A Truly Glamorous Gym

Atmosphere and ambiance contribute to enjoyment of a place, as preservationists know, whether that place is a restaurant, a library, a streetscape, a residence, an office, a classroom or even an athletic facility. If a place is pleasant and gives you that happy-to-be-there feeling, then you are likely to return. Sometimes this decision is blatant; other times, it is subconscious.

The St. Paul Athletic Club in St. Paul, MN is one of those breathtaking places that will make you glad to be there, whether it’s for social reasons or health reasons. You have to see it to believe it (see photos below – click for larger images and better clarity).

Opened in 1916 as a social and athletic club, it was recently renovated and reopened in winter 2013 by new owners with a true vision for restoring the function and the glamour of the athletic club. The club is located on 7 stories of the 13-story building. The current owners have brought the building back to life, and are an important link in the chain of downtown St. Paul revitalization and growth. (This Finance & Commerce article gives an overview of the financial side of the reopening.)

How would you like to workout in this room?

How would you like to workout in this room? Chandeliers, lamps, decorative plaster: I could barely believe my eyes.

Details, details.

Details, details.

Multiple floors of beautiful rooms and workout equipment.

Multiple floors of beautiful rooms and workout equipment.

Oddly enough, however, it was entirely empty when I was exploring.

Oddly enough, however, it was entirely empty when I was exploring.

Good views from these windows.

Good views from these windows.

Another running track above the weights.

Another running track above the weights.

A view into the pool.

A view into the pool.

Beautiful mosaic tile floor.

Beautiful mosaic tile floor.

Incredible windows at the pool; wish I had time to swim!

Incredible windows at the pool; wish I had time to swim!

What do you think? Are you as impressed as I am? A historic building rehabilitated , and retaining its function as an important business in downtown and serving the people with a current need – sounds great. Hopefully the membership increases, and the club succeeds. Read about the original grand opening here.

Perhaps more athletic facilities should consider historic buildings – have you seen any? Would you be more likely to join a gym if it looked and functioned like the St. Paul Athletic Club? Would you pay more to support a business that operates with such care in a historic building?

Looking up at the St. Paul Athletic Club.

Looking up at the St. Paul Athletic Club. Spectacular.

(By the way, I am writing about the St. Paul Athletic Club because I am impressed and think it’s a great success story. If you live in St. Paul or nearby, you should join. And I like to show my support for historic buildings. I have not received any compensation for promoting this business.)

Preservation Photos #186

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Bridge railings, like this pedestrian railing of a Poultney, VT metal truss bridge are defining characteristics of historic bridges and contributing features of historic districts.

Sunday Snapshots for Summer #2

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Every Sunday needs a porch for gathering family and friends, soaking up the warm weather, and enjoying good company. Vintage lawn chairs are a nice addition, too.

SIA 2013: Mighty Mississippi

Tales from SIA 2013 continue with Friday’s tour named, “Mighty Mississippi: A Twin Cities Riverboat Cruise with the Experts.” (There are typically four tours from which to choose on the Friday.)

Mighty Mississippi!

Mighty Mississippi!

The tour began via bus, which would bring the group from St. Paul into Minneapolis. The tour began with the 7th Street Improvement Arches, which are 1884 masonry arch bridges constructed in the helicoidal (spiral) method. These bridges were on a former rail line, but are now the corridor is an active bike path in St. Paul.

Helicoidal construction in the Seventh Street Improvement Arches.

Helicoidal construction in the Seventh Street Improvement Arches.

Seventh Street Improvement Arches, with the bike path.

Seventh Street Improvement Arches, with the bike path.

Continuing into Minneapolis we saw the city skyline and many mills lining the Mississippi River. After seeing the (newest) Hennepin Avenue Bridge and Nicollet Island, we strolled across the Stone Arch Bridge with a NPS ranger who gave a history of the river corridor. The Mississippi River is a National River & Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service.

