St. Paul’s legendary Rondo neighborhood is long gone. But its stories and lessons will be preserved for the future, if Marvin Roger Anderson and Floyd Smaller have anything to do about it.
On Wednesday, Anderson and Smaller received the deed to a grassy vacant lot at the corner of Concordia Avenue and Fisk Street from St. Paul City Council Member Dai Thao. The lot now belongs to Rondo Avenue Inc., which organizes the annual Rondo Days festival — set this year for July 19 — and now hopes to open a Rondo interpretive center on the site in a couple of years.
Rondo Avenue Inc. bought the tax-forfeited property, once home to a grocery and a VFW Post, from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority with the help of a $25,000 city sales tax-funded STAR grant.
The Rondo neighborhood, which stretched from Rice Street to Lexington Parkway, was bulldozed for construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s. But before that it was a stable and secure home for black St. Paulites at a time of de facto segregation and overt racism.
The Rondo center will be something like a museum, with artifacts and placards telling the history of the community.
But Anderson, a former state law librarian who with Smaller founded Rondo Days in the early 1980s, said the Rondo center will go beyond that.
“The project will identify the core values that made Rondo what it was … and hand on its legacy to the latest generations,” he said.
He wants those core values — religion, the dignity of work, homeownership, social interaction, education — communicated to young people to show how, despite obstacles, Rondo not only survived but thrived.
He doesn’t have a price tag yet for the center, which in an artist’s rendering appears as a one-story brick structure.
The next step, Anderson said, is to gather public feedback on what the center should include, then get an architect and developer.
And raise the money. Organizers are confident.
“Let’s put our nickels and dimes together, and let’s get this done,” former City Council Member Nathaniel Khaliq said.