July 19, 2012

8.2 Miles

A long day at work today meant a quick ride tonight.

Snelling Avenue is one of the busiest north-south roads in Saint Paul and the speed limit varies from 40 MPH on the north end of the city to a typical 30 MPH south of Pierce Butler Route.

At the extreme southern end, however, Snelling changes from a stick straight four-lane artery to a curvaceous, tree-lined, steeply sloped two-lane thoroughfare. (9493) For the bike rider, unless training for a race, going down this half-mile switchback is preferable than struggling up the steep hill.

Snelling Avenue ends at West Seventh Street

It doesn’t matter which direction you go, the lack of bike lanes or shoulders requires an acute awareness of cars.

From Snelling and West Seventh, it was onward to Shepard Road, then westward to where Shepard and Mississippi River Boulevard meet.

Two Rivers Overlook

Two Rivers Overlook is a beautiful sculpture garden, interpretive center, rest area and scenic view. Sculptor Philip Ricky and city landscape architect Jody Martinez created the sculptures.

This large house at 1590 Mississippi River Boulevard was the Hollyhocks Nightclub, a notorious gangster hangout in the early 1930s run by a shady character named Jack Peifer.

It was country living on South Cleveland Avenue in the early 1930s. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

This section of Saint Paul was nearly undeveloped at the time but Hollyhocks was still one of the city’s most popular nightclubs until its closure in 1934. In 1936 Peifer committed suicide after being convicted of kidnapping Saint Paul brewer William Hamm, Jr. I knocked on the door in an unsuccessful effort to talk to a resident about living in a home with such an interesting history.

The north entrance to Hidden Falls Regional Park. Down the hill, right, is a boat launch, picnic shelter and tables, biking and hiking trails and the hidden falls. A visit is in order on a future ride.
This tree house, at 1296 Mississippi River Boulevard, is almost across the street from the park. Nice use of the old tree…but I wonder where the entrance to the fort is?
Just around a curve to the south is this sculpture and parking lot used by Hidden Falls’ visitors. I haven’t been able to learning anything about the sculpture or the artist who made it.

Across the street is the shuttered Ford plant, which closed in December 2011.

A convex mirror reflects yours truly and the south building of the Ford plant.

There remain a few signs of life here as you’ll see shortly but nothing like the bustle of trains and trucks moving parts into the plant and glimmering new Ford Ranger pickups out. It makes me angry and sad to see this manufacturing facility idle after 86 years. So many good jobs lost and so many lives markedly changed, even as the Saint Paul plant remained near the top of Ford facilities in efficiency. I’m certain it’s the same feeling that many had when corporations like Hamm’s Brewery, Whirlpool, 3M and others abandoned their Saint Paul facilities.

The Ford plant looking south from Ford Parkway. Photo taken by author on July 2, 2011.

And what will rise from this spot once redevelopment begins? Right now, there are great expectations but I’m concerned we’ll end up with what we don’t need-more strip malls, fast food restaurants and chain stores. Of course I hope my fears about revitalization will be wrong and a creative developer, city officials and neighborhood interests come together to create a unique, useful, architecturally significant, well designed and cost-efficient project. On the bright side, come whatever, it will be more fodder for this blog.

The first vehicle to trundle off the assembly line in 1925 was the Model T on the right. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
The last was a white Ranger pickup like these. Photo taken by author on July 2, 2011.
In between were venerable nameplates like the Galaxie, F150, LTD, Crown Victoria, more than 40 other lesser-known models and during World War II, armored cars and aircraft engines. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
Mother Nature wasted little time in starting to reclaim this small portion of the plant, closed since December of 2011.
Peering through the window at the south end of the plant, pallets and carts are loaded and ready for moving out.

Henry Ford selected this spot in Highland Park for his new factory because of easy access to the Mississippi River, which Ford harnessed to generate inexpensive electricity.

The dam and power station, in the lower right, are still producing electricity.
Above the dam is a small interpretive area with benches…
…a 15-ton cast iron turbine, one of four Ford installed in the hydroelectric plant in 1924 that generated power for 70 years…
and a very nice kiosk detailing the history and anthropology of this part of the Mississippi River.
Architect Albert Kahn designed the original portion of the plant (and other Ford manufacturing facilities.) According to placeography.org, the plant was built with large exterior windows that allowed passersby to watch vehicles move along the assembly line. Photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.
A 1968 expansion resulted in the look of the plant we see today. This is the office area of the plant looking east. That ’68 remodeling did great harm to the aesthetics of the facility viewed from both the outside and in. Photo shot by the author on July 2, 2011.
The lobby looks a little like set from “Mad Men.”

Architect Kahn‘s design features art deco touches like these frescoes.

An office that is still in use in the original section of the plant. I like the Snow Village decorations on the desk, but not in July.

There were many more photos I’d like to have taken had it not been 9 p.m. and the light fading quickly with sunset seven minutes past. I could say much more about the long history of the Twin Cities Ford Assembly Plant, but others have already done so. Here are a couple of links to learn more:



Click for route map: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/157183625


  1. Cool writeup Wolfie. I like the historical photos you through in. Hope they can get some manufacturing jobs into the Ford Plant area.

    The hill at the end of Snelling has gotten more use as we switched over from Fairview for our airport and MOA trips. I can’t imagine peddling up the thing on a bike. And going downhill would be tense also. Coming up on a motorcycle though is pretty fun.

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