Dawn of Destruction

September 12, 2014 § 2 Comments

I watched a crew demolish an abandoned building today. Research confirmed that the building, erected in 1890, was originally a German gathering spot called Dietsch’s Hall, then it became a bar, and then a bar, and then another bar. A guy at the site shared its troubled history with me — shootings, beatings, and a violent death in recent years — which I confirmed via newspaper reports.

According to a St. Paul Pioneer Press article, a couple had recently purchased the 124-year-old building in hopes of turning it into a Somali business and community center.

Alas, the City of St. Paul chose to raze the property at 601 Western Avenue North instead, insisting the damage and violations were too numerous. In addition to fire- and safety-code violations, the two-story brick structure had a rodent infestation and mold issues. I can attest to the latter, as the odor was overpowering at the site, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine the former. As someone who has lived in an old NYC tenement, rodents adore a storied old building.

Yet I hate to see these old haunts go.

At least what remains is colorful.

FYI: If you live in the area and want old bricks from the 1890s, they’re up for grabs. Also, if you’d like to read more about the building and its history and see a photo before demolition, visit Twin Cities Daily Planet to expand your horizons.

Playing Tourist

September 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

How often do we miss the glimmers of history tucked away in our communities because we never think to venture outside our comfy neighborhoods or don’t believe a place is interesting unless a guidebook tells us it is?

I’m finding it impossible to drive anywhere without wondering what is two blocks or three blocks off my path, so when I’m alone and have the time, I usually follow my instincts and head off the destined route.

Rarely am I disappointed.

If you’re an offbeat cat like me, I recommend taking a walk or a drive through a neighborhood that isn’t on your radar. Drive along a road you’ve never been on or open a local map, close your eyes, and plop your finger down and follow where it lands.

Today I purposely got lost in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods. I came across many old (yet new to me) buildings that piqued my curiosity. These structures may have as storied a history as any other Twin Cities landmark — and those histories may be seedier and more entertaining than those of popular tourist stops like the Minnesota State Capitol and St. Paul Cathedral. I particularly enjoy exploring working-class neighborhoods and finding hints of the life left behind, illuminated through faded hand-painted signs, crumbling facades, and cornerstones with dates from the early 20th century.

After my excursion I attempted to do some online research of the buildings, but I haven’t found much. The exception is the Catholic Church of St. Casimir, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its website reveals a remarkable history that includes a scandalous murder in the confessional area and a fire started by unruly boys.

As I’ve mentioned before, I need to make a visit to the Minnesota Historical Society Library and start researching some of these places, or at least try and unearth some old photos that show these decaying yet remarkable sites in their prime. Maybe just to get a glimpse into who inhabited and worked in these structures and what gave them stamina to survive, especially when other nearby buildings were razed long ago.


The Other Woodstock

August 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

Vermont. Not New York.

And a quick stop at Dartmouth and the chance to walk through an Ivy League library.

What’s My Theme? (and a Short, Short History of a Short, Short Block in Merriam Park)

August 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

I started this blog more than two years ago and post content every day, yet I still haven’t realized what theme I’ve got going here. I guess I’ve stuck close to the original premise — to observe the common and spin my observations through words and photographs. It’s a wide net that allows me to veer way off course and not get called out.

The longer I’m at it, the more I discover that my interests tend toward exploring older neighborhoods and structures in the Twin Cities and the rest of the state. I would love to take more time to do sufficient research to learn more about a building’s origins or the family that has lived somewhere for decades or the block that is undergoing urban renewal.

Perhaps someday I shall head to the Minnesota Historical Society, renew my membership, and start digging for information. But several bloggers already do a great job capturing St. Paul and Minneapolis history. I’m not quite sure what lens I could put on the stories they are telling or what hidden history I can uncover.

For now, I’ll continue exploring in my own little way, this time in St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood, and one of these days I’ll figure out a more funky and creative way to capture all this history.

* * *

The north-facing block on Iglehart Avenue between Dewey and Howell Streets in St. Paul is anchored by two structures on either end, each built in the early 1900s. I can’t speak for the ages of the houses that fill the spaces between, but they look to have been built in the same era.

The Olivet Congregational Church reminds me of a cottage, and its sweet blue-green stained-glass windows feel European. I think Switzerland, but maybe Austria. It’s got that “Sound of Music” vibe coursing through the courtyard.

While the church looks like its been maintained immaculately, the Triune Temple at the other end of the block looks like it’s seen better decades. But that makes me adore it all the more. It’s a little worn, like a well-loved stuffed elephant, yet possibly more charming than it was in its heyday. It’s still in use by the Masons and is one of the few Masonic temples that remain in the city.

Upon further investigation, the temple’s website yielded the picture below of a watercolor created by the architect’s office prior to construction. According to the site, these renderings rarely survived, which is a shame when you see what marvelous pieces of art they were.

What piques my curiosity is the structure in the background on the far right. Based on the location of the temple, it’s in the direction of the University of St. Thomas, but I’m not sure what structure is that tall (or would have been that tall in 1910). Perhaps it was something that has since been razed. I think it looks a little like the Prospect Park Water Tower (a.k.a. Witch’s Hat Water Tower), but that’s in a different area of town.

A mystery to be solved at another time.

Vision for Triune Temple (Source: stpaullodge.org)

Vision for Triune Temple (Source: stpaullodge.org)

* * *

Finally, some photos from the corner and the alley, with hints of the coming autumn.

Hamm and Payne and Pigeons

August 7, 2014 § 2 Comments

I took a drive along Payne Avenue today and made a detour to the Old Hamm Brewery in St. Paul. The historic area adjacent to Swede Hollow has been through hard times but is making a comeback with the openings of several acclaimed and popular restaurants like Ward 6 and Cook.

I love an old building — renovated or rundown, it captures my imagination and sense of wonder about all that came before.

Oh, and pigeons dig old buildings too.

Detail: Saint Paul Fire Department, Station 5

August 4, 2014 § Leave a comment

One of my favorite local blogs is Saint Paul by Bike. Blogger, biker, and explorer Wolfie Browender bikes block by block throughout the city and documents what he sees, who he talks to, and what he learns. It’s been a great way for me to rediscover why I love this city.

A recent post of his on the St. Paul Fire Department’s Station 5 engine house inspired me to take a closer look at this neighborhood gem and focus on the details that decorate its exterior.

According to Browender, the building, erected in 1930, was designed by the nation’s first African American municipal architect, Clarence “Cap” Wigington, who also designed the Harriet Island Pavilion, the Highland Water Tower, and Roy Wilkins Auditorium.

I’ve been fond of this engine house since the first time I saw it many years ago, and now I love it even more because of the history lesson. And also because I finally paid attention to its detail.

Salem Kirche

July 29, 2014 § 2 Comments

Oh, the history you uncover when out driving.

I was running an errand in Inver Grove Heights today and went off course to see what I could find. I eventually came upon this tiny church surrounded by a white metal fence and nestled on Schmidt Lake. Once known as the Salem Evangelical Church, it’s now called Old Salem Shrine and unofficially referred to as the “little white church.”

The church stands locked and shuttered. Regular services ended in 1910, and now it’s open only twice a year for a Christmas service in January and a founders’ service in June. I did a little research when I got home and discovered it was broken into and vandalized extensively last fall. A sad fate for a historical gathering spot maintained and loved by many descendants of the church’s founders.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has an article about the vandalism and information about the church.

For more history on Old Salem Shrine and two photos of its beautiful interior, read a post written by one of the descendants at “Teachings from the Trail.”


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