It Looks Like the Suburbs

September 25, 2015

Macalester-Groveland, Rondo (Lexington-Hamline), Frogtown

14.8 Miles

I may be a bit of an anomaly as a bike rider because I am also a “car guy.” What I mean by that is I am fascinated by cars, and have been since I was a child. I still enjoy the introduction of new models, and I gaze with awe at a unique, classic or antique auto. And so it was on this ride that I stopped to look at the rare Checker Marathon station wagon parked on a driveway on South Snelling Avenue.

This Checker Marathon, likely from the early 1970s, sat just off the sidewalk along Snelling and Osceola Avenues.

This Checker Marathon, likely from the early 1970s, sat just off the sidewalk along Snelling and Osceola Avenues.

 

The dark blue wagon with the white top was in decent shape, but needed enough work that it could probably be had for a good price.

Cosmetically, Checkers changed very little from the ‘60s until production ceased in 1982. The dark blue wagon with the white top was in decent shape, but needed enough work that it could probably be had for a good price.

 

For those younger than 50 – you probably don’t know that Checker sedans were frequently used as taxi cabs in many cities around the US. A niche’ builder of cars, Checker’s history is…interesting. (No, not checkered).

checkercab-598

The yellow Checker taxi cab was once a frequent sight in many large cities.

 

The company began building cars in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1923 and continued for nearly 60 years, until 1982 when production of the Marathon ceased. Checker stayed in business until 2009 manufacturing parts for other auto companies, including General Motors.

For the details of the interesting Checker Motors story, click HERE.

dunning sign IMG_4448

The sign on Concordia Avenue says Dunning Field, but really should read Dunning Sports Complex (which it does elsewhere), since it consists of three softball and three baseball fields, batting cages, six tennis courts, one basketball court, a recreation center, and playground. Dunning is roughly bordered on the north by Concordia Avenue, Central High School on the east, Marshall Avenue to the south and Syndicate Street on the west side.

 

The aerial map gives a good perspective to the many facilities within the Dunning Sports Complex.

The aerial map gives a good perspective to the many facilities within the Dunning Sports Complex. Oddly, the tennis courts and one basketball court are not labeled on the sign.

The Saint Paul City Council authorized construction of Dunning Field with this simple ordinance approved on May 12, 1916.

Dunning Field creation Ord 4-1916

The sports complex was named after highly respected Saint Paul neurologist Arthur W. Dunning. According to his obituary in the Saint Paul Medical Journal marking his unexpected December 1915 death, Dr. Dunning’s civic interest “centered in the playground movements” and he was appointed by Mayor to Saint Paul’s Playground Committee for 12 years.

Within the complex, the three softball fields are simply Dunning East, West and South.

The baseball fields have been named for notable locals: Toni Stone Field, more accurately a small stadium, honors the woman who likely was the best baseball player ever from Saint Paul.

toni-stone-aka-marcenia-lyle-alberga

Toni Stone in her New Orleans Creoles uniform. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

To learn much more about Toni Stone, read the Saint Paul By Bike ride called Stone and Diamonds from August 2, 2014.

Billy Peterson, Saint Paul baseball coaching legend, worked with hundreds of city boys. Notable major leaguers Peterson coached were Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. Courtesy Richard Sennott, StarTribune.

Billy Peterson Field is named after the Saint Paul baseball coaching legend who worked with hundreds of city boys. Notable major leaguers Peterson coached were Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. Photo Courtesy Richard Sennott, StarTribune.

Jim Kelley Field got its name from the man who founded Midway Baseball in 1990.

Bucky Olson at St. Thomas College in 1948.

Bucky Olson, above at St. Thomas College in 1948, was a Saint Paul tennis legend. He lettered at St. Thomas College in the late 1940s and early 50s, and was a tennis pro at Town and Country Club and Saint Paul Tennis Club. The six tennis courts bear his name.

The 28 Dunning Tennis Courts, later named for Bucky Olson, shortly after their construction in 1916. That is Central High in the background. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The 28 Dunning Tennis Courts, later named for Bucky Olson, shortly after their construction in 1916. That is Central High in the background. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

If a building could share memories, 738 University Avenue West would surely have some amazing ones. Although details were difficult to find, the building dates back to 1880 and it was home to at least a couple of bars. In the mid-1910s, Mair Brothers Lunch Room/Saloon, owned by Joseph and Andreas Mair, occupied the space.

