Gangsters in St. Paul?

St. Paul is known for being a quiet city with a small town feel. However, that wasn’t always the case. In the early 20th century, we had a national reputation as “the poison spot of American crime.” (Maccabee, p.250) We were a haven for some of the most famous crooks and criminals in the country thanks to the O’Connor System.

John O'Connor
John O’Connor during the height of his power in St. Paul, c.1912. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

John J. “The Big Fellow” O’Connor (1855-1924) was the Chief of Police from 1900-12 and then again from 1914-20. (It was a politically appointed position, so as mayors came and went, so might the police chief.) He was a big man with a big personality, and he believed that the best way to control crime was to work with the criminals instead of against them. “If they behaved themselves, I let them alone,” he [O’Connor] admitted. “If they didn’t, I got them. Under other administrations there were as many thieves here as when I was chief, and they pillaged and robbed; I chose the lesser of two evils.” (Maccabee, p.9). Working with him was his brother Richard O’Connor, the Democratic Party boss, a police commissioner, and a sometime city alderman.

John O’Connor set up the ‘Layover Agreement.’ Any crook who visited the city would remain unmolested if they followed three rules:

  1. Checked in with the police on their arrival.
  2. Made a ‘donation.’
  3. Promised to commit crimes only outside the city limits.

St. Paul became a place where criminals lived free. As time went on the Agreement expanded beyond the police department and encompassed the entire St. Paul justice system, as well as a good portion of Ramsey County’s. It became not only almost impossible to convict a major criminal in St. Paul, but the city refused extradition to other jurisdictions as well. Law enforcement even went so far as to tip criminals off if they were being hunted.

This was a great deal for the citizens of St. Paul. Not only did crooks refrain from committing felonious acts within the city limits, but they also policed their own. All sorts of crime was way down in the city, because the major criminals didn’t want anything to threaten their sweet deal.

St. Paul also benefited financially, well beyond the ‘donations’ to those in the criminal justice system. The city became a center for all of the business surrounding big crime. There was a thriving economy (only sometimes underground) in criminal planning, the fencing of goods, money laundering, providing the tools of crime, and entertaining criminals living high on the hog, not to mention prostitution and, during Prohibition, bootlegging. Citizens thrilled at rubbing elbows with well-known criminals on an evening out.

The rest of the state and the Midwest were not so happy. Surrounding communities tried various schemes to keep their crime rates down, but they varied in effectiveness. Crime rates outside St. Paul skyrocketed, especially after the country-wide explosion of villainy that Prohibition and bootlegging initiated. With illegal fortunes being made in alcohol, and the lack of support for Prohibition from ordinary citizens (the word scofflaw was coined during America’s Big Dry Spell), policing the new lawbreakers became increasingly difficult all over, and relatively minor criminals became celebrities, who then moved on to more serious crimes like bank robbery and kidnapping. Many of them spent at least some time in St. Paul.

The Agreement worked well (for St. Paul) for decades, partially because of self-interest, partially because of a web of informants and overseers maintained by the criminal element and police working together, but also due to the personal and careful control exerted by the iron hand of Police Chief O’Connor. There were stories of him ‘inviting’ criminals who didn’t follow the rules into his office and ‘persuading’ them that it was in their best interest to amend their behavior. When O’Connor retired in 1920, his system stayed stable for a while, but then started fraying. The crooks, with the looming loss of income from the end of Prohibition (1933), became bolder and their crimes bigger.

The beginning of the end really came with the kidnapping of two prominent St. Paul businessmen from inside the city limits. The Barker-Karpis gang kidnapped William Hamm, Jr, owner of Hamm brewery and held him June15-19, 1933 and Edward Bremer, banker, held Jan 17-Feb 7 1934. The Gang was thumbing its collective nose at the Agreement, as well as serving notice that not even the wealthy and powerful were safe anymore. Amid long-time and growing demands to clean up the city, with Howard Kahn, editor of the St. Paul Daily News at the forefront, affluent citizens finally demanded a crack-down, and put together a fund to hire a criminal science expert to bug the new police headquarters.

