Colorful Stories Bubbling Up From Old Breweries

August 20, 2023

14.1 miles

Macalester-Groveland, West End

On this ride, prepare to be captivated as we pause to admire St. Paul’s favorite bovine, delve into the odd streets in Victoria Park, and embark on a sensational tour of a one-time brewery-turned-apartment complex which includes an exclusive conversation with two talented resident artists.

Rosie is ready for the beach.
Rosie is ready for the beach.

Rosie the cow stands watch at the corner of Randolph Avenue and Warwick Street without exception in a way that only the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier can outdo. Of course, she is always properly attired for the weather and holidays. On this lovely summer day, Rosie was ready for a trip to the beach.

Victoria Park

Although it’s been around since 2014, the Victoria Park neighborhood in the West End continues to develop according to the Victoria Park Master Plan. Once the site of the large Exxon-Mobil tank farm, it now features apartments, condominiums, senior living facilities, a charter school, an athletic field and a park.

Left-the Victoria Park area in 1974, and right, the same area in 2022. Ramsey County

The subdivision is unusual for St. Paul; curvy streets with names that appear to randomly change based upon a whim.

Victoria Way, for example, stretches through nearly the entire neighborhood (with a gradual 100 degree curve) except for the one block between West 7th and Kay/Adrian where it’s named Thurston Street. Kay Avenue, meanwhile, bends in the opposite direction at a larger angle and ends at the Victoria Way/Thurston Street intersection.

The intersection of Kay Avenue and Victoria Way.
The intersection of Kay Avenue and Victoria Way. Townhomes line the west side of Victoria Way (left) and the Victoria Park Apartments are on the east.

Four roads — Kay, Madison, Perlman and Thurston — were added to the lexicon of St. Paul street names with the construction of the subdivision. Kay Avenue is likely named for Harry Kay, who created a new method to process potatoes. Kay and his family moved to St. Paul in 1953. When he died in 1983, his company, Processed Potatoes Inc., then headquartered in Minneapolis, employed more than 1,000 people. His legacy survives through the Harry Kay Foundation, which supports Jewish organizations in Minnesota and Israel.

The pie-shaped piece of open land along Kay Avenue belongs to Nova Classical Academy, the building at the far right.
The Shalom Home campus
The Shalom Home campus at 740 Kay Avenue, offers senior living options such as independent living, short and long term care, and hospice care

A Neighborhood of Breweries

The West End became a prominent spot for breweries in the late 1800s. Fresh water from underground and sandstone caves near the Mississippi River offered the proper conditions to brew beer and keep it cool in the days before refrigeration. Commercial brewing in St. Paul began in 1848 when Anthony Yoerg, a German immigrant, started turning his home into a brewery.

'Yoerg's Brewery' November 1886 edition "Northwest Magazine".
A drawing of ‘Yoerg’s Brewery’ from the November 1886 edition of “Northwest Magazine”. Minnesota Historical Society

Other breweries with names like Banholzer, Bruggemann, Funk, Schmidt, Stahlmann, and Wurst, operated in the West End in the 1800s or 1900s, and some beyond that. Schmidt Brewery was the longest operating and by far the largest of those breweries.
While all of those breweries are long gone, there remain vestiges of the heyday of West End brewing. The lovely brick and stone dwelling at 398 Duke Street is one of them. The Melchior Funk house was built in 1887 for the brewer and his wife Wilhelmina. Today the Italianate-style structure houses three condominiums.

The front of the Melchior Funk house, 398 Duke Street.
The front of the Melchior Funk house, 398 Duke Street.
Built in 1887, the Funk house has been converted into three condominiums.
Built in 1887, the Funk house has been converted into three condominiums.

The Old Schmidt Brewery

The Schmidt Artist Lofts, 900 West 7th Street.
The Schmidt Artist Lofts, 900 West 7th Street.

The exclamation point of old West End breweries is this towering building — which could pass for a medieval castle — that has housed Schmidt Artist Lofts since 2014. The exterior of the century-old brewery and ancillary buildings look very much as they did when two million barrels of beer came out of the copper brew kettles every year.

Schmidt Brewery circa 1905. Minnesota Historical Society
Schmidt Brewery circa 1905. Minnesota Historical Society

The building’s interior, however, underwent sweeping changes in the monumental conversion from brewery to apartment homes for several hundred people.

Two artists — painters, MaryBeth Garrigan and Petra Johnita Lommen — each have their own apartment in the former brewery bottling house. They invited me to talk, see their art and tour the building.

MaryBeth Garrigan, left, and Petra Johnita Lommen,
Painters MaryBeth Garrigan, left, and Petra Johnita Lommen, right, stand with one of their collaborative paintings.

MaryBeth has been interested in the visual arts for decades, starting in high school, where she made sets and large backgrounds for the theater.

She studied studio arts at the University of Minnesota, but between her mother getting ill and department politics, she opted to switch majors to her second love, animal science. Still, she loved art and kept painting.

