SL Paul's counterpart to Kenwood in Minneapolis, the neighborhoods of the Southwest district have the ambiance of a library filled with leather-bound books: old, hefty, rich with historical detail-all first-rate. Variations include the more trendy east end of Summit, and the more academic west end, but the housing is basically the same, and all the people who live here have access to the restaurants and shops of Grand Avenue, one of St. Paul's great pleasures.
The mansions and historic buildings poised high on Summit Hill epitomize the grandeur and wealth of boom-era St. Paul. They are superior examples of many styles of turn-of-the century architecture and ornamentation. Summit's first mansion, built in 1862 at 432 Summit, caused a sensation by incorporating such modem features as steam heating, hot and cold water and gas lighting.
In the 1880s and 1890s the Crocus Hill and Grand Hill neighborhoods also became fashionable locations for wealthy families. Crocus Hill is still one of the Twin Cities' most desirable and eccentric neighborhoods. If you buy a house in this maze of cobblestone streets, it may come with a ghost, but your garage might be four blocks away. Crocus Hill, the street, is only half a block long, which is long enough, because house numbering is not consecutive. One, ls the first house built on the street; but the second house, built at the opposite end of the street, ls Four. In between are Twelve, Two, Eleven, Sixteen, and Four-Five is around the corner. Only two of the early 1880s houses remain; the rest were built between the 1920s and '40s. Crocus Hill, the neighborhood, extends to St. Clair, and, mercifully, its streets do employ sequential numbering.
All five miles of Summit Avenue, in the Summit Hill District, are protected, either as a national or local Historic District. There are some extraordinary buildings here, and the district has received national recognition for their careful preservation. Summit Avenue is St. Paul's power address. The Minnesota governor's residence is at 1006. (Free public tours are given on selected Fridays, May through October, call 651-297-8177.) Railroad baron James J. Hill's 45-room red sandstone mansion at 240 Summit Avenue was the largest in the Midwest when it was built in 1891. (It is open for tours Wednesdays through Saturdays, 651-297-2555.) Across the street is the Renaissance-style Catholic Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, which looks across at the other domed building in town, the Minnesota State Capitol. The cathedral is host to many concerts, the most popular of which is the annual Christmas performance of Handel's "Messiah." F. Scott Fitzgerald was born in the neighborhood, and returned to write This Side of Paradise in a shabby-genteel red stone row house on the comer of Summit and Dale. You can see these and many of the other historic buildings and gardens by joining one of the Minnesota Historical Society's guided walking tours, held every Saturday from May through September. Another tour called ''These Old Houses" is held every other year on the first Sunday after Mother's Day, and is popular with locals and tourists alike. Needless to say the cost of Step away from Summit Avenue and you'll find more than a museum that pays homage to the lavish excesses of the late 19th century. Residential opportunities abound in Summit Hill, and not everyone living here is a millionaire. The neighborhood's last housing booklet, in the 1920s, included the building of many apartments, particularly along the streetcar lines on major thoroughfares like Grand Avenue. During the depression of the 1930s a lot of families found they could no longer afford to live in their expensive homes, and subsequently many single-family homes were converted into duplexes or rooming houses, which remain today, making up much of the housing in Summit Hill. While vacancy rates are low, it is possible to find an apartment with refinished hardwood floors, tall windows, and fireplaces. The least expensive apartments generally are found on Cathedral Hill. Also try the area south of Grand Avenue for more modest housing. People from all walks of life live here, including faculty, staff and students from nearby colleges.
Proximity to Grand Avenue, one of the Twin Cities' most attractive commercial districts, is another perk to living in Summit Hill. Grand Avenue is loaded with interesting restaurants, specialty stores, taverns and bookstores. The southwest districts' principal summer festival, Grand Old Days, attracts crowds from all over the Twin Cities. The street is closed off and its entire length becomes one long party, with live bands, food, beer, games, a parade and great people watching.
However, the area's popular shopping, coupled with the presence of so many apartments, has created three problems: burglaries, traffic and parking. Be assured the St. Paul police department is working on these issues. A word to the wise, don't park your car even for a minute in a space that requires a resident's sticker.
Web Sites: www.ci.stpaul.mn.us
Area Code: 651
Zip Codes: 55102, 55105
Post Offices: Main Office, 180 East Kellogg Boulevard; Elway Station, 1715 West 7th Street (all post office branches can be reached at 800- 275-8777)
Police: Western District Patrol Team, North: 651-292-3512, South: 651-292-3549
Emergency Hospital: United Hospital, 333 Smith Avenue North, 651-220-8000
Libraries: Central, 90 West 4th Street, 651-266-7000; Lexington, 1080 University Avenue West, 651-642-0359
Community Resource: Summit Hill Association, 860 St. Clair Avenue, 651-222-1222
Community Publications: St. Paul Grand Gazette, 651-699-1462; St. Paul Pioneer Press, 651-222-5011, www.pioneerplaneLcom
Transportation: Bus lines: 3: Grand Avenue/Downtown/3M Center; 17: Dale Street/Rosedale
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