COLUMN | THESE WALLS CAN TALK | Sue Nichols

 
The Montreal Hi-Rise is My Home [IMAGE]
by Christopher G. Bremicker

I have lived in the Montreal Hi-Rise (1085 Montreal) for almost twenty years. The location is great, our apartments are cozy, and the residents are friendly. Facilities are convenient, services are helpful, and the building is well maintained.

The Montreal Hi-Rise is that tall, wing-shaped building a block south of the corner of Lexington Avenue and West Seventh. We are located half a block from the Elway Station Post Office, Super America, and the bus stop to downtown St. Paul or the Mall of America. Crosby Park is down the street and Highland Park Golf Course is just up Montreal Avenue. Highland Park Nursery is next door. A baseball park surrounds the Riverside School building across West Seventh from the nursery.

My apartment is on the tenth floor facing west. I have a great view of the Mississippi River, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and Famous Dave’s. The apartments facing east, on the upper floors, have a better view of downtown St. Paul better than does the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue.

The Montreal Hi-Rise was built in 1970 and renovated in 1997. The eighteen-floor building has 181 one-bedroom apartments. Ten are handicapped-accessible. In the renovation, we all got new kitchen cabinets, counters, sinks, stoves, closet doors, light fixtures, paint jobs, sprinkler systems and fire alarms. Thanks to a grant from the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009, last year we got new refrigerators, water-saving toilets and energy-saving windows.

We have a variety of people from all over the world, including African-Americans, Caucasians, East Africans and Asians. They are students, working people, retirees, or disabled people. Our manager helps us with administrative needs. Our Human Service Coordinator helps us with personal issues.

[IMAGE]The Resident Council is the governing body of the hi-rise, and holds monthly meetings to give residents a voice in the decisions affecting their lives in the hi-rise building. At the meetings, residents discuss concerns of the community, plan activities, and authorize funding. The Resident Council uses its power to improve the lives of the residents.

New grounds were part of the renovation. We have tables on the back patio, along with a barbecue grill for picnics. Benches out front let us catch the afternoon sun. Little lights line the walkways at night and new porticos cover the front and back entrances.

We have a dining room and a large community room with tables and chairs, vending machines, a library, three computers, and a TV lounge. Residents can reserve the community room for private parties or holiday parties open to everyone. A laundry room has newly installed, high-efficiency laundry machines. We have free off-street parking. A St. Paul police officer resides in the building and parks his squad car in the lot during off-duty hours.

St. Paul’s Congregate Housing Services Program helps persons needing assistance with meals, laundry and housekeeping. Presbyterian Homes Creative Senior Dining provides lunch during the week for people over the age of sixty. The Accessible Space Program helps brain-injured adults needing assistance with meals, housekeeping and personal care.

Other programs and services include a recycling program, emergency call-cords, a security-controlled entry system, postal van, voting on-site, Meals On Wheels, beauty shop, exercise room, and St. Paul Public Library Bookmobile.

Every day, our caretaker mops the floors, shovels snow, or takes out the trash of the community room. Our caretaker is part of our community and takes an interest in our lives. Employees of St. Paul Public Housing mow the lawn.

In the spring, our crabapple trees bloom. I love to sit in the sun at the tables on the patio in the summer, sit quietly in the community room, socialize, and eat lunch with other residents. On many afternoons, my apartment is filled with sunlight. I have lived in expensive apartments, one with a swimming pool and two tennis courts, and Montreal Hi-Rise is my favorite. It is home. Rent is thirty percent of income.

Editor’s note: The Montreal Hi-Rise is owned and managed by the St. Paul Public Housing Agency (651-298-5158).

Author Chris Bremicker has lived at Hi-Rise for 20 years. The landmark was built in 1970.

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Sibley Manor: A Caring Apartment Community [IMAGE]

by Jerry Rothstein

Since its construction (1950-52), four generations of the Julen family have been involved in the ownership and management of the Sibley Manor Apartments (office at 1300 West Maynard, 651-698-3819).

In 1957, Bob Julen’s grandfather and father bought out the other partners and became president and secretary-treasurer respectively. Early in his teens, Bob started working summers on the grounds crew, and in 1970 his father asked him to become maintenance manager. It’s safe to say that Bob knows every nook and cranny of the property — quite a feat, since it comprises 55 buildings with 550 units on 22 acres and 1,800-2,000 residents. Bob’s son, the fourth generation, has worked for the company for 18 years now.