A litany of avian-and animal-related jobs came after college for MaryBeth, including time at the U. of M. Bell Museum; the Peregrine Falcon recovery program at Cornell University; Como Zoo, as a falconer; the U. of M. Raptor Center; and the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.

Colbert Report; MaryBeth &
MaryBeth brought Harriet the eagle from the National Eagle Center in Wabasha to the Colbert Report on Comedy Central in 2007. Comedy Central

MaryBeth served as the director of the Eagle Center from 2000 to 2012, when she retired. “I’ve done what I’ve come to do. And then when my husband started getting sick, I retired because it’s a 24-7 job and I just needed to spend time with Mark.”

Happenstance led MaryBeth to the Schmidt Artist Lofts. She returned to the Twin Cities in 2013 and was living with her brother. At that time, she was painting and preparing to start teaching at the American Indian Magnet School in St. Paul. “My cousin called me and she’s like, ‘Mary Beth, you have to come visit.’

“And I go, ‘Where are you?’

‘I’m in this really cool place, the Schmidt Artist Lofts, and I don’t know how I got here, but it’s really cool.’

So, I went to visit her, and I felt like, ‘Oh, this is the place I need to be.”

An interesting postscript is that MaryBeth’s two daughters, both of whom are also artists, moved with a friend into their own apartment in the Artist Lofts.

A peek into MaryBeth's apartment inside what was the bottling house.
A peek into MaryBeth’s apartment inside what was once the Schmidt brewery’s bottling house.

Petra moved to the Schmidt Artist Lofts after her own meandering career. She, too, went to the U of M to study art, and graduated with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Fine Arts with concentrations in painting and drawing. Petra intended to teach at a college or university but her inability to get a tenure-track position led to a career change.

A friend who worked at the Science Museum of Minnesota suggested she apply for an open job in the museum bookstore. Although Petra didn’t have any training or experience in the sciences, she’d enjoyed planetariums and astronomy and was enamored with dinosaurs as a child. She got the bookstore job but intentionally stayed away from the dinosaur exhibits. “I kept avoiding the dinosaur hall. I kept walking by it, thinking, ‘I’d really like to go in there, but I’m afraid it’s like a black hole. If I walk in there, I might not ever leave.’”

Petra told herself she was an artist, not a dinosaur expert. Surprisingly, that combination is exactly what museum staff wanted. “They said, ‘Oh, we’d really like you to come down because you are an artist and we’d like you to see this pose on these Pseudodontorn birds that we’re working on to see if it looks correct.'”

Petra accepted the invitation to visit the lab and not long after, she was hired to work there. Eventually, Petra worked her way up to being supervisor of the dinosaur hall. Among her career highlights were writing three scientific papers that got accepted by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology After that, Petra was part of the team that dug up the Lyle Woolly Mammoth in southern Minnesota and she assisted with the move of the Science Museum to its current Kellogg Avenue spot. After 10 years at the museum, Petra left to teach art and paint.

For Petra, the selection of the Schmidt Artist Lofts was intentional. She read about the conversion of the brewery to apartments in the newspaper and thought it would be a “cool” place to live. She applied for an apartment in December 2014 and was told there were a staggering 600 people on the waiting list for a spot. Petra added her name to the list and much to her surprise, she got a call from apartment management almost immediately. “I got home and all of a sudden, they called and said, ‘We seem to maybe have an opening, and you have to jump through all these hoops, like produce a resume and all that stuff [to] prove you’re an artist.’” So, Petra created a 30-page document detailing the exhibitions and museum shows she’d done.

Then the waiting game was on. “A couple weeks would go by and I’d keep calling up every day. ‘Do you still have that place? I want that place.’”

At long last, Petra got the call inviting her to look at an apartment. “They took me down and said, ‘This is the only place we have.’ It was really small, but I said, ‘Yeah, I want that.’ So I took it right away.” Her new apartment, it so happened, was next door to MaryBeth’s, whom Petra met as she moved in.

Years later, both women enjoy living at the former brewery. MaryBeth summed it up. “It’s camaraderie of art and creativity and meeting other artists.”

Creating Art

Among the requirements for renting an apartment at Schmidt Artist Lofts is that at least one member of the household is approved as an artist. However, they do not have to make their living as an artist. Painters, sculptors, musicians, photographers, writers, dancers and other performers are among the accepted types of artists. There are also income restrictions on residents.

Petra and MaryBeth create their own works individually but they work together quite often as well. The collaborative painting began several months after they met, somewhat by accident. As Petra explained, “I do figurative things with people and things, so I don’t really do animals. I just wanted to do an owl in homage to my mother who had died.”

She asked MaryBeth to paint the owl for her, but MaryBeth said no. After 30 years of working with birds, she explained that she doesn’t like to paint them.

So, Petra painted the owl, which elicited quite the reaction from MaryBeth. “That’s horrible,” she said MaryBeth had told her. MaryBeth had then continued, “I’ll have to paint it. I hate that. It looks like a bowling pin.”

