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Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue, and the Historic Hill Slide Show David Lanegran Macalester College Geography Department Geography of the Twin Cities.

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Presentation on theme: "Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue, and the Historic Hill Slide Show David Lanegran Macalester College Geography Department Geography of the Twin Cities."— Presentation transcript:

1 Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue, and the Historic Hill Slide Show David Lanegran Macalester College Geography Department Geography of the Twin Cities

2 The story of Grand Avenue's renaissance provides an insight into the possible futures of inner city neighborhoods. Grand Avenue provided commercial, social and residential space for several different residential districts. The pattern of changes in the neighborhoods going from new development, stability, turn over and loss of wealth to redevelopment and gentrification is representative of one sort of change in central cities. It is particularly interesting because it indicates that the older model of one-dimensional change as housing ages does not necessarily fit all parts of the city. The geography department of Macalester College has studied Grand Avenue since Several student publications have been produced as well as a book published. (See Grand Avenue: Renaissance of an Urban Street. St. Cloud: North Star Press, 1996, by Billie Young and David Lanegran) This book provides much more detail about this fascinating part of the city

3 Slide 1: 1892 Sanborn Map of Summit Hill This map portrays the Summit Avenue neighborhood now commonly known as Ramsey Hill. It is part of the historic hill district. The map shows individual lots and houses, although it is somewhat hard to read. There is an interesting transition at the boundary of the two additions (Irvine's and Woodland Park.) It is here that Wright and Wan, the developers of the area along Grand Avenue, re-aligned the boulevard. Instead of continuing along the crest of the bluff, Summit Avenue was re-directed due west. This meant, of course, that the chief attraction of the street was not the view of the river valley but the views of the upper class households in the neighborhood. The area was developed for wealthy households who could afford to live on the edge of the city. Development was slow to come to this area because the steep bluffs limited access.

4 Slide 2: Horse-drawn Rail Car Transportation was improved by the development of the street railroads. At first the cars were pulled by horses, but cable cars were used on steep hills. This system enabled the middle class households to move to the suburbs. However, the street railroad system was expensive. Horses needed a great deal of maintenance. The Grand Avenue line was electrified in 1892 and extended west to the St. Thomas campus. This caused leap frog development to occur on Grand Avenue.

5 Slide 3: The Sheremyer House This house on Grand Hill represents the first wave of building in the neighborhood at the old foot of Grand and area now called Crocus Hill. Thee large villas were replaced by large houses without extensive grounds.

6 Slide 4: People moved into houses in these neighborhoods to take advantage of the suburban lifestyle. They wanted extensive lawns and play areas for their children. Development was relatively scattered in the first decades, with a great deal of open space between houses. The neighborhood became known as Crocus Hill after the pasque flowers that were common in the early years.

7 Slide 5: By the 1930's, the old upper-income neighborhoods at the foot of Grand were full and some individuals began to look to new developments at the city's edge. In addition, the neighborhoods north of Summit were changing from upper and middle class to middle and low income. The area north of Selby showed signs of severe deterioration.

8 Slide 6: By the early 1970's, Summit Avenue was no longer a middle class street. The large homes had been subdivided during World War II to meet the huge housing demand. The result was rapid deterioration and in this case a house fire that lead to the destruction of one of the Italianate mansions in the middle of this view. The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire and has not been replaced.

9 Slide 7: This is another example of the deterioration of houses on Summit Avenue. Actually Summit was experiencing the sort of change that most models of city development predicted. Housing was expected to "filter-down" from higher income groups to lower income groups as new housing was built for the wealthy population. As the housing filtered it held more households and eventually would be worn out and discarded to be replaced by another land use.

10 Slide 8: This is a vacant and boarded apartment house in the historic hill district. These buildings were taken over by the city. Once a building reaches this condition, it becomes an attractive nuisance and a hazard to the community.

11 Slide 9: As houses and apartments were worn out, the government built publicly owned units such as these to house the displaced residents of urban decay. The contrast in styles between the new and the old clearly identify the subsidized units.

12 Slide 10: However, some of the houses did not follow the predicted path. This is the house of James J. Hill, the biggest home in the city. It was leased to the Archdiocese and was not subdivided. This building right across the street from the Cathedral and adjacent to the house were the archbishop lived, served as an office building for the Dioceses. There was little damage done to the house when it was occupied by the church. When the lease expired, the building passed to the State Historical Society and is now operated as a house museum.

