Saint Paul Flag FAQs

Q: Saint Paul has a flag?

Yup. Saint Paul has an official flag. Seriously, it's official.

Q: Since when?

The city held a flag-designing contest in 1932 and unveiled the flag during the opening of Kellogg Boulevard, which was formerly called 3rd Street. The flag contest was also likely connected to the dedication of the brand-new City Hall / County Courthouse, which took place the same year. So the flag is over 80 years old.

Q: How come I've never seen it before?

Most city flags toil in obscurity, and Saint Paul's is no exception. There's one on the ground floor of the courthouse, there's one above the scoreboard at CHS Field, and there's one that the Mayor's office sometimes uses for photo ops. But other than that, you don't really see it flying anywhere.

Q: Who designed it?

A Saint Kate's design student named Gladys Mittle, Saint Paul's Betsey Ross. Sadly, I don't know anything about her.

Q: What are those things in the shield?

On the top left, it's the capitol dome foregrounded by grain. On the top right, it's the cabin of Father Lucien Galtier, built in 1841. He was the guy who changed the settlement's name from Pig's Eye to Saint Paul.

Then there's a wheel with wings on it, meant to signify Saint Paul's place as a transportation hub of the Northwest.

The blue stripe represents the Mississippi River. And the star at the top is a reference to l'etoile du nord (the North Star), Minnesota's official state motto.

Q: Isn't that the Detroit Red Wings logo?

Well, kinda... I guess you could make case that the Red Wings logo is a more literal, side-view of the Saint Paul's abstract representation.

Interestingly, both logos date back to the same year, 1932. I guess "put a bird on it" was a thing back then, too. The Red Wings' logo dates to late October, so it's likely that the Saint Paul "wheel-plus-wing" thing came first. Maybe Detroit copied Saint Paul!

Q: Haven you seen the 99% Invisible thing on city flags? You should watch it. This one breaks the rules.

Yes. It's quite good.

And yes, Saint Paul does break one of Roman Mars' vexilological rules -- no text on flags -- but apart from that, I think Saint Paul's flag is solidly above average. Seriously, you should see other city's flags. They are almost all terrible.

Interestingly, the original Mittle flag did not have any text on it. I'm guessing some unnamed bureaucrat decided to add the "Saint Paul" banner in a moment of insecurity.

Q: There are multiple versions?

Three that I've seen. The original one in the Historical Society photograph, the one in the City Hall lobby, which is missing the blue stripe for some reason, and the one that I'm selling today.

In the different efforts to get flags printed, I have slightly tweaked the colors. Currently, the blue that I'm using is the same blue as the Swedish flag, while the yellow is closer to a primary yellow.

Q: What font is that anyway?

According to local typography aficionado Andy Sturdevant, it's Windsor. Which is pretty cool because, as Andy says, that's the font that Woody Allen uses for his film titles.

Q: How can I get one?

Order one today on my website store! It's easy.

Q: Do I have to pick it up?

If you live in Saint Paul, I will deliver it to your mailbox via bicycle! Otherwise we will work out a shipping arrangement.

Q: Is that it?

Yes. Goodbye.

Q: How do I get out of here?

The door is over there. That way, just to the left of the fireplace.

Ok, you got it.


Reading the Highland Villager #165

[Basically the problem is that the best source of Saint Paul streets & sidewalks news is the Highland Villager, a very fine and historical newspaper. This wouldn't be a problem, except that its not available online. You basically have to live in or frequent Saint Paul to read it. Until this newspaper goes online, sidewalk information must be set free. See also: Three Reasons Why I Re-Blog the Highland Villager.] 

Headline: Council majority seeks to raise city levy by up to 8.8%; But Coleman's veto may lower the ceiling to 7%
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The mayor and the City Council are mildly fighting about how much to tax and spend. The money in question would fund fire and police equipment, parks, libraries, and rec centers. [Note that they this week agreed to compromise in the middle after a brief game of chicken.]

Headline: Liquor license sought for West Seventh theater [It would be funny if by "theater" here the Villager editors meant "the theatrics of everyday life", i.e. the somewhat-perfunctory dramatic playing out of roles such as "angry old man", "mouthbreathing drives-everywhere lady", "undercapitalized entrepreneur", "overeducated sarcastic blogger" and "token millennial". I would love to see this play and it would definitely require a liquor license.]
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A couple who are trying to restore an old movie theater would like to serve booze there during events. Neighbors are concerned about parking, noise, and which door people will use when they enter and leave the building.

