We were moving to Saint Paul after a year in Ireland, all ten of us packed into a tiny Fiat station wagon for the drive from New York to a big house on an even bigger hill set on Osceola Avenue.
I grew up in the West End on Arbor Street, by the old Schmidt Brewery. One of our pastimes in the mid-fifties was building and racing “chugs,” which were homemade go-carts, made entirely of found parts—boards, bent nails we straightened with a hammer on the sidewalk, and of course the most cherished find, wheels big enough to use (many baby carriages were wheel-less that summer).
I never saw the Schmidt Brewery that Patricia Hampl presents here, alive with its reverie-enhancing, rhythmic, red neon sign. But the first time I discovered the hulk of the brewery’s abandoned buildings sprawled out along West Seventh Street in the fall of 2004, I recognized immediately what I was looking at; its vacant structures flooded me with the memory of reading about that flashing sign in Hampl’s acclaimed 1981 memoir, A Romantic Education. Soon the Schmidt site will take on a different look as “developers” trick it out to new purposes—a welcome change.
The City of Saint Paul has announced that the groundbreaking has begun on an exciting new near-Downtown Saint Paul affordable housing project, the Schmidt Brewery Artist Lofts. The historic Schmidt Brewery has featured in several editions of the Saint Paul Almanac. The $120 million project will redesign the historic Schmidt Brewery to specifically meet the needs of artists. Schmidt Brewery, built in the 1930s, will have 260 units after the full-scale renovations, including 121 units in the bottling house, 126 units in the brew house and 13 new construction townhouse units built on a vacant lot adjacent to the bottling house.