June 27, 2013
Lex-Ham and Summit Hill
I pedaled east along Osceola Avenue in Summit Hill amongst graceful, well-kept homes when, unexpectedly, appeared a club with tennis courts, a pool and clubhouse.
Surprisingly, the homes on either side were built about nine years after the Saint Paul Tennis Club. According to the club’s website http://saintpaultennisclub.com/club-history, upon opening, only men had a shower and toilet. Minimal facilities for women apparently were added sometime in the 1920s.
The very early 1960s brought the addition of the swimming pool and new clubhouse. The private Saint Paul Tennis Club presently has a six to eight year waiting list to join.
Meanwhile, by 1923 population density in the neighborhood had grown enough to warrant construction of Linwood Park Elementary School at 1023 Osceola, mere yards west of the tennis club.
Immediately east of Milton Street, Osceola Avenue’s paved surface abruptly turns to cobblestones. The term “cobblestone” is often used mistakenly in reference to brick-paved streets. Not until you see, drive (or bike) on a cobblestone street will you appreciate the significant difference. I think I shook some fillings loose riding on the cobblestones.
I met Jennifer Feigal and her friend Chris on the porch of 904 Osceola, where Jennifer moved 40 years ago. The cobblestone street was the first thing Jennifer wanted to talk about. “What I really love about this street is the cobblestone and I love the story behind that.”
That story, said Jennifer, revolved around Diane Ahrens, at that time a stay-at-home mom who took bold action to save Osceola Avenue’s cobblestones. According to Jennifer, “Asphalt machines were coming and she went and stood in front of them and said ‘Stop! We don’t want you. We like this street. We don’t want the asphalt. Go away!’ And the machines stopped.
“She got a couple of other stay-at-home moms on the block to stand there. The worker said, ‘We have to pave this. You have to get an order from City Hall.’ She went down and talked to the powers at City Hall and somehow they reached an agreement that if the people on the block were willing to pay for the cobblestone repair they would not pave the street.”
Diane Ahrens parlayed the daring and successful cobblestone-saving endeavor into nearly 30 years of civic involvement, including 20 years as a Ramsey County Board commissioner.
In a tribute to Diane Ahrens presented to the U.S. House of Representatives shortly after Ahrens’ death in late 2001, Congresswoman Betty McCollum called Ahrens “the conscience of the County Board for her commitment to assisting those in need.”
Diane Ahrens’ other efforts included helping Hmong immigrants settle in Ramsey County, becoming an early advocate for people with HIV/AIDS and the mentally ill and abused.
Jennifer Feigal told me another road construction anecdote, this one about the removal of the brick roadway of the adjacent Milton Avenue before its repaving. The contractor dug up the bricks and stacked them in piles along the street. “In the night, all the neighbors would all go down and we’d load up our cars. And so all around on the block there are little brick projects from people recycling the bricks from Milton Avenue.”
This land was the site of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Bush Memorial Children’s Center, a residential and school facility for troubled children aged 5 to 14. The facility was located here from 1970 until it closed in June 2010. Financial troubles led the Wilder Foundation to shutter the Center and sell the property.
This is one of the coolest playhouses I’ve ever seen. The design makes me think of buildings in Dr. Seuss stories.
At this point the sun was drifting toward the horizon and I expected to ride directly home. Then I spied the pole holding up this stop sign. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve seen thousands of stop signs, but never have I seen one looking like an eight foot tall plant topped by a stop sign flower. A tip of my bike helmet to whomever is responsible for turning the mundane sign pole into something fanciful and functional.
Enjoying an activity in an unusual place can really increase the amusement factor. Back in Highland Park, three guys did just that by playing ping-pong in the yard in front of 1697 Scheffer.
Tonight’s ride was one of small details, but noteworthy details; the type that bring a smile, rekindle a memory, and make a place feel “right.”
Click on the link below for the map of tonight’s ride.