The results were astounding. After spending the spring of 1935 gathering overwhelming evidence of police corruption and collaboration with the criminal element, the scandal erupted over the front pages of the St. Paul Daily News in June. 13 policemen, many of them high ranking, were either suspended or dismissed, and the Police Chief was forced to resign. The clean-up effort spread throughout the criminal justice system, and safeguards were put in place to make it very difficult for such a system to ever arise again.

Landmark Center-Old Federal Building
The Landmark Center, formerly the Federal Building. Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, had previously been unable to crack the O’Connor system, and not for lack of trying. With the Hamm and Bremer kidnappings, they were able to successfully chase down and arrest or kill members of the Barker-Karpis gang with the help of influential victims from inside the city who were willing to talk. St. Paul’s corruption scandal widened the FBI’s access and gave them the Dillinger gang. The FBI prosecuted criminals in a parade of high-profile trials that took place at the Federal Building, now the Landmark Center, where you can visit the famous courtrooms.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the gangsters, you should take the St. Paul Gangster Tour. From their website:  “Our famous crook’s tour! Explore with us the sites of nightclubs, kidnappings, and gun battles associated with the 1930’s gangsters like John Dillinger, Ma Barker and Babyface Nelson. See the sights where the gangsters lived it up as they planned and executed some of the most notorious crimes ever perpetrated in the upper Midwest. Your guide takes you past the most infamous gangster hideouts and the famous nightclubs where many gangsters spent time socializing with the public.” Reservations are required.

Further Information:

Maccabee, Paul. John Dillinger Slept Here: A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920–1936. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995. Highly recommended; it’s fascinating.

There is also the self guided “John Dillinger Slept Here” tour put together from the definitive book about St. Paul’s Gangster era:  John Dillinger Slept Here:  A Crooks’ Tour of Crime and Corruption in St. Paul, 1920-1936 by Paul Maccabee. With this tour and Google maps’ street view, you’re able to take a tour from your own living room.

1919 Yearbook – John J. O’Connor, St. Paul’s Chief of Police
http://www.spphs.com/history/1919/oconnor.php
This is taken from Souvenir Book, St. Paul Police Benevolent Association, 1919, a 1919 publication.
I’m fascinated by the fact that this came out at the height of O’Connor’s power, was written by people who were close to the police department and must have known about the rampant corruption, and yet is so wholeheartedly supportive of O’Connor. It’s also so carefully written that, even though a few things are probably tweaked, and some of it is undoubtedly seen through rose-colored glasses, there don’t seem to be many (if any) outright lies. If you know what’s going on, some statements read very differently than they would otherwise. “He developed a registry bureau for the identification of criminals that has been of the greatest benefit to St. Paul.” and “opposing “Organized crime with organized intelligence.” It’s a masterpiece. Calling John J. O’Connor “honest” is pushing it, however.

1904 Souvenir Book – The Police Commissioners
http://www.spphs.com/history/1904/commissioners.php
This is taken from Souvenir Book, St. Paul Police Benevolent Association, 1904, a 1904 publication.
A little more about Richard O’Connor.

 

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Published in: on April 30, 2017 at 6:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Lasting Legacy of the Irish in St. Paul

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’re going to explore a little of the significant impact the Irish have had on St. Paul’s, and indeed Minnesota’s, cultural, political, and religious life. A legacy you can experience during your visit to the B&B.

Edward Phelan, John Hays, and William Evans (all Irishmen) were among the early soldiers stationed at Fort Snelling. When they were discharged in 1938, they bought land in and around what would become downtown St. Paul (which was incorporated in 1849).

View of St. Paul 1851
View of St. Paul, 1851. Joel Emmons Whitney. Daguerreotype. Minnesota Historical Society

Later, Hays was the victim in the city’s first murder. One of his countrymen, Edward Phelan, was accused of the murder, but released for lack of evidence. Eventually, Phalen Creek and Lake Phalen were named after him.