Headline: License conditions sought in connection with Dannecker's sale
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The owners of a [very very strange old] liquor/grocery store [grandfathered in before such things were separated legally, though now in the day and age where these two products are re-combining in spirit, though with separated doorways, it seems less striking somehow] are trying to sell it. City inspectors would like the windows to be more transparent, the trash picked up more frequently, and tighter control of cigarette sales. Neighbors are concerned about homeless people drinking, litter, and public urination. [Fair enough.] Article includes a brief history of the business and some [world-weary] quotes from the current owner. [OK, so this store is really weird. Go in there sometime and see for yourself. The grocery selection alone is bizarre, and it along with the vastly superior Morelli's on Railroad Island, and Sentryz in Northeast, are the only grandfathered-in liquor/groceries in the city AFAIK.] Best quote from a neighbor: "We've had times when there's a regular trail of liquor bottles along View Street." [Sort of like a F'd-up version of alcoholic Hansel and Gretel.]

Headline: Fire station delayed, but other local projects get CIB boost
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The committee that does these things approved most of the budget for new city projects, but not the new designs for the fire station on University Avenue. Money spent will go to fixing some parks and libraries and a bridge on Summit Avenue.

Headline: St. Paul looks to limit next year's CIB funding, revamp process
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The complex committee process aforementioned has gotten too complex and some people like the Deputy Mayor and CM Stark would like to make it simpler. [I wrote an article on this very topic last year.] Quote from a neighborhood group person: "After the big projects are funded, there's so little left over for smaller neighborhood projects." [This is absolutely true. The vast majority of the money goes to public works for big-ticket items like bridges or fire stations.] Neighbors are concerned about "backlash." Some say that task forces should be done away with. [We could put a task force together that we could call "Ultimate Omega Force" that would focus on ending task forces.]

Headline: HRA agrees to sale of Chestnut Street site for new 175-unit housing complex
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: A parking lot owned by the city by the science museum used to store empty cars will become an apartment building for people to live inside. [More of this please.] Article includes the word "vibrant."

Headline: Residents still taking issue with plans to upgrade McQuillan Park
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city wants to fix up a run-down park from the 50s. They wanted to remove the tennis court but tennis-loving neighbors want to keep it. "That tennis court is in terrible terrible shape," says one. There isn't enough money to fix the court, but if they do try it will mean fewer playgrounds. [Summit-Avenue-area tennis court battle royale reminds me of this.] Some neighbors want swings but there isn't enough room. There is a debate about whether paint will suffice.

Headline: Owners beware: EAW could be needed before demolition begins
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: When people tear down or move a structure there's a form they have to fill out, but few people seem to actually do it in a very timely manner. Best sentence: "Club members want to replace the existing clubhouse and pool and add a pergola." [What's a pergola? Baby parsnip greens?]

Headline: City encourages addt'l houing units on lots near Green Line; Backyard trailer homes being considered [I always thought that the proper abbreviation was "add'l"?] 
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: There's a new ordinance that allows the construction of "ADUs" e.g. small homes or apartments near the light rail. It is still too expensive though so nobody is doing it. [One key piece of the policy that makes it more expensive was whether or not people had to have the staircases enclosed, which seems silly to me because many apartments and duplexes including mine have outdoor staircases.] Also the word "small trailer home" is used in an inset box having to do with a new state law intended for short-term needs like health emergencies etc. [Trailer homes! I am expecting at least one good LTE on this topic in the next issue.] Some people want the ordinance to be citywide and some do not. [Why not, I say. Why not?]

Headline: City Council rejects request for house on narrow West End lot
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: [So in a bit of news that is the opposite of the thing we just read about] A guy wanted to build a house on a small piece of land but will not be allowed to. Neighbors are concerned about the house's size and the "character of the neighborhood." [Which has something to do with liquor bottle breadcrumbs, at least according to this edition of the Highland Villager.] Quote from the guy: "[neighbors have a] cronyism kind of mentality."

