Rice Park gems

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Rice Park takes up a city block in downtown St Paul. Minnesota. On one side is Landmark Center, the old Federal Building where the FBI had a regional office from 1932 to 1933. They investigated gangster activities during the time including the kidnapping of millionaire William Hamm, Jr., President of the Hamm Brewery. In 1933, as he was walking home for lunch, he was picked up by the Barker-Karpis gang. He was then forced to sign his own ransom note and held in a windowless room in Illinois until the ransom was paid, which it was two days later. The following day he was back at home safe and sound. But the interesting thing is the FBI were able to pull fingerprints off of the ransom note and managed to identify all of his kidnappers.

The Hamm Building sits a block away from Landmark Center. It became the new office building for the Hamm Brewery in 1919. Today Landmark Center is a visitor information center, and also houses the Schubert Museum and several galleries.

Across the park from Landmark Center is the Central Library with the James J. Hill Reference Library, now known as the James J. Hill Center. It was built in the Renaissance style using pink Tennessee marble and Kettle River sandstone. It opened in 1921. Today it houses one of the most comprehensive business libraries in the county.

Next to the library on the park is the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. A large portion of the funding came from the Ordway family, heirs to the 3M fortune as well as various corporations and foundations making it at $48 million the most expensive performing arts venue in the state. It was designed by St Paul native Benjamin Thompson and opened its doors in 1985.

Lobby of the St Paul Hotel
Lobby of the St Paul Hotel

Across the park from the Ordway is the St Paul Hotel. Built in 1910, it was the epitome of luxury. A local businessman, Lucius Ordway put up a million dollars for the construction and asked that the community match it. A New York firm, Reed and Stem, were the architects.

Over the years the hotel welcomed many famous guests. In 1927 a dinner was given for Charles Lindberg celebrating his Atlantic flight. In 1937 Lawrence Welk started playing on Saturday nights at the hotel. In 1947, Gene Autry checked in with his horse while performing at the World Championship Rodeo. In 1960 John F. Kennedy visited before the elections. By the 1970’s it was starting to fall into disrepair and the owners started selling it off piece by piece. Fortunately in 1982 it was re-designed and restored to its current state.

There are chandeliers in the lobby amid marble pillars, a grand fireplace and over stuffed chairs. On certain days you can reserve a spot for high tea served in the lobby. During the holidays, a radio performance of A Wonderful Life is performed to live audiences along with an elegant sit down dinner.

The rooms are large and comfortable. The St Paul Grille and its bar are favorite spots to relax and enjoy good food and excellent service. When my niece got married the whole family met for brunch at the M Street Café in the basement. This is not a cookie cutter hotel. It is an old world hotel with style and elegance and character.

In Rice Park itself there is a tribute to St Paul native Charles Schultz. There are five bronze statues of characters he created in his famous comic strip. They include Charlie Brown and Snoopy sitting under a tree, Marcie reading on a park bench with Woodstock looking over her shoulder, Peppermint Patty kicking a football, Schroeder playing the piano with Lucy reposing at the other end gazing at him adoringly, and Linus and Sally having a discussion.

For five years after Charles Schultz died, artists from all over the city displayed renditions of Peanuts characters. The first year it was Snoopy, then Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus and Snoopy with Woodstock. There are still about 100 five foot tall fiberglass statues around the Twin Cities.