September 25, 2015
Macalester-Groveland, Rondo (Lexington-Hamline), Frogtown
I may be a bit of an anomaly as a bike rider because I am also a “car guy.” What I mean by that is I am fascinated by cars, and have been since I was a child. I still enjoy the introduction of new models, and I gaze with awe at a unique, classic or antique auto. And so it was on this ride that I stopped to look at the rare Checker Marathon station wagon parked on a driveway on South Snelling Avenue.
For those younger than 50 – you probably don’t know that Checker sedans were frequently used as taxi cabs in many cities around the US. A niche’ builder of cars, Checker’s history is…interesting. (No, not checkered).
The company began building cars in Kalamazoo, MI in 1923 and continued for nearly 60 years, until 1982 when production of the Marathon ceased. Checker stayed in business until 2009 manufacturing parts for other auto companies, including General Motors.
For the details of the interesting Checker Motors story, click HERE.
The sign on Concordia Avenue says Dunning Field, but really should read Dunning Sports Complex (which it does elsewhere), since it consists of three softball and three baseball fields, batting cages, six tennis courts, one basketball court, a recreation center, and playground. Dunning is roughly bordered on the north by Concordia Avenue, Central High School on the east, Marshall Avenue to the south and Syndicate Street on the west side.
The Saint Paul City Council authorized construction of Dunning Field with this simple ordinance approved on May 12, 1916.
The sports complex was named after highly respected Saint Paul Neurologist Arthur W. Dunning. According to his obituary in the Saint Paul Medical Journal marking his unexpected December 1915 death, Dr. Dunning’s civic interest “centered in the playground movements” and he was appointed by Mayor to Saint Paul’s Playground Committee for 12 years.
Within the complex, the three softball fields are simply Dunning East, West and South.
The baseball fields have been named for notable locals: Toni Stone Field, more accurately a small stadium, honors the woman who likely was the best baseball player ever from Saint Paul.
To learn much more about Toni Stone, read the Saint Paul By Bike ride called Stone and Diamonds from August 2, 2014.
Jim Kelley Field got its name from the man who founded Midway Baseball in 1990.
If a building could share memories, 738 University Avenue West would surely have some amazing ones. Although details were difficult to find, the building dates back to 1880 and it was home to at least a couple of bars. In the mid-1910s, Mair Brothers Lunch Room/Saloon, owned by Joseph and Andreas Mair, occupied the space.
How long the Mair Brothers kept the saloon, to whom they sold it, and why, are all mysteries. Its last incarnation as a drinking establishment was as the Badger Lounge, which apparently closed in the mid-90s. Since 1998 it has been part of Lifetrack, a Frogtown social services nonprofit.
Some three blocks east of Lifetrack, tucked between University Avenue and I-94, and Kent and Western Streets, is the unique Central Village neighborhood rooted in the urban renewal movement that took root in the 1950s.
Consisting primarily of ranch houses, the Central Village neighborhood was built in the ’70s and ’80s, long after the demise of the original homes and businesses of Rondo. The architectural style of the homes, coupled with cul-de-sacs and “U” shaped streets, feels distinctly suburban. When this neighborhood rose from the flattened remains of Rondo, it was marketed toward African-American families in an effort to keep them from moving to the ‘burbs. Whether by design or happenstance, some of the homes are adorned with dynamic exterior colors that lend a pleasant uniqueness not usually seen in homes of this vintage.
‘Urban renewal’ was the polite term local and state officials used to couch the racism of eminent domain to take property often owned by African-Americans. In Saint Paul, the planning, public hearings, and the PR barrage began no later than 1952. The project was given the understated name of ‘Western Redevelopment Area.’ Some of the same documents show plans for what was then called the “Inter-Regional Expressway”, today known as Interstate 94, to plow through the middle of the Rondo neighborhood. Many of these documents were saved and are available to researchers at the George Latimer Downtown Library.
The majority of the records concern the Eastern and Western Redevelopment projects, which involved more than 60 acres of land, located in neighborhoods to the immediate east and west sides of the State Capitol. Initial planning for these projects began in 1952, with property appraisal starting in 1953. By January 1954, the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) had established a housing relocation service to assist those residents whose homes would be demolished as part of the Eastern and Western Redevelopment projects. By the end of 1957, all 1064 families and 253 single individuals formerly living in the redevelopment areas had been relocated. Many thriving businesses were also victims of these projects. (Click on the images to enlarge them and see the captions.)
Not coincidentally, Sears, Roebuck and Company expressed a strong interest in a 14 acre parcel of the Western Redevelopment Project land just southwest of the Capitol. In the late 50s, Sears was one of the biggest retailers in the country, so City leaders were excited beyond words to have the company interested in building in Saint Paul. That feeling wasn’t shared by Downtown business people who were quite concerned, and rightly so, about a new business district pulling customers away.
As we all know, money talks and so, in April of 1960, Sears, Roebuck and Company officially presented a purchase agreement for the property that in less than three years became the Rice Street Sears.
Nearly 60 years later, the Rice Street Sears store’s days are numbered. As Sears’ parent company fades toward insolvency, talk of redevelopment of the store and adjacent parking lots has become persistent. Ironically, one scenario for the Sears property is reestablishing a residential neighborhood on at least some of the land.
Within the Western Redevelopment Project area is a vivid, imaginative and funky space simply called the Western Sculpture Park. Tucked between apartments on a two-block section of Fuller Avenue to the north and Ravoux Street on the south, the park is visible, though likely overlooked by most drivers as they speed past on Marion Street, which passes immediately to the east. This park is worth a visit to see and interact with the assorted, large sculptures. Even better, pick up some Asian food at one of the many fantastic restaurants along University Avenue and have a picnic here. (Hover on an image to advance to the next image.)
I spent an enjoyable hour in the tranquil Western Sculpture Park, taking photos, contemplating the art from assorted angles, and relaxing.
Click here for a map of Western Sculpture Park. The 15 sculptures here were commissioned in 1998 by Public Art Saint Paul, Fuller Aurora Association, and the City of Saint Paul. The Public Art Saint Paul website has much more about Western Sculpture Park.
My ride home meandered through northern part of Summit-University. In the 400 block of Central Avenue I spotted a most unconventional spot for a spider to spin its web.
Here is the link to the map of this ride.
It’s fun to hear the history of these neighborhoods. Thanks, Wolfie. Also: I still keep my eyes open for the occasional Checker.
Kirk, as always, thanks much for reading and your nice comments.
Hey Wolfie!!! Loved this as well as all of your other articles. We never spoke of this when I saw you last week. We need to do that next time. Cheers!
Gene, thanks for reading and checking in. I appreciate you pulling up my Denver ratings. It was great to see you and Rita.