John Ireland
Archbishop John Ireland (1838-1918). 1908. Golling Studio. Minnesota Historical Society

Irish immigrant John Ireland, appointed Archbishop of St. Paul in 1888, was hugely influential in the city as well as the whole of Minnesota. He was responsible for the building of the Cathedral of St. Paul as well as the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Cathedral of St. PaulCathedral of St. Paul by Ryan Claussen is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Basilica Minneapolis
Basilica of St. Mary by Bobak Ha’Eri is licensed under CC-By-SA-3.0.

He was also responsible for starting the University of St. Thomas, one of the finest universities in a state rich with them. These are all beautiful places, and well worth a visit.

Archbishop Ireland also headed an ambitious program of Irish Catholic colonies around Minnesota, with the goals of increasing the state’s Catholic population and offering a new life to his fellow countrymen suffering the ravages of famine and civil unrest in Ireland. This included setting up a community of farms, with houses, seed, equipment, and household goods available at good rates and on credit to give them a good start. Also provided was instruction on how to farm the prairie sod, which would have been very different from farming in Ireland, if the new colonists had been farmers at all.

For the most part, this was very successful, but there were occasional failures, as with the Connemara group of Graceville in 1880. They were fishermen back home who not only seemed to have no desire to be farmers, but also had to contend with the unbelievably harsh winter of 1880-1 (immortalized in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter). Most of them were eventually resettled in St. Paul in the Connemara Patch, cheek by jowl with the more notorious Swede Hollow in Dayton’s Bluff, where they stayed until the railroad came through and moved them out in 1908. Here’s a tour brochure of Dayton’s Bluff that includes the Connemara Patch, as well as other beautiful and historic landmarks.

Swede Hollow 1910
Swede Hollow looking north, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

James J. Hill, a man of Irish heritage, came to St. Paul in 1856 with nothing, and through hard work and business acumen attained vast wealth as a railroad baron. A great believer in philanthropy, on both the small and large scale, he worked with Ireland on a number of projects, helping fund what Ireland envisioned. Although not Catholic himself, his wife, Mary, was, and she gave a great deal of money to the building of St. Paul’s glorious new cathedral.

James J. Hill. 1902. Pach Brothers. Mary Mehegan Hill, c.1910. Minnesota Historical Society

He built a series of houses in the swankiest parts of town, ending with his magnificent mansion on Summit Avenue, complete with pipe organ, art gallery, and boiler from a train engine for heating and hot water. It’s well worth a tour, and it’s only a couple of blocks from the Cathedral, and within walking distance from the B&B.

James J. Hill House 2013
James J. Hill House, 2013
by McGhiever is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

When you visit us, take the opportunity to check out some of these landmarks which help document the importance of Irish people in the history of St. Paul.

 

Valentines Day – In the Mood for Romance?

Looking for fun ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your loved ones? Here are some ideas, ranging from the traditional – a lovely meal or dancing – to the unusual – snowshoeing or Victorian poetry, anyone?

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HDR – Sunken Garden Como Park Conservatory by Jucadima is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Enchanted Evening – A Valentine’s Dining Experience at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

Though February 14th is sold out, they’ve added a seating on the 13th for this romantic candlelit dinner among the indoor gardens of St. Paul’s lush conservatory. String music, limited wine and beer, and animal ambassadors will enhance your experience, as will the opportunity to bask in the humidity and warmth in the midst of a dry St. Paul February.

February 13, 2017, 8:00 pm
$170 per couple, all-inclusive.
Register online.

