From street signs to framed jerseys: Hamline-Randolph area is one annotated neighborhood

map
MinnPost illustration by Andy Sturdevant
If it’s not named for someone from the neighborhood, then there are plaques, photos or mementos somewhere nearby commemorating neighborhood people.

Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park are such cozy neighborhoods that whenever I walk through them, I am always sure someone’s going to walk up to me and say, “Hey, what are you doing here? You don’t live here.” Not because they’re unfriendly or exclusive neighborhoods – they’re not at all – but both are so lived-in and seem so familiar and close-knit to the residents that they could spot a nonresident a half-block away.

That close-knit familiarity is evident in how well annotated the area is. You can walk a few blocks down Hamline Avenue, starting up around St. Clair and down to Randolph (which divides the two neighborhoods), and so many of the buildings, streets, and businesses you will encounter are named for someone from the area. If it’s not named for someone from the neighborhood, then there are plaques, photos or mementos somewhere nearby commemorating neighborhood people.

Take the streets, for example. Juliet Avenue, just off Hamline, is named for a neighborhood girl. The “Juliet” in question is Julia Nettleton, the daughter of two dairy farmers who owned land around Randolph, back when it was possible to have a dairy farm within St. Paul’s city limits. Julia was just the first of an unbroken lineage of neighborhood kids to be so honored.

Like many residential parts of the city, the Randolph-Hamline area shuts down early – by the time I arrived, the Copper Dome and Schmidty’s Sports Barber had closed for the evening. But a peek through the window at Schmidty’s reveals walls full of signed photos and memorabilia from neighborhood residents, past and present. Included is the framed jersey of one local son in particular whose legacy looms large over the Randolph-Hamline area: Joseph P. Mauer, Cretin-Derham Hall High School Class of ’01 alumnus and current Minnesota Twin.

shrode field
MinnPost photo by Andy Sturdevant
Joe Mauer’s name is also prominent on the purple and gold scoreboard at Cretin-Derham Hall’s Shrode Field, which notes his 2009 American League MVP.

A quick tally of Maueriana in the neighborhood: Besides the framed jersey in the barber shop, there are some errant photos on the wall of Caspar and Runyon’s Nook restaurant nearby, as well as a two-burger special on the menu called the Joe Mauer Hits a Double, as well as a note that the Lodge Burger (bacon, tomato, smoked cheddar, chipotle mayo) is “Joe Mauer’s favorite!” Joe Mauer’s name is also prominent on the purple and gold scoreboard at Cretin-Derham Halls’s Shrode Field, noting his 2009 American League MVP. Also mentioned: Paul Molitor, Class of ’74 and 2004 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. Mauer is so present in the neighborhood that, when I sat down in the basement of the Nook for dinner, the guys at the table next to me were talking about him in tones that suggested they knew him personally. Or at least they had gone to high school with him right across the street. They kept mentioning “Joe,” no last name needed.

The Nook itself – as well as the Ran-Ham Bowling Center downstairs, acquired by the restaurant a few years ago – is virtually a neighborhood museum. St. Paul is full of great neighborhood bars, but I can’t think of any that serve their purpose as well as the Nook. Everything in the bar is rigorously designed to serve two interrelated functions: 1) make you feel like you belong there, or 2) make you feel like you should belong there if you fail the first function. Already noted are the framed and signed photos and posters on the wall of the usual sports heroes and civic functionaries around the Nook. But it goes deeper, much deeper than just about any bar I can think of – there’s a “hall of shame” of high school yearbook photos of regulars, and constellations of notated dollars bills stuck to the ceiling and walls of the basement extension. Hell, even the name of the place, Caspar & Runyon’s Nook, refers to two more neighborhood boys made good, the guys who bought the bar and continue to operate it.

dollars on ceiling
MinnPost photo by Andy Sturdevant
Constellations of notated dollar bills adorn the ceiling and walls of the basement extension of the Nook.

