April 1, 2012
I know better than put total trust in the weather forecast but still, yesterday’s cool, grey weather was disappointing and enough to scuttle my planned ride. That’s why I was very excited to see the sun finally come out late this morning making today’s ride a GO.
I biked nearly all of the four-mile-long Jefferson Avenue, starting at Finn Avenue. I went east until Jefferson ends where it bumps into Colbourne Avenue and the parking lot of the Saint Paul Public Schools’ administration building.
This large piece of land has been home to school district facilities for the past 30-plus years. Before that, as early as 1873, Saint Paul’s first hospital, City and County Hospital was there.
The hospital became Ancker Hospital in 1923, named in honor of Dr. Arthur B. Ancker, hospital superintendent for more about 40 years. Ancker hospital closed its doors in 1965 when a new facility, named St. Paul-Ramsey Hospital, was completed at Jackson Street and University Avenue near downtown.
The west side of Colborne Avenue, opposite the school district facilities, is neatly lined with houses. The dwelling at 321 Colborne stands out with its stone and brick construction and other embellishments.
Next stop was about four blocks away, on Emma Street, an area the railroads call Fordson Junction.
Dori Ullman and her son, Terrence Sweeney, graciously interrupted their walk to tell me enthusiastically about the locale that Dori called the “Dousman neighborhood.” Dori and Terrence lived nearby through his high school years, moved to Seattle and have lived at 333 Superior Street since they returned to Saint Paul about 13 years ago. Terrence reminisced about growing up in the area. “I was born at Ancker Hospital, which was over where the school district is now. The old power plant was a temperature gauge in the winter. The more steam that came out of the smokestack, the colder it was.”
Dori told me, “This is the best neighborhood. People know each other; people care about each other. The neighborhood has improved over the years. Many neighbors have renovated their homes.” Terrence added that they got in on the home improvements by adding a deck, finishing their basement and painting the trim of their house bright blue.
The latest project, according to Dori, is creation of the Dousman Neighborhood Community Garden. “We passed out flyers around the neighborhood and about two dozen neighbors have signed up to take part. We’re going to meet at a local coffee shop and we’re all excited about it.”
The battle Dori, Terrence and their neighbors successfully fought against the nearby Gopher State Ethanol plant (formerly Minnesota Brewing and Schmidt) from 2000 to 2004 might be what really brought everyone together. Dori said she got involved in the citizens group that battled to close the plant. She called the plant, “Stinky! We hired attorneys and nickel and dimed them to death until they had to close. ” In four years of operation, there were nearly constant complaints from residents about smells; there were several fires and ammonia leaks at the facility. Dori expressed genuine excitement over the planned redevelopment of the historic former brewery into affordable housing, commercial, and retail space.
From Dousman, it was up, up, up the Smith Avenue High Bridge to the West Side. The views are always fabulous from the High Bridge so believe me when I say that the only reason I stopped was to share some of that beauty with you.
This now shuttered theater at 627 Smith Avenue was interesting enough to get me to stop and investigate.
The Mohawk Theater opened sometime about 1922 and apparently remained a movie theater until at least the ’50s. The next incarnation for the building was as a Masonic Temple followed by a rental hall called the Smith Avenue Hall. After closing again, the building was purchased in 2007 and reopened as the Rivertown Theater.
Here’s where the building’s history gets really interesting. According to several news reports, either Republican National Convention protesters or anarchists, depending upon whom was asked, rented the Rivertown in August 2008 . At about 9:15p.m. on September 1, the night before the start of the convention, Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputies and St. Paul police officers broke into the former theater with guns drawn. At least 50 people were detained but few, if any were arrested.
My ride continued southward (and upward) on Smith to Annapolis Street, the border of Saint Paul and West St. Paul. From there I went west two blocks to Cherokee Avenue and back north as I began the homeward trek.
Ahhhh…going down Smith Avenue.
Back in the West 7th neighborhood two other sights were worthy of photos.
Three blocks to the west is the finest shrub-fence I’ve ever seen. It’s probably the only shrub-fence I’ve ever seen. But still…
The 13 miles didn’t diminish my enthusiasm for being back on my bike. After the layoff of more than a week, even the Smith Avenue hill felt great.