If you want to make Valentine’s a full day experience, or enjoy the atmosphere of the conservatory and have dinner elsewhere, there are other events during the day, including the Winter Flower Show, and a chance to meet the conservatory’s gardeners at 1:00.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
1225 Estabrook Drive, Saint Paul, MN 55103
651-487-8201
Winter Hours:  10-4

sleigh-ride
Sleigh Ride by Bill Burris is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Three Rivers Park District Valentine Programs

Looking for something a little unusual to do with your loved ones? Maybe something outdoors? The Three Rivers Park District offers events ranging from Candlelit Trails to a Victorian Valentine’s Dinner to a Valentine’s Snowshoe Hike to a Lovebirds’ Local Foods Dinner and Sleigh Rides. All their events but one (which is sold out) are happening the weekend before Valentine’s Day, so you could choose off Three River’s menu and do something on the day, if you want to make an extravaganza of the holiday this year.

Three River Parks District is in Hennepin County, so a little bit of a drive from the B&B, but well worth it. Check out the webpage for more information on individual events.

salsa-dancing
Big Bay Ballroom – Salsa Spice
by Port of San Diego is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Valentine’s Day Dance

“Love is in the air, so join us for a special night of ballroom dancing with The Dancers Studio Family! Includes complimentary glass of champagne at the door, dessert and cash bar throughout the evening.

“FREE Beginning Salsa Class @ 7:00pm

“Both singles and couples welcome!”

$15 per person
Purchase tickets online.

Dancers Studio
415 Pascal St. North, St. Paul, MN 55104
651-641-0777
info@dancersstudio.com

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James J. Hill House, circa 1895, courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

Victorian Poetry Slam

“Celebrate Valentine’s Day the old-fashioned way by enjoying classic 19th century poetry in the James J. Hill House drawing room. Actors Craig Johnson, Laura Salveson and Ann Daly, wearing 1890s eveningwear, will perform a wide range of humorous and stirring poems by Dickinson, Poe, Longfellow, Browning and more dealing with love, romance, temperance, sports and war—even poems about James J. Hill! Audience members are also invited to bring a short Victorian poem to read aloud throughout the evening.”

Tue., Feb 14, 2017, 7:00 pm – 8:00 pm
$12/$10 MNHS members

James J. Hill House
240 Summit Ave.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(7 blocks from the B&B.)
651-297-2555
hillhouse@mnhs.org

lgbt-lobby-day-2006OutFront justFair LGBT Lobby Day 2006 by Tony Webster is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Land of 10,000 Loves

“Historian Stewart Van Cleve blends oral history, archival narrative, newspaper accounts and fascinating illustrations to paint a remarkable picture of Minnesota’s queer history. Van Cleve will present from his book “Land of 10,000 Loves: A History of Queer Minnesota,” which explores the sacrifices, scandals and victories that have affected and continue to affect the lives of queer Minnesotans.

“Stewart Van Cleve is a former assistant curator of the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies at the University of Minnesota.”

Tue., Feb 14, 2017, 10:30 am – 11:30 am
$5/$3 MNHS members

Minnesota History Center
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102
(1.1 miles from the B&B, and easily busable.)
651-259-3015
boxoffice@mnhs.org

However you decide to spend Valentine’s Day, have fun, be safe, and celebrate all the love in your life.

Welcome to our Holiday Home

One of the joys of a grand house like the B&B is decorating it for the holidays. It shows off even less-than-elegant ornaments to great effect. Our family has lived in this house since 1978, and we have decades of holidays to look back on and traditions to cherish.

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We’ve always put up a plethora of lights around the house; there’s nothing like fairy lights to cheer up winter evenings. In the past we’ve used a mix of of colored and white lights,  but have veered towards mostly white more recently. Another trend has been the introduction of poinsettias and, more recently, greenery.

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We’ve also made a habit of stringing lights in the houseplants. The blend of lights and foliage is not only beautiful, but a look that gracefully complements our Victorian home.

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Our one nod to more playful lights has traditionally been around the Inglenook mantel. We used to hang Santa lights, but have recently switched to poinsettias, which gleam beautifully on the rich woodwork.

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The last concentration of indoor lights is, of course, on the tree.

