On Saturday, July 9, Scott and I attended "From Then To Now: Immigration and the (Re)Making of Saint Paul's East Side." This half-day event was co-organized by the University of Minnesota's Immigration Research History Center and the East Side Freedom Library and was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. After a week of tragic events locally, nationally, and internationally, attending an event focused on the contributions of immigrants to our community was especially meaningful.
The walk was led by Dr. Peter Rachleff who is a labor historian and Macalester professor. Peter and his wife, Dr. Beth Cleary co-founded the East Side Freedom Library.
Our walk started at Swede Hollow at the intersection of Drewry and Beaumont streets. Peter began our discussion by offering a way to think about immigration with the phrase "push/pull." What pushes people out of their homes? What is going on in their homeland that is driving them away? Alternatively, what is pulling them toward their new home? In this case, what drew them to the United States in general and St. Paul, Minnesota specifically?
After talking about the history of Swede Hollow, we walked to 656 Bush Avenue which is also known as Francis M. Williams House (pdf). The house in the back is believed to have been moved from Swede Hollow. Both houses are currently empty and Peter fears the City of St. Paul will tear them down.
After exploring the Bush Avenue property, we walked back to Payne Avenue and paused over the railroad tracks. This area of St. Paul was undeveloped until the 1880s when a viaduct was built over the railroads. Peter told us that this area was center stage for the Great Northern Railroad Strike of 1894.
We continued walking north on Payne Avenue and reached the business district. One of the first restaurants to be part of the recent revitalization of Payne Avenue is Ward 6. Located at 858 Payne Avenue, Ward 6 opened in December 2012 by Bob Parker and Eric Foster, both East Side residents. Read about the history of the building.
It would be easy to miss but there is a great mural on the west side of the building featuring Lan-O-Sheen, powdered soap manufactured in St. Paul. According to this E-bay advertisement, it was trademarked in 1943 and became popular in the mid-1950s until the late 1960s.
Fire escapes always make great photos. This one's on the corner of Payne and Wells.
Built in 1900, 932-936 Payne Avenue was originally H.F. Peterson Dry Goods Company and later (possibly 1915) it was Johnson and Sons Mortuary (sources: Payne Avenue history brochure and Anderson Funeral Home and Cremation Services website).
At some point the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 23 was at 932 Payne Avenue. The letters IBEW LOCAL 23 have been removed but they've made a lasting imprint on the building at Payne and Sims.
Across the street, Casa Bella Plaza Latina is a mercado and small business incubator. It is also home to the East Side Neighborhood Development Company.
"963-965 Payne (Payne Avenue State Bank): Built in 1923, the Bank was designed by W. L Alban in the Beaux Arts style. The only architect-designed building on the Avenue, the two-story brick building has a feeling of permanence and solidity created by the four colossal Ionic columns on the façade, with a large cornice enhancing the Classical styling. From its location on a central corner of the business district, the State Bank building is an important visual landmark on the Avenue." Source: Tour Saint Paul: Payne Avenue brochure (pdf download)
"960 Payne: Built 1886; one of the best preserved and most architecturally distinctive buildings on the Avenue. The two-story building retains a tiled Mansard roof with gabled dormers and an ornate oriel window with a tiny gable-roofed balcony on the Case Avenue façade." Source: Tour Saint Paul: Payne Avenue brochure (pdf download)
Walking on the east side of Payne Avenue, I was unable to take a photo of the facade of 990 Payne Avenue but it captures Plaza del Sol (Sun's Place) with its bright yellow exterior. It is also home to Sidhe Brewing.
The blue stained wood on the exterior of 1020 Payne Avenue makes for an excellent photo backdrop but it also happens to be where Nelson Brothers Grocers was from 1908 until 1970.
I can't remember the details and finding confirmation of what I remember online is proving difficult but I believe 1077 Payne Avenue used to be Venus Theater (1915-1929) and Capitol Theater (1930-1977).
Though the subject of transit didn't get brought up until the panel discussion with neighborhood chefs, I know that it must play a significant role in the immigrant experience along Payne Avenue. This particular MetroTransit sign caught my eye because it contains quite a bit of information that many bus stop signs lack. In addition to the route number, the stop ID is prominent and indicates this route's frequency.
"Zebulon Olson (1862-1933) was born in Sweden and emigrated in 1886. He was a hoisting engineer and probably worked on Nils I. Nelson's crew setting most of the marble. Olson raised his family on St. Paul's East Side working as a hoisting engineer. Hosting engineers were unionized in St. Paul during the Capitol construction and since Olson likely worked with union activist Nils Nelson, it is quite probable that Olson too was a union member." Source: Who Built Our Capitol?
We ended our walk at the East Side Freedom Library where were treated to special Karen, Chinese and Salvadorean dishes prepared by Original Karen Market and Deli (1377 Arcade Street), Sui Yep Cafe (1010 Payne Avenue), and Mañana Restaurant y Pupuseria (828 7th Street E). I sampled tofu and broccoli with rice from Sui Yep, samusa from Original Karen Market and Deli, and a cheese and loroco pupusa from Mañana.
After our feast, Dr. Erika Lee, Director of the University of Minnesota's Immigration Research Center gave poignant remarks about the importance of events like this one as we live in a time when there is a lot of conflict surrounding immigration.
Dr. Craig Upright, Professor of Sociology at Winona State University organized and led the panel of neighborhood chefs. In his introduction, Craig talked about food being a bridge across divides. When we sit down to eat together, food can help us find common ground to make connections. To illustrate this idea, he mentioned CREATE: The Community Meal, an event I attended in 2014 and will always cherish. Craig also talked about how we mark special event with special food making it possible to have connections to the past, present, and future.
The chef's panel included Gideon from Original Karen Market and Deli, Sally from Sui Yep, Rosario Diaz and her son Balmore. Each person told the story of making St. Paul's East Side their home and opening their restaurants. Each of them shared parts of their personal history that involved overcoming tragedy and tremendous obstacles to make it to where they are today. They also shared stories of how the food they prepare here in the U.S. differs from their native country. Each of them puts a lot of love and care into their food preparation and they are working extremely hard to build successful businesses welcoming to the diverse community they serve.
After the tour, I spotted this East Side Pride sign. They are displayed throughout the Payne-Phalen neighborhood.
Thank you to everyone who made this tour, meal, and meaningful discussion possible:
Inspiration & Goals
The Nivens Family