August 18, 2012
Today I set off to check out University Avenue to see what’s up in the wake of light rail construction, but first, a sign stop at Marshall and Cretin.
My first subject on University Avenue was the Midwest Hotel, just east of Cretin. The Midwest, 2144 University, well-known to University Avenue travelers, has a somewhat shady reputation. I spent about 10 minutes shooting pictures of the hotel and never saw anyone inside, enter or exit. I couldn’t find much about the Midwest Hotel on the Internet-not surprisingly it doesn’t have a website-but according to realty website http://www.loopnet.com, it has 35 ‘units’ that can be rented by the night, the week or longer term.
Proponents of the hugely expensive Central Corridor rail line have told us time and again the project will stimulate business growth along University Avenue. I certainly hope that happens, but for now, two years of construction have had a demonstrably negative effect on commerce along much of the Avenue, as these shots I took in the 1900 block show.
The inter-meshing of art, history and industry at the intersection of University and Fairview isn’t evident when driving by but there’s a lot to experience and learn if you have some time to look around.
The Major Tire Company building could be mistaken for many other brick buildings on University Avenue, until you see its east-facing wall. Then you glimpse the dramatic mural, which offers a distinctive view of University Avenue. Scott Murphy was commissioned in 2007 to create this piece.
Scott told me the mural was a, “…fun project because it was a tired corner.” However, he was at times, “nervous because it’s (the area) wild and wooly.”
Scott had to overcome some technical hurdles to create the large masterpiece on a brick wall along a busy city street. He started by drawing a small to-scale rendering of the mural.
Then he put a projector on a tall ladder, cast the drawing on the wall with the projector and traced lines with a thick marker. Even though it was night, Scott found had trouble tracing the outline on the wall. The lights of nearby businesses, street lamps and passing cars created such a bright environment that all he could see was shapes and little detail.
Scott had many visitors daily, including some who became regulars.
“One guy was out taking pictures and he badgered the mayor into coming out.”
Scott told of funny incidents that occurred during the month-plus he spent on the mural. “One guy showed up and asked if he could be in the mural. I said, ‘no but I’ll tell you what. Your Lab can be in the mural. Get me some shots.’ He came back the next day with 100 shots-8 by 10s!”
Another time, said Scott, several kids came over and started asking him questions. “I knew they were taggers and I gave them cookies and candy. I spent a fortune but I didn’t want them to paint over my mural. They made their own mural on the roof of the building next door using the same colors.”
I noticed some familiar faces on the trolley and questioned Scott about them. “Next to Mr. Moose, on the right, is Bob Dylan. In the front of the trolley is Paul Wellstone, next to him is a community activist and I can’t remember her name, behind her is Prince.”
One person Scott didn’t include but now wishes he had is former Governor Jesse Ventura, “He annoyed me but I should have put him in because he helped get Light Rail in.”
Scott spent more than a month completing the mural. During that time the owner of Major Tire put him up in one of the apartments above the store.
The Griggs-Midway Building, across Fairview Avenue from the Major Tire mural, accommodates dozens of non-profits and small businesses.
Griggs, Cooper & Company was founded in 1882 and moved from downtown Saint Paul to this larger building in about 1912.
At that time it was said to be the largest cannery in the world. Later, hundreds of workers manufactured and packaged crackers, cookies, candy, coffee, spices and jelly under the ” Home Brand” and “Sanitary Products” labels.
Edging University Avenue in front of the Griggs-Midway Building is this bus shelter and marker for Dickerman Park, almost certainly the least known of all Saint Paul’s parks. According to the marker, Griggs, Cooper & Company and the Dickerman Investment Company in 1909 donated to the City of Saint Paul a linear swath of land on the north side of University Avenue between Fairview and Aldine Street. At the time, there was some consideration to converting University to a landscaped boulevard, an idea that clearly didn’t materialize. Dickerman Park effectively suffered the same fate.
While still owned by the City, Dickerman Park land has gradually been cannibalized by businesses and organizations abutting it for parking lots, a garden and a playground.
A strong effort, including a study and design by a landscape architect, to create a true park has been on going for about 10 years. www.dickermanpark.org is a very good source for additional information about the history of and hopes for the park.
The Russian Hamburgers, Tea House and Peroshki restaurant has intrigued me for years, yet I’ve still not patronized it. The eastern European delicacies are served limited hours, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday so it wasn’t open today when I stopped.
Hamline University is Minnesota’s Minnesota’s oldest chartered University. The first students began classes in about 1855 in Red Wing. That facility was closed in July 1869 and Hamline reopened in its present location in 1880.
Riding east from Hamline to the 1200 block of Hewitt, there was what appeared to be a greenhouse in a yard.
A quick climb up the hill in the front yard confirmed, yes, that sure is a greenhouse. Next move, down the alley for a better look and then back to the front.
A sizable greenhouse in a residential neighborhood generated a whole bunch of questions. As I was about to knock on the door, Tim Page emerged from the house. He invited me into his yard and asked his partner, Cherry Flowers, to join us for an interview.
My first question was why a greenhouse? Before answering the question Cherry explained the nuances of greenhouses. “Usually if they’re smaller, which is what you might see around town, they’re are called a hoop house, and when they’re bigger they’re called a high tunnel and when they are beefier, they’re called a greenhouse.”
This, then is a hoop house.
As to why, Tim told me, “We were both already working in urban agriculture and we had a double lot and we were doing some growing in the back by the fence. Then a friend of mine knew someone who was selling the high tunnel, and we went up and looked at it and it was just a natural progression.”
Because the structure isn’t permanent Cherry and Tim needed no permits or variances but they did discuss their plan with neighbors, especially the woman immediately next door.
The assortment of crops in the hoop house is remarkable-pumpkins, herbs, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, melons and grapes. Cherry and Tim sell much of the produce to area restaurants.
Cherry and Tim gave credit to relatives, friends and neighbors who helped them clear the back yard of sod, put up the high tunnel and put in yards of mulch to enrich the soil.
This is Tim and Cherry’s first year with the hoop house so they learned a great deal since starting out in March. They’ve purchased a tank in which they’re intending to raise fish, perhaps koi.
Cherry and Tim sent me on my way with a some of their delicious produce. The most interesting and tasty was a handful of ground cherries-small, sweet, juicy, yellow cousins to tomatoes.
Both had so much more to say about their high tunnel and urban gardening that I will be posting a longer entry about them soon.
The last stop of the day was for this stairway at 2205 Dayton.
Click below for the map of today’s ride.