Pillsbury "A" Mill in Minneapolis.

Pillsbury “A” Mill in Minneapolis.

The SIA group walking across the bridge.

The SIA group walking across the bridge.

What a lovely skyline: historic buildings and new buildings all in one.

What a lovely skyline: historic buildings and new buildings all in one.

Everyone boarded a riverboat in the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock & Dam. To those of us (like me) who had never been in a dam & lock before, this was very exciting!

Learning how a dam & lock operates, as we travel down.

Learning how a dam & lock operates, as we travel down.

And then once through the lock & dam, the views of the city were spectacular, especially the Stone Arch bridge.

The Stone Arch Bridge from the river.

The Stone Arch Bridge from the river.

The Gold Medal Flour sign can be seen on the grain elevators on the left.

The Gold Medal Flour sign can be seen on the grain elevators on the left.

The tour on the riverboat included many, many bridges, historic and new. While touring these bridges, our guides included bridge experts, historians and the boat operator, who offered history and significance of the bridges and surrounding resources. Here are just a few images from the day:

The new I-35W bridge in te background and 10th Ave (Cedar Ave) bridge in the foreground.

The new I-35W bridge in te background and 10th Ave (Cedar Ave) bridge in the foreground.

Up close and personal with all of the bridges.

Up close and personal with all of the bridges.

Minnesota is lucky to have many open spandrel concrete arch bridges.

Minnesota is lucky to have many open spandrel concrete arch bridges.

This is the Omaha Railway Swing Bridge, which the operator opened for us to see!

This is the Omaha Railway Swing Bridge, which the operator opened for us to see! Here it is shown completely open as we floated down the river.

A miniature stone arch bridge.

A miniature stone arch bridge. The Mendota Road Bridge.

A new bridge: The Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

A new bridge: The Smith Avenue High Bridge in St. Paul.

Back in St. Paul: the Chicago Great Western Railway Vertical Lift Bridge and the Robert Street Bridge.

Back in St. Paul: the Chicago Great Western Railway Vertical Lift Bridge and the Robert Street Bridge.

Among many bridges,there were other interesting sites to see along the river including the abandoned Island Station Power Plant.

Abandoned Minnesota? The Island Power Plant.

Abandoned Minnesota. The Island Station Power Plant.

Part of the St. Paul skyline.

Part of the St. Paul skyline.

And that is only some of the scenes from the tour. It was a beautiful day (the clouds only threatened us for a short while in the afternoon). The tour included lunch as well. It was a perfect day on the river. Hats off to the organizers and sponsors: the SIA, Mead & Hunt, and the Historic Bridge Foundation. If you love bridges, history and water, this was the perfect tour on the SIA. Come join us next time!

To read additional details about the tour, read a post by Amy Squitieri of Mead & Hunt on the Bridgehunter’s Chronicles blog. And if you can name some of the bridges pictures, please do. There were way too many to commit to memory in one afternoon! Here are more of Minnesota’s historic bridges.

*Note: Click on any image for a larger, clearer version.

Twin Cities Parking Garages

While exploring St. Paul and Minneapolis during the SIA, parking garages seemed to be everywhere. For some reason I was struck by the variety of structures: minimal concrete to elaborate garages with building facades. Take a look.

In Minneapolis, a parking garage (across the corner from the library) ... under some form of construction it seemed. A typical parking garage structure.

In Minneapolis, a parking garage (across the corner from the library) … under some form of construction it seemed. A typical parking garage structure.

Parking garage in St. Paul. No mistaking its purpose!

Parking garage in St. Paul. No mistaking its purpose!

This parking garage in Minneapolis looks like a child's toy - ramps for the matchbox cars!

This parking garage ramp in Minneapolis looks like a child’s toy – ramps for the matchbox cars!

Another basic parking garage in Minneapolis.

Another basic parking garage in Minneapolis.

This neon sign will make sure you see it from the street.

