Hand in Hand Productions

HAND in HAND Productions'
Rondo Oral History Project

The Rondo neighborhood in Saint Paul was named for Rondo Avenue, which ran east and west for about 1-1/2 miles from Rice Street to Lexington Avenue.

The Rondo neighborhood included the neighboring parallel streets to the North and South. Rondo Street was six blocks North of Selby, and was exactly where Interstate 94 is today. This street and neighborhood were destroyed when construction began on Interstate Highway 94 between Minneapolis and Saint Paul in the 1950s.

Rondo Avenue and Arundel Street
Rondo and Arundel
(Photo from Minnesota Historical Society)

In the first half of the century, street vendors were regulars in the neighborhood. They would sell household trinkets, ice, coal, hot tamales, and did home repairs.

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Black Churches and social service agencies like Welcome Hall, Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, Inc. and Ober Boys Club were the center of the community. Social clubs were essential to the community because Blacks were not allowed in White-owned hotels, dance halls, or restaurants. The Rondo District was the heart and soul of the Black community in Saint Paul.

In the Rondo District extra rooms in homes were offered to visitors who came into town. Before the open occupancy laws were passed in the 1960s, Blacks could not stay in hotels.

The Black community sustained the Black entrepreneurs that had scattered grocery stores, drug stores, barbershops, tailor and dry cleaners, bars, restaurants and "good-time houses" (later called tippling houses). This neighborhood produced professionals including medical doctors, dentists, and lawyers. At that time doctors, lawyers and beauticians made house calls.

Many Blacks worked as employees in service-related jobs. Stable employers were the railroads, packing houses, and the government. Because of tips, some of the most prosperous jobs were railroad-related such as Pullman porters, dinning car waiters, and redcap porters. In the early part of the century Black men would often receive advanced educational degrees, and then find themselves unable to be hired for appropriate jobs in academics, law, or banking, and therefore accepted the reliable employment with the railroads. Thus, Rondo had many college educated adults committed to educating their children.

In the twenties and thirties many Blacks held personal service positions like maids, cooks, nannies, and chauffeurs for White wealthy and middle class families south of Rondo in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Members of the Rondo neighborhood worked for and knew the powerful wealthy families in the Saint Paul area. As they worked in the wealthy homes, they acquired the taste and life styles of the wealthy. It would not be unusual to visit a Black home in Rondo and have a meal using sterling silver, hand painted china and lead crystal. These may have been gifts from White employers when a home remodeling was done, or purchased on a lay-by plan: a dollar down, a dollar a week.

Before the forties a critical indication of social status in the community was by address. The houses at the east end of Rondo, between downtown and Western Avenue, were called Deep Rondo and made up the least desirable neighborhood. The area between Western and Dale was called Cornmeal Valley, the middle ground. West of Dale Street to Lexington Avenue was the more affluent area known as Oatmeal Hill.

After the construction of Highway 94, the hunger for the lost community — "the old days" was so great that a multi-day celebration called "Rondo Days" began in 1983.

Rondo Avenue Police Station
Rondo Avenue Police Station
(Photo from Minnesota Historical Society)

Rondo Avenue Police Station was located at 334 Rondo. It opened in 1888 when all four city Police Substations opened. They closed in 1934 when the headquarters building opened downtown at 100 East Eleventh Street.

Before 2005, the Minnesota Historical Society did not have a Rondo Neighborhood Oral History Project. There are only a few articles and one published book about Rondo. In The Days of Rondo, Evelyn Fairbanks shares her vibrant memories. This wonderful book presents one woman's view from one period in history. Another book, by Retired Deputy Chief James Griffin, Jimmy Griffin, A Son of Rondo, A Memoir, explores the professional accomplishments of this man who was born at 587 Rondo and grew up in the neighborhood. While this is also a valuable book, with a focus on this respected man's professional growth and accomplishments, it touches minimally on many of the unique social, economic, or racial aspects of the Rondo Neighborhood.

In 2002 HAND in HAND Productions formed a community advisory committee to explore the need for a Rondo Oral History Project. Early in this exploration, Dr. David Taylor, then Dean of General College at the University of Minnesota, offered his support. Over the next two years, thirty-three oral history interviews were conducted, transcribed, and edited for clarity; pictures were gathered, scanned, and placed in each document. Each of the primary documents is archived at the Minnesota Historical Society, Ramsey County Historical Society, and Saint Paul's Central and Rondo/Lexington Outreach Libraries.

To learn more about Black American history, please visit the African American Registry, at: www.aaregistry.com

To learn about the book that was published on the above topic: please visit this page.

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