Sunday, August 28, 2016


The older I get, the more I realize that special events like reunions and weddings are worth making every effort to attend. I guess this is the reason I found myself in Minnesota recently. A reunion that provided a special time with cousins who are now living across the country—I will forever cherish the time we had together.
We rented an Airbnb that was located in the Groveland Macalester area of Saint Paul, mainly because it was close to our son's apartment, whom we also wanted to spend some time with. From the moment we opened that gate and walked up two flights of stairs to the top floor of this old Victorian home, I knew I was in the right place. We were surrounded by lush green trees on a quiet residential street looking very much like it did in the '70s when I lived nearby on Palace Avenue. It was comfortable and convenient to Grand Avenue with its many shops and restaurants—including Cafe Latte, 850 Grand Avenue, for the best latte in town.
Few cities in the Midwest can match the rich architectural history of Saint Paul. The best way to experience it is with a leisurely stroll along Summit Avenue—ranked as one of America's ten best “Great Streets” by the American Planning Association. It is just west of downtown Saint Paul and extends 4 ½ miles west to the Mississippi River where Saint Paul meets Minneapolis.
We started our leisurely walk at the James J. Hill House, 240 Summit Avenue. This 36,000 square foot structure was completed in 1891 for railroad executive James J. Hill, his wife, and ten children. It is built from large blocks of stone with sturdy pillars and rounded arches on a property that overlooks downtown Saint Paul and the Mississippi River area. Tours of the house are available. However, we chose to walk around the grounds to enjoy the outside on this beautiful summer day.
From here we walked to the nearby Saint Paul Cathedral, 239 Selby Ave, which is perched on top of Summit Hill with a dramatic vista of downtown. I've always enjoyed the sight of this cathedral when driving through Saint Paul. The architecture and lighting at night are stunning. The impressive structure, built in the shape of a Greek cross, was the dream of Archbishop John Ireland in the early 1900's and completed in 1915.       
Next we headed back down Summit Avenue toward the west and enjoyed looking at the many Victorian homes and historic mansions that were built in the late 1800s by the prominent citizens of the day. In the 1890s it was the place to live, however, it declined in the 1930s and many homes were turned into rooming houses or went vacant. In the '60s and '70s it turned around as many discovered that the Victorian homes could be purchased affordably and restored over time. The Hill District is again one of the most fashionable places to live in Saint Paul.
In addition to being the site of the Governor's residence, authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Sinclair Lewis both lived on Summit Avenue at one time. Garrison Keillor, creator and longtime host of the popular A Prairie Home Companion, still has a home here. His independent bookstore, Common Good Books, is located nearby on Snelling Avenue.
Here is a favorite poem that Keillor wrote upon opening his bookstore:
                                           A bookstore is for people who love books and need
                                           To touch them, open them, browse for a while,
                                           And find some common good – that's why we read.
                                           Readers and writers are two sides of the same gold coin.
                                           You write and I read and in that moment I find
                                           A union more perfect than any club I could join:
                                           The simple intimacy of being one mind.
                                            Here in a book-filled room on a busy street,
                                            Strangers — living and dead — are hoping to meet.

