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Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue,


The story of Grand Avenue's renaissance provides ... (See Grand Avenue: Renaissance of an Urban Street. St. ... renaissance of the Avenue occurred. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue,

Geography of the Twin Cities                    
Grand Avenue, Summit Avenue, and the Historic
Hill Slide Show David Lanegran Macalester
College Geography Department
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 1973. 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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slide 14 This is an example of the substantial
number of avenue houses that attracted investors
interested in restorations.
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.
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
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.
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.
Slide 19 Other apartment buildings needed less
renovation. They were repainted, modernized and
then sold as condominiums.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slide 46 The informal parade attracts all sorts
of marchers.
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.
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.
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.
Slide 50 This is an example of a new building
constructed according to rules in the
traditional business zoning categories.
Slide 51 This is an example of a business
located in the new zoning category, according to
the rules of preservation of appearance.
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
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.
Slide 54 However, the successes continue to
create parking problems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Slide 59 Café Latte at night.
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.
Slide 61 This business is located in the house
shown in Slide 42.
Slide 62 As Grand Avenue has evolved, it has
attracted new immigrant populations to it.
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.