MARCH 7, ROTARY IN REVIEW: Marvin Anderson
Posted by Michael-jon Pease on Mar 07, 2017
President Chuck Whitaker, Whitaker Sports and Classic Cars, called the meeting to order at 12:15. David Laird, MN Private College Council, led the group in God Bless America in the key of F with a special call out to the Irish tenors and Sopranos of any background to lead on the high notes. Dr. Bob Jones, D.D.S., polished the ivories.
Nancy Brady, Neighborhood House, offered as an inspirational minute the story of Leo, an immigrant who came to this country at the age of twelve and went on to achieve the “American Dream” in Minnesota. In his words “I may love this country even more than you, because I love it when it doesn’t love me back.”
Thanks to Linda Mulhern, Collins Electric, for warmly greeting and scanning members at the door. Today’s scribe is Michael-jon Pease, Park Square Theatre.
Trixie Goldberg, Lifetrack Resources, introduced visiting Rotarians and guests.
Thursday’s Fellowship speaker will be The Honorable John Guthmann, sharing his hobby of Civil War reenacting. He will bring uniforms along to illustrate his talk!
Think membership! Every meeting is a good one to invite your friends to. Don’t forget – if one becomes a member, you both get cases of Summit Beer!
Lindsay Weir, MN Wild, pitched our upcoming foundation fundraiser at the Wild on April 4. They’re hot now! Your ticket will have even more “street value” than what you pay. Don’t forget a portion of your fund night out goes to support our Rotary Foundation.
Trixie Goldberg collected a whopping $7 in happy dollars - $2 from Jim Hart’s wife Maureen in honor of their grandson who made it to state tournaments and Rotary’s fight to eradicate Polio; and $5 from Steve Young in honor of his grandson who made it to state wrestling tournaments. Trixie was hoping for more dollars for the foundation in honor of recent warm weather travel. We’ll try better next time (and maybe more members will be BACK from those trips!)
Jim Hart, U of M School of Public Health, introduced today’s speaker Marvin Anderson, retired MN Law Librarian, and former resident of St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood.
Rondo: A Thriving Community Mislabeled as a Slum
Marvin started his talk by asking who attended or had family go to JJ Hill, John Marshall or Central schools in Saint Paul. He went to those schools as well, but while his white class mates went home to Highland or Mac Groveland, he went home to Rondo – a three-mile stretch between Rice and Lexington that was home to a thriving African American community with hundreds of neighborhood owned businesses, local schools, its own football team and drum corps, and its own debutante balls and galas. In 1935 the state demographer names it one of the city’s largest slums “full of Negroes, Mexicans and Jews,” an untruth that set the stage for its future destruction.
Of the many historic photos from Rondo that Marvin shared, one that stood out was of a group of 36 Union Depot “red caps” who made 10 cents for every bag they carried. Because the management didn’t want travelers feeling like they had to remember any of the red caps’ names, they were all known as “George.” The Rondo Association knows the history of 24 of those 36 red caps in the old photo. All those were men with real names, their own homes and families, some with their own small businesses. At home in Rondo, they had the dignity and identity that the “outside world” often denied.
The Highway Act That Created I-94
The 1956 Federal Highway Act signed by President Eisenhower created an unprecedented incentive for states and municipalities to build the nationwide network of highways: the federal government would pay 90% of the local estimated costs for construction. If the project came in under budget, the city would get to keep the difference! This unfortunately set the stage for the local effort to build I-94 to value money over people. By putting the highway through Rondo, they could offer less than market rate to purchase 700 homes and 150 businesses and demolish them for eminent domain. The Twin Cities Negro Building Corporation had built a series of well-made row houses in 1948 with a $200,000 loan – the largest loan ever given to an all-black corporation. When they were purchased for demolition, the valuation was far below market rate citing “inferior construction.” In truth, the buildings were so well built, that the city sat on them, then resold at a profit to a local white developer, who moved many of the buildings to other streets where they stand today. Marvin’s father built those “inferior” structures that still house families 69 years later on Carroll and Maryland Avenues.
Opposition to the Rondo Path for I-94
Two routes were proposed for I-94. Five separate groups opposed the Rondo path, including downtown business owners and the Catholic Church. The difference between then and now is that these different groups didn’t form a coalition to fight the plan and Rondo was split in two by the highway. The only compromises to the community were putting the Rondo portion of the highway 30’ below grade and connecting the remaining halves of the neighborhood with bridges.
Learning from the Past: Building Coalitions
Fast forward to the recent Green Line construction and Rondo was once again being passed over. This time, however, the Hmong, Somali, African American, Hispanic and disabled populations created a coalition to demand the addition of stops along the old Rondo neighborhood. “This will not be another Rondo,” they declared.
Now, the coalition is bringing the community together to decorate the eight bridges over 94 to capture the spirit of the neighborhood’s varied immigrants and residents. Each of the bridges is named for a different core value of the Rondo Neighborhood – from “faith” to “home ownership” to the “value of education” and the “dignity of work.” The last surviving empty lot from the old Rondo neighborhood is being turned into a commemorative park with a landmark, history panels, landscaping and wind chimes.
A New Vision
A new vision for the old Dale Street bridge – the one original (read: “un-renovated:) bridge remaining from the 1968 completion of the 94 corridor – would turn it into a land bridge with green space and pedestrian paths. This type of green “lid” over an existing expressway is being created around the country, most notably in Dallas where the former expressway blight now hosts museums and concert halls on either side of its unique land bridge. This exciting vision with its modern and green aesthetic would be fitting tribute to a neighborhood that remains vibrant for all who knew it and create a new pedestrian feature for the whole community.