Headline: Midway Center to house new substation for St. Paul police
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The old strip mall at Snelling and University will have a small police department now. There has been a lot of crime in the area.

Headline: Despite protests, Summit Hill home can add front-yard garage
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The City Council will allow a homeowner to build a garage in front of their home, maybe. CM Prince voted against it, calling the garage a "snout house." [Huzzah!] CM Noecker says other homes have garages so it wouldn't affect the "character." [Character. It's a very vague concept really.] Neighbors are concerned that the garage is "out of character."  Best quote: "This is city living; front-yard garages have no place in a traditional neighborhood." [This story confuses me. I agree with the cranky neighbor and CM Prince!]

Headline: City Council limits Cleveland residents to two district parking permits
Author: Jane McClure

Short short version: The city will not let people who live on Cleveland Avenue, in an area with a lot of restricted parking, buy [by "buy" they mean "pay tiny token amount for"] as many permits as they want. [Really really makes sense. Also they should be more expensive of course.] Best quote: "If I live in Area 22, I should be treated in the same way that other Area 22 residents are." [Parking + Hunger Games = Cleveland Avenue.] CM Stark quote: "There is a secondary market in the sale of parking permits in this part of town." [Parking + scalpers + Hunger Games + Tommies = TOTAL CARPARKOLYPSE.] Everyone else though can still "buy" all the permits they want. [This should change STAT. My version of hell would be to be the person in charge of administrating this.]


Twin City Bike Parking #24

[Lowertown, Saint Paul.]

[Northeast, Minneapolis.]

[Northeast, Minneapolis.]

[Central Avenue, Minneapolis.]

[North Loop, Minneapolis.]

[Dinkytown, Minneapolis.]

[Lake Street, Minneapolis.]

[Railroad Island, Saint Paul.]


Join me for a West Side Flats History Tour this Saturday

[Empty street on the Flats.]
My local neighborhood group, the West Side Community Organization, is putting together a biking/walking tour of West Side Flats history this Saturday and you're invited.

I'm a bit obsessed with the history of the Flats, and so it's an honor to be asked to participate in the tour, spread out along a route leading from the heart of the old Mexican neighborhood over to the middle of the Mississippi. There will be four speakers, each of whom has an excellent perspective on some of the history of the neighborhood.

I'll be stationed on the middle of the Wabasha Street bridge, where I'll tell a few stories about the history of Saint Paul's Mississipppi River crossings. Highlights include: how the West Side became part of Saint Paul, the complete history of the city's Mississippi bridges,

(Some of the other stops will focus on the neighborhood's Dakota past, the Flats' Mexican-American and Catholic legacies, and a history of the ever-changing river.)

To look at it today, the Flats seems like a desolate industrial park, which it is. But before 1960 it was a densely populated working-class community that had long been home to the city's immigrant populations, especially Jews, Lebanese, Mexicans, and even my Swiss-German ancestors from five generations ago.

Today, with the old street grid all but erased, it's a challenge to imagine what the old neighobrhood might have looked like. But Saturday's tour will hopefully impart a sense of the recent history of the contested ground across from Downtown Saint Paul.

[Abandoned warehouse in a long-vacant lot on the Flats.]

What: Tour of West Side Flats history with four speakers, biking (4 miles) or walking (2.5 miles)
Who: Anyone, free to the public
When: Saturday, October 1st, from 1 pm to 3 pm
Why: To learn about the neighborhood
Where: Meet at Castillo Park (see also this interactive map); I'll be on the Wabasha Street bridge

[Wabasha Street Bridge in the wintertime.]

See also some other of my writings on the Flats and the Saint Paul bridges:

A post on the Wabasha Street Bridge christening from 15 years ago (!)
Sidewalk of the Week: West Side Flats
Is Bike Counting Quixotic?
Six Thoughts You Have Sitting Next to ... the High Bridge for Two Hours
Reframing St. Paul's iconic High Bridge to fight suicide contagion (Minnpost)
Mind the Gap: the Importance of Bridge Approaches (streets.mn)
Thune and the Port Authority Quietly Neuter Walkability on Saint Paul's West Side (streets.mn)

[The former site of the old State Street "black bridge" over the tracks down to the flats.]


Saint Paul Living History by Decade: 1860 to the Present

Have you ever been in a place — a restaurant, home,  office, or bar — and thought, “wow, it’s just like being back in time?”

