The busy and cacophonous I-94/I-35E commons in Downtown Saint Paul.

Talking with the Walkin’ Man

May 12, 2021

Macalester-Groveland, Summit-University (Cathedral Hill), Downtown, West End

21 Miles

My first blogging bike ride of 2021 filled me with excitement and a touch of apprehension. Both emotions resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited me to a single blogging ride in 2020. Obviously, interviewing people last year was out of the question, which led to the decision to bike just for the sake of biking. With COVID on the run, I was optimistic that people would again be willing to talk with me, allowing the resumption of the blog.

The Cathedral of St. Paul.

Cathedral Hill

It didn’t take long to find someone to speak with. Bo and I met at the corner of Summit Avenue at Selby Avenue. Bo was taking a break after hiking up the steps to Summit Avenue from the bottom of the hill and I was stopped for a red light on Summit Avenue at Selby. A hello to each other was all it took to begin a very pleasant 20-minute conversation.

Bo, a.k.a. “The Walkin’ Man,” at the top of the Selby Steps.

It turned out that Bo was on his daily walk around the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. While he didn’t reveal specifics of his routes, he stays within earshot of the Cathedral bells, which I estimate to be a nine-block circuit. Bo explained, “See how the clock rings? I can do three (laps) in 15 minutes. Now you times that an hour, that’s 12. You do that another hour, it’s another 12, then you do another six (laps), so it’s another 30 minutes after that, so it’s like two-and-a-half hours.”

This sidewalk along Summit Avenue is part of "The Walkin' Man's" daily route.
This sidewalk along Summit Avenue is part of The Walkin’ Man’s daily route.

Bo began walking around the Cathedral Hill neighborhood in 2012 when he weighed 350 pounds. “Started with two (laps). You gotta take your time, gradually. You go two, four and then I started getting stronger and stronger as I was doing it. It went from four to eight, eight to 12.” Since that day nine years ago, Bo said he lost 150 pounds and he’s kept the weight off.

Through his years of hiking the ‘hood, Bo has gotten to recognize many neighbors and has become a bit of a celebrity. “They always speak to me. They call me “Walkin’ Man.”

The Walkin’ Man doesn’t count steps or miles, only laps. Surprisingly to me, he doesn’t walk in the winter. “No, no, it’s too dangerous with that black ice.” Prime walking time for The Walkin’ Man: “from April all the way to maybe October. All depends on the weather. We got crazy weather here in Minnesota. You should know that; you live here.” During the winter The Walkin’ Man works out inside his residence.

The COVID pandemic sidelined The Walkin’ Man in 2020 so he is especially happy to be back on the sidewalks rather than working out at home.

Flowering crab apple trees in Cathedral Hill Park frame the Saint Paul Cathedral.

Downtown

I’ve ventured into parking ramps on my bike a couple of times. Depending upon the ramp and its location, there are impressive views. Unlike in a car, biking around the entrance gate is easy, causes no damage to the gate and, best of all, it’s free. This ride afforded me the chance to do some vertical exploration in the St. Joseph’s Hospital ramp at 59 West 10th Street.

The entrance to the eight level parking garage at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
The entrance to the eight-level parking garage at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

The streets around St. Joe’s weren’t as busy as in the past, which reminded me that patient counts and hospital functions were drastically reduced last December. The depth of the cuts became clear as soon as I got to level three in the ramp and saw the abundance of available parking spots.

Only two cars parked on the third level of the St. Joe’s parking garage. Prior to the closure of most traditional hospital services (including the emergency room), this level - and most of the five above it - would have been packed with vehicles.
Only two cars parked on the third level of the St. Joe’s parking garage. Prior to the closure of most traditional hospital services (including the emergency room), this level – and most of the five above it – would have been packed with vehicles.

St. Joseph’s Hospital, Minnesota’s oldest, was founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1853 to treat victims of a cholera outbreak. Now, M Health Fairview treats COVID-19 patients and those with mental health and addiction conditions at what was clumsily renamed M Health Fairview St. Joseph’s Campus.

Acres of concrete form the !-94/35E commons, previously called “Spaghetti Junction,” and command much of the view from the northwest corner of the parking ramp. Buildings in the background, left to right, are the Minnesota History Museum, Best Western Capitol Ridge Hotel, Veterans Affairs, and behind it, the Capitol.
Acres of concrete form the I-94/35E commons, previously called “Spaghetti Junction,” and command much of the view from the northwest corner of the parking ramp. Buildings in the background, left to right, are the Minnesota History Museum, Best Western Capitol Ridge Hotel, Veterans Affairs, and behind it, the Capitol.
Looking northeast and another section of I-94/35E and the St. Peter, Wabasha and Cedar Street bridges. The buildings, beginning with the Capitol, include the Centennial Office Building, the Ag Department/Health Department lab building, Department of Revenue and Regions Hospital.
Looking northeast at another section of I-94/35E and the St. Peter, Wabasha and Cedar Street bridges. The buildings, beginning with the Capitol, include the Centennial Office Building, the Ag Department/Health Department lab building, Department of Revenue and Regions Hospital.
The St. Joe’s Hospital complex is in the foreground in this view looking southeast. The circular driveway on the right is the now-shuttered emergency room drop-off. The heart of Downtown is in the background.
The St. Joe’s Hospital complex is in the foreground in this view looking southeast. The circular driveway on the right is the now-shuttered emergency room drop-off. The heart of Downtown is in the background.