University and Grotto, obviously old and obviously altered, still has much of its original character.

The building at the southeast corner of University and Grotto, obviously old and obviously altered, still has much of its original character.

How long the Mair Brothers kept the saloon, to whom they sold it, and why, are all mysteries. Its last incarnation as a drinking establishment was as the Badger Lounge, which apparently closed in the mid-90s. Since 1998 it has been part of Lifetrack, a Frogtown social services nonprofit.

738 University 2 IMG_4478

The west side, along Grotto Street, and south side of 738 University Avenue.

Some three blocks east of Lifetrack, tucked between University Avenue and I-94, and Kent and Western Streets, is the unique Central Village neighborhood rooted in the urban renewal movement that took root in the 1950s.

423 and 428 Western Avenue sit side-by-side on a cul-de-sac, which partially explains why one has an even number address and the other is odd.

423 (left) and 428 Western Avenue (right) sit side-by-side on a cul-de-sac. Why one has an odd number address and the other is even is mysterious and likely confusing.

 

The northwest edge of the Central Village neighborhood includes a park that is little-known beyond the area.

The northwest edge of the Central Village neighborhood includes a park that is little-known beyond area residents.

 

Consisting primarily of ranch houses, the Central Village neighborhood was built in the ’70s and ’80s, long after the demise of the original homes and businesses of Rondo. The architectural style of the homes, coupled with cul-de-sacs and “U” shaped streets, feels distinctly suburban. When this neighborhood rose from the flattened remains of Rondo, it was marketed toward African-American families in an effort to keep them from moving to the ‘burbs. Whether by design or happenstance, some of the homes are adorned with dynamic exterior colors that lend a pleasant uniqueness not usually seen in homes of this vintage.

At 560 Aurora, the paint is what I'd call an 'aquaesque.'

At 560 Aurora, the paint is an ‘aquaesque.’

 

The deep blue house is at 510 Aurora.

Nearby, is an emerald blue house at 510 Aurora.

 

The barn red home at 510 Aurora.

Then there is this salmon tinted home.

 

These decades old street lights, with nothing but horizontal and vertical lines, line parts of the Central Park neighborhood.

These decades old street lights, which scream 1970, line parts of the Central Village neighborhood.

 

The more traditional and more recently installed street lamp style is also common here.

The more traditional and more recently installed street lamp style is also common here.

 

‘Urban renewal’ was the polite term local and state officials used to couch the racism of eminent domain to take property often owned by African-Americans. In Saint Paul, the planning, public hearings, and the PR barrage began no later than 1952. The project was given the understated name of ‘Western Redevelopment Area.’ Some of the same documents show plans for what was then called the “Inter-Regional Expressway”, today known as Interstate 94, to plow through the middle of the Rondo neighborhood. Many of these documents were saved and are available to researchers at the George Latimer Downtown Library.

This is a sample of the letter was sent to property owners within the Western Redevelopment Area. It is the most shocking of the public documents I read because it plainly states their property is being taken for demolition and construction of a “new neighborhood…which will be of great benefit to the public.”

This is a sample of the letter sent to property owners within the Western Redevelopment Area. It is the most shocking of the public documents I read because it plainly states their property is being taken for demolition and construction of a “new neighborhood…which will be of great benefit to the public.”

 

The Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority's 1957 location map of the Eastern and Western Redevelopment Areas.

The Saint Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s 1957 location map of the Eastern and Western Redevelopment Areas.

 

In 1957, the HRA labeled an aerial photo to give perspective to the proposed Eastern and Western Redevelopment Areas.

In 1957, the HRA labeled an aerial photo to give perspective to the proposed Eastern and Western Redevelopment Areas.

 

The majority of the records concern the Eastern and Western Redevelopment projects, which involved more than 60 acres of land, located in neighborhoods to the immediate east and west sides of the State Capitol. Initial planning for these projects began in 1952, with property appraisal starting in 1953. By January 1954, the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) had established a housing relocation service to assist those residents whose homes would be demolished as part of the Eastern and Western Redevelopment projects. By the end of 1957, all 1064 families and 253 single individuals formerly living in the redevelopment areas had been relocated. Many thriving businesses were also victims of these projects.

