Book takes readers into Summit Avenue mansionsPublished 9:20am Saturday, December 14, 2013
ST. PAUL — Who doesn’t like to drive around and look at houses? One neighborhood in Minnesota features one of the best collections of grandiose residences from the 19th century in the United States.
Architectural photographer Karen Melvin has captured the Victorian beauty of Summit Avenue in a coffee table book. “Great Houses of Summit Avenue and the Hill District” lets people see inside mansions that before they could only view from the street. There are more than 400 images of 24 hours in the book, which catalogs for the sake of history one of the most well-known streets in America.
“It has been a wonderful journey meeting the homeowners and getting to know St. Paul in a more intimate way,” Melvin said. “All the homeowners were very welcoming and wanted to share their story with readers. But then again, that’s St. Paul — friendly, close-knit and proud of their traditions in architecture. It’s really like our little Europe.”
Summit Avenue in St. Paul is a five-mile stretch from the Cathedral of St. Paul to the Mississippi River. Houses on it were built between 1856 and the early 1900s. One former resident of Summit Avenue is the great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald; another was the railroad baron James J. Hill. Tourists experience Summit Avenue on foot, on bicycle or by automobile, mainly in the warm months. The Minnesota Historical Society offers 90-minute walking tours from May to September.
Summit Avenue resident Garrison Keillor, host of the radio variety show “A Prairie Home Companion,” wrote in the book’s foreword: “What remains and is so clear in Karen Melvin’s lovely pictures is the fine workmanship of the buildings, the stonework and brickwork and wood carving and cabinetry and carpentry of thousands of anonymous men … who rode the streetcars or climbed the hill from the flats … to work on the construction crews six days a week, 10 hours a day.”
To accompany the photographs, the book shares stories penned by four award-winning writers. They are architectural historian Paul Larson, architectural journalist Bette Hammel, lifestyle writer and Summit Avenue homeowner Melinda Nelson and Summit Avenue homeowner and renovator Dave Kenney.