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Minnesota Historical Society Podcast Tours

February 23, 2009

001.06 - 594–616 Summit Ave: Apartments

Filed under: Summit Avenue — admin @ 9:46 am

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Imagine for a moment that you live in one of the grand houses we’ve stopped at already, or perhaps another favorite you’ve discovered along the way. As you’re living in your dream home, the empty lot next door is suddenly under construction – and instead of building a house, they’re building an apartment building! How do you think you’d react?

Well, in the early 1900s, as this started to happen here on Summit, the residents did react – they got together and petitioned to create Summit Avenue into one of the first residential-only neighborhoods in St. Paul. After a lot of back-and-forthing, by the early 1920s, Summit Avenue was officially a residential-only area – meaning no more apartment buildings could be built.

Now look at the building in front of you. What you see are two apartment buildings, and they were actually built in the late 1920s. How’d that happen? This site, and a few others in the area, were left out of the Summit Avenue residential district at the request of the landowners – who didn’t want to loose potential money by being forced to build single family homes.

Today, and probably at the time, even having an apartment on Summit provides that Summit Avenue cache –which people have been wanting since development on Summit Avenue first started, way back in the 1850s. One person I’ve already mentioned definitely wanted that cache – F. Scott Fitzgerald. For parts of his early life, his parents moved almost every year – and nearly every move was within the four block area just north of where we’re walking today. As an adult, Fitzgerald continued this pattern – an extreme example of early 20th century mobility!

Our next stop is actually one of the places where Fitzgerald lived. However, it’s on the other side of the street from where we’re currently standing, so it’s time to cross Summit Avenue. Please walk up the street to Dale, where you see the stoplight, to cross to the other side of Summit using the crosswalk. If you have to wait for the light to change, note the red house on the northwest corner of the street -across Summit and on the other side of Dale. That house was actually built for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grandmother, Louisa McQuillan, in the late 1890s.

Once you’ve crossed Summit, head back down the street -toward our starting location today. I’ll meet you in front of 599 Summit Avenue.

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AIA Guide to St. Paul's Summit Avenue and Hill District