June 22, 2014
Merriam Park, Frogtown, Hamline-Midway
The variety and number of happenings in Saint Paul are nearly boundless. I’m not talking about the big events, the ones you hear about, read about or see on the news. No, it’s those that receive little or no publicity but are vital to the (buzzword alert!) “quality of life” in Saint Paul.
I chanced upon such a situation riding north on the 2000 block of Wilder Avenue past Merriam Park (the park, not the neighborhood.) There was an assemblage of people dressed in a multiplicity of clothing, much of it more conducive to the Victorian era than 2014.
The sign on the sidewalk answered the immediate question of what’s going on here, but that’s only the opening scene of the story.
In 2009 Classical Actors Ensemble was established to perform works from the English Renaissance period, including Shakespeare and other playwrights. Today’s play, “Love’s Labors Lost “, one of Shakespeare’s comedies, is centered around a king and three of his friends who take an oath to stay away from women. The play has a cast of 11 actors, a smaller group than the 20 or so performers in most of the Classical Actors Ensemble’s productions, according to Artistic Director Joseph Papke, whose tenor voice and precise diction revealed his training as an actor.
This performance of Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labors Lost “ at Merriam Park is the first outdoor show ever for the traveling troupe, “So when you deal with nature and the public, yeah, there’s things you can’t control. Sometimes that’s frustrating but I’ve brought together a really talented group of actors and they’re really good at dealing with whatever is thrown at them; a lot of good improv experience in this group even though we’re doing a scripted play. So when weird stuff happens they respond to it very, very well.”
Joseph added that in the nice weather, the Ensemble frequently practices at the Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, “It’s a public park, which is part of what’s great about it because we’re exposed to all kinds of new audience members. Also, you get people who just don’t give a damn. They’ll walk right through your play.”
Joseph shared a story with me about a recent practice, “There’s this guy who caught this giant carp, ‘cause everything is kind of flooded with about a foot of water around us, and he caught it with his bare hands. We’re in the middle of rehearsing this scene and this dude catches this giant fish and then, ‘Ahhh! I got this…’ and just like stops everything and well, we can’t pretend like this isn’t happening. Let’s watch this man with his fish.”
The outfits worn by the cast weren’t representative of the Renaissance period, which Joseph explained this way, “We try to modernize dress whenever possible. We don’t take it to the extreme of playing everything with cellphones and things like that. I mean we don’t change the language, although you’ll see some of the clowns in this play take a few liberties in order to get laughs. But that was a problem 400 years ago too. I figure if those problems were good enough for Shakespeare, they’re good enough for us.”
“We really believe that these plays are still very vibrant and have a lot to say about the human experience and that they shouldn’t be relegated to museum pieces or done necessarily in puffy pants.” Joseph Papke
The building at 1709 Shields Street known today as Festival House was built in the mid-1940s as a dormitory for the Mounds-Midway Hospital nursing program. In 1998 the dorm was converted to Festival House, a temporary residence for families of HealthEast patients. Festival House was shuttered in August of this year.
The Festival House building borders Aldine Avenue, across the street from HealthEast Midway Clinic, formerly Midway Hospital.
The church on Charles Avenue just east of Snelling characterizes this mixed neighborhood. The sign in front of 1632 Charles Avenue identifies the building as The Central Mission Church.
The Central Mission website indicates that it shares its facilities with Zion Evangelical Fellowship Church, a predominantly Ethiopian house of worship. A Google search of 1632 Charles turned up City Life Church, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, as the third Christian denominational church located there. One previous iteration was the Midway Community Church at the same address.
The City of Saint Paul turned Charles Avenue into a ‘bike boulevard’ this year. This is one of the signs of that, both figuratively and literally. This formal designation giving bikers greater rights on Charles Avenue, has been quite controversial, as changes like this usually are. Among the most vocal opponents were Snelling Avenue business owners and their supporters, who complained a new Snelling median at Charles would limit access and cut into their businesses.
Hamline Park Plaza seems to appear out of nowhere. Bordered by Thomas Avenue, Simpson Street, Edmund Avenue and Asbury Street, it’s as if it were dropped into the center of a residential area. In reality, there have been buildings here, and on the block south (where Hamline Park Apartments and Townhomes are now located) since at least 1919 when the Northern Pacific Hospital opened. St. Paul’s Northern Pacific Hospital was one of seven the Northern Pacific Beneficial Association had built around the country to treat railroad workers.
According to a 2014 article in the Midway Como Monitor newspaper, Northern Pacific Hospital stood at 1515 Charles for more than 50 years. Its name was changed to Samaritan Hospital around 1971, the name it kept until its closing in 1987.
The Physicians Plaza medical office building and adjacent parking garage opened at 570 Asbury Street in 1984 to serve Samaritan Hospital. Had hospital administrators known better, it’s doubtful either structure would have been built with building’s closing and demolition less than three years away.
With Samaritan Hospital gone, Physicians Plaza was converted to general office space and rechristened Hamline Park Plaza. Hamline University’s School of Business administrative offices moved in about 1990.
An uncommon amenity of the complex is a private park.
Meanwhile, affordable apartments and townhomes were put up on the former site of Samaritan Hospital in 1990, according to Ramsey County records.
Some random sightings on the ride home…