Chicago Packer reported in December of 1927 that the bank was temporarily closed by state authorities investigating whether its funds were used by the bank’s Executive Vice President to dispose of stolen bonds. The bank was involved in a 1942 Minnesota Supreme Court usury case, the facts of which sound a little interesting (there shouldn’t be a question whether you borrowed money from the bank or its president personally), so its seems that the Chicago Packer’s concern for the hardship on the city’s produce traders should the bank never reopen was premature.

Santo Speranza was the bank president in 1942, and it seems the Speranza family continued with the bank for some time. Indeed, there’s a scholarship at St. Kate’s endowed by Mildred Speranza who was president of the bank from 1960-1980. According to the announcement for that stipend, it was a “family bank [that] helped Italian immigrants in the early 20th century secure funding to buy homes and start businesses” and she was one of the first female bank presidents.

Turns out there are interesting stories in the city’s past. Who knew?

Here’s another shot from flickr, looks like you can live there. Here’s the building sometime before 1920.

*The “foreign lands” thing is a bit on Ghost Signs of Minneapolis, because St. Paul is not Minneapolis (in case this was not obvious).

This post is cross-posted from Ghost Signs of Minneapolis.

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.