This may say more about me than the neighborhood specifically, but whenever I eat at the Nook or wander around Hamline and Randolph, I begin thinking to myself, “You know, maybe I should buy one of these little stucco houses on Wellesley or Palace, marry a nice Holy Spirit or Nativity of Our Lord girl, join a bowling league, have three or four kids, and bring them to the Nook for supper every weekend.” And I’m not even Catholic!

randolph heights school
MinnPost photo by Andy Sturdevant
Further up Hamline is a gem of a school building, the
Randolph Heights Elementary School.

A little further up Hamline is a gem of a school building, the Randolph Heights Elementary School. It’s a picturesque little school building (complete with a Little Free Library outside, courtesy the Randolph Heights Discovery Club) made most notable by the frieze over the front entrance. “Take fast hold of instruction,” it reads, “for she is thy life.” It’s a quotation from the Biblical book of Proverbs, and it’s flanked by two students. The male student is reading while the female student has been relegated to knitting, but that outdated instance of gender roles aside, it’s a nice sentiment. Moreover, it’s a sentiment embodied by the Discovery Club’s sturdy and attractive Little Free Library – they’ve clearly taken fast hold of instruction. (And of course, in the spirit of the neighborhood, the names of all of the members of the club are written inside the door.)

Lastly, at 420 Hamline Ave. at Palace Avenne is one of my favorite artifacts in St. Paul, and one that probably won’t be around much longer. It also pays a sort of tribute to a famous personality, though one who isn’t from the neighborhood. In all-caps plastic red letters, the front reads LBJ REALTY. I’ve been curious about this space for a while – why was it named LBJ? After President Johnson? Or did “LBJ” just happen to be the initials of the real estate broker, and they used this fact to their advantage? Is it just a reflection of a time when LBJ was one of the most popular figures in American life? The offices are now empty, the phone number’s disconnected, and there’s a for-sale sign outside, so I’m not sure these questions can be answered – unless you live in the neighborhood and know the story yourself, in which case I’d love for you to leave the story in the comments section. These personal histories of a neighborhood and the people within it are what make a neighborhood like Randolph and Hamline so enjoyable to walk through. There’s a story behind every place you encounter, anywhere in the world. Some neighborhoods just do an exceptionally good job at putting those stories out in the open.

lbj realty sign
MinnPost photo by Andy Sturdevant
Why was it named LBJ? After President Johnson?

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Programming note: I’ll be taking all of October off to finish a few projects that have been a long time in the making.

On October 3, my first book, “Potluck Supper With Meeting to Follow,” will be released by Coffee House Press. It’s a collection of essays and drawings, and contains a number of pieces that first appeared in this column (expanded and reworked, in many cases). You can buy it from the local bookseller of your choice. My major public reading will be Nov. 4 at the Rum River Library in Anoka as part of the Hennepin County Library’s Club Book series.

On October 17, a show I’ve been working on at the Minneapolis Institute of Art opens. “Alley Atlas” is a project that will give an unofficial name to every Minneapolis alley, as chosen by its residents. If you live on an alley in Minneapolis, consult your neighbors and submit your name here. I’ve been working with a design studio to create wall-sized maps of the city’s alleys for the galleries, so you’ll also be able to come find your alley in person. More information about “Alley Atlas” is here.

The good news is The Stroll will continue in my absence this month. Over the next four weeks, you’ll see guest columns from Wahida Omar, Natalie VestinBill Lindeke, and T.D. Mischke. All four are excellent writers with a great eye for the urban landscape, so you’ll be in good hands. Thanks for reading the column, and I hope to see you around next month.

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Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/25/2013 - 11:10 am.

    Ah, the old neighborhood.

    Thanks for the memories.

    I lived at 1252 Juliet as a child, in a home rented from my grandparents. After moving to the ‘burbs in ’56, I spent many a summer night sleeping on the back screen porch while visiting Gramma. Among the establishments I once visited were Pittlekow’s Grocery, directly across the street from what is now LBJ. Up the street, on the SE corner of Randolph and Hamline, was Bridgeman’s, where Gramma and my uncle Bud would take me to pick up the makings of root beer floats on hor summer nights.

    There were theaters on Randolph in those days. If I recall correctly, one was located in the space now occupied by Korte’s grocery store. Just east of there, stood Weber’s Bakery, still in operation under another name.

