The American Planning Association has named Summit Avenue as one of 10 Great Streets for 2008 through APA’s Great Places in America program. APA Great Places exemplify exceptional character and highlight the role planners and planning play in creating communities of lasting value.
The APA says that Summit Avenue represents the nation’s most intact Victorian-era Boulevard. Summit Avenue was selected because of its breathtaking vistas, park-like traits, and long history of planning measures, community participation, and private stewardship that have kept Summit’s unique qualities intact.
APA Great Places offer excellent choices for where and how people work and live. The areas given this designation are enjoyable, safe, and desirable locations. They are places where people want to not only to visit, but to live, work, and play every day. America’s greatest streets are characterized by many criteria, including architectural attributes, accessibility, functionality, and civic involvement. Through Great Places in America, APA recognizes distinctive and authentic features found in three essential components of all communities - streets, neighborhoods, and public spaces.
To understand how Summit Avenue received this designation, it helps to know how this area of St. Paul developed. The first house was built on Summit Avenue in 1855. This was followed by a surge of house building along the 4.5 mile stretch during the 1880s. Eventually, the Summit Avenue Improvement Association was formed. The Association encouraged property owners to donate land to widen the street and planted trees along the median that exists there to this today.
Construction of a limited number of apartments during the early 1900s prompted residents to petition the city to create a single- and double-family residential zoning district along Summit Avenue in 1916. Though the rules were exclusionary in terms of the type of housing that could be built along the street, the special zoning later ensured that residences on the avenue would not be converted to commercial or other non-compatible uses.
Summit Avenue was not only the address for many of the residences of Saint Paul’s leading citizens and leaders, but also for universities and churches.
The Great Depression brought construction along Summit Avenue in St. Paul to a halt and many owners had to give up their homes. The Catholic Church was bequeathed a number of estates, which the church rented out and maintained until the 1970s when a migration of people back to the city brought about a new group of owners.
By the 1980s, Summit Avenue’s historic atmosphere faced other issues: college expansion plans; deferred maintenance of mansions; proposals to convert mansions into businesses like bed and breakfast hotels, restaurants, and law offices; and preservation of carriage houses. The Saint Paul Planning Commission formed a task force to address these concerns, resulting in a plan and implementation measures that have successfully kept the Victorian-era residential nature of Summit Avenue preserved.
What are people saying about the designation?
“We take great pride in our historic neighborhoods, and Summit Avenue epitomizes that pride. It is a beautiful city boulevard that everyone loves; its designation by the APA is an affirmation of my claim that Saint Paul is the Most Livable City in America,” said Mayor Christopher B. Coleman
“We're excited to select Summit Avenue as one of this year’s Great Streets,” said APA Executive Director Paul Farmer, FAICP. “Saint Paul is to be commended for preserving the history and character of this grand Victorian avenue and the 370-plus mansions and other noteworthy buildings along this boulevard.”
“Summit Avenue reminds Saint Paul residents and visitors alike about our City’s fascinating history. It also serves as a kind of linear park for the western half of Saint Paul, full of cyclists, walkers, joggers, and rollerbladers,” said Councilmember Russ Stark.
The nine other APA 2008 Great Streets are: Mill Avenue, Tempe, AZ; Seventh Avenue, Tampa, FL; West Main Street, Louisville, KY; Commercial Street, Portland, ME; Washington Street, Boston, MA; Main Street, Annapolis, MD; South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA; South El Paso Street, El Paso, TX; and Clarendon & Wilson Boulevards, Arlington, VA. For more information about these streets, as well as the lists of the 2008 APA Great Neighborhoods and Great Public Spaces, visit here.
This year’s Great Places in America will be celebrated as part of APA’s National Community Planning Month in October 2008, designed to recognize and celebrate the many residents, leaders, officials, and professionals who contribute to making great communities. For more about National Community Planning Month, visit here.
Does living in the historic Summit University neighborhood or Summit Hill in St. Paul interest you? Explore the homes for sale in Saint Paul.