If you know me at all, you know I love baseball. And it’s quite possible that I may love a good ballpark more than the sport they host. So when the St. Paul Saints announced that a new ballpark was in the works for them in downtown St. Paul, I was excited. Midway Stadium was fine, I guess, but it was pretty blah. The only thing truly charming about it was the train. “Train.” Beyond that, the Saints have always done a bang up job of creating a light hearted fun vibe for their fans- the kind of vibe “town ball” should have. But a quaint park downtown? Now we’re talkin’.
One thing I’m learning in my life, however, is that there are usually two sides to every story. As ballpark fans like me celebrate the likes of CHS field, we are often blind to the other story. A friend and colleague of mine told that story, and I’m glad she did. DeAnne Parks is an artist whose work I love and whose character I love even more. She is passionate, honest, wildly imaginative, and full of grace and love for all of God’s creation. She wrote these words about her view of CHS Field. I’ll still enjoy the ballpark, but I will never forget that it came at a cost- as everything does. And go check out DeAnne’s work here and check her out at the St. Paul Art Crawl April 22, 23 and 24!
Here’s her story:
An Artist’s View of Lowertown
When I moved my studio into the Jax Building in March of 2000, Lowertown was a little sketchy. Artists and homeless people were the only ones that wandered in this forgotten corner of St Paul. You could get coffee and soup at The Black Dog and Goldens. Christos and a Leeann Chin were open for lunch on weekdays in the mostly boarded up Union Depot. Generally though, Lowertown felt pretty deserted on evenings and weekends.
“Crunch, scratch, crunch” was a common sound coming from the alley under my studio window. A steady stream of street people would rummage through the alley dumpster for cans. When I would hear them flattening the cans on the cobblestone surface, I’d look out the window to watch them and say a quick prayer over them. The red brick buildings that make the alley are over 100 years old. Black painted words are still visible that say things like stocks, carriages and harnesses. I’d imagine what horses hooves might sound like echoing off the brick walls. I did finally hear that sound years later as the mounted police clip clopped up the alley, allowing their horses to grow accustomed to the new light rail trains. By this time, the cobblestones had been removed or paved over during the building of The Farmers Market Lofts.
The Farmer’s Market is one of the things that hasn’t changed much in the last 16 years. On Saturday mornings from May to October, I swing open my large single pane windows so I can hear the music. Bluegrass, Old Time, Folk and sometimes Irish, the musicians make Saturdays my favorite day to work. Around noon, I take a break to wander the market choosing fresh, local vegetables and drinking in the brightly colored flowers. The smell of Rocky’s brat cart always lures me over for a cheddar brat with extra kraut. I pull up a curb and visit with Tacoumba while I eat. He’s making and selling art and holding court at the corner of Broadway and Prince, the “Mayor of Lowertown”.
I have great memories of Saturdays at the market. I once saw a homeless family with a young, scruffy little mutt. They were holding up posters the kids had made that read, “Please give our dog a home”. I still have that dog. He’s 13 now and the best free sample I ever got.
I’m moving out of my studio. I’ll miss the market. I’ll miss the view of the word “Factory” out my window. I already miss the can collectors, they’ve stopped coming around. Urban hipsters who mostly, but not always, clean up after the dogs they walk in the alley have replaced them. I often have to close my windows on Saturday mornings now because of the noise. Large, well dressed wedding parties and graduating seniors line up to have their portraits taken in the alley under my window. The old brick and rusty metal doors of the Jax provide a great backdrop. Light Rail Transit, the refurbished Union Depot and CHS Field have led to the building of restaurants, lofts and condos in the once vacant warehouses. My building, which has held artists studios, Books for Africa and a classical ballet studio for over 30 years, will now be part of the gentrification of Lowertown.
I’m preparing for my 33rd consecutive and final St Paul Art Crawl in Jax studio 306. Immediately following, all of the artists must vacate the premises. It will be gutted and turned into upscale lofts as will the 262 Building across the street. I’m grateful for the 16 years I got to spend in this studio, the artist community I was able to be part of and the conversations I had with the homeless of Lowertown. My life is richer for it. I have loved standing in the big north windows looking into the alley and I’m sure I’ll miss it more than I can imagine, but the view has changed.
-DeAnne Parks | www.artdeanne.com