Saint Paul By Bike: A Pleasant Ride

July 22, 2017

Macalester-Groveland, Summit Hill, Downtown, Lexington-Hamline (Union Park)

16.7 miles

Ramsey County Records indicate 1523 Sargent was built in 2016.
Ramsey County Records indicate 1523 Sargent was built in 2016.

The very unconventional home at 1523 Sargent Avenue prompted my first pause, shortly after jumping on the bike. There are so many shapes, colors, angles and materials to take in.

Gargoyles protect the entrance of 1523 Sargent.
Gargoyles protect the entrance of 1523 Sargent.
I have seen these rusty, arrow-shaped pipes here and there. I’ve always thought they mark where underground utilities run but haven't confirmed that.
I have seen these rusty, arrow-shaped pipes here and there. I’ve always thought they mark where underground utilities run but haven’t confirmed that.
This 1960 Buick Electra 225 was beautiful, even with some blemishes. That chrome grill and bumper shout Made In America!
This 1960 Buick Electra 225 was beautiful, even with some blemishes. That chrome grill and bumper shout Made In America!
That trunk could hold a Prius, and check out the wrap-around back window.
That trunk could hold a Prius, and check out the wrap-around back window.
Gorgeous script on the Electra logo.
Gorgeous script on the Electra logo.

Summit Hill

The Dr. Louis Gilbert House, 412-414 Holly was built in 1886 and is one of 978 National Register contributing properties in the Historic Hill District.
The Dr. Louis Gilbert House, 412-414 Holly was built in 1886 and is one of 978 National Register contributing properties in the Historic Hill District.
Despite the historic nature of the home, the City had ordered it vacated in May of 2014, more than three years prior to my visit!
Despite the historic nature of the home, the City had ordered it vacated in May of 2014, more than three years prior to my visit!

Downtown

The Pleasant Ridge condos.
The Pleasant Ridge condos.

Pleasant Avenue became home to new townhomes in 2017 dubbed Pleasant Ridge. The seven townhome development was built on the edge of Downtown on land that was primarily covered in trees. Pleasant Ridge Townhomes not coincidentally line the west side of Pleasant Avenue (from 341 to 365 Pleasant), just north of Ramsey Street.

Landscaping and some carpentry was incomplete when I traveled through.
Landscaping and some carpentry was incomplete when I traveled through.
I-35E (on the right) separates Pleasant Avenue from Downtown. Pleasant Ridge is on the left.
I-35E (on the right) separates Pleasant Avenue from Downtown. The Pleasant Ridge development is on the left.
Looking south at the Pleasant Ridge Townhomes in varied states of completion.
Looking south at the Pleasant Ridge Townhomes in varied states of completion.

Just to the north at 311 Pleasant are the unusual Irvine Hill Condominiums. The original section of the building opened in 1928 as Children’s Hospital of St. Paul. Fifteen doctors were on staff at what was a modern hospital focused on the unique needs of children. Children’s Hospital remained at 311 Pleasant for 51 years – until 1979 – when it moved into a new complex with United Hospital just east to Smith Avenue, where it remains today.

Significant elements of the exterior of Children’s Hospital remained after the conversion to condos.
Significant elements of the exterior of Children’s Hospital remained after the conversion to condos.
St. Paul Children’s Hospital around 1930. The hospital sat on five acres of land above Downtown. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
St. Paul Children’s Hospital around 1930. The hospital sat on five acres of land above Downtown. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
Children's Hospital at 311 Pleasant Avenue in 1932. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
Children’s Hospital at 311 Pleasant Avenue in 1932. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
The Irvine Hill Condominiums at 311 Pleasant Avenue.
The newer wing of the Irvine Hill Condos, built in the early ‘80s, is on the left. The former Children’s Hospital wing is on the far right.

The large sign for The Quinlan Home and the fading blacktop driveway are visible from Pleasant Avenue. Not until I rode up the steeply sloped driveway did the Quinlan Home come into view. The grey, cinder block building sits above Pleasant Avenue, blocked from view by trees. The Quinlan Home reminded me of a budget motel from the ‘60s, which may be because it was built in 1963, according to Ramsey County tax records.

The Quinlan Home at 391 Pleasant Avenue.

There isn’t much online about the Quinlan Home. Several websites describe it is a licensed Boarding Care Home, which, according to the state Department of Health, is a care facility for people who need personal or custodial care.

As I sat on my bike looking at the Quinlan Home and grounds, a gentleman walked over and started a conversation. Joe Nixon, a very friendly and fit middle aged man wearing a blue shirt and shorts, told me he had been living in the Quinlan Home for about a month. “I called and said, ‘You mind if I come over there and go on a tour of the place?’ And  she (Stacy, the Quinlan manager) was like, ‘Yup, you can come in today if you want and I’ll take you on a tour. ’ She took me on a tour and I fell in love with it right away.”

Joe Nixon, whom I met outside of The Quinlan Home.
Joe Nixon, whom I met outside of The Quinlan Home.

After a month at Quinlan, Joe remained pleased – with his room, the food, other residents and the staff.  “There’s a lot of activities. They take you different places like a Twins game, Wal-Mart, the movies. Maids come in and clean your room for you, make your bed, clean your bathroom and do your laundry. The staff does a lot for you. They go above and beyond.”