13 Slide 11: The Cathedral of St. Paul located on Summit Avenue insured that the Roman Catholic Church would stay involved in the neighborhood. As the years passed many of the large homes were passed to the Church and they were used to house groups of Nuns who were preparing to accept teaching positions in the parishes of the archbishop. Thus the Church was responsible for the maintenance of many of the largest mansions on Summit and in the Historic Hill District and thereby prevented them from being degraded.

14 Slide 12: The quantity of larger houses in the area attracted large numbers of group homes and halfway houses. The area became infiltrated with these facilities to the point that the basic neighborhood fabric was being destroyed. The three houses shown here were once all painted bright yellow and operated as a mini-campus for disabled people. During the late 1960's and early 1970's, the older neighborhoods and the larger homes were re-evaluated and many young families took advantage of historic preservation legislation to buy and restore the larger homes on the Historic Hill and along Grand Avenue. These houses were sold to individual households and restored as part of the Back to the Cities Movement through renewed interest in historic preservation that characterized the early 1970s.

15 Slide 13: This Queen Anne house was undergoing "de-conversion" when the slide was taken. The building's former owner had illegally sub-divided the house into about a dozen units of various sizes. The new owner converted it into three condominiums.

16 Slide 14: This is an example of the substantial number of avenue houses that attracted investors interested in restorations.

17 Slide 15: This map depicts the Historic Hill District of St. Paul. It was an innovative approach to historic preservation because the designated area included a range of houses, not all of which were historic. However, individuals who restored properties inside the area received below market-rate loans and tax credits. The result was a rapid redevelopment of this area and the conversion of many vacant properties to market-rate housing. Grand Avenue was exempted from the first phases because the commercial property owners believed it would impair their ability to remodel their stores and offices.

18 Slide 16: The large number of wooden houses from the Victorian period attracted homeowners that wanted to work on the buildings themselves. The wooden houses were relatively easy to restore. Brick and stone structures required more expensive, specialized craftsmen to make major repairs.

19 Slide 17: Not all the houses were restored to their previous condition. Here we see a modernized house that attracted new investment but was located outside the historic district.

20 Slide 18: Restored homes became so popular that the old apartments and townhouse attracted contractors who gutted the old structures but preserved the exterior envelope. The new construction inside the old walls gave the new homeowners the best of both worlds.

21 Slide 19: Other apartment buildings needed less renovation. They were repainted, modernized and then sold as condominiums.

22 Slide 20: The number of vacant and boarded structures rapidly diminished. Old Towne Restoration, a non-profit housing and community development company, promoted the area and did several restoration projects. The few remaining troubled properties were confined to the Selby Avenue commercial street.

23 Slide 21: The city government worked with the Archdioceses to create alternative housing for low income households. These townhouses are part of a cooperative that enable single parent households to occupy sound housing in an accessible location at Selby and Dale. This was one of the most notorious intersections in St. Paul.

24 Slide 22: Neighborhood conservation and historic preservation had a big impact on the residential neighborhoods. However, economic cycles and some culture changes were also powerful, so some of the old neighborhood social spaces, such as this movie theater, were closed and eventually removed from the landscape to make way for more parking for the prosperous shops.

25 Slide 23: During the early 1970's, the businessmen on Grand were very nervous. The Selby Avenue business street had been destroyed by fires during the civil unrest that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Therefore, it was necessary to make this map showing merchants and other investors how much money was available for local businesses in the inner city neighborhoods. This information changed the image of the viability of Grand Avenue business.

26 Slide 24: The Grand Avenue Business Association was determined to market the street as if it was a shopping mall instead of each business doing independent advertising. In addition, they decided to compete against the slick new suburban shopping facilities by highlighting their history.

27 Slide 25: Although there were a number of old commercial buildings along Grand, such as this structure located on the north side of Grand between Macalester and Cambridge streets, most of the buildings and stores were established after the 1940's.

28 Slide 26: In 1973 the city was re-zoning and updating the original land use categories. Grand Avenue was left till last. In the first zoning law of 1926, Grand Avenue was zoned commercial from one end to the other in the anticipation that the street would soon become all commercial. As we have seen, the street car line was extended all the way to the western city limits, so there was too much space for the limited demand for commercial enterprises in the early years. Therefore, by 1970 there were many blocks with no commercial structures that were built up with multiple housing units or single family homes. The business association took the position that any change in the zoning reduction from the status quo would hurt the ability of businesses to expand and eventually kill the street. The advocates of the historic neighborhoods wanted to freeze business areas exactly at the status quo and save the existing houses.