Some establishments seem chronologically dislodged. The old Nye’s Polonaise Room was like that, a time capsule of the 1970s that finally met its end last year. Saint Paul, too, is full of such places, small bits of the past that together recreate the cold march of progress.

A distinction: I’m not talking simply about old buildings, places whose exteriors match a particular date. No, I’m talking about places where history is still alive, places whose uses, rhythms, and cultures still cling to some ancien regime, where lost practices of the everyday remain alive, if possibly transmuted. Places where the past isn’t just a museum display, but an actual experience.

Here’s the question: which places in Saint Paul best reflect different decades of living history?

The Still-Kickin' Decades of Saint Paul

1860s - The Stone Saloon

[Rear of the Stone Saloon, currently being restored.]
This is an 1857 lager beer saloon that is currently being painstakingly restored. It should open by next summer and, when it does, you’ll be able to actually legitimately experience what it was like in the 1860s to drink beer in small wooden room in then-nascent Saint Paul!

1870s - Forepaughs Restaurant

This is a early 1870s French-revival mansion off Irvine Park, supposedly haunted by the ghost of a maid who hung herself in the 1880s. Today it’s a restaurant, but if you sidle up to the bar or sit in front of one of the many fireplaces, you get a sense for what the place might have been like back in the Victorian era.

[Forepaughs' carriage entrance.]

1880s - Spot Bar

[The old wood walls of The Spot.]
The oldest continually operating bar in Saint Paul claims to date to 1885, and today still has the feel of the 19th century. While a lot has changed in the intervening century and a third — for example, there used to be an organ in the back, where an organist would play tunes and patrons would sing along — a lot has remained the same. You still have guys sitting around drinking all day, an occasional weekend vintage apparel sale, sometimes potluck sloppy joes, and they serve plenty of whiskey above a half-finished basement cellar.

1890s - W. A. Frost

This great restaurant and bar is housed in the 1889 glorious Dacotah Buidling. While the original W.A. Frost was a dry goods general store, and today’s fancy dining experience probably doesn’t reflect the original use of the building, the trappings and accouterments of hanging out in the bar or wonderful basement lounge does feel a bit like being back in the midst of Saint Paul’s boom decades at the end of the 19th century.

[An ad for W.A. Frost c. 1893.]

1900s - The State Capitol

[Old colorized postcard of the Capitol showing the old neighborhood.]
This building, currently in the final throes of its extensive restoration, is pretty much used for the same purposes that it had when it was built in 1904. Some things have changed — for example, every type of conceivable phone — but many other things retain exactly their use and luster from the first decade of the Twentieth century. (For example, racist paintings.) Walking up the marble steps, now bowed from the subtle weight of a million fancy shoes, is to trace the steps of a century of Minnesota’s leaders.

1910s - Wabasha Street Caves

[The Caves entrance in autumn.]
If you can find your way into these caves for an event or a tour, set in the bluffs of the West Side, you will feel the presence of generations who’ve come before you. The city’s caves are surely the city's oldest useful structures, and this one was originally a mushroom-growing operation before becoming a nightclub and then speakeasy in the early 20th century.

1920s - Original Coney Island

This semi-mothballed diner and bar is half-housed in the oldest commercial building in either downtown. It dates to 1923, and what’s more, has been completely preserved (as if in amber) since it shut down in the 1990s. It’s quite literally a time capsule, as it’s only open about once or twice a year. If you get a chance to get a beer (or a coney dog!) at the OCI, don’t pass it up. You’ll be stepping back in time.

[Inside the Original Coney Island on a rare business day.]

1930s - Yarusso’s

[Painting of Swede Hollow on the wall at Yarusso's.]
This Railroad Island Italian restaurant and cultural institution on Payne Avenue doesn’t seem to have changed much since it opened in 1933, in the midst of the depression. The other day, a waiter who’d worked there 53 years (!) give me a plate of “spicy rav(ioli)” on the house, and I pictured generations of hungry people coming into Yarusso’s and getting a free meatball. The whole of Railroad Island is a bit anachronistic, but Yarusso’s especially so.

