The Payne-Phalen Neighborhood of Saint Paul

The area known as the Payne-Phalen neighborhood is bounded by Interstate 35E on the west, Larpenteur Avenue on the north, the Burlington Northern railroad tracks on the east, and the Burlington Northern railroad tracks.  The Payne-Phalen neighborhood is part of St. Paul’s “East Side.”

The Payne-Phalen neighborhood served as one of the first immigrant settlements in Minnesota’s history.  For this reason, the area has historical significance for Saint Paul.  The first residents of Payne-Phalen were transitory settlers who lived in log cabins along the edge of Phalen Creek and Trout Brook.  These creeks used to make up the southwest boarder Payne-Phalen, but they were filled by railroad companies in after the Civil War. Starting in the 1840’s and 1850’s, Swedish immigrants were establishing themselves in the creek ravines.  The area was ultimately inhabited by a diverse assortment of people, including Irish, Italians, and Poles, in a multitude of shanties and shacks. None of the current buildings in this old section of Payne-Phalen were built before 1956, however.  That was when the City of St. Paul condemned the area in order to demolish and rebuild it.  The Phalen Creek valley also served as the site for a number of early industries in the neighborhood, one of the most famous being Hamm’s Brewery.  The Olympia Brewery now occupies that space.

Railroad Island, named as such because it is surrounded by railroad tracks, contains many of the oldest buildings found in this area.  Before the Civil War, some wealthy residents of Saint Paul made their homes here.  Within Railroad Island is the Benjamin Brunson House, one of the oldest documented houses standing within the city.  Built circa 1856, it is located at 485 Kenny Road and is now a National Register and St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission site.

Most of the architecture here is simpler and smaller than other Saint Paul neighborhoods.  There are few Victorians, Colonials and bungalows.  There are still a few examples of Italianate, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles, as well as a large number of Victorian patternbook houses, though many of the homes in Payne-Phalen have been altered over the years.  A large concentration of modest nineteenth century houses along with larger woodframe and brick houses are located here.  

There are some great examples of fine older homes and buildings here.  Two of the most substantial Victorian mansions are the Adolph Bloom house at 416 E. Mt. Ida Street and the Nels Okeson House at 686 N. Bradley Street. A brick Victorian fire station designed by St. Paul architect Havelock Hand and built in 1890 is located at 676 E. Bedford Street. There are also a few Victorian commercial buildings along Lower Payne Avenue. Payne-Phalen has many single family dwellings as well as multi-family homes.  The 1872 vintage Hinkel-Sullivan House at 531 E. Brainerd Avenue, a National Register site, is a good representative of a Victorian home.

Stores, banks, and businesses located along Payne Avenue and Arcade Street are contained within commercial buildings which date from about 1885 to 1920.  Some of the buildings on the 900 block of N. Payne Avenue are among the most architecturally significant within the neighborhood. Areas along Payne Avenue have been surveyed by the Ramsey County Historical Society as having potential to be named a historic district.

The northern and eastern sections of the Payne-Phalen were developed mostly after World War I. The area north of Maryland Avenue and east of Earl Street contains many bungalows dating from around the 1920’s.  Here, there are also Period Revival, Prairie style, and ranch style and suburban houses dating from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  There are few Victorian homes in the northern portions of Payne-Phalen.

The Payne-Phalen neighborhood has several venues for entertainment all year round.  There is a golf course and swimming beaches on the shores of Phalen Lake at Phalen Regional Park.  There are also three miles worth of biking and running trails, which double as cross-country ski trails during the winter.

Payne-Phalen offers both neighborhood elementary schools and public magnet schools. Phalen Lake Elementary is the neighborhood school. St. Paul residents have the choice to send their children to magnet programs like Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet School. There are also both public and private middle and high schools from which residents may choose.

During 2005, the median sales price of a home in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood of Saint Paul was $177,675. This figure includes all single family homes, town homes, condos, and lofts. The prices of homes in this area have gone down significantly due to the ample supply of homes for sale here.  There are homes here which can be purchased at quite a bargain.  Single family homes here start as low as $19,900 and climb to over $500,000.

Because of Payne-Phalen’s long history, it is one of the most diverse areas of the city architecturally and socially. This diversity one aspect that residents say makes Payne-Phalen such a great neighborhood.  With its affordability and the effort which has gone into its redevelopment, Payne-Phalen has been gaining in popularity with home buyers.

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