When St. Paul artists Giesla Hoelscher and Karl Johnson set out to find a new gallery space, they happened upon a vintage brick building at 795 Raymond Avenue, through a friend-connection.
They were drawn to the location in part for the foot traffic, along with its thriving artist community and the fact that it was close to home, according to Hoelscher.
Since they opened Studio @ 795 in the space a year ago, however, the two artists, like many of their neighboring business owners, found it was a challenge to compete with the nearby construction for the Central Corridor light rail line.
But with her surroundings as inspiration, Giesla found a creative solution: At the St. Paul Art Crawl in April, she started offering historic walking tours of the neighborhood, which includes the University/Raymond Historic Commercial District.
She got interested in the history when work on a neighbor's building required preserving certain details. She started doing some research on the area. After she sifted through various history reports, "The research just kind of snowballed from there and I used city directories to learn what each of the spaces had been in previous lives," she says.
The West Midway area was once the city's largest industrial district, according to Studio @ 795 information. Its architecture "reflects everything from the railroad era up to the trucking industry that developed with the growth of the interstate highway system," a prepared statement about the tours reads.
She decided to continue the tours well after the art crawl.
On the tour, people get a glimpse of the district's 22-plus historic buildings, which testify to various aspects of the area's commercial and non-commercial background.
"Before, so many people were opposed to coming in because the area was so torn up," she says.
For the studio, "We thought we'd take advantage of it," she says. "We wanted to bring people in, to show that it's more than a space to avoid. There's some really interesting history here."
"I think the history is in the small architectural details and is a bit hidden unless you're on foot," she says. It's something that she hopes doesn't get lost once light rail comes.
Hoelscher and other business owners also collaborated on RaymondOntheRail.com, as another way to promote the intersection's shops, restaurants, salons, and other amenities.
It expands on the similar but larger Discover Central Corridor "buy local" initiative, says Hoelscher.
Source: Giesla Hoelscher, Studio at 795
Writer: Anna Pratt