St. Paul Minnesota’s Summit Avenue runs from St. Paul Cathedral, towering above downtown St. Paul for about five miles, to St. Paul Seminary on the Mississippi River. Along the street you can visit The College of St. Thomas, Macalester College, the William Mitchell College of Law and a few tony private schools. There are lots of churches. Although the Catholics control the anchors of Summit Avenue there are at least two synagogues, a Christian Science church, two Episcopal houses of worship, more Catholics and assorted other denominations. The House of Hope Presbyterian Church is, perhaps, the biggest church that is not Catholic on the street. Summit Avenue’s most illustrious resident, James J. Hill, the Empire Builder and a patron of Catholic construction, allegedly said “It is called the House of Hope because it has neither faith nor charity.” The Unitarians, appropriately, are a block off Summit.
But the main attraction of Summit Avenue is the collection of Victorian mansions, Tudor mansions, carpenter gothic homes, and a few more modern homes. The James J Hill Mansion is, of course, the highlight, although the Governor’s Mansion also sits on Summit. Depending on your point of view it is either “One of the most splendid, best preserved Victorian streets in the United States” (Midwest Weekends) or “The worst collection of architecture in the world” (Frank Lloyd Wright).
Both Sinclair Lewis and F. Scott Fitzgerald lived and wrote on Summit Avenue. It was Fitzgerald’s “Street of Dreams,” although he agreed with Wright’s assessment, calling it “a museum of architectural failures.” Summit Avenue’s broad boulevard, with its residences, churches and schools, is twined with Grand Avenue, the commercial street that runs parallel to and a block south of Summit. It used to have car dealers, hardware stores, groceries and cinemas. The car dealers are mostly gone replaced by cafes, trendy boutiques and some really upscale groceries. There are also several drinking establishments in the area including, O’Gara’s Bar and Grill. Depending on which neon sign you read, it is either Dan O’Gara’s, Jim O’Gara’s or Tim O’Gara’s. The three neon signs with three different names puzzled me. When I lived in St. Paul, four decades ago, it was Jim O’Gara’s. Fortunately the Internet is there to give me instant gratification (while riding in the passenger seat.) The place has been there for more than 70 years, founded by Jim, taken over by son Tim and now run by grandson, Dan. It expanded from being a corner saloon to a full blown restaurant and music venue. One of the adjacent shops it took over was the barber shop owned by Karl Schultz, father of Peanuts creator Charles Schultz.
This Christmas season we drove down the Street of Dreams with a fresh coat of snow and the first of the Christmas decorations up. Here are a few of them.
Pictures taken December 10, 2013.