Parts of the Summit Hill neighborhood fell on some hard times after World War II, as demand for housing and other demographic trends resulted in many of the grand old houses along Summit Avenue and adjoining neighborhoods being torn down, turned into boarding houses, subdivided into apartments, or just falling into neglect.
However, in the early 1970s, concerned neighbors began efforts to preserve the valuable heritage of these neighborhoods, while encouraging families that had moved to the suburbs to return to the city by educating them about the charming neighborhoods that offered family-friendly housing and a stronger sense of community. Concurrently, the City of St. Paul recognized the importance of heritage and preservation of its finite historic resources, enacting a heritage preservation ordinance in 1976.
Subsequently, many areas of the city received local, state or national historic designations. In the Summit Hill neighborhood, Summit Avenue became locally designated as part of the Historic Hill Preservation District to the east of Lexington Avenue in 1980. In 1990, the areas of Summit Avenue to the west of Lexington Avenue became part of the Summit Avenue West Heritage Preservation District. In addition, the rest of the Summit Hill neighborhood became state- and/or nationally-designated during this time period (see map).
These actions had multiple positive consequences, as housing stock was stabilized, preserved and enhanced. Former boarding houses were converted to condominiums, preserving the charm and character of the neighborhood while making it more attractive for today’s smaller families and empty-nesters. This residential renaissance also encouraged a transformation of Grand Avenue, as auto dealerships gave way to shops, restaurants and services—many locally-owned—that further made the neighborhood not just a desirable place to live, but also to work, go to school and churches, and visit.
As a result, Summit Hill has also become a favored destination for visitors from all across the state, country and internationally who make it a point to visit the neighborhood year-round, according to Visit St. Paul, the city’s official convention and visitors bureau. The biennial Summit Hill House Tour is a must-attend event for thousands of visitors and also raises money to support the Summit Hill Association.
Summit Hill’s beautiful historic architecture, tree-lined streets, and pedestrian- and transit-friendly avenues have transformed this formerly declining neighborhood into a welcoming and vibrant asset to the City and the state.