29 Slide 27: The street was home to three groups of people; young singles, young couples without children, and elderly. They were attracted to the street because of the good bus system, affordable housing, and convenient location.

30 Slide 28: The businesses were undergoing a transition. From the 1920's to the 1950's, Grand Avenue had been an auto sales center. By the 1970's larger suburban car dealerships were driving the smaller facilities out of business. The future of the car lots and large car repair shops on Grand Avenue was very uncertain.

31 Slide 29: This Ford Motor dealership had closed and sold the main building to the Minnesota Opera. The used car lot had been converted to a parking lot for the other stores. The blue siding and covered windows serve a reminder of prevailing attitudes about older buildings before the renaissance of the Avenue occurred.

32 Slide 30: This slide shows how the opera company was short of cash and was covering the windows with plastic in hope of saving energy.

33 Slide 31: James Ressimi, pictured here in front of his deli, Gio Como's, was one of the first new businessmen to see the market potential of Grand Avenue. This store, located on Snelling at the Grand Avenue intersection, was relocated to Grand. The building seen here has been replaced by a much larger structure that houses Kinko's. It seems that in the early 1970's new visions were needed if Grand Avenue was to escape the fate of other streetcar commercial strips.

34 Slide 32: Don Dick, President of First Grand Bank, was instrumental in the revival of businesses and the development of new businesses on Grand. He was able to provide financing for both housing projects as well as business loans. Although the bank was owned by the First Bank System, President Dick was able to act very independently. His influence is an example of the importance of credit and the attitudes of large businesses in the turn-around of a neighborhood.

35 Slide 33: Some businesses, such as Nelson's Interiors, served a large trade area in both St. Paul and suburban Ramsey County. The success of operations like this have encouraged the new business.

36 Slide 34: Grand Avenue had a mix of businesses all through its history. Some, like Musca Lighting, have operated on the street for decades. They are not dependent on a local market but have made many contributions to the renewal of the street. Their managers served on the Grand Ave Business Association.

37 Slide 35: The flagship of Grand Avenue entertainment and dinning was the Lexington Restaurant. For years it functioned as a neighborhood club welcoming old and new residents. Like Musca and other larger establishments, the Lexington's success was used as evidence of the viability of the street to encourage new investors.

38 Slide 36: Some structures were used by businesses that had no real need to be on Grand Avenue. They located here because of the cheap rent. These functions were replaced as the growing success of the street increased the rents.

39 Slide 37: This landscape is indicative of the future for Grand Avenue that was resisted by the Business Association and the Neighborhood Organizations. They did not want the street to be converted to a series of fast food drive-thru's. They did not want to be a poor imitation of a suburban shopping strip and instead wanted to have a street that welcomed pedestrians and offered a distinctive ambiance. A zoning change which prevented franchise food operations from opening drive-thru windows kept the street from become a "franchise row."

40 Slide 38: One of the more innovative developments involved Macalester College. This former auto repair shop was purchased by the college's High Winds Fund and converted to a mini-mall. This development pointed to the new future of Grand Avenue, as a series of restored and re-used structures that sheltered viable businesses oriented at middle-class consumers.

41 Slide 39: The mini-malls' success and the strong market fundamentals of the stable or gentrifying neighborhoods did not go unnoticed by national chains. When the OPEC oil crisis caused many gasoline companies to close service stations, convenience stores that also sold automotive products leaped into the vacant spaces and built their signature buildings.

42 Slide 40: Grand Avenue, like other inner city streets, had a bad reputation. Many individuals believed that the street was dangerous; in fact, members of the police department advised entrepreneurs against locating on the street. The actual incidence of crime was much lower than perceptions, but the development of beat police dramatically changed the general perception of security in the area.

43 Slide 41: A lingering problem on Grand Avenue is parking for employees, customers and residents. There is not a great deal of competition for spaces between shoppers and residents because they are in an opposed cycle of use. However, as the street has increased in popularity, the parking issues have intensified. In 2000, plans for a large parking structure at Grand and Victoria were approved.