I slalomed down the eight levels of St. Joe’s parking garage to 10th Street, rode west about a block and turned left. Almost everything about this two-block-long street, from the roadway itself, to its name, to most of the buildings along it, is new since 2016.

The street was renamed Dorothy Day Place because it relates to the location of the original Dorothy Day Center and the expanded Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day campus. According to the City’s Heritage Preservation Commission Staff Report that recommended renaming Main Street, it was “not a typical ‘Main Street’ with retail and gathering spaces, and from looking at historic maps and photos, it doesn’t appear that it was ever a main street.”

Dorothy Day Place is the road just left of center and Interstate 35E is just to the right. This image was taken from the top of St. Joe’s parking ramp.

The expansive Dorothy Day Campus is a new model to prevent and end homelessness, according to Catholic Charities website. A safe, comfortable emergency shelter, permanent homes and services in one place replaced Dorothy Day Center, which opened in 1981 to provide free meals. Its mission expanded to provide overnight shelter to the homeless, something the building was not designed to do.

The old Dorothy Day Center at 183 Old Sixth Street.
Clients lined up at the old Dorothy Day Center, 183 Old Sixth Street. Photo courtesy Catholic Charities.
Dorothy Day Place, as this road has been named since 2017 was platted as part of Fort Street in 1846, then changed to Main Avenue in 1906, and later altered slightly to Main Street.
Dorothy Day Place, as this road has been named since 2017, was platted as part of Fort Street in 1846, then changed to
Main Avenue in 1906, and later altered slightly to Main Street.
Women and men looking to improve their health, housing and overall wellness can get services at the Saint Paul Opportunity Center. https://www.cctwincities.org/locations/saint-paul-opportunity-center/
Women and men looking to improve their health, housing and overall wellness can get services at
the Saint Paul Opportunity Center.
Higher Ground Saint Paul, https://www.cctwincities.org/locations/higher-ground-saint-paul/ opened in January 2017, provides both emergency shelter and long-term efficiency apartments for homeless women, men and their families.
Higher Ground Saint Paul, opened in January 2017, provides both emergency shelter and long-term efficiency apartments for homeless women, men and their families.

Below are two views of Dorothy Day Residence at the corner of Old Sixth Street and Dorothy Day Place. Dorothy Day Residence has about 200 units of permanent housing for women, men and young adults 18 to 24 years old.

The Reigstad Building at 192 9th Street West was built in 1909 for the Junior Pioneer Association, a long-gone religious organization.
The Reigstad Building at 192 Ninth Street West was built in 1909 for the Junior Pioneer Association, a long-gone religious organization.

Tucked behind the Saint Paul Opportunity Center on Ninth is the Beaux Arts-style Reigstad Building. It was constructed in 1909 as the Ramsey County headquarters of the Junior Pioneer Association, a religious organization, and housed the University of Minnesota St. Paul Extension Center from 1963 to 1973.

The Junior Pioneer Association Building in 1925. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
The Junior Pioneer Association Building in 1925. Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

A large room on the second floor, now offices, was a dance and concert venue, at which Little Richard appeared in 1956, according to Twin Cities Music Highlights website.

By 1963 the University of Minnesota Extension Center resided within 192 West 9th Street. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
By 1963 the University of Minnesota Extension Center resided within 192 West Ninth Street. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

The current occupant of the Reigstad Building, not surprisingly, is Reigstad and Associates, a structural engineering company.

From a look at the entire length of the structure, it appears to have been either two buildings or one with an addition of a different vintage.
From a look at the entire length of the structure, it appears to have been either two buildings or one with an addition of a different vintage.
Metal girders extend out the back of the Reigstad Building, giving the impression this part was a factory or had some other industrial function.
Metal girders extend out the back of the Reigstad Building, giving the impression this part was a factory or had some other industrial function.
Perhaps the sign, faded by time and the elements on the east wall offers a clue to a previous use of the back part of the building?
Perhaps the sign on the east wall, faded by time and the elements, offers a clue to a previous use of the back part of the building?

And that completed a look at a petite section of the western part of Downtown. One other note: The conversation with Bo motivated me to increase my physical activity. I’m walking more frequently and longer distances in addition to a few bike rides a week.

Route Map

Except where noted, all images in the article are credited to the author.

Wolfie Browender

About Wolfie Browender

Wolfie Browender has lived in Saint Paul with his wife, Sue, since 1986. He is proud to live in Minnesota's Capitol City. Wolfie is a native of the Milwaukee, WI area. The father of two adult daughters, Wolfie bikes for fun and exercise. You can follow his travels throughout Saint Paul on his blog Saint Paul By Bike-Every Block of Every Street at http://saintpaulbybike.com.