Saint Paul’s iconic Irvine Park could soon see improvements to its ornate fountain, lighting, sidewalks and landscaping through a partnership with the Historic Irvine Park Association (HIPA), West Seventh/Fort Road Federation, Saint Paul Parks Conservancy and residents.

The partnership is looking at the needs of the nearly 151-year-old park and planning for how the work could be paid for through private fundraising. A plan is expected to be developed over the next few months. That could include surveys of local residents and park users.

Irvine Park
An image of the Irvine Park fountain from the city’s website by Teresa Boardman in 2009.

“We see quite a diverse group of people who enjoy the park,” said Michael Boeckman, an HIPA member who has collected information on how people use the park.

The Minneapolis consulting firm New History recently completed an initial Irvine Park historic planning and preservation study for HIPA and city officials. While the 5-acre park provides an attractive urban escape just west of downtown, New History consultants noted that a budget is needed to address the park’s ongoing capital improvement, maintenance and operating challenges.

That is where the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy is stepping in. The nonprofit conservancy, which was founded in 2008, has helped with planning and fundraising for a variety of other city park improvements. Its recent projects have included Cochran Park, Rice Park, the Oxford Community Center fields and Lilydale Park.

The site was officially named Irvine Park in 1872. It was graded by teams of oxen and landscaped with flowers and walkways. The iconic fountain was added in 1881.

Park is popular destination

A dedicated group of volunteers maintain the gazebo and other parts of Irvine Park. The site draws about 10,000 annual visitors and is used as the setting for weddings, receptions and other events. HIPA has worked with the city to replace trees. However, the park’s sidewalks and fountain need work, and more landscaping is required.

Parks Conservancy director Michael-Jon Pease said having an endowed maintenance fund for the park could accommodate a more diverse group of visitors. He noted that means balancing residents’ on-street parking needs. The neighborhood has residential permit parking that was put in place years ago to counter spillover parking.

Repairing and restoring the park fountain has an estimated cost of $120,000-$150,000. Its metal is in poor condition and its foundation may need replacement. The original lighting has not worked for years.

Other potential projects include landscaping ($40,000), replacing and repairing light fixtures ($25,000), tree replacement ($30,000), and fixing cracked sidewalks and other paved areas ($250,000).

Named for developer John Irvine

The park and its surrounding neighborhood are named for John Irvine, an early Saint Paul land developer. Irvine established the Upper Landing, where Chestnut Street meets the Mississippi River.

In 1849 Irvine deeded the park property to the then-village of Saint Paul. For a time the square was used as a place to graze livestock. Neighbors such as Joseph Forepaugh, whose mansion later became a restaurant for many years, called for the square to be used as a park.

The site was officially named Irvine Park in 1872. It was graded by teams of oxen and landscaped with flowers and walkways. The iconic fountain was added in 1881.

The surrounding neighborhood went into decline more than a century ago and the original fountain was scrapped in 1927. In 1970, 96 percent of the neighborhood’s houses were classified as substandard. City officials planned to raze the entire area and replace it with high-rise apartments

Neighbors rallied to save the historic homes and restore the park. In the 1970s a replica fountain was installed. The neighborhood became a National Register Historic District in 1973. It was named a Saint Paul Heritage Preservation District in 1982.

— Jane McClure


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