A walking tour of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s St. Paul


Begin your tour at 481 Laurel, between Mackubin and Arundel. Notice the twin buildings. The builder called them San Mateo Flats. F. Scott Fitzgerald was born at home in 1896 in the left building. Sadly, his two sisters, ages one and three, had died from influenza shortly before his birth. Probably because of this, his mother Mollie McQuillan became overly protective of Scott. The family lived here for another year, but then Scott’s father, Edward, lost his job as a wicker furniture salesman. He moved the family to New York, where a daughter, Annabelle, was born. Imagine this neighborhood without electric lights. Some houses were not electrified until 1911. Imagine groceries, coal and ice being delivered by horse and wagon.

With strolling weather—and the 2008 Minnesota Book Awards—nearly upon us, the Twin Cities Daily Planet is pleased to present this informative walking tour highlighting St. Paul locations that figured in the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of our greatest authors. The text was written by Barb Caudle and the photographs were taken by Bill Caudle; the tour was originally published by the Caudles at this site. For a map of the tour, click here. –Jay Gabler, Arts Editor

Continue on Laurel to Arundel. Turn right. Go four blocks to Summit. Turn right, and as you turn, the next house is on the corner.

Built in 1882, the house at 445 Summit belonged to real estate developer Herman Greve. His daughter Alexandra Greve Kalman and her husband were lifelong friends of Scott and his wife Zelda. Alexandra was the realtor who helped them find several homes when they returned from New York in 1921. She rented them a house in Dellwood, but they were evicted after the pipes froze because they left the house unheated while they were away partying. They also had to leave an apartment at the White Bear Yacht Club because of their partying.

Next, walