Becoming a diverse neighborhood for all people

By Grant Abbott

My wife Elaine Tarone and I moved into St. Anthony Park in September 1981, eight months after I had become the rector of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Carter Avenue.

We came to the Park from Seattle when Elaine received a tenure track position at the University of Minnesota. Much has changed in the 40 years that we have lived and raised our children here, especially the demographic composition of St. Anthony Park.

When we first moved into our house on Carter Avenue, we wondered why St. Anthony Park was so overwhelmingly white.

Back then in Seattle, we lived in an African American neighborhood as one of very few white families. We had great neighbors with whom we became friends. We enjoyed and learned from the diversity.

St. Anthony Park was quite a contrast, shaped largely by its interesting history.

Prior to the Civil War, the land that is now St. Anthony Park became available for private ownership and development. A group of distinguished community leaders led by the future Minnesota Gov. William Marshall purchased the land.

However, 30 years passed before any real development happened. Beginning in the mid-1880s, Charles Pratt, a former Congregational clergyman, became the lead developer of the Park. His influence had profound impact on the character of the community for nearly a century.

Pratt was an unusual developer, more concerned about the quality of community than personal profit. He wanted a community of strong, neighborly character with churches, gardens, love of nature and, if possible, the prohibition of the sale of alcohol.

The legacy of neighborliness and a strong community were evident as soon as Elaine and I moved here. We loved being able to walk to our small business district to buy groceries, prescriptions, hardware, books and meals out. Besides, the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul Campus was in our backyard. And the Group Health (now Health Partners) Como Clinic was just down the hill.

Still, why were we so white?

St. Anthony Park is not free from America’s history of racism. I suspect the original developers just assumed that only white people would live in St. Anthony Park.

I heard from former community leaders that there was an unwritten covenant in the Park that persisted into the 1970s not to sell your home to African Americans or Jews. I checked with the University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice Project and found that its researchers have not uncovered any evidence of written covenants in the deeds of homes in St. Anthony Park.

Meanwhile, redlining, the practice of rating neighborhoods in the U.S. to guide the granting of loans and mortgages, was in place from 1933 until 1968. By guiding, they meant to keep African Americans out of the “better” neighborhoods and to lock them into “poorer” neighborhoods.

This practice had a big impact on the quality of life for African American families and their ability to transfer wealth to their children, since home ownership is the key way most families transfer wealth to their children.

There is no concrete evidence on how this practice might have impacted the development of St. Anthony Park, except for the suspicion that it contributed to the neighborhood’s remaining overwhelmingly white into the 1990s. That seems to be the time then when an important change began to take place. That’s the good news about our neighborhood today.

In the fine history of St. Anthony Park, written by former Macalester College geography professor David A. Lanegran (and reprinted by Adam Granger) you will notice there is only one definitive picture of an African American in the whole book.

I researched the census records for St. Anthony Park (1960) and then ZIP codes 55108 and 55114 for 1970 through 2020. When I did, I saw a very definite trend when it came to the presence of people of color in north and south St. Anthony Park. We are no longer the Park of 1960.

As Ramsey County has increased in diversity, St. Anthony Park has played catch-up. By the time our kids were students at St. Anthony Park Elementary and Murray Middle School; they were in very different environments during the day than when they came home. The schools were much more diverse than the neighborhood. Our children noticed the difference.

In 1960 St. Anthony Park had 1 percent people of color. North St. Anthony Park had 3 percent people of color in 1970, 7 percent in 1980, 13 percent in 1990 and 20 percent in 2000. Today, it has more than 25 percent people of color.

And south St. Anthony Park had 33 percent people of color as of 2019.

Today, we can choose to eat a meal at Nico’s or Karta Thai. We find employees of color at Nico’s, Karta Thai, the Finnish Bistro, the hardware store and Sunrise Banks.

We have an Equity Committee as part of our District 12 Community Council. It seems our increasing ethnic diversity is not hurting but helping the continuing rejuvenation of our wonderful neighborhood.

St. Anthony Park is no longer an all-white enclave. Our students no longer see the stark disparity between their neighborhood and their school. St. Anthony Park has made progress, but more needs to be made.

The future of our country and world is one of greater diversity. We must build a strong, diverse St. Anthony Park neighborhood for the sake of our children, in which the many are one for the greater good of all.

Our early developer Charles Pratt hoped to build a neighborhood with strong community spirit that valued family, faith and nature.

Today, we still have such a community, only it’s becoming more diverse. 

Grant Abbott lives in St. Anthony Park and is former rector at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church and a past board member of the Park Bugle.

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