This neon sign will make sure you see it from the street.

Those above are more of your typical garage structure, though the curved ramp seemed a bit unusual. However, St. Paul has a few garages that bring it from parking structure to parking building, if you will.

A parking garage in St. Paul. Slightly hard to see, but look closely and you'll notice the facade.

A parking garage in St. Paul. Slightly hard to see, but look closely and you’ll notice the facade.

And then there’s this one:

It took a few times walking by this to decide that, yes, it was a parking garage. There is retail on the ground floor.

It took a few times walking by this to decide that, yes, it was a parking garage. There is retail on the ground floor.

The same parking garage during the day.

The same parking garage during the day. The metal cornice of the structure does well to blend it with surrounding architecture, giving the building a welcome presence on the street and when looking up (preservation tip: always look up).

This is obviously the star parking garage in terms of welcoming people and complementing the streetscape.

Listen to this NPR story about parking garages*, which states that “of all the American structures, few are so unlovable as parking garages.” It’s from 2009, when the National Building Museum had an exhibit called “House of Cars” on the parking garage.

Just a few tidbits from the story: There’s no exact beginning or inventor of the parking garage, but it was definitely a necessary structure. Early garages did look more like buildings (like the great example from St. Paul). You’ll hear that the open parking garages are from the mid 20th century. Early parking garages used elevators, and early garages were valet parked. Some had floors just for women so they felt safe. During the Cold War, you could get federal funding if your parking garage included a bomb shelter.

Thankfully, others are intrigued by parking garages, too. Read about parking garages in Chicago, And there is a book titled The Parking Garage: Design and Evolution of a Modern Urban Form by Shannon S. McDonald. More parking + garage history from the National Building Museum.

Now, what type of parking garage do you prefer? The open level type or those disguised to look like buildings with retail and services on the ground floor?

Do you like parking garages? Some can feel dark and damp, which make most people feel unsafe. Then again, parking lots can feel unsafe, too. Parking garages take up far less land than parking lots, thereby consuming less of the streetscape, hopefully preventing that urban wasteland feel. When designed to blend with the streetscape,however large or small, parking garages seem like they could solve many of our land-use and parking problems. That assumes that people will walk a bit rather than parking in front of the store, whether a strip mall or a downtown store. What do you think?

*Even if you’re not a NPR listener, give the parking garage story a chance. It’s fascinating and only five minutes long. Enjoy! 

Mickey’s Diner

Mickey’s Diner is located in St. Paul, MN is the first diner listed in the National Register of Historic Places (1983). It is one of the first diners to be built in the Art Deco style. Manufactured in New Jersey, shipped to and assembled in St. Paul, the diner has been owned and operated by the same family since 1939. Read more of the history here.

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Mr. Stilts jumping into a photo with Mickey’s Dining Car.

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The interior of Mickey’s Diner.

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Dinner time! Or breakfast if you’re so inclined.

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The juke boxes do not work, but it adds to the original ambiance.

If you’re in St. Paul, swing by, 24 hours a day/365 days a year!

SIA 2013: Minnesota Nice

As mentioned, the annual Society for Industrial Archeology meeting was held in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis this year. The annual meeting/conference is typically a day of tours on Friday and a day of paper sessions on Saturday, with receptions and additional tours on Thursday and Sunday. Well organized, welcoming, interesting and fun, this year was no exception. Let me recap, starting today with an overview of the SIA conference. First and foremost, St. Paul and Minneapolis are great. And yes, “Minnesota Nice” is an apt description of my time there.

Based in the lovely city of St. Paul, a welcoming reception on Thursday greeted everyone with good food, drinks, mingling and a lecture about local history.

The welcome reception was held at 317 on Rice Park.

The welcome reception was held at 317 on Rice Park.

The library across the street from 317 on Rice Park.

The library across the street from 317 on Rice Park.

