Sunday, August 24, 2014 Mac-Groveland, Hamline-Midway, Frogtown (Thomas Dale) 15.5 miles
My irrational fascination with manhole covers prompted the first stop of today’s ride barely two block after starting. This orchestra director cover is just north of the intersection of Cleveland and Randolph. People in several cars watched curiously as I took numerous pictures to get the correct exposure and framing. They likely thought something to the effect of, “Why would anyone stand in the middle of the road and take pictures of a manhole cover?” For more on Saint Paul’s limited edition manhole covers see https://saintpaulbybike.com/category/manhole-covers/
Next stop, Marshall Avenue and the historic Charles Thompson Memorial Hall. This building, dedicated in November 1916, was the first clubhouse in the U.S. for the deaf and as you can imagine, was big news in the Twin Cities and around Minnesota. Charles Thompson, from a wealthy banking family, was born deaf. As a result, Thompson financially supported the local deaf community. Thompson’s wife, Margaret, was also deaf and she donated the estimated $30,000 to build the hall in Thompson’s memory. (1) Margaret Thompson hired Olof Hanson, the first deaf architect in the country, to design Charles Thompson Memorial Hall. About 500 people, most of them deaf, filled every seat in the auditorium at the November 5, 1916 dedication ceremony. (2)
“As you inspect this fine Memorial Hall, erected to the memory of our friend, Charles Thompson, who was deaf, provided by his widow, who is deaf, planned by a thoroughly competent deaf architect, and under the care and direction of a house committee, all of whom are deaf, it is hoped you will come to feel that the deaf are not the helpless, inefficient and afflicted people they are often supposed to be. It is hoped that you will realize that, given an education and a trade, they are good and useful citizens and a worthy part of any commonwealth.” J.C. Howard, president of both the Minnesota and National Associations for the deaf, at the dedication of Charles Thompson Memorial Hall on November 5, 1916.
Charles Thompson Hall is still used as a gathering place for the local deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
The bank and office building at Snelling and Selby Avenues is undoubtedly one of the most unsightly buildings in Midway area, if not beyond. It suffers from multiple odd additions and unfortunate aesthetics outside and in. The good news is the cranes in the background portend the imminent destruction of the now vacant building. It’s being replaced by a parking garage, grocery store and condos, all of which are supposed to open in 2016. I cannot imagine a scenario where the new building won’t be a great improvement.
The Woodrow Wilson School building opened in the fall of 1925 and in the 90 years since, has been home to nearly every type of school program, from early childhood through high school. Over the years and through the changes in schools and programs, the building has always been, and will continue to be, called the Wilson building. That’s because a little-known federal law requires an act of Congress or consent of the Secretary of Interior to change the name of any building, including Woodrow Wilson School, named after a U.S. president. Construction began in 1924, the same year President Wilson died, likely the reason it was named after Wilson. The building opened as a junior high school for the start of the 1925-26 school year.
The conversion to a high school began in 1937 when 10th graders were moved to Wilson. It remained a high school through the 1963-64 school year. Wilson High colors were red and white but had no nickname until sometime after 1942. (4) The details of how Wilson earned its nickname “Redmen” are sketchy, it may be the result of the school newspaper calling the boys basketball team the “Reds.”
Wilson returned to its junior high roots in 1964, and so it remained until 1980. Just a year later the K through eighth grade Benjamin May program moved in and from ’92 to 2003, Expo Middle School relocated to the Wilson building. Finally, in August 2003 the LEAP High School for students who are immigrants or refugees and are not native English speakers, came to Wilson and has been there ever since.
The former St. Columba Catholic School is slightly more than a block east of Wilson on Blair and Hamline. Built in 1922, it has similar architectural characteristics to Wilson. St. Columba closed as a Catholic school several years ago and now is the site of Sejong Academy, a Korean immersion school.
The meadow and the trees in the background are part of what is Saint Paul’s newest park. Frogtown Park and Farm has no facilities yet but those will come sometime in 2015 or 2016 (depending upon funding.) I visited the Frogtown Park and Farm site earlier this year and determined it was worth further exploration, so I came back.
Frogtown Park and Farm is about 12 acres roughly surrounded by Lafond, Victoria, Minnehaha and Chatsworth.
There is an abundance of churches in Saint Paul and this ride reminded me that some of the most beautiful are in Frogtown. St. Stephanus Lutheran has been at Lafond and Grotto since 1890. Services were conducted in German until 1917, when an English service was added, likely because of anti-German sentiment brought on by World War I.