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Decades ago we cut down two 8 or 9 foot trees, one for the front hall and one for the parlor. However, with everyone grown up and moved away, we now purchase a more modest table-top tree that decorates the parlor beautifully, showcases a fine selection of ornaments, and allows plenty of room for our guests.

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Also in the parlor is our village, something Katy started collecting after most of the children had moved out of the house. Collecting ceramic houses with seven active children is just asking for trouble, after all.

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We added various buildings for about a decade, along with accessories, and the lit up display adds considerable charm.

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A much longer-standing ceramic display is the creche, cherished more for its sentimental value and family history, than for religious symbolism.

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This set was meticulously hand-painted by a great-aunt, and the children vied to set it up on the built-in buffet every year.

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Cradled by beautiful woodwork, illuminated by white lights, and reflected in mirrors, this sumptuous creche glows. It has also survived a rambunctious family fairly well, with some gluing necessary, but amazingly few lost parts.

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Last, but certainly not least, are the smaller decorations we’ve traditionally displayed throughout the house. From an example of the years when Katy and Bill decided they wanted ornaments from their children for Christmas,

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to the dolls hand-sewn by Katy, designed to mirror the family structure. (Eventually a set was given to each child to decorate their own homes.)

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From the light-up tree from Dayton’s that has adorned up the living room since the 1980s,

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to the Swedish-style Santa that I don’t know much about, except that it’s been around as long as I have and came from Katy’s side of the family.

One of the great benefits of running a B&B is getting to share our family home with others, and we’re happy to welcome you into some of the Gray holiday traditions.

 

 

 

Published in: on December 15, 2016 at 6:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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All Hail the Minnesota Winter!

A signature St. Paul event is happening this week – the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

The Winter Carnival, a tradition since 1886, is the oldest winter festival in the U.S. It was a response by local business owners to newspaper reports that the cold made the state virtually uninhabitable, and was designed to show off the beauties, and fun, of a Minnesota winter.

Boreas

The legend of the Winter Carnival centers around King Boreas, God of the Winds, and the Queen of Snows, who are holding court in St. Paul. They’re challenged by Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, Boreas’ implacable enemy. Boreas proclaims Carnival in St. Paul for ten days, and on the final day Vulcanus Rex storms Boreas’ ice castle. Not wanting to incite violence, Boreas retreats back to Olympus to dwell among the other gods there, and waits for ice and snow to enrobe St. Paul again next year.

Winter Court

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This story is acted out every year, with the courts of King Boreas, his brother winds, their princesses, and court officials, and Vulcanus Rex and his followers, and proceeds with the proper pomp and ceremony.

Ice sculptures

Ice Palace

The nexus of the carnival is Rice Park, located downtown St. Paul, where the ice sculptures are carved and displayed. This year there’s also a mini ice palace, made of 400 blocks of ice, an ice bar, and live music. Elsewhere are parades, the Snow Park with all sorts of fun family activities, the Disc Golf Ice Bowl, a snow plow competition, a cat show, and a winter run.

Medallion

And then there’s the Treasure Hunt. Daily clues appear in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and if you decode them correctly they point the way to the medallion’s hiding place and a fair amount of money. Otherwise you get fresh air, exercise, and the joy of the hunt. This is a very popular tradition, with thousands of people participating and some very active online forums debating the minutiae of the clues. You can see evidence of the searchers’ enthusiasm in the missing piece of the Medallion above.

So come join the fun and help celebrate winter in Minnesota.

 

Published in: on February 1, 2016 at 6:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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Help the Twin Cities Celebrate Christmas

Here are some ideas to help the Twin Cities celebrate Christmas while you’re visiting the B&B.

A Victorian Christmas at the Alexander Ramsey House

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“Experience the sights, sounds and tastes of a Victorian Christmas in 1875. During the guided tour, guests can taste homemade cookies fresh from the wood burning stove, listen to popular holiday music of the era played on the family’s Steinway piano, and view original family ornaments and Christmas gifts. Discover how the Ramsey family and their friends, neighbors and servants prepared for and celebrated the Christmas season. Shop in the Carriage House gift store for replica Victorian ornaments and holiday items.