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Not coincidentally, Sears, Roebuck and Company expressed a strong interest in a 14 acre parcel of the Western Redevelopment Project land just southwest of the Capitol. In the late 50s, Sears was one of the biggest retailers in the country, so City leaders were excited beyond words to have the company interested in building in Saint Paul. That feeling wasn’t shared by Downtown business people who were quite concerned, and rightly so, about a new business district pulling customers away.

Sears letter IMG_1488

This May 1960 letter from a Sears, Roebuck and Company official to Saint Paul’s HRA confirmed details of the land purchase in the Western Redevelopment Area for a new Sears store.

As we all know, money talks and so, in April of 1960, Sears, Roebuck and Company officially presented a purchase agreement for the property that in less than three years became the Rice Street Sears.

The Rice Street Sears store shortly after opening in March 1963. Photo courtesy Pleasant Family Shopping

The Rice Street Sears store shortly after opening in March 1963. Photo courtesy Pleasant Family Shopping website

Nearly 60 years later, the Rice Street Sears store’s days are numbered. As Sears’ parent company fades toward insolvency, talk of redevelopment of the store and adjacent parking lots has become persistent. Ironically, one scenario for the Sears property is reestablishing a residential neighborhood on at least some of the land.

Visitors entering Western Sculpture Park from Marion Street are welcomed by this sign.

Visitors entering Western Sculpture Park from Marion Street across from Sears are welcomed by this sign.

Within the Western Redevelopment Project area is a vivid, imaginative and funky space simply called the Western Sculpture Park. Tucked between apartments on a two-block section of Fuller Avenue to the north and Ravoux Street on the south, the park is visible, though likely overlooked by most drivers as they speed past on Marion Street, which passes immediately to the east. This park is worth a visit to see and interact with the assorted, large sculptures. Even better, pick up some Asian food at one of the many fantastic restaurants along University Avenue and have a picnic here. (Click on an image to enlarge it.)

I spent an enjoyable hour in the tranquil Western Sculpture Park, taking photos, contemplating the art from assorted angles, and relaxing.

Click here for a map of Western Sculpture Park. The 15 sculptures here were commissioned in 1998 by Public Art Saint Paul, Fuller Aurora Association, and the City of Saint Paul. The Public Art Saint Paul website has much more about Western Sculpture Park.

My ride home meandered through northern part of Summit-University. In the 400 block of Central Avenue I spotted a most unconventional spot for a spider to spin its web.

The spider that spun this 18 inch diameter web was either gutsy or stupid. It attached the web to a car antenna on the left and a tree on the right!

It took a lot of guts for this spider to spin its 18 inch diameter web here. It’s attached to a car antenna on the left and a tree on the right!

The spider, perhaps a Spotted Orbweaver, was about the size of a half dollar coin.

The spider, perhaps a Spotted Orbweaver, was the largest arachnid I’ve ever seen in Minnesota – slightly smaller than a half dollar coin.

Here is the link to the map of this ride.

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4 Responses to It Looks Like the Suburbs

  1. Tom Quinn September 27, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    For someone who has lived in these areas for most of my life, your article is very interesting.

    Thank you.

    BTW, if I’m not mistaken I think female orbweavers spin their web at dusk and eat it the next day. Anchoring to a street sign and car antennae isn’t so risky after all.

  2. paddy September 27, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

    Hmmm….

    I see a privately run Little League on City Property right next to a future transit line. Looks like a great spot for a couple of tens story towers.

    Thanks for pointing out the opportunity. I see my property tax bill shrinking already

  3. Bob Roscoe October 1, 2017 at 8:46 am #

    Minneapolis has its counterpart, very deliberately named “Suburb in the City,” when the area of ramblers and cul de sacs were built in the early 1970s at the edge of North Minneapolis near Lyndale Avenue. It is an identical twin to Saint Paul’s Central Neighborhood.This era preceded historic preservation, as both cities lacked to planning tools not to mention the foresight.

  4. Alex Schwartz
    Alex Schwartz October 11, 2017 at 11:45 am #

    That is an interesting discussion that you began towards the end of your article, Wolfie. Maybe we should have that discussion about what should happen with that site just north west of downtown. Checking the tax records I found that Sears actually owns 17.36 contiguous acres at that site. That is a lot of land located so close to the Central Business District of Saint Paul. I envision a portion of that land to be allocated as green-space, perhaps a continuation of the Western Sculpture Park.

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