Rondo Avenue Commercial Corridor

Many Twin Cities residents have heard of Rondo. If you’re not from the area, here’s a quick summary from MinnPost:

St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood ran roughly between University Avenue to the north, Selby Avenue to the south, Rice Street to the east, and Lexington Avenue to the west. African American churches, businesses, and schools set down roots there in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, creating a strong community. Construction of Interstate-94 (I-94) between 1956 and 1968 cut the neighborhood in half and fractured its identity as a cultural center.

The destruction of Rondo is a shameful part of the Twin Cities’ history that we have yet to correct or recover from. The neighborhood has been commemorated in a play at the History Theater, memorialized in many essays and articles, and its spirit lives on via Rondo Avenue Inc., who state their mission as follows:

Rondo Avenue, Inc. (RAI) is dedicated to preserving, conserving and accurately interpreting the contributions of the African-American community of Rondo to the City of Saint Paul. This community was destroyed by the construction of Interstate I-94 in the 1960’s.

RAI’s goal is to transmit the history and rich cultural traditions of Rondo and connect them with modern values for an ever-evolving community. Through our work we share stories of faith, family, hope, resiliency and the continued growth and successes of the community.

This spring, a collaboration between ReConnectRondo and the Urban Land Institute facilitated a series of interviews, community tours, and conversations around the topic of building a land bridge over I-94 to help reconnect the Rondo neighborhood. In support of this endeavor, I created a map highlighting some of the many thriving businesses that existed along Rondo Avenue in 1950:

(Click to open at full size.)

I’ve lived in Saint Paul in the past, and I’ve driven I-94 countless times. Putting together this map, and learning the names of all these vanished businesses, was surreal and sad. This entire community existed, a big thriving chunk of city, and now it’s just gone. Nothing can fully restore what was taken from the residents of Rondo, but building a land bridge (or multiple land bridges!) to help reconnect the space is a step in the right direction. Check out ReConnectRondo to learn more about the project, and follow along on social media.