July 22, 2012
The landmark Highland Park Water Tower is familiar to anyone who’s passed near the majestic structure at Snelling and Ford Parkway. While there is much to appreciate from the exterior, the significance of the water tower becomes evident only through exploration of the inside. Twice a year, in conjunction with Highland Fest and on the second weekend of October, the Saint Paul Regional Water Services opens the tower, completed in 1928, for tours. I planned today’s route expressly so I could climb the 151 stairs to the top of the Highland Park Water Tower.
I met Lawrence Petrie of the Saint Paul Regional Water Services on the observation deck, more than 120 feet above the street. He told me about the materials used on the water tower, “It’s a lot of hand cut stone, Kasota stone from Minnesota, and I think even the brick was made in Minnesota in Mankato.“
It is rumored that Italian stone cutters, because of their experience and the difficulty of the work, were brought in to cut the Kasota stone. However Lawrence said there is no historical evidence of that.
The Highland Park Water Tower was designed by Clarence “Cap” Wigington, who as City of Saint Paul architect became Minnesota’s first licensed African-American architect and the first African-American municipal architect in the US.
Despite Cap Wigington’s successes, he was subjected to subtle and overt racism common during the time. One example is the water tower dedication plaque and blueprints on which his name was omitted. Wigington designed dozens of uniquely beautiful public buildings, including six Winter Carnival ice palaces, during 34 years as a Saint Paul city architect.
“People come up here and their eyes get wide. Obviously the views are spectacular. You can see anywhere from the Carlson Towers in Plymouth to the Bayport smokestack.” added Lawrence.
Referring to the water tower, Lawrence told me, “It’s still officially in service mainly because the other two towers that are out here now, all three of them are valved to be one big tank. As long as it holds water there is no reason to take it out of service, it just adds to the capacity.”
From the Highland Park Water Tower I traveled east, then north to 1232 Juliet Avenue, just east of Griggs Street. Here was this uncommon two-story house that obviously was recently built.
In my trekking in this area of the city I’ve seen several newer homes with similar geometric designs and metallic looking materials.
Homeowner Charles Stuurop told me the house was completed in October 2011 after about 18 months of work. He described the house he tore down to build this one as a, “…two bedroom, one bath Dutch colonial with two spotty additions on it.”
Charles revealed to me that he created the unique design himself, “I’m originally from New York and always just been into architecture. When I bought the house originally, the first house, I always had the intent of tearing it down and building something new. It’s just kind of a collection of ideas I put together over the past 10 to 12 years.”
While non-traditional, the color scheme really appealed to me. Charles explained that the color combination was based on an old BMX bike he had in the 80s.
Charles said this house is about twice the size of the original Dutch colonial which he explained this way, “Plenty of kids now so we needed the room.”
Family friendly features Charles built into the home include entertainment, guest and playrooms on the lower level; a second floor laundry room near the bedrooms and an abundance of windows to make it easier for everyone to keep tabs on what’s going on outside.
And my favorite element, “We have rooftop patio with a green roof up there that is being grown, which you can get to from the master bedroom and at the same time too, the spiral stairs go up there.” While you wouldn’t have to worry about mosquitoes on the patio 25 feet up, migrating birds could be problematic.
Next stop…the western-most portion of Concordia University at Hamline and Concordia Avenues.
From Sea Foam Stadium it was only a three blocks to the worst sight I’ve seen since beginning Saint Paul By Bike.
While not Summit Avenue by a long shot (this part of Dayton Avenue is surrounded by a couple of shed-like warehouses, an auto salvage yard and a parking lot) I am astounded that a pile of debris this large was dumped here unseen and that no one has taken responsibility for its removal. I did let the city know about this pox on the area.
TAXI! This innocuous brick building behind the cabs at 1463 Marshall Avenue is St. Paul Yellow Taxi’s H.Q. Trivia: John D. Hertz, founded Yellow Cab Company in Chicago in the mid-1910s. The company name came from the color he had his cabs painted after conferring with experts at the University of Chicago.
Finally, as I neared home, I spied a woman and her two dogs in her Summit Avenue yard.
The take away from today’s ride-make a point of touring the Highland Park Water Tower during one of the two weekends it’s open. The views are fabulous, the history enlightening and the price is right.
Here’s the map of today’s route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/157183625