Tag Archives: Como Park

The Lily Pond at Como Park Returns

Como Park Lily Pond plans - 2012The City of Saint Paul has secured Arts and Cultural Heritage Legacy Funding to restore the Como Park Lily Pond. The pond last held lily pads in 1926 and has mostly been an empty concrete pond since. The 1903 fieldstone and concrete bridge will get some repairs and a new railing. The pond walls and bottom will be completely replaced, though it will have the same footprint and use fieldstones across the top like it currently has. The north pool will feature a water cascade and there will be a fountain in the south pool, both to help circulate water. The pond will feature native aquatic plants, so no more heating the pond and bringing in giant, exotic lily pads. There will also be a seating area north of the pond and another to the west with a pergola.

No completion date has been given, but the project appears to already be underway.

The Lily Pond has always been one of my favorite spaces in that grand public park. There’s an intense feeling of history there that’s hard to escape and it’s a fun place to wander around. I’m curious how that will translate with all the renovations. I’m excited that they’re doing something with the old Lily Pond, but part of me also wonders if it’ll still be the old Lily Pond. Part of its appeal was that it was empty and neglected, an odd pond with no particular use. Hopefully the restored pond will capture that sense of history that made it so great.

Lily Pond at Como Park - 1910 Lily Pond at Como Park - 2007

Hail at the Como Park Conservatory

19On June 23, 1962, golf ball-size hail rained down on the glass dome of Como Park’s Conservatory in St. Paul. Glass panels shattered sending shards falling on the visitors below who had sought shelter from the storm. By the end the Conservatory, built in 1915, looked like a war zone. The hail had damaged rare and valuable plants and the gardens were forced to close for the first time ever.

After the storm, gardeners tending the injured plants were forced to wear protective helmets as glass pieces continued to fall. $75,000 in emergency funding had to be secured and the glass panels were replaced with fiberglass. The Conservatory re-opened four months later.

By 1974 the constant sun and weather had clouded the fiberglass panels, depriving the plants below of sunlight. While the Conservatory was placed on the National Register of Historic Places that year, it was in desperate need of repair.

It wasn’t until 1987 that major renovations to the Conservatory began, including replacing all the glass. Those renovations weren’t finished until 1992, 30 years after that hailstorm riddled holes in one of St. Paul’s greatest attractions.

[You can learn more about the history of Como Park and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in the book The Jewel of Como.]

Como Park’s East & West Gates

Como Park East GateThe gates at the east and west entrances to St. Paul’s Como Park are real live examples of recycling and second chances.

East Gates
The east gates are located at East Como Blvd. and Gateway Dr., southeast of the lake. The gates were erected in 1933 using Kasota limestone reclaimed from the second Ramsey County Courthouse, which was built in 1895 and replaced in the 1930s by the current courthouse building. The reused stone included the courthouse’s cornerstone.

Edward Bassford designed the 1885 courthouse and his son, Charles Bassford, designed the gates. As city architect, Charles Bassford also designed the Como Zoological building.

Midway GateWest Gates
The west gates at Hamline Avenue and Midway originally came from the sprawling estate of wealthy businessman Oliver Crosby. He built a mansion, greenhouses and elaborate gardens—all known as Stonebridge—that overlooked the Mississippi River in St. Paul. After Crosby died in 1922 his will was contested and the estate eventually had to be sold off piece by piece.

In 1936, E. E. Englebert bought two lots of the former estate on Mississippi River Boulevard which included the original massive brick and ornamental iron entrance gate to the mansion. He donated the gate to Como Park and in 1937 the Works Progress Administration had it reinstalled as the west gate to Como Park at the intersection of Hamline Avenue and Midway.

Another survivor of Stonebridge also relocated to Como Park, the namesake of the Frog Pond, the sculpture of a granite bullfrog.

Horton & Hamline Gate
There’s another potential gate to Como Park, a lone stone pillar standing at the corner of Horton and Hamline Avenues. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across anything about the history or origins of this pillar.

Gates Ajar at Como Park

Gates AjarI love Como Park. That’s why I tried to write a novel about it. One of it’s most captivating qualities is its sense of history. One of the park’s earliest features, the floral sculpture Gates Ajar, goes back to 1894 and is still around today.

At the time it was a new form of display heavy on flowers and bordering on kitsch.  The gated stairway was sculpted from wood and wire frames, covered in carpet bedding and then packed with moss and mud. Flowers were then planted, resulting in eye-popping blooms of intricate designs. The actual iron gates were added during the 1930s. Como Park’s Gardener Blog has details and pictures showing how the Gates Ajar are planted today.

Originally located 150 feet east of the Schiller Monument, today the Gates Ajar can be found off Lexington Avenue to the west of the Lakeside Pavilion. The gates were also temporarily located near the Conservatory for a brief period. In 1951 the gates were rebuilt to four times their original size and moved to the current location.

Historic photo of Gates AjarGates Ajar was the first floral sculpture experiment from park superintendent Frederick Nussbaumer. Those floral sculptures continued in 1895 with a life-size elephant perched on an island in the former Cozy Lake (drained in the 1920s and site of the current golf course), a floral fort complete with cannons and an eagle in 1896 and a standard globe sometime later.

But the Gates Ajar outlasted them all and is one of the earliest features of Como Park that still exists today. The Minnesota Historical Society has a few pictures of Gates Ajar from over the years. Refurbished in 2007, the Gates Ajar continue to be a popular location for pictures.


Mold-a-Rama Gorilla from Como ParkIt turns out that I’m crazy.

I dove into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) for the fourth time this year and it’s not meant to be. I had this grand plan of linking the story to Como Park and publishing the story with lots of help and Como Park goodies for everyone. It’s not going to happen.

I stopped writing last Friday, just shy of 20,000 words.

It really came down to two things:

  1. My life is crazy right now.
  2. The story wasn’t working.

My life is crazy right now: Work is both slow and busy (if you’ve ever been self-employed you might understand that predicament). Lexi stopped napping. Milo screamed more (didn’t think that was possible). We have a pre-teen in the family. Evenings have all but disappeared. We launched a book last week.

I’m not sure crazy does it justice.

When my wife started commenting about how stressed I was, I realized NaNoWriMo wasn’t a good idea this year. It didn’t help when I had to break out my brace to fight wrist over-use syndrome (yes, that’s what a doctor diagnosed it as a few years ago—shut up).

The story wasn’t working: I could put up with all of the above if the story were working. But it’s not. My characters feel flat. There is no plot. It feels like I’m trying to force reluctant people on a tour of Como Park, and that’s not what it’s supposed to be. Getting up an hour early every day to work on this just isn’t worth it.

NaNoWriMo is supposed to be about slogging through all that, but this year if I’m going to be that stressed I should at least be paying the bills.

Lessons from Failure
So I failed. I’m both sorry and grateful to my backers and cheerleaders. But sometimes I think we need to try crazy, ridiculous ideas and fail. I have a lot of crazy ideas, and they wouldn’t be so crazy if they all worked. And it’s not really failure if the idea sits in your head and you never try it—it’s something worse. So as scary as it is and as much as my Midwest work ethic says “Never give up!”, I’m giving up.

And it’s not a total loss.

  • I loved writing about Como Park. I loved diving into the history and story of the place. I will come back to that. Some day.
  • A few scenes and moments and ideas in the story did work. There are places that I really like, even if the rest falls apart. And that’s really what NaNoWriMo is about—finding some treasure in the trash.
  • I also learned the ins and outs of Kickstarter. I love the idea behind this site, the way creatives can pitch ideas and people can step up to make them happen. Go find some ideas and support them. Make a record with Shaun Groves. Help a photographer create street galleries in New York. Find a project you like and help it become a reality.

And there it is. Thanks.

Lost & Found in Como Park

Como ParkHere’s proof that I’m crazy.

Earlier this week I announced Open Our Eyes: Seeing the Invisible People of Homelessness, my project to support Mark Horvath and InvisiblePeople.tv. It launches November 9. Last night I launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish this year’s National Novel Writing Month effort, Lost & Found in Como Park.

As if my life wasn’t crazy enough.

So here’s the deal: I love Como Park. It’s this great park we have in St. Paul. It’s got a free zoo and the conservatory and trails and statues. It’s more than 100 years old, so there’s history everywhere you look. It’s great place to take your family.

I’ve decided to set this year’s NaNoWriMo story in Como Park. I want to use the locale and the history—and more than that, I want to bridge fiction and reality. I want to place a memorial brick in Como Park for a fictional character from the book. It’s a celebration of Como Park and a way to make the story real.

So if we can hit the $1,000-goal then we’ll publish the book and put a brick in Como Park and make this thing happen. Kickstarter works on pledges, so if we don’t hit the goal, you don’t have to pay. I’ll write the book either way, but publishing the book and placing the brick are dependent on getting enough pledges. If we go past the goal we can make the book better.

There are all kinds of rewards for making a pledge and backing the project. I tried to make them low cost and high fun—so you’re getting a deal, not being charged a premium. For $10 you can get a copy of the book (I won’t be able to sell it that cheap, so you’re getting a deal). We’re also giving away a bunch of Como Park souvenirs that I’m going to work into the story. You can also be written into the story. Or you can get a personal tour of Como Park. Lots of fun stuff.

I’m hoping this will serve as some extra incentive while I’m writing the novel and a fun way to share the story and Como Park with all of you.

Or, I’m just crazy.

The novel writing starts on Monday. You’ve got until the end of November to pledge. Want to join me?

Enjoying the Como Park Lily Pond

Last week I stopped off at Como Park with Milo for a quick walk. I spent most of my time at the Lily Pond, a place that has neither a pond nor lilies. It’s just a 100-year-old empty concrete pond with an old concrete and stone bridge. It’s kind of forgotten among Como Park’s other attractions. I think I enjoy it so much because it has that abandoned feel and hints at something older that’s been lost as the surrounding park has changed around it. I feel history at that bridge in a way I don’t at other old places.

A while back I hung out at the Lily Pond with Lexi, so it seemed appropriate to do it with Milo this time around.

Lexi on the Bridge
July 23, 2007

Kevin & Milo @ the Lily Pond
June 2, 2009

What To Do With Como’s Pedestrian Bridge?

Pedestrian BridgeThe St. Paul Real Estate Blog recently covered the abandoned pedestrian bridge in Como Park. If you’re not familiar with the bridge, it’s near the intersection of Lexington and Horton by the old Streetcar Station building. Built in 1904, this was the grand entrance to Como Park, where guests would arrive via streetcar and then take this pedestrian bridge over the tracks and into the park. But when the streetcars disappeared the bridge became useless. With the tracks gone it seems to be a bridge over nothing (there’s even a sidewalk that runs parallel to the bridge, making it seem even more useless) and has fallen into disrepair. Now it’s fenced off to keep people from being injured by falling concrete.

Weekly guest blogger Erik Hare asked how the crumbling bridge might be saved. The problem, as I pointed out in the comments, is that the bridge has no purpose. If it were to be saved, it would need a purpose.

So what can we do with an old bridge to nowhere?
Continue reading What To Do With Como’s Pedestrian Bridge?

Busy Week at Start Seeing Art

Salon Stella Detail..Last week I was all excited to announce that Start Seeing Art had mapped 100 works of public art across the Twin Cities (if ‘across’ means primarily in St. Paul). But in the past week alone we’ve added 25 more works of art. Along the way we’ve identified some previously unknown artwork, explored local history and started branching out into Minneapolis (including work by John Grider, one of City Pages 2007 Artists of the Year).

Continue reading Busy Week at Start Seeing Art

Lily Pond at Como Park

Ground ShotAs I mentioned the other day, the Lily Pond is one of the attractions at Como Park that captivates me. Check it out in 1910 and again in 2007. Or try this angle, 1912 and 2007.

The Lily Pond was built in 1895. The original wooden bridge was replaced in 1903 with the current fieldstone and concrete bridge. You can easily find postcards from the early Twentieth Century featuring the Lily Pond with an assortment of people in their finest clothes taking in the Victorian water lilies and the flagstone path around the pond, both of which are gone today. The lilies were removed in 1926 when the area became too shady for the lilies to flourish and the pond was soon drained.

That was more than 80 years ago and it doesn’t seem that the pond has changed much since. Its surroundings certainly have, especially lately with the 2005 addition of the Global Harmony Labyrinth and the removal of Kauffman Drive in 2007.

And still the Lily Pond sits there, which is really an anachronistic name since there are no longer lilies or a pond. There’s just an ancient bridge, a concrete floor, stone walls and random pipe remains. It’s peaceful and quiet, but echoes with the past.

Word is that Como Park hopes to someday restore the pond, though they haven’t found the funding to do it.