Sunday, August 14, 2016



     Not too many visitors to Minneapolis spend time on the northside. However, this is where my roots are and any visit to the area requires a nostalgic tour of the old neighborhood. We all grew up somewhere and we take it with us the rest of our lives—nothing can change that.
     When I lived in this area in the 1950s and '60s, it was referred to as North Minneapolis; today it is called Camden. Camden is now the upper half of the northside. Its boundaries are 53 Avenue North to the north, the Mississippi River to the east, Lowry Avenue North to the south and Xerses Avenue North to the west. Population is around 32,000.
     Today is one of the perfect days in Minneapolis, 70 degrees F. and beautiful sunshine. It's a quiet day and I'm enjoying a leisurely drive and walk around the old neighborhood. The area looks the same in some ways: the original homes are still standing, many of which were built in the 1920s, the lush green trees still prevail, same sidewalks for walking, wide street, and as always some of the homeowners are better gardeners than others.
    The businesses have changed dramatically through the years. My Parents' grocery and meat market, 3855 Thomas Avenue North, is now vacant and for sale (asking price: $165,000). The 1918 vintage building looks deserted and has weeds coming out of the front sidewalk cracks. The home where I grew up is attached and located in the back. The bakery and the Knotty Pine Cafe across the street, that we use to frequent, were closed down long ago. The old small businesses had a lot to do with the feeling community that once prevailed.
    The triplex next door, that my parents built in 1963 and then moved into, is looking a bit run down, but basically okay. The neighboring apartment, 3847 Thomas Avenue North, that my grandfather designed and built in the 1920s, is still standing and looking good. That's probably due to the fact that Jerry, to whom my father sold it, still owns and lives in the building.
     I continued to drive along 44th Avenue North to Penn Avenue and noticed some new businesses. I enjoyed a coffee at Victory 44 which is a trendy coffee bar and restaurant that has been getting good reviews. I then crossed the street to visit Victory's Image which is a colorful woman's clothing shop that sells new and consignment. I loved the pink walls and black and white checked floor. From here I stopped next door to look at the popular Emily's F & M Cafe which has been there for 30 years. As I recall this is the location of the old Florence & Millie's cafe that the Henry students use to frequent in the 1960s.
    A couple blocks away is my high school, Patrick Henry, 4320 Newton Avenue North, which looks about the same from the outside. It now offers an International Baccalaureate Program that draws students from around the city, and has been named one of the top high schools in the country by
Newsweek Magazine and US News and World Report. The student population is 1,140—42% Asian and 40% Black and 11% White.
     The football stadium area has been expanded to include a field house and indoor skating rink. Directly across the stadium to the south is a rather pleasant Camden Central Pond that includes a one-half mile walking path.
     Fond memories of my parents, grandparents and other relatives always lead to a stop at the Crystal Lake Cemetery. This is one of the oldest and largest cemeteries in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. It was established in 1890 and occupies 140 acres. I remember coming here one winter day, after a heavy snowstorm, with my brother Fred. We stomped around for a long time digging up the snow with our hands trying to find the tombstones, I don't think we ever found them but, it was rather humorous. When exiting from the cemetery, I noticed my Aunt Ella and Uncle George's old home on Penn Avenue directly across the street. It's still standing, but it is clearly showing its 90 plus years.
      I drove by the 27 acre Folwell Park, one of the oldest parks in Minneapolis. It's still a lovely green park with lots of trees and open fields for sports. My friends and I hiked here regularly all winter long to ice skate. We took advantage of the warming house as necessary. The 14 block walk to the park was never a problem for us. For some reason, I don't remember being bothered by cold weather when I was growing up. I guess we just dressed warmly and accepted it as it was. We walked about one mile each way to school from Kindergarten through Senior High. I think the fresh air and exercise improved our ability to sit through classes all day and concentrate.
     Finally, as I leave the area and drive south on Penn Avenue toward Broadway, I pass my Aunt Hazel's old studio, Baxell Photography, 3115 Penn Avenue North. She had the building remodeled in the 1960s choosing a contemporary design with a glass front. It never quite fit with the surrounding older buildings, but she loved it. Today it is a martial arts and weightlifting gym. My Aunt was the first one in the family to ever have a gym membership, I expect she would approve of this new business.

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      I wrote this essay a couple of years ago when visiting Minneapolis. We just returned from another venture and once again I returned to the old neighborhood.
     At a get-together with friends, I was reminded of the old Camden swimming pool that we use to frequent during the summer. It was always packed with kids that were swimming and jumping in all directions. The facility was recently reopened as the Webber Park Natural Swimming Pool, and is the first public natural swimming pool (NSP) to be built in North America. It uses filters and plants to maintain the pool without chemicals.