44 Slide 42: One of the arguments against zoning the street for more residential use was the poor condition of many of the housing units. The business community correctly pointed out that they had a huge investment in the area and the owners of much residential property were not keeping up their properties. This building has since been rebuilt and now houses a luxurious jewelry store.

45 Slide 43: Roger Swardson, a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association, was formerly the director of public relations at Macalester College. He left the college to form a neighborhood newspaper through which he promoted the new image of the street. Swardson was a tremendous innovator. Soon most neighborhoods were publishing papers.

46 Slide 44: Key to Roger Swardson's vision was that Grand Avenue should promote itself as if it was a shopping mall. He, with Mary Rice and others, promoted many events to put Grand Avenue in the mental maps of Twin Citians. Grand Old Day, held on the first Sunday in June each year, has been fantastically successful. It is recognized as the largest one day festival in Minnesota. Events like this have made Grand Avenue a destination for people across the Twin Cities.

47 Slide 45: One of the chief attractions of Grand Old Day is people-watching and the change from busy vehicle-street to a pedestrian pathway.

48 Slide 46: The informal parade attracts all sorts of marchers.

49 Slide 47: One of the key features of the success of St. Paul in the last third of the 20th Century was the invention of community planning councils. These organizations are larger than traditional neighborhood councils and provide an effective link between the residents and city government. In the first years of the program, each council had a community organizer and a planner. Recent cut-backs in the St. Paul Planning and Economic Development Department have resulted in the removal of the neighborhood planners, yet the councils are still an effective political and planning force.

50 Slide 48: The success of the Mac Market prompted others, especially the developers of Victoria Crossing, to follow suit. On the northwest corner of Grand and Victoria stood an under-used office building (the former location of the Grand Avenue Bank) and an auto body shop; investors bought the building and converted it to offices and shops. This was a major step forward in the street's rebirth.

51 Slide 49: The increase in business activity put pressure on the area's "multifamily" zoning. As a result, a new zoning category was created that allowed residential units to be converted to business uses, provided the look of the street was maintained. The building could not be extended to the sidewalk, parking for employees had to be provided in the backyards, and the side yard had to be preserved. The result was a greatly improved street.

52 Slide 50: This is an example of a new building constructed according to rules in the traditional business zoning categories.

53 Slide 51: This is an example of a business located in the new zoning category, according to the rules of preservation of appearance.

54 Slide 52: The older part of the street received façade treatments and signage innovations that made it more attractive to pedestrians who could walk to the street from the gentrifying neighborhoods.

55 Slide 53: The older buildings provided modest cost space for new businesses to develop. In 1973 not even the most optimistic and forward looking person anticipated the creation of the coffee shop culture and what it would mean for Grand Avenue. This new social space attracted even more people to the street and neighborhood.

56 Slide 54: However, the successes continue to create parking problems.

57 Slide 55: In 1988 the Urban Geography Field Seminar produced a monograph on what had occurred on grand avenue since the first Urban Geography Field Seminar published its monograph on Grand Avenue in 1973.

58 Slide 56: We found that parking was more important than building space, and in this case, a large building was made smaller to provide parking for the new types of establishments.

59 Slide 57: The first mall structures at Victoria's Crossing had expanded to include all four corners, three mini-malls, and a parking lot. The businesses in the mini-malls served clients from all across the Twin Cities, and the restaurants began the trend that would make Grand Avenue the primary eating and entertainment street in St. Paul.

60 Slide 58: This photo was taken inside Café Latte, located on the SE corner of Victoria and Grand. This new form of cafeteria was the sort of innovation that appealed to the busy professional population living in the area or coming to Grand for lunch or a meal before a concert.

61 Slide 59: Café Latte at night.

62 Slide 60: Success followed success and some large chains were attracted to the avenue and agreed to blend their design guidelines to match the Grand Avenue Ambiance.

63 Slide 61: This business is located in the house shown in Slide 42.

64 Slide 62: As Grand Avenue has evolved, it has attracted new immigrant populations to it.

65 Conclusion: Grand Avenue continues to change and tries to adapt to changes in the urban culture. Many fear that its success will engulf its character and charm. They fear the street will become commodified and artificial. They contend we must guard against those who would turn Grand into simply a machine for making money and deprive the city and neighborhoods of much needed social and recreational space. Visit the street and see for yourself.

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