The 60-minute guided tours start every half hour with the last tour starting at 3:30 pm. A Victorian Christmas at the Ramsey House runs Wednesdays through Sundays Nov. 27, 2015-Jan. 3, 2016, except Dec. 25.

Cost:  $11 adults, $9 seniors and college students, $7 ages 6-17, $3 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (1 mile from the B&B.)

Hill House Holidays

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“The bustle and excitement of a Gilded Age Christmas is brought to life as the servants of the James J. Hill House prepare for the holidays. Costumed actors portray people who worked for the Hill family in a dramatized portrayal of servant life and holiday preparations at the Hill family’s Summit Avenue mansion. The program moves through the elegant first floor spaces and then to the basement servant work areas. The script is based on letters and oral histories of people who worked for the Hill family during the first decade of the 20th century.

Tours leave every half hour, and Hill House Holidays runs Saturdays and Sundays from Dec. 5-27.

Cost:  $12 adults, $10 seniors and students, $8 ages 6-17, $2 discount MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015” (6 blocks from the B&B.)

Check the James J. Hill House website for other events, such as concerts and storytelling.

An Eventually Christmas:  Holidays at the Mill

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“Join the Ghost of Mill City Past for an intimate look at the 1920 Washburn Crosby holiday party in this unique play set in the museum’s Flour Tower elevator ride. Scenes unfold on different floors where the audience meets characters drawn from the pages of the company’s employee newspaper, the Eventually News. Witness the rocky romance of Celia and Otto; meet marketing mastermind Benjamin S. Bull; experience the awesome sweeping power of Bill Smith and learn the secret origin of the Washburn Crosby marketing slogan, “Eventually—Why Not Now?”

Performances are at 6, 7 and 8 pm. Recommended for ages 8 and older. Ticket includes museum admission and refreshments after the play.

$14 adults, $12 seniors and college students, $10 ages 6-17 and MNHS [Minnesota Historical Society] members, $2 off adult admission with Fringe Festival button. Get tickets online or call 651-259-3015”

At the Mill City Museum Dec 13, 17, 18, 19th. (8.7 miles from the B&B.)

The Christmas Carol on stage

Guthrie web_showpagebanner_ACC2015

The nationally renowned Guthrie Theater is continuing its annual tradition of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Check the website for more information and showtimes. (8.3 miles from the B&B.)

European Christmas Market

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“The European Christmas Market in St. Paul is based on the traditional, charming, and festive open air Christkindlmarkts that spring up in Germany, Austria and other countries during the Advent season. Shop for unique, handmade holiday gifts and decorations from local vendors, drink Glühwein (spiced mulled wine), and taste European inspired food and delicacies during the first two weekends in December:

Friday, December 4: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 5: 10 am – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 6: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Friday, December 11: 2 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Saturday, December 12: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday, December 13: 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.”

At Union Depot downtown St. Paul. (2.3 miles from the B&B.)

Christmas Concerts

Holiday Concert 2012 2
A listing of Christmas concerts happening all over the city.

Holiday Events from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

Zoo-Lights
A listing of events happening in the Twin Cities in December, many of them holiday themed.

 

Have a Little Jazz Age with Your Cocktail

An icon has returned to the neighborhood – the Commodore Bar & Restaurant.

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The Commodore opened in 1920 as a posh art deco residential hotel, which hosted such luminaries as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (who added their daughter, Scottie, and the novel “The Beautiful and Damned” to their family during their stays) and Sinclair Lewis, as well as gangsters Al Capone, John Dillinger, and Fred Barker. It was one of THE places to stay in St. Paul.

commodorepatio

Naturally, there were amenities to keep the guests in the style to which they were accustomed. These included a restaurant and an illegal speakeasy, which, on the repeal of Prohibition, became the Mirror Bar, designed by notable architect and Hollywood set designer Werner Wittkamp. Fred Barker’s mother, Ma Barker, met her son’s girlfriend there.