Joe explained that his familiarity with the neighborhood went back years. “I grew up here, right on Laurel, not far from all these big houses. As a kid I used to come over to this area all the time. We used to ride our bikes down the Ramsey Hill with no brakes. We had no brakes! You know how kids are – daredevils.”

After talking for several minutes, Joe became remarkably open about his life, describing time he’d spent more recently in the area. “I used to be homeless around here. I used to see this place all the time. We had a little camp in those woods over there. I used to see guys comin’ from here and I used to say, ‘Damn, I wish I was livin’ in there.’ Ironically, here I am.”

I was curious as to how Joe escaped homelessness. “I just got out of it by working with different people; social workers, case workers. That’s how I got out of it. ‘Cause you know, it’s rough. Bein’ homeless is rough. You do a lot of walkin’ man. I used to walk I don’t know how many miles a day.”

Joe mentioned that injuries to his neck and one hand made it problematic to work. He explained that he was getting physical therapy for both injuries and seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist.

Later in the conversation Joe reflected on his life, telling me, “I’ve got a lot of regrets, man, ‘cause there’s a lot of things I could have done with my life. I took that wrong road and led to disaster. Prison time and drugs and alcohol and cigarettes and criminal activities. Those are things I regret getting involved in. I look back on it and realize that victimizing other people is not a cool thing.”

Joe offered some optimism as well. “I’m trying to stay positive ‘cause I used to do a lot of crazy stuff. Now I try to keep positive people around me at all times. I haven’t had any drugs or drinking in 12 years and I quite smoking 11 years ago.

Our conversation eventually turned to less serious topics like bike riding and the impending visit of Joe’s brother. We shook hands, wished each other the best, and I rode off.

Lex-Ham (Lexington-Hamline or Union Park)

In a topographical quirk, the five homes from 1480 to 1500 Carroll Avenue are between 10 and 20 feet above street level. The rapid elevation change resulted in some compelling landscaping challenges.

One gets the feeling of entering a castle when going from the sidewalk to the front of 1494 Carroll Avenue.
One gets the feeling of entering a castle when going from the sidewalk to the front of 1494 Carroll Avenue.
A cement block retaining wall restrains the side yard of 1494 Carroll. The fence enclosing the side yard suggests to me a WWE wrestling ring.
A cement block retaining wall restrains the side yard of 1494 Carroll. The fence enclosing the side yard suggests to me a WWE wrestling ring.
Just two doors to the west, 1506 Carroll (far left) is at sidewalk/street level, as is the unabashedly blue 1510.
Just two doors to the west, 1506 Carroll (far left) is at sidewalk/street level, as is the unabashedly blue 1510.

Three blocks west but still on Carroll Avenue, another classic American car. This pause was to eyeball a nice 1955 Pontiac Chieftain coupe.

It appears the Pontiac Chieftain has the original paint.
It appears the Pontiac Chieftain has the original paint.
Look at the “eyebrows” above the lights!
Look at the “eyebrows” above the lights!
The back of the Chieftain shows more wear than the front.
The back of the Chieftain shows more wear than the front.

With fewer than three miles to go until home, that effectively put a wrap on this ride. To view the map of this trek click here.

Streets.mn is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

,

7 Responses to Saint Paul By Bike: A Pleasant Ride

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 12, 2019 at 12:50 pm #

    It would be fun to try and trace all the old remnants of Pleasant Avenue pre-35E. I did not know about the Children’s Home! Thanks for writing this.

    • Wolfie Browender
      Wolfie Browender March 12, 2019 at 6:00 pm #

      Thank you, Bill. tracing what remains of Pleasant Avenue is a great idea. I tried to use an early 1900s plat map to show its route but it took too much time to pull it together. I’ll do it for a future post.
      Always appreciate you reading and commenting.
      Wolfie

  2. John Welbes March 12, 2019 at 4:30 pm #

    I’m dying laughing here.

    A story on streets.mn that includes a nostalgic look at vintage, gas-guzzling automobiles? And no bike racks on the back?

    Good stuff. Somebody take a screenshot, quick, before the car police move the photos to a Richfield-based website. Or perhaps Shakopee.

    (It’s a good story Wolfie. Stay true.)

    • Wolfie Browender
      Wolfie Browender March 12, 2019 at 6:05 pm #

      John, always glad to bring a smile or laugh to a readers, even if unintentionally. Thanks for your thoughts about Streets.mn and my post. For the record, I’ve never had pressure from anyone at Streets to de-emphasize or eliminate positive comments about cars. (Of course, I would refuse.) BTW, I miss seeing your byline in the SPPP. Thanks very much for reading.
      Wolfie

      • John Welbes March 12, 2019 at 6:46 pm #

        Good to hear from you Wolfie.

  3. Frank Phelan March 14, 2019 at 9:13 am #

    When we bought our home in 1991, I hired a home inspector who said the biggest property he ever inspected for a buyer was that old children’s hospital.

    • Wolfie Browender
      Wolfie Browender March 14, 2019 at 11:02 am #

      That must have been one long inspection, Frank. Did he give you any other info about it?

Note on Comments

streets.mn welcomes opinions from many perspectives. Please refrain from attacking or disparaging others in your comments. streets.mn sees debate as a learning opportunity. Please share your perspective in a respectful manner. View our full comment policy to learn more.

Thanks for commenting on streets.mn!