Petra said that MaryBeth added, “You’ve got to make it look like the silhouette at least, so people can recognize it’s an owl.” They both laughed at the recollection, making it clear that Petra took no offense to the criticism.

The finished painting with the eagle silhouette.

As we talked, I noticed that their collaboration extended beyond art to our interview, with them both answering questions. Regarding working together on paintings, Petra responded, “Songwriters do it all the time. The Beatles!”

MaryBeth continued, “That’s Lennon,” pointing to Petra, “and I’m McCartney,” she added, with an ebullient laugh.

The way in which the partnership manifests itself depends upon the painting, according to Petra, as she explained, “Every painting we’ve done has a different type of twist. It’s not a formula.”

MaryBeth elaborated, “Sometimes it’s a problem-solving thing when we work together. Sometimes we know what we want to do, and we work together at the same time. Or sometimes I’ll do something and then Petra will add to it, so it can be very different for each one.”

MaryBeth painted the trees in the background white, but Petra had a different vision. “I thought all the white was taking away from the moon and the glow of the stars because it was just too much white. So I said, ‘Oh, I’ll change it to blue.'” MaryBeth agreed the change improved the painting.

Their painting partnership, which they’ve named Ugly Daisy Studio, has proven successful. They’ve had showings at galleries at the Schmidt Lofts and elsewhere. Their piece “Cast Your Fate to the Moon” won the 2022 Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival Poster Design Contest.

"Cast Your Fate to the Moon" won the 2022 Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival Poster Design Contest.
“Cast Your Fate to the Moon”, Petra and MaryBeth’s collaborative painting, won the 2022 Greater Yellowstone Crane Festival Poster Design Contest. The painting reflects the importance of a dark night sky to bird migration.

“I thought, there’s no way we’re going get into this competition, because they all want Audubon type of things or duck stamps and we’re so surrealistic.” In reality, said Petra, the opposite occurred. “They liked it because of the surrealism, because it had a more spiritual, strange mysticism.”

Another collaboration — this time including musician Jerry Kosak — will officially be unveiled at a June 2024 event.

Here are some other works by MaryBeth and Petra.

  • "The Morrighan" by MaryBeth Garrigan, Petra Johnita Lommen, Rick Pirtle
  • "Cygnus Homage to the Children of Lir" by MaryBeth Garrigan and Petra Johnita Lommen.
  • "Cold Day With a Hawk" by MaryBeth Garrigan. Courtesy the artist
  • "Queens" by MaryBeth Garrigan. Courtesy the artist
  • "Star Woman’s Sacred Medicine Spiral" by Petra Johnita Lommen. Courtesy the artist

Touring the Buildings

The Schmidt Artist Lofts space is immense — about 410,000 square feet, with 260 rental units (no two the same) spread out over three buildings. The former brew house (the tall, sprawling castle-like building) remains the centerpiece of the complex, and sitting just east is the old bottling house. Thirteen three-bedroom townhomes, newly constructed for the artist lofts project, are less than 100 feet farther east.

After finishing our interview, Petra, MaryBeth, and I wandered through the buildings and onto one of the roofs of the vast former brewery. Petra and MaryBeth showed off the plethora of galleries, studios, meeting spaces and other fascinating spots, photos of which can be found below. Overall, these photos showcase how the architecture of the old brewery has been modified and sometimes incorporated into the artists’ space.

  • painting studio
  • The ceramics studio is also in the bottling house basement.
  • Work tables inside the ceramics studio.
  • One of several galleries within the artist lofts buildings.
  • Filterroom beer tap photo
  • Tunnel between buildings
  • bottling line equipment
  • Hallway/gallery
  • hallway gallery
  • The door to one of the apartments.
  • community room
  • Pig's Eye Gallery
  • Apartments in bottling house
  • Indoor roof lounge
  • rooftop deck looking northeast
  • rooftop view north
  • cathedral and smokestack
  • Tables & chairs on the rooftop
  • Lounge chairs on the roof
  • brew tank
  • Brewery staircase
  • Pumps & mural

My sentiments lean strongly toward historic preservation especially with a landmark structure. Thanks to all of the private and public entities that came together against difficult odds to make the Schmidt Artist Lofts, an ambitious and expensive project, an unequivocal success. Fortunately, the Schmidt Artist Lofts gives us one less reason to lament the destruction of an irreplaceable piece of St. Paul architecture and history.

This article first appeared in Wolfie Browender’s blog, Saint Paul By Bike — Every Block of Every Street. All images are by the author, except where noted.

Wolfie Browender

About Wolfie Browender

Pronouns: He/Him/His

Wolfie Browender has lived in Saint Paul with his wife, Sue, since 1986. His two adult daughters also live in the Capital City, one Downtown and the other on the East Side. Wolfie bikes for fun and exercise. Follow his travels along the more than 800 miles of streets in his quest to ride every block of every street in Saint Paul on his blog Saint Paul By Bike at