Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Retracing Cobblestone Steps

Many of the streets in downtown Saint Paul were made of cobblestone pavers long before the turn of the twentieth century. Gradually as the streetcars were discontinued and replaced by buses in the early 1950s, the streets were paved over and make smooth with asphalt.

This little known and totally inconsequential fact pricked a memory bubble in my mind not long ago. Those cobblestone pavers were some of the first that I stepped on as an infant. I was born and raised in Saint Paul and even though I now find myself in a third tier suburb out of the city, the memories are still there. I can go back and find connections all over the city. I’ve watched the curious and sometimes neglectful changes the city has gone through in mostly subtle but profound ways. Twin Cities Public Television captured it best in their ‘Lost Twin Cities’ documentary series.

I think where you grew up to a certain extent defines who you are and what you’ve become. It can be a reflection of your values, interests and affiliations. I have no problem being defined by my mid-western roots. And old Saint Paul isn’t a bad place to be from. While you can’t go back home again figuratively speaking you can revisit those times and places that impacted your life in many unnoticed and yet profound ways.

The first home I don’t remember was on Smith Avenue. It was a tired old duplex that never survived the demise of the Smith Avenue Playground and creation of United Hospital. Then there was a six-plex apartment near Irving Park. That structure also succumbed to the realignment of the neighborhood. Finally we created a real home on Randolph Avenue where I grew up.

For eight years, St. Louis Catholic grade school was a streetcar then bus ride to downtown Saint Paul. In the afternoon, my sister and I would park ourselves outside the the W.T. Grant Department store and wait for the Highland Park bus with ten cents in our pockets.

Our gang in the photo booth (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Cretin Track & Field (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Randolph & Hamline (photo by Jerry Hoffman)

Cretin High School was six blocks away from our home and a world apart from what I knew growing up. A paper route during those formative years got me up at 4:30 each morning and taught me the value of real work. Then the John Wood Steel factory just off of Como Avenue reinforced the need for more education to keep me out of that factory setting.

The College of St. Thomas was yet another world apart from the middle class world I grew up in. It was a hint of the future for those with a college education.

KTCA Television on Como Avenue wasn’t my first job. That first exposure to the work force was with the Minnesota Department of Public Health on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. Run down housing on University Avenue just south of Dinkytown was my first foray into independent living and away from the security of home.

The Annual Catholic Appeal in the Hill House on Summit Avenue was the draw that got me back from the east coast. Telstar Educational Corporation on Prior Avenue was the next step along the way. Then back to KTCA Television on Como Avenue and finally TPT relocated to Lowertown in St. Paul.

Then it was working in public television, running my own business and managing two apartment buildings on Portland Avenue that kept me in St. Paul for many more years to come. It finally culminated with my running the Twin Cities Marathon with my daughter and a move back to my home office in Apple Valley.

Now my daughter and her family have moved to Highland Park, just two blocks away from my old paper route. Funny how some things change and yet others remain the same.

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