1940s - Mickey’s Diner

This vintage railroad car diner  hasn’t even closed since it opened in 1939. They accept credit cards now, and I think they do change out their cooking oil every few years. But otherwise, this is as close as you’ll ever get to having World War Two-era food.

(Also note: Serlin's Café would have been perfect for 40s living history too. Plus the Turf Club actually says "best remnant of the 40s" on the sign.)

[Buncha hippies outside Mickey's during the RNC.]

1950s - Porky’s Drive-in (Defunct) / The Gopher Bar

[George, that old asshole, at the Gopher.]
Porky’s dated to 1953 and would have been perfect, but it's gone now. Places like Snuffy’s Malt Shop are 1980s re-creations of the 50s’ diner, back when 50s nostalgia was really popular. (See also, Back to the Future.)

My nomination for the best 50s-era living history remnant is The Gopher Bar, actually, a politically problematic coney-dog-slinging downtown dive that dates to 1949. It hasn’t changed much since it opened, the hot dogs certainly are the same. If you’re wondering what it was like to walk into an old hole-in-the-wall sixty years ago, uncomfortable feelings and all, step through their un-glamorous door plastered with anti-government stickers.

1960s - Rice Street Sears

This building is still doing what it was designed to do when it was designed and built in 1962 by Victor Gruen, serve as an all-encompassing store for everything. It’s difficult-but-possible to drive up, squint, and imagine what the store might have looked like when it was brand new and state-of-the-art, when it represented the ultimate retail fantasy, when its parking lot might have been full of fins and chrome. Today’s retail experience must be a pale shadow of that glorious time.

[The modernist Rice Street Sears and its massive parking lot.]

1970s - Red’s Savoy Pizza

[The anti-car barrier outside Savoy Inn.]
Walking into Red’s, which was founded in the mid-1960s, does feel like what I imagine the 70s to have been, all weird color palettes and urban dystopian vibe. I’m sure the pizza hasn’t changed much, either, nor have the sometimes-questionable bar conversations about East Side crime or the struggling economy.

1980s - Café Latté

I remember going to this amazing café in an “urban mall” (how 1980s!) back in the day when it was new, before Starbucks when the word “latté” was really exotic. To take a tray with a piece of cake, a coffee, and a Oblaten wafer up the very-80s staircase onto the terrace just screams “Miami Vice” to me. And in the best of Saint Paul fashion, the place hasn’t changed much. They muted their color palette a bit and added a wine bar in the rear, but other than that it’s pretty much the same.

[Top-down view of the counter at Café Latté, with the 80s staircase in the background.]

1990s - Galtier Plaza (Faces on Mears)

[The very-90s courtyard outside Faces on Mears.]
Speaking of urban malls, Saint Paul’s Galtier Plaza still houses a restaurant in the midst of the failed trappings of the old downtown stab at retail pizazz. Despite a few different remodeling attempts, the keynote restaurant, now called Faces, still has a 90s feel. Maybe its the nearby food court or large windows? If retro-trends are any indication, the 90s are going to be cool again soon, and maybe Galtier and the 1990s will become the next big thing in Lowertown, instead of the whole 1890s that’s happening these days?

2000s - Kinkaid’s

The 2000s are still sort of a blank slate. If we were in Minneapolis, I would have said that Block E was the ultimate in 2000s-era living history.

In Saint Paul, it has to be the much-less-ill-fated Lawson Commons building, and the anchor restaurant Kinkaid's might be the classic example. I’ve never been there, to be honest.

2010s - Saint Dinette?

I went to Saint Dinette the other day and it seems like a cutting-edge trend. When we look back and ask ourselves, years from now, what were the 2010s all about, maybe this place, with its wide open feeling and mix of low- and high-brow foodie culture, might be just the thing.

[The Lawson Building.]


*** 25 Weekend Sidewalk Links ***

Sidewalk Rating: Soggy

You’ve said, “Tourism is a sin, but travelling on foot is a virtue,” and your ability to go to other places and to immerse yourself in the world of other people is impressive. You seem very comfortable in places where a tall German guy might stick out.
Well, the world belongs to those who travel on foot.

[A grass-filled curb cut on Saint Paul's West Side.]



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We drive these vehicles that weigh 4,000 pounds and are built to carry five people and eight suitcases, and most of the time, it’s just one person and this giant machine going to work. We’ve got transportation overkill.


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