September 3, 2012 (Labor Day)
Color, being extremely subjective, is a good way to express one’s individuality. This is especially true for clothing and cars but less often with houses. Home owners might select the exterior tint based upon the historical context or preference but usually the colors are inoffensive greys, whites or earth tones. Occasionally, however, folks choose to make a statement. I didn’t know it when I began the ride, but I was about to come upon several unique paint schemes.
The intersection of Hamline and Hague Avenues is unusual in that there are actually two Hamline-Hague intersections. The bridge that carries Hamline Avenue over CP Rail railroad tracks and Ayd Mill Road interrupts east-west bound Hague, creating the two junctions. (See the map of today’s ride for clarification.) I visited the eastern Hamline-Hague corner earlier this year. Today, my cruise took me to the western intersection.
Across the street is a small park where I met eight year old Grace and her mom, Darlene. At first Grace was on the playground with other children. Said Darlene in regards to Grace. “She can make new friends anywhere. Any park we go to she makes new friends. She may not know their names but they’re her friends.”
Grace joined us a short time later and I asked her what she was going to do for the last few hours of summer break. She enthusiastically told me. “Go home and relax and watch TV and watch a movie.”
Darlene laughed and said “I don’t know about the movie part or the TV but we are going to relax.”
Hague Avenue is interrupted for one block by J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School. The school’s address is 998 Selby but the main entrance is on the vacated portion of Hague.
Less than a block to the east I paused at 929 Hague.
The two things I like best about 929 Hague are the great front porch and the multi-leveled roof, which add visual complexity and interest. According to architecture critic Larry Millett’s “AIA Guide to St. Paul’s Summit Avenue & Hill District,” the house was designed in 1900 by Louis Lockwood, an architect of the same period as Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson but not as well-known.
Renovations at 822 Hague aren’t complete but the house looks great. And who wouldn’t love to have a bedroom with the turret!
Stunning! The combination of the paint scheme, the windows on the top two floors of this home and the porch are incredible. It appears this was a recent renovation.
At 646 Hague it’s not the main house that jumped out. In the back yard it looks like a playhouse with a climbing wall built on it.
A side note about 646 Hague. Research indicates that lithographer-landscape artist-architect-carpenter Grafton Tyler Brown lived in this house at the time of his death in 1918. Among art circles Brown is well-known and is considered to be the first African-American painter of the American west. I haven’t been able to determine whether he was the architect or builder of the house. Although I haven’t found conclusive evidence, it appears Brown worked for the railroads and the City of Saint Paul as a draftsman for some of the 25 years he lived here.
McQuillan Brothers plumbing closed in late 2011 after four generations and more than 100 years in business. It was reportedly Saint Paul’s oldest plumbing company and one of the oldest in Minnesota.
There is a heartbreaking story connected to the house. According to “Minnesota Mayhem: A History of Calamitous Events, Horrific Accidents …” by Ben Welter, a young resident of 661 Hague was the first person killed by an automobile in Saint Paul. Eight year old Irene Max was playing with a friend when she was hit by a car and killed on May 29, 1903.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is likely Saint Paul’s most famous native son. As such, nearly everything possible has been written about his time here. Still, with all he touched in our fair city, I’d be remiss if I didn’t expend a few electrons and pixels on him. Several of the stops I made today on Ramsey Hill were Fitzgerald’s haunts.
Fitzgerald was named for Francis Scott Key, who composed The Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key was a distant cousin on Fitzgerald’s father’s side.
Laurel Terrace, built in 1887 is considered among the finest Victorian row houses in the United States. F. Scott Fitzgerald and his family lived here in 1908 and 1909.
The building, originally known as “Riley’s Row, was named after William C. Riley, the building’s first owner who ran the local telegraph firm Northern News Company.
Some of the unique decorative elements of Laurel Terrace, 286-294 Laurel Avenue.
A woman walking by took notice of my interest in Laurel Terrace and we struck up a conversation. Judy didn’t want to share her last name but she was eager to tell me about the neighborhood. She lived about three blocks away at 487 Ashland and she invited me over to see it.
487 Ashland Avenue was built as a single family home about 1888 for Thomas Alden Abbott and his family. Mr. Abbott owned Abbott Brothers Sash, Doors and Blinds. The house was converted to a duplex sometime in the 20th Century.
Judy and her then-husband bought the house in 1978, only a few years after the worst of Ramsey Hill’s urban decay had slowed and re-emergent signs of Victorian grandeur were becoming more common. According to Judy, there was a real excitement in the neighborhood back then. “At least half of the houses on the block had been bought by some crazy young person who was trying to save that house. My husband at the time talks about being out on the porch and the roof and basically every house had someone out on the porch and the roof banging away so there was a lot of camaraderie…”
Judy told me she purchased the house because of the asbestos tiles covering the exterior. “The tiles, which actually saved that house, because underneath it was pretty good clapboard sidings and fabulous trim. When that (asbestos siding) was taken off … there was fabulous Victorian detail underneath that.”
According to Judy, other exterior work the house needed included “…restoring a porch; recutting porch pillars, carrying the porch pillars that were rotten to a woodworker who would recut them to match. Taking off that siding and repairing the wood and repainting all four sides, essentially three and a-half stories.”
The restoration took 20 years and included the obligatory new furnace, new plumbing, new windows, new kitchen and general improvements to meet building code.
Judy ran into the house and brought out a remarkable early photo of her house that she has hung on a wall. It is from “Picturesque Saint Paul,” a period publication written by an organization similar to today’s chamber of commerce to entice people to move to Saint Paul. There are sections about jobs and industrial opportunities, Summit Avenue living and an article about off-Summit life which is where her house was featured.
Judy had a last suggestion for me-to go across the street to 484-494 Ashland, the now-closed St. Paul’s Church Home.
The boarded up building opened in 1893 as either the Ashland Hotel or Ashland Avenue Family Hotel. It was converted to a nursing home called St. Paul’s Church Home in 1927. Large additions in 1964 and 1981 expanded the capacity of the home.
Financial problems finally forced the closure of the St. Paul’s Church Home in 2006. While everyone agrees the deteriorating building is adversely affecting the neighborhood, that’s where the consensus ends. Many want the original Ashland Hotel building renovated and the additions from the ‘60s and ‘80s demolished as soon as possible. However, there are concerns about what a project would do to the character of the neighborhood.
Moving west I encountered a pair of tree sculptures on the boulevard of 525 Ashland. Dennis Roghair created the sculptures of George Walker, his wife Aida Overton Walker and youngsters whom I assume were their children.
The Walkers were among the first African-American Vaudeville stars to appeal to both black and white audiences. They worked vigorously to change the negative stereotypes of African-Americans by performing authentic Black musicals which had been dominated by demeaning minstrel shows.
Working my west I came to a building labeled Webster School on St. Albans Street.
In 1976, in response to a State-ordered desegregation effort, Webster became the first magnet school in Saint Paul, when it was reconfigured as a foreign language and enrichment program. It was hoped that Magnet schools like Webster would lead to ‘voluntary desegregation’ by offering unique programs or curriculum that would draw students from across Saint Paul. Webster Magnet School worked as hoped for more than a decade but was eventually done in by the introduction of newer magnet schools.
Three blocks west of the Obama School complex is this lovely church.
According to the Church’s website, architect Cass Gilbert designed St. Clement’s Episcopal just before he won a competition to design the Minnesota State Capitol.
-From F. Scott Fitzgerald to McQuillan Park to Laurel Terrace to Judy’s renovation of the Abbott house, today’s ride was brimming with history, interesting buildings and stories, which I contemplated as I biked the last five or so miles home.
Today’s route: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/view/180194732