September 21, 2013
11.2 miles – Summit Hill (Crocus Hill)
The Little Free Library project is a remarkable endeavor. Not only does it promote reading, but it cultivates creativity in the design and construction of the libraries themselves. The number of libraries I’ve encountered has increased dramatically over the three years I’ve been biking around Saint Paul. When I saw my first Little Free Library riding on a Cherokee Heights street in August 2011, it was a novelty. Now they’re so abundant that I glimpse at least one on nearly every ride. The uncommon, green architecture and materials of the Little Free Library at 1386 St. Clair Avenue led me to stop and take pictures to share.
Leaving the Little Library behind, I cruised north to the always dynamic and sometimes congested Grand Avenue. The days of auto dealerships, repair shops and gas stations dominating the eastern portion of Grand Avenue are long gone but the car still reigns here.
Victoria Crossing is a four building shopping area at Grand and Victoria. Three of the buildings were built decades ago for purposes unrelated to their use today.
Since 1980, 851-857 Grand Avenue has been Victoria Crossing East (below.) The structure was built in 1915 after the Saint Paul City Council approved a permit for the Bingham and Norton Company for the ‘installation and establishment’ of a ‘curb gasoline filling station’, according to Larry Millett’s “AIA Guide to St. Paul’s Summit Avenue and Hill District.”
The long-gone Byers-Patro Studebaker dealership, now Victoria Crossing South at 850 Grand, bears vestiges of its earlier life. My favorite is the scuffed but still handsome sign above the Grand Avenue entrance.
Apartments and condos line sizable parts of the east end of Grand. Most of these tasteful buildings seem to have been meticulously renovated to resemble their original appearance.
At Dale Street, I turned right and went south for two-plus blocks where it unexpectedly ended, or more precisely, became Fairmount Avenue. This small neighborhood is lesser known than Summit Hill or Ramsey Hill but with houses and lots nearly equal in size and elegance. The first home that stopped me at 633 Fairmount. Larry Millett’s AIA Guide to the Twin Cities indicates the home was built in 1890 for Frank B. Kellogg. Not only was Kellogg an US senator and secretary of state in the Calvin Coolidge administration, he was awarded the 1930 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlawed war. More than 60 nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Kellogg’s name remains well-known today because Downtown’s Kellogg Boulevard was named after him, according to Donald Empson’s “The Street Where You Live.”
I rode around Crocus Place several times, gazing at the impressive variety of homes and from there I ambled over to the curiously named Crocus Hill.
The address markers on some of the Crocus Hill (the street) properties are distinct from others I’ve seen anywhere in the city.
Kenwood Parkway is one of Saint Paul’s unusual streets that defies a simple explanation. It is a two block long street with a roughly pentagonal section of road hanging off the approximate midpoint.
Empty lots and houses under construction are atypical for an old city like Saint Paul. This development between Osceola and Fairmount Avenues and along Grotto has erased pretty much all the remnants of the Amherst Wilder Foundation facility that stood here. I mentioned this subdivision in an August 2013 blog when I rode along Osceola Avenue. Today’s trek down Fairmount gave me a closer look at a couple of the houses being built and a better understanding of the entire project. The land was subdivided into 13 lots, six facing Fairmount and seven on Osceola. Lot prices ranged from $315,000 to $415,000. Click on the link to see the plat map http://www.crocusnewhill.com/#/plat/4562474551
I got off my bike and ambled past the three homes in various states of construction and through some empty lots. I met Kendra and Mark just outside a construction site along Osceola. Kendra explained that they had purchased one of the lots on which they’ll eventually build and then move from Lake Elmo. “We’re getting to a point in our life where we’re thinking we don’t want to maintain all that acreage. So we started looking at options to move into town, and be in a neighborhood and be able to walk to restaurants and shopping. “
Kendra added they considered purchasing an old house and renovating it before settling on the rare opportunity to build new.
Kendra and Mark mentioned they had not told their Lake Elmo neighbors they’ve purchased property here and eventually will move, so they opted not to share their last name or let me take their picture.
I asked how they selected their lot and Mark told me, “It was the only one left.” He laughed and added, “So it was easy to pick; it was the only one available.”
Kendra said she and Mark have already found their neighbors-to-be friendly, “We’ve met both of the couples who are building right now and we met the people who live in the houses adjacent to the property and some other people that have walked over and welcomed us.”
Mark told me they stop over at least once a week to see the progress of the homes under construction and to mow their property. “We understand that this is an inconvenience to the neighbors, having houses built near where they live, so we want to do whatever we can to mitigate any pain that they’re feeling.”
Seems like Kendra and Mark will be great neighbors-whenever they move to Saint Paul. Meanwhile, I wonder whether they’ve let their current neighbors in on their moving plans?
Sufficiently enlightened about the subdivision, I rode back to Fairmount. Just two doors west of Grotto the majestic form of the Statue of Liberty greeted me at 746 Fairmount. And several blocks west of that, another, much more playful sculpture sat along the boulevard.
Upon reviewing the ride it is clear that the focus was on structures-commercial buildings, apartments and single family homes. It wasn’t the plan for the ride because I didn’t have a plan when I started. Here’s the link to the map of this ride: