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This is a contributing entry for Irvine Park History Walk and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.
Starting in the 1950s St. Paulities, especially economically-mobile white families, began leaving the city for life in the suburbs, along with large employers and big commercial hubs like department stores. This trickle of change continued through the 1960s. When the dual blows of a recession and the fuel crisis hit in the 1970s, St. Paul was grappling, like hundreds of other American cities, with surging population loss and commercial disinvestment that meant more empty homes and buildings and less tax revenue and economic vitality to support the city and its neighborhoods.

Irvine Park (1972)

Irvine Park (1972)

Irvine Park with view of Downtown (1972)

Irvine Park with view of Downtown (1972)

Irvine Park in 1970: The park was surrounded houses badly in need of repair. Those deemed unsalvageable by owners and developers were demolished, creating a empty lots around the green. Developers were demolishing other distressed older districts close to the bustle of downtown. For example, the formerly upscale Lafayette Park neighborhood was bulldozed, making space for the State of Minnesota office complex and parking lot that stand in its place today.

Irvine Park was saved.

What happened? Local residents of the West End formed a preservation advocacy group. They raised funds and applied for city and federal grants to purchase and restore the homes that could be saved; they relocated at-risk houses here from other places, and they organized around the idea of revitalizing the park at the center.

And the park? The group deliberately decided not to update the park with modern features like playground equipment. Instead, they chose to renovate it using its original 19th-century plans, commissioned a replica of the original 1880's fountain, and succeeded in getting the park and the entire district around it listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1973, a first for St. Paul.

Irvine Park looks and feels the way it does because forty years ago neighborhood advocates decided to recreate it as a modern version of what they imagined it had been in the late 19th century with the dense housing, heavily restricted parking, limited traffic access, and strolling park that maintain a sense of quiet wealth and isolation in the midst of a busy city.

Bill, Lindeke. Distinctive Twin Cities fountains and the art of fountain maintenance, August 18th 2016. Accessed June 24th 2020.

Mack, Linda. "Linda Mack: Making History." Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) September 30th 2007.

Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to the Twin Cities (MNHS Press, 2006).

Sazevich, Jim. St. Paul's Oldest Living Neighborhood. Commissioned by the Minnesota History Center Department of Public Programs. 2008.

Image Sources(Click to expand)