About eight blocks east of St. Stephanus, at Virginia and Blair, is what had been St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church from 1889 until the end of 2011, when it merged with the Cathedral of St. Paul parish. Since then it’s been officially known as the Saint Vincent de Paul Campus of the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
The original congregants were largely of Irish decent and today, most are Hmong, like many of the residents of the neighborhood.
The former St. Vincent’s Catholic School building is one of two very early 20th Century school facilities now used by the St. Paul City School. The architectural style, sometimes called “linear plan”, features a hallway front-to-back through the middle of the building with classrooms in wings off the hall. More noticeable is the red brick, narrow vertical windows, decorative stone above the windows and stone sills below. In some cases these schools have a bell tower.
It opened in 1901 and graduated its last class in 1970. Two years later, a Native American-managed school called the Red School House opened in the building. Native parents created the school to combat low student achievement and the high dropout rate among the area’s American Indian students. The curriculum provided academics, Indian cultural studies and support services to pre-school through 12th graders. (5) The Red School House closed sometime in the ‘80s for reasons I’ve been unable to determine.
There is so much to love about this school building; from the brick and stone construction, the stylish archways at the entrance, to the extensive woodwork inside. Knowing that this building and the City School’s K through fifth grade school-house are still being used (or used again) must please preservationists, architecture buffs and nearby residents.
Wilder Square Co-op sits on the eastern edge Frogtown. The 163 units are for low to moderate income adults and families, but an unusual and interesting aspect of Wilder Square is that residents are shareholders (a.k.a. members) in the corporation that owns the complex. Wilder Square Co-op and Wilder Square Hi-Rise occupy nearly the entire block between Minnehaha and Pierce Butler Route on the south and north, and Victoria and Milton on the east and west.
Wilder Square Co-op is conveniently just across Minnehaha Avenue from the north side of the Frogtown Park.
As I rode toward home I realized I spent the majority of the journey pedaling along only two streets, Blair and Lafond Avenues. I later discovered I had covered 25 of the 28 blocks of Blair-nearly four miles total. My last stop, fittingly on Blair, in the Midway, was at a fence with two paintings on it.
As I admired the vibrant paintings on the fence, the gate opened and out came the homeowner. David Wald was pleased to talk about his fence art; so delighted that he went into his house to get two more pieces of his work, a landscape and a lion in the wild.
David said he’d been painting about 30 years, and remarkably, learned through internships with artists and plenty of practice, “I started when I was a tiny, little boy; trained myself taking people’s photos to make a portrait on my own paper by charcoal. I was making good money, enough to feed myself. I never went to any school to be an artist.”
David mentioned he can paint without a photo or other visual prompt or he can take any photograph and interpret it, “This one is imagination in the most beautiful state of Wyoming. They have a very beautiful landscape. I used to drive a truck for a coast to coast for a living and I took a photo but the picture is quite different from the photo. It’s a well-known place; Hot Springs.”
David paints four to six hours nearly every day and earns his living as an artist. So how’s business, “I’m still unknown; no one knows what I’m doing. It’s very limited. I starve to death.” Then David let out a hearty laugh followed by telling me he sells prints much more often than one of the originals.
The detail David brought to the lion painting awed me and I asked how he gives it an almost photographic look, “Part is the color; it’s also the contrast; you are just bringing step by step, one layer, then another. One layer, then another. At the end it looks like a photo.” The lion, with all its intricacies, took David a month to complete.
The final question I needed answered related directly to my reason for stopping. Why did David put such nice works of art on his fence? “I was bored seeing this wooden fence; on the whole block there is nothing you can see and then I said, ‘Why not,’ because (otherwise) someone is going to come and put graffiti on the fence.” The fence has been decorated for 10 years and no graffiti, so David’s plan worked.
Click on the following link to see the official map of this ride. http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/907270727
(1) Minnesota Historical Society, Placeography, http://www.placeography.org/index.php/Charles_Thompson_Memorial_Hall,_1824_Marshall_Avenue,_Saint_Paul,_Minnesota
(2) Minnesota Digital Library, Minnesota Reflections http://reflections.mndigital.org/cdm/ref/collection/p16022coll16/id/374
(3) Ibid, Charles Thompson Memorial Hall’ article in “The Companion” magazine dedicated Sunday afternoon, November 5, 1916.
(4) LEAP High School website, http://leap.spps.org/leap_high_school2
(5) Cathedral of Saint Paul Parish website, http://www.cathedralsaintpaul.org/svdp-history
(6) American Indian Movement Interpretive Center website, http://www.aim-ic.com/Red-School-House.html