And best of all about the welcoming reception is that I finally got to meet Raina Regan, a long time social media friend. It’s funny how you can meet someone for the first time but feel like you’ve actually known each other much longer. Oh, the powers of social media. Aside from historic preservation, we bond over our love of cat photography.

Raina and me.

Raina and me. Obviously I was too excited to smile with my eyes open!

Downtown St. Paul, looking towards the St. Paul Hotel, the conference home base.

Downtown St. Paul, looking towards the St. Paul Hotel (center), the conference home base, and the Landmark Center (right).

For Friday’s tour I opted for the Mighty Mississippi tour, which took us up and down the Mississippi River to gaze at (and learn about) the beautiful bridge stock that Minnesota is lucky to call its own. The tour itself deserves its own post, but here’s a preview.

The Mighty Mississippi tour began in Minneapolis, on the Stone Arch Bridge, before we got on the boat to cruise the river.

The Mighty Mississippi tour began in Minneapolis, on the Stone Arch Bridge, before we got on the boat to cruise the river. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and the views of Minneapolis were spectacular from this bridge.

The Stone Arch Bridge and the Minneapolis skyline.

The Stone Arch Bridge and the Minneapolis skyline.

Saturday was the paper sessions, held in the St. Paul Hotel. From bridges to industrial communities to bordellos to mills and mines, the papers were informative and interesting. I always love giving a presentation, and I hope my audience enjoyed the topic as much I did. Considering it was right after lunch, playgrounds (recess!) were the perfect topic for that hour.

Getting ready in the morning, last looks!

Getting ready in the morning, last looks!

Presenting on the Giant Stride. Photo thanks to Raina Regan!

Presenting on the Giant Stride. Again, I was quite excited. Photo thanks to Raina Regan!

A Saturday banquet was held in the Wabasha Street Caves, once home to speakeasies in the 1930s. But before that, the caves were hollowed out by mining for silica in the mid 1800s. It’s a neat place and the guide shared ghost stories with us.

Inside the Wabasha Street Caves.

Inside the Wabasha Street Caves.

It’s always great to see familiar faces, to meet new people to exchange ideas between our fields. After all, this is a conference that attracts preservationists and engineers and everyone in between. The SIA is a wonderful crowd and I thank them yet again for a great time in a new place.

Later this week look for more about the Friday tour, Minneapolis adventures and much more. 

Sunday Snapshots for Summer #1

Here’s to a new post for Sundays: a sunny scene every week through the summer (it’s almost here) because once in a while you just need a sunny smile and a good memory and a good summer adventure.

This will be sort of like Preservation Photos on Tuesdays, but not necessarily something historic (far warning: a fluffly cat or a pink flamingo could pop up in Sunday Snapshots). Though this series will begin with a scene from a historic district in Minneapolis, MN, recalling my last week’s adventures in Minnesota at the SIA.

Sunday Snapshot for Summer adventure #1: cruising around a historic city on bicycle (or foot).

Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, MN.

Nicollet Island in Minneapolis, MN. Check out those brick paved streets! 

Bonus points: if it’s not overtly a “historic preservation” scene, connect the dots. Most creative answer wins! 

 

Vermont Downtown & Historic Preservation Conference

It’s a busy week in preservation and for PiP adventures! Following the SIA conference, it’s time to head to another one, only this is much closer to home.

Tomorrow, Friday June 7, 2013, is the annual Vermont Downtown & Historic Preservation conference, to be held this year in Barre, Vermont. It’s not too late to register – do so online or at the morning registration. Come join us in Vermont for local history, master planning, discussions as to why downtowns are important, good keynote speakers & presenters, inspiring preservation awards, and much more! See the full program here.

This is a good place for all preservationists to meet others, to network and to learn! Students are encouraged to come. If you’re in central Vermont and heading to the conference, let me know. Hope to see you there. VT_DCHP_Program_2013_final
Last year’s HP Conference in Wilmington and the 2011 HP Conference in Poultney with write-ups here and here.