The earliest focus for Sibley Manor — and perhaps the purpose for which it was originally built — was to provide housing for the military. Veterans of the Korean War and personnel at Fort Snelling found bright, modern accommodations close to the base. When their numbers declined rapidly in the late 1950s, Sibley was left with hundreds of vacancies. But the location also attracted airline and airport workers, and a number of well-known sports figures, including Billy Martin and Zoilo Versalles.

In the 1960s, Sibley Manor started a long history of being more than the physical gateway to St. Paul. As the United States expanded its refugee policies, a series of immigrant groups began to arrive in St. Paul, and Sibley manor was seen as a key resource for their housing needs.

Starting in the 1960s with refugees from Cuba, and continuing with Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong people, welcoming the Russian Jewish migration in the late 1980s, and more recently African people from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia. Many of these people were sponsored by Catholic Charities or Lutheran Family Services, and Sibley manor itself took on a much greater role than does the typical property manager.

Bob Julen and his father were concerned about the people they were housing. They had a simple goal of providing clean, safe and affordable apartments. “This was our mission,” Bob says. But Sibley Manor’s approach has always been more active rather than passive. They have provided space for the United Family Medicine Health Clinic, Francis Basket Food Shelf, Clare’s Closet clothing and household goods (both located at 1293 E. Maynard Dr.) and Neighborhood House’s multicultural family and child care (now located in Sibley Plaza, 2431 West 7th with financial support from Bob Julen). Office staff is knowledgeable and familiar with key community resources, and refer residents to the agencies appropriate to their needs, such as Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Project Hope, Ramsey County Human Services, Bridge to Benefits and the like. A small store on West Maynard provides ethnic foods, tax preparation, phone cards and money orders.

Ethnically, Sibley manor has been known as a “United Nations” for decades. Today’s demographics include half the population from Africa, 14% Latino, 7% Asian, 13% African-American, and 15% Caucasian (including 3.4% Russian). The population is quite young, with 57% between 18 and 40, 32% 41 to 60, and 11% over 60.

Bob recalls that they tried many times to support the organization of tenant councils, as did Neighborhood House, but without success. The mix of languages and lack of meeting rooms were major factors. Also, most of the adults work in service industries with varying work hours and little free time.

Getting a feeling for how Sibley Manor operates, we see that Bob Julen is more than a landlord. He feels a different kind of responsibility for the residents, many of whom are recent arrivals experiencing all the feelings of dislocation and disorientation that any of us would have in a new country with a new language, customs, standards and rules. He wants to help residents make positive and supportive connections to the community. It is ironic that as people do so they may move elsewhere — but making room for the next wave to arrive.

Sibley Manor in the 1950s. (inset photo) The Ethio Market provides the Sibley Manor community with African foods and spices, clothing and gifts.

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These Walls Can Talk | 4.11

Editor’s Note: This new column explores houses and homes in the West End.

Houses are similar to people, in that we form impressions of them from their outer appearance. However, what is most important about them is what happens on the inside. Houses, as well as the people who have lived in them, have interesting stories. This column will explore the homes in our area, uncovering the stories on the inside. Some may have interesting exteriors; others will have simple ones. All have a worthwhile story to tell.

Richard Meyer has lived at 984 Juno since 1986. He and his wife, Mary never really became empty nesters. As their youngest child finished her senior year in high school, an older daughter was in need of a place to live with her three children. Needing a larger home, the Meyers bought the five-bedroom house from the Exner family who built it in 1948. According to Richard, Mr. Exner was a carpenter who took great care in building the house. That area is known for its peaty soil. To ensure a solid structure, the original site was excavated to depth of 26 feet. A concrete block foundation was built at that depth and soil was backfilled, leaving enough room for the basement to have a ceiling height of nearly ten feet. One summer, the city had to rebuild the uneven pavement of Chatsworth Ave., which runs along the east side of the yard. Ten feet of peaty soil was removed and replaced with better soil. In its 63 years of life, the large home’s foundation has remained stable. Its original plaster walls are still intact and in excellent condition.

Trained as an architect and having worked as a commercial kitchen designer, Richard is still impressed with the quality of the construction and the design of the home.

Richard continues to enjoy his home, tending to the yard every summer and caring for a 600-square-foot vegetable garden. Richard’s daughter moved into her own home after 15 years of sharing the house with her parents, and Mary passed away in 2005, but the house holds wonderful memories of the seven people who have called it home.

Sue Nichols is a resident of the West 7th area and a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Burnet. Sue is a member of St. Francis Church and the West 7th Business Association. If your home has a story to tell, Sue can be reached at 651-695-3437.

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