Commodore Fire

The building was gutted by a gas explosion/fire in February of 1978, and was remodeled into condos. Alas, there was no public eating or drinking space.

However, while the space was devastated, the bar itself somehow escaped damage; even its eponymous mirrors remained intact. After remodeling, the beautiful space could be rented for private events. In fact, one of Bill’s daughters had her wedding reception there.

Upper+Bar+7+10-05-15+(1)Lounge+5+10-05-15.

commodorediningroomthe-commodore-bar-restaurant

Now, after two years of renovation characterized by careful research and meticulous attention to detail, the space has been restored to its former Jazz Age glory. Full of warm light from glass chandeliers, black and white checkerboard floors, white leather, and stunning lines, the bar and restaurant offer a comfortable and cozy atmosphere and a feast for the eyes. Both food and drink are influenced by the 1920s and ‘30s, and many of the cocktail ingredients are locally sourced. The owners want to keep the prices reasonable, with the dinner menu topping out at about $30 for an entree. There are plans for live music and dancing, and the vibe is casually dressy and a little upscale, turning an evening out into an event.

Image with the piano copyright City Pages.

Published in: on December 5, 2015 at 9:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Congratulations! It’s Victorian!

So, let’s review.

488 in c.1930s

Here’s the house in about 1942. Our goal and inspiration for change…

488 from the outside, C. 2003, probably taken by Katy Gray

…from this. The legacy of mid-century modernistic tendencies (i.e. clean lines), practicality (because that never-have-to-paint siding really is much more practical than wood), and budget. None of which aesthetically serve a 1896 Victorian built by a banker wanting as gracious a home as his substantial wealth would allow. Our lovingly playing catch-up with that aesthetic service brings us to (drumroll please)…

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…this. Not bad. Pretty darn spectacular, in fact, if we do say so ourselves. Hardly recognizable as the same house.

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No matter what angle…

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…you view it from, the transformation is astounding,…

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…the results elegant, gracious, and welcoming,…

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…and already offering new places to congregate or step away from the crowd.

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Our home feels like a Victorian mansion from the outside as well as the inside, finally,…

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…and it wears its vividly historic colors proudly, from up the block…

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and down.

I think the banker would be pleased. I know we sure are.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 7:40 am  Comments (2)  
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Tying Up the Loose Ends

We’re at the point of cleaning up some final details.

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We created replica lattice for the bottom of the porch. The original idea was to clean up some original we found, but it would have been prohibitively expensive.

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We finished up the faux stone paint treatment on the foundation of the house.

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The front door trim has been created…

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…and painted, giving the front door surround a substantial and clean look. Especially as it’s contrasted by the naturally finished original oak door.

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A new house number display and a painted and rehung mailbox finish off the entry. (The wreath, while fetching, is not part of the holiday decorating plans. The letter carrier would not be happy as the mailbox opens from the top.)

The last big project is a new roof for the house, which, while not adding to the aesthetic, does have the benefit of keeping out the weather. And then we just keep working away at the last small details until the project is finished. At least for this round. You know what they say about historic houses….

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 6:36 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pillars!

Exciting developments!

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We have added  most of the standard porchy frills, including…

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fluted pillars, round and square…

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and railings, complete with ranks of turned spindles.

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These elements work harmoniously with the existing trimly furbelows…

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to add a truly elegant character to the sheltering and structural functionality of the porch.

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Some of the round pillars were original to the house, making up the first porch. They were cut down for the little porch, and built back up for our new beauty.

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Unfortunately, measuring twice doesn’t always prevent mistakes, so we had to do some adjusting to get a perfect fit.

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But, you’d never know it from the final product.

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The square pillars were constructed in situ. (That’s almost a visual history of the clamp right there.)

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Those were the last major elements needed to make the house look like it truly belongs in our historic neighborhood.

Published in: on December 8, 2014 at 1:52 am  Leave a Comment  
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