St. Paul by Candlelight

Posted on: October 5th, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 1 Comment

So, blogging, huh? Well, I’ve never blug before, but here goes.

Before I get to the main issue at hand, I have some instructions for you. Whatever you’re doing, stop it. I mean it -- stop reading this, back away from the computer, book a flight to the Twin Cities (you don’t need a visa), and take a cab to the St. Paul City Hall. It’s a handsome enough building on the outside, but what you want to see is the lobby, aka Memorial Hall. The long, narrow, tall space is walled with shiny black marble and topped with a gold mirrored ceiling -- trust me, if Lenin had been a mad old drag queen, this is what his tomb would look like -- and at one end is an eye-popping 36-foot-high statue of onyx so shiny that it looks as if it’s been bathed in oil. It’s called “The Vision of Peace,” it was created by the well-known sculptor Carl Milles, and there’s not much more I can say about it except to assure you that it’s absolutely dazzling and unique, and you need to see it.

After you gawk at Memorial Hall, you can pile sublime on sublime by stopping in at Mickey’s Dining Car, a historic diner on 7th Street. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and I guarantee that whenever you go, you’ll leave stuffed to the gills, oozing lard from every pore, and blissfully happy.

OK, now a few words about last night’s Candlelight House Tour.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have to say at the outset that I love house tours. I think it’s because I’m way nosy, and a house tour gives me a legitimate chance to go into people’s houses and look at their stuff.

Last night’s tour took us to Summit Avenue, one of the country’s grandest residential streets, and there was plenty to see -- and something for everybody. One house had an entry hall like a rainforest; another had a gorgeous painting by an American post-impressionist I’d never heard of and really like; another had one of the most beautiful oak staircases I’ve even seen, and another had Garrison Keillor in the living room, chatting affably with the throngs of people who trooped through in little blue booties like visitors to the Hermitage.

Star of the show -- and star of St. Paul architecture in general, for that matter -- was Cass Gilbert, who designed a house at 318 Summit Avenue that looks almost as if it was carved out of a single huge block of stone. It couldn’t look less like the Minnesota State Capitol, which he also designed, or the Woolworth Building in New York, which is another example of his work. Good reminder that if you wanted to be a really successful turn-of-the-century architect, you had to be able to work in a variety of styles -- rugged stone Romanesque, serene neoclassical, lacy skyscraper Gothic, you had to be fluent in all of them. Gilbert was.

Best comment of the evening: Right after I delivered a learned (and totally unsolicited) discourse on the Wedgwood plaques in one room, a lady sidled up to me and asked, “What kind of tree does wedge-wood come from, anyway?”

If you’re like me, your mother told you not to go walking around in a strange neighborhood after dark. Sort of nice to know that Mom wasn’t right about everything.

-- Dwight Young

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.


One Response

  1. Madeline Douglass

    October 5, 2007

    Guess I’m that obnoxious person who has to comment
    on everything…here goes…

    Re: the St. Paul City Hall
    The ideal guide to this structure (or any other here in the Twin Cities)
    is Larry Millett

    Here’s more about Millett’s AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul published
    in May 2007.

    Buildings that did not make it into the book will added to a website
    being developed by the Minnesota historical society. Plans include
    a feature that will enable people to contribute the histories of buildings
    they’ve researched.

    Millett’s Lost Twin Cities is also IMHO the most important book
    published about historic preservation issues here.