July 3, 2013
The former Richards Gordon Elementary might be the best looking school building still standing in Saint Paul. That’s a hefty complement considering the number of beautiful schools in the City. Distinctive with a cream-colored brick exterior, the Richards Gordon Office Building displays an assortment of ornamentation.
Richards Gordon’s days as an elementary school ended in 1974 when it was closed and converted into an adult education center. The school district sold the building in 1987 and it was adapted for use as an office building, which it continues to serve as today.
The antenna and two satellite dishes are remnants of when 1347 Selby at Hamline Avenue was home to KNOF-AM radio. A religious station, KNOF broadcast for 40 years or so, until about 2000.
Construction is in full swing on the Hamline Avenue Bridge, which crosses over Ayd Mill Road and railroad tracks between Selby and Ashland. Plans call for the bridge to reopen to traffic this November 1st and final work completed by July 2014.
Ayd Mill road is an odd, slightly bumpy thoroughfare with several blocked on and off ramps. The area near Ayd Mill Road and the road itself have a long and convoluted history.
The ravine through which Ayd Mill Road runs is natural, unlike most below grade streets and highways. The road is named after John Ayd, a German immigrant who in the 1860s owned land in the area and operated a mill. According to the website http://amrtf.weebly.com/history.html, sometime in the 1870s the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad obtained the right-of-way through the ravine and built a “short line” railroad.
The City of Saint Paul acquired its own right-of-way in the ravine around 1960 with plans to build a highway to connect I-94 and I-35E. Short Line Road was built between 1962 and ’64 but neither end was linked to the interstates as planned due to residents’ objections and the delay in constructing I-35E.
Ayd Mill’s southern connection to 35E was finally made in 2002 as a test and for the most part, has remained connected since. Controversy continues to this day over what the ultimate fate of Ayd Mill Road will be.
Wilder Park is the catchall name for a 136-unit senior high-rise and single family condos bordered by Edgcumbe, Lexington Avenue, Ayd Mill and the Edgcumbe Recreation Center. The 16-floor high-rise is officially at 1181 Edgcumbe.
The route Edgcumbe Road takes is idiosyncratic to say the least. It is primarily a boulevard but considerable sections are a standard two-way street.
It runs both east-west and north-south for significant and multiple stretches. Anyone touring the street’s entire length will make five 90 degree turns. Several times Edgcumbe seems to end at an intersection but in reality, one must turn right or left to continue along. The most perplexing spot on Edgcumbe is a block north of Montreal Avenue. The road continues north at this intersection but becomes Hamline Avenue while Edgcumbe turns due east here.
Two blocks to the south, at the corner of Edgcumbe and James Avenue, sits this building, a building that I had for years assumed was an apartment building. That’s a common misconception, according to Laura Hlavac, who lives in what is actually a former Masonic Temple.
The building at 1191 James was the Twin Cities Masonic Lodge Number 217 from its completion in 1923 until the mid-1980s when the gradual but consistent membership decline forced the Masons to sell.
According to Minnesota Historical Society documents, the Twin Cities Masonic Lodge 217 descended directly from a Masonic Lodge formed in 1895 by eight Chicago, St. Paul & Omaha Railway Company repair shop employees. From its inception until the 1923 move to 1191 James, the “Railway Lodge” was located near the railroad car shops at Toronto and Randolph Streets.
Laura said she found the building by chance. “We literally found this one by driving around nice neighborhoods. It was our hobby for a good year, just driving around and prospecting.
“My husband at the time, we looked at churches, warehouse spaces. There’s always something wrong with every property when you’re looking to buy something.”
My next question was why did she buy a former Masonic Temple? “I must have been crazy,” Laura replied, laughing and then added, “I wanted to live and work in the same place, which was not really popular 18 years ago.
“I was able to continue working and raise my three kids here and I’m continuing to do that. It’s a unique lifestyle.”
Laura said she removed paneling and repainted some rooms but has left the building nearly as it was when she purchased it. “We really wanted to maintain the integrity and the history of the building and the beauty of it. We did upgrade the electrical. We tiled the kitchen floor when my first child was starting to crawl. In a building this size, it’s almost 10,000 square feet, really you just stay on top of the priorities unless you have an unlimited budget, which of course we do not.”
By far the most dazzling feature is the second floor auditorium where, for many years, the Masons held their secret meetings.
“That just creates its own entertainment when you walk in that room. It just blows people away. It has hand painted stencil detail, art on the walls and the ceiling, and the stage, it’s a beautiful stage. “
Laura has worked in the fashion industry for more than 20 years. Now she designs women’s clothing. “I focus on women’s knitwear and my demographic is really age 25 to 100. I focus on practical, comfortable, unique. I don’t do super trendy looks. I do things that you’ll have in your wardrobe for years and years ‘cause they’ll look nice, they travel well; you can smash them in your suitcase.”
Laura was very clear in saying she loves her job, which is apparent by her smile.
At one time, Laura manufactured her clothing line in her basement. “…there have been weeks and months and years where that has been filled with sewing machines and sewing workers. At the peak, there were 20-plus people working down there.
“I’ve scaled back and maintained that as my sample room and I still have help come in when I need it or for finishing.“
Laura still does some manufacturing in the US but increased competition forced her to move most of her production overseas.
By this time, Laura had spent more than an hour with me, graciously giving me a tour of her distinctive and beautiful Masonic temple-turned-home, so I expressed my genuine gratitude for the tour and her time, got back on my bike and made my way home.
Click on this link to see the map of this ride: http://www.mapmyride.com/routes/fullscreen/260587523/