Blair Flats, 165 Western Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Blair Flats

View along Selby Avenue, 2001
Address: 165 Western Avenue
Neighborhood/s: Summit Hill, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Ramsey County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1887
Primary Style: Queen Anne
Historic Function: Apartments/condominiums
Historic Function: Hotel
Other Historic Function: Hotel
Current Function: Apartments/condominiums
Architect or source of design: Kretz, Herman and William H. Thomas
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
Material of Foundation: Slate

Summit Hill Saint Paul Ramsey

Blair Flats, 165 Western Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.946345° N, 93.116095° WLatitude: 44°56′46.842″N
Longitude: 93°6′57.942″W

Victorian sandstone-and-brick apartment house designed in 1887 by Hermann Kretz and William H. Thomas, converted to residential hotel in 1893.

The Blair Flats, a massive stone landmark occupying the southwest corner of the Selby and Western Avenue intersection, have been a fixture of the Cathedral Hill neighborhood for more than a century. Built in 1887 at a cost of $300,000, the building was commissioned by Frank P. Blair, secretary of the St. Paul Improvement Company, as an apartment building with storefronts on the first floor. It was designed by local builders Hermann Kretz and William H. Thomas in the High Victorian or Queen Anne style of many of the elegant homes that still dot the surrounding Summit Avenue neighborhood.

Six years later, in 1893, the building was converted to a residential hotel and renamed the Albion Hotel. While it was an elegant address for many of St. Paul's up-and-coming new residents, the Albion also was an important link to St. Paul's streetcar era. In 1911 Thomas Lowry, president of the St. Paul Street Railway Company, bought the Albion and renamed it the Angus Hotel. For many years Lowry's Selby Street street car line ran along the north side of the building, heading for downtown St. Paul.

The streetcar line, in fact, outlasted Lowry's ownership of the Angus. He sold the hotel in 1918, launching it on decades of changing ownership and a gradual deterioration in condition and quality until it closed in 1971. Now, however, a new era has opened for this wonderfully orate remnant of St. Paul's Victorian era. New owners conducted a massive restoration of the building, restoring its original name, recreating its early splendor and re opening it for a new generation of apartment-dwellers. Shop fronts once again surround the building's street level.

The building, as constructed, is divided by airways into four masses, two fronting on Selby and two on Western. All are nearly identical. They are lined at the first floor by the continuous band of storefronts with stone rounded arched entrances at the dividing points between each five-story section.

The rounded tower at the building's northeastern comer is its focal point. Other important features are ornate pressed metal three-sided oriel windows which extend from the cornice above the storefront all the way to the top of the fifth floor windows. Above these is more ornate decorative metal work.

In 1981, when the building was surveyed during the two-year Historic Sites Survey conducted by the Ramsey County Historical Society and the St. Paul Historic Preservation Commission, the future of the old hotel/apartment house was not promising. Today it is a cornerstone of a flourishing historic district. Moreover, the district predates the settlement of St. Paul. This area of the city was part of the nine-mile stretch of land along the Mississippi River that the explorer, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, acquired for the United States government in 1805 for construction of a fort.

There was little settlement, however, until after Minnesota became a territory in 1849. In that year, J. W. Selby arrived in St. Paul and

established a farm surrounding the site of the St. Paul Cathedral. He served in the 1852 territorial legislature, and was a city assessor and a member of the Board of Ramsey County Commissioners. He died in 1855 at the age of forty-three.



In the 1940s the Angus Hotel (Blair House), was very elegant inside. My family attended Mass at Cathedral Church and we would get our newspaper there on the way home. Entering the building on Western Avenue, I recall a tobacco and news-stand on the right. On the left was an elegant sitting room where a gentleman or two would be reading their papers, and probably smoking a cigar.

There was also the Oak Room bar as part of the building, with its own entrance on Selby.

When service men and women returned home from World War II, the building was made into small apartments. As they started families and bought homes the hotel was soon empty. It was boarded up for years until it was bought and renovated. We heard that fireplaces, bay windows and other beautiful things were behind partitions, and were discovered when the renovation began. It has been beautifully restored.

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