St Paul's Historic Crocus Hill & Grand Avenue Neighborhoods
In most big American cities there is a favored direction from Downtown—where the most fashionable neighborhoods lie. This direction is north in Chicago, northeast in Louisville, and southwest in Minneapolis, for example. In St. Paul, the favored direction is west. That is not at all surprising, since higher ground or some other visual amenity like lakes are valued in cities and towns alike, and the looming bluffs just west of Downtown offered not just topographical eminence, but spectacular panoramic views across the growing city.
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The early years of Summit Avenue
So the hilltops west of Downtown were staked out by St. Paul's First Citizens as early as 1858, the year that Minnesota became a state and the year when rudimentary town government was established in Minneapolis. West was firmly established as the desirable direction after James J. Hill built his Summit Avenue mansion in 1889-1891. Thus the marvelous enclaves of landmark houses adjacent to the Summit Avenue corridor, and the eventual westward expansion of "good" neighborhoods all the way to the Mississippi River were really inevitable.
Historic Hills Neighborhoods
As St. Paul grew beyond its original townsite, now Downtown, the prime housing locations were along the bluffs, extending from today's Kellogg Boulevard all the way around to Linwood Park. Today, these are known in sections as Summit Hill, Cathedral Hill, Ramsey Hill, Grand Hill and Crocus Hill. This is a visually rich area, both in terms of the intrinsic architectural qualities of individual structures, as well as for the deep inventory of buildings of many styles and periods.
This last is especially significant, since cities typically grow in expanding rings outward from their downtown, and, as in Minneapolis, you can read periods sequentially as you drive away from Downtown. The visual character of each neighborhood is largely of a single period, most buildings rendered in the prevailing styles of that period.
By contrast, in an area of St. Paul generally bounded by the bluffs, Dale Street and Marshall Avenue, one finds decades of differing imageries: Italianate, Richardsonian Romanesque, Queen Anne (American and English versions) Shingle Style, Colonial Revival, Mission Revival, Beaux Arts-Baroque, Gothic Revival, even Prairie Style.
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Summit, Grand Avenue and Crocus Hill Real Estate
Moreover, this area offers an engaging mix of building types: single-family houses and mansions, townhouses and residential hotels, commercial buildings and churches. Here again one finds unusual variety for such a relatively small area, from the massive St. Paul Cathedral at the head of Summit Avenue to the architecturally refined House of Hope Presbyterian Church at Summit and Oxford, to Cass Gilbert's diminutive St. Clement's Episcopal Church at Portland Avenue and Milton Street.
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