Monday, June 02, 2014

A Walk in the Old Neighborhood

Welcome June!

In mid-May we were in St. Paul for my nephew's wedding. We took a drive through our old neighborhood, Ramsey Hill, within the Historic Hill District. We lived on the right half of the second and third floors of this old Queen Anne style Victorian at 496 Holly Avenue. Built in 1895, it barely qualifies as old by Massachusetts reckoning. I thought it was ancient until we moved East and I saw a plaque on a house from the 1600's. My jaw dropped.

3rd floor master bedroom turret

Many St. Paulites agree the Summit Avenue mansions built by James J. Hill and his contemporaries are a must-see. But I love Holly and Portland Avenues, two quiet streets just off Summit. 

Holly and Portland are home to a variety of architectural styles from the 1880's and early 1900's. By the 1960's urban decay's grip was pulling many a grande dame into sad states. A few intrepid pioneers tackled the first projects in the early 1970's paving the way for serious preservation and historically sensitive renovation. The Hill District was reborn and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The view diagonally across the street from our old house. The building on the left is the Holly Row House.
Built in 1888 by architect James Chisholm, rock faced sandstone clads the exterior.
The building to the right was one of the first renos in the 1970's.
It received its share of criticism for the sand blasted exterior, removal of the original porches and modern windows.
Bear in mind that when it was done some 40 years ago, the concept and practice of historically
sensitive restoration was in its infancy. 

Living in an historic district was the spark of my ever deepening love of old houses. Nearly every day I pushed the baby stroller down Holly Avenue to Cochran Memorial Park and returned on Portland Avenue. Walking versus driving gives a completely different perspective and view; time to appreciate the details.

Just a few houses down from our old place is the Everett Bailey House at 459 Holly. Wood sculpture by Scott Showell. 

Designed by James Knox Taylor, 1885; his last commission before joining Cass Gilbert.
Built for banker Everett Bailey who lived here until he died in 1953.
I could not get a good picture but Google did. Scary. Google, not the house.

One of my all time favs, 444 Portland Avenue.

The mansard roof and peaked dormers are inspired by the Chateauesque Revival style of the late 1800's
but the home's smaller size and restrained ornamentation suggest the 1930's (which I could not verify).
The house sits on the Southwest corner of Portland and Arundel. Originally built with the front door
on Arundel, it was soon modified to face Portland, a more prestigious address.

If she were mine, I'd give her more French-looking lanterns and mount the mail box on the railing.

I can't blame him. There I am in the rain crazily snapping pic after pic of his house and the homes of his neighbors.
It turns out there had been a rash of con artists knocking on doors trying to gain access
under the guise of selling a new security system.
We had a lovely chat. He's owned the house for about 12 years.
One of his adult children lived for a time on the third floor.

Two doors down from Mr. Orr is this quirky little gem. Sort of Craftsman Style meets an English Cottage. I couldn't find any info on it nor anything quite like it in my reference books. Please comment if you know anything about this style.

Some people don't "get" this house. I think it adds character and diversity to the neighborhood.

What looks like a mailbox is the neighborhood's book trading drop.
How can we not love a neighborhood devoted to preserving history and real books? 

Across the street is a true Grand Dame, 459 Portland, one of several on this block.

the porch's baluster has a Gothic feel 

Here's a closer look at her front door. Leaded glass door and sidelights, descending finial at the peak, larger paired brackets above the columns, slight curve at the ends of the peak. Details, they really do matter.

The Bigelow houses are just a few steps from 459. By this time the rain really started coming down. I took pictures of details but not both houses together. Google again to the rescue. The one on the left is directly behind our old house. I could see it from our back porch.

Charles Bigelow commissioned Thomas Holyoke in 1910 for this pair of Tudor Revivals for he and his son Fred.

An interesting feature, the front doors face the courtyard between the two rather than the street.

They are definitely a pair, but not identical. Bigelow Right has more detail but both are outstanding. Here's the courtyard/front door of BR.

Slate roof, copper gutters and downspouts, stone window trim, stone columns, stone balustrade.
This house was built to last.

The street face of Bigelow Right. Detail of the eaves and barge board (the feature the lions are sitting on). Not much to paint on a brick and stone house. Definitely a huge plus.

Compare to the street face of Bigelow Left.

which do you prefer? the lions of Bigelow Right or the gargoyles of Bigelow Left?

Bigelow Left's left gargoyle has been missing his left eye for as long as I can remember. Still, he is sort of cute.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg for the 400 block of Portland.

I loved our old neighborhood. Not just for the architecture, Cafe Latté is within walking distance. We had to stop in for lunch. Their bakery is as good as ever. If you visit the Twin Cities, put it on your list.

strawberries as fresh as they get
My husband once bought this cake for dinner with our German friends.
He took it out of the bakery box, ditched the doily and placed it on one of my cake plates.
If I remember correctly, he may even have smushed it a little so it wouldn't look perfect.
Ursula raved about it and asked for the recipe.
Husband declined saying something like it was a family secret. To this day Ushi thinks he made it.

Their Tres Leché cake is famous too. My husband took one home on the plane at the request/demand of our daughter.

Thanks for joining me on my little nostalgia tour. What's your take on old houses? Love them? Too much work?

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pakravan

All pictures by me except the two Googles.


  1. Anonymous15.7.14

    Oh. My. Goodness. What gorgeous old houses you've captured for us. Each more gorgeous than the last. Hmmm, you ask for my take on old houses. Yes, too much trouble. Yes, I love them. My old house is a beloved money pit but I wouldn't change it for the world. My Dad was born and raised in Minnesota. It is a wonderful state.

    1. Another Minnesota connection! World really is a small place. Love your house descriptor "beloved money pit". So true. Thanks for stopping by!


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