    Edgecumbe playground was just down the street from our house. I

    My mother and my two older brothers attended Randolph Heights elementary. The family attended mass at Holy Spirit, the same church at which my parents were married and my Gramma attended mass every day for decades.

    The streets were safe places to play back in the day, beneath the cover of what seemed ancient elms. There were apple trees along the alley, as well as a grape arbor, all of which on occasion fed the kids on the block.

  2. Submitted by James Hamilton on 09/25/2013 - 11:22 am.

    Sorry to spoil the mystery.

    According to the Secretary of State’s records, LBJ Realty is an assumed name of a St. Paul resident with those initials. It was filed with the Secretary in 2007.

  3. Submitted by Maria Jette on 09/25/2013 - 12:34 pm.

    A great neighborhood…

    I lived above the Ran-Ham lanes for several years, and still regret not keeping that sweet little apartment as a St. Paul pied-à-terre! That was in the Nook’s pre-hipster days– all they had to offer a vegetarian neighbor was 3.2 beer and grilled American cheese on Wonder Bread, neither of which were of any appeal to me after the first time. Still, they were really gracious neighbors, and saved me a couple of city tows by calling to warn me to move my car during a snow emergency. I never bowled downstairs in all the time I lived there, mainly because it was a den of smokers in the pre-non-smoking days. I didn’t appreciate the cigarette fumes which seeped into my closet from two stories below in the bowling alley, but loved hearing the distant thunder of bowling balls.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/25/2013 - 01:22 pm.

    I had the best breakfast ever

    at the Copper Dome once. But I still don’t know why they close down at 2 p.m.

  5. Submitted by Stan Robins on 09/26/2013 - 01:03 am.

    LBJ, etc.

    I grew up at the corner of Berkeley and Syndicate, and attended Randolph Heights when St. Clair and Randolph Avenues had street cars running on them. The letters “LBJ” are, in fact, the initials of a well-known St. Paul woman realtor, but that building had been there long before it became the location of her office.

    While it is true that Randolph Ave. is the demarcation between Highland Park and the neighborhood(S) that lay along Hamline Avenue north of Randolph all the way to Summit Ave., I believe that the entirety of “Macalester-Groveland” lies west of Snelling Ave, and for the most part north of St. Clair. I never heard anyone who lived in our neighborhood describe it as “Macalester-Groveland.”

    James Hamilton is correct, Korte’s was the Randolph Theater, one of 3 movie houses within walking distance of Berkeley and Syndicate. The others were the St. Clair, on St. Clair near Snelling, and the Uptown on Grand Ave.

    Those were the days . . .

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/09/2013 - 12:37 pm.

      We called our neighborhood

      Randolph Heights, just like the school. Of course, we also could tell which part of town a person lived in simply be looking at his or her telephone number: MIdway, CApital, etc.

  6. Submitted by james pratt on 09/26/2013 - 08:39 am.

    Neighborhood

    Very interesting topic especially in view of the fact my wife & I were both raised there – Carole Corcoran lived on both Watson & Eleanor, I at Randolph & Griggs (above Weber’s Bakery) then on Bayard near Hamline.
    My Dad owned a retail business from 1938 to 1954 right around the corner from the “Nook” called Parkway Variety. I attended Holy Spirit and Cretin – had a paper route, caddied @ Highland, worked in my Dad’s store, set pins @ Ran-Ham got a first real job at the Dairy Queen on Randolph & Snelling. My best friend was Bob Brunner who’s Dad owned the Pharmacy @ the corner of Randolph/Hamline.
    Fortunately still have contact (Lunch/golf) with some of the “kids” that go back about 70 years/
    I have a sister who’s been in that Neighborhood most of her 86 years.
    I doubt anyone could have grown up in a better environment!!

  7. Submitted by Bob Shoemake on 11/14/2013 - 04:33 pm.

    Neighborhood Borders

    The official borders of the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, as seen by the City of St. Paul (also the borders for the Macalester-Groveland Community Council), are as follows: the Mississippi River on the West, Ayd Mill Road on the East, the south side of Summit Avenue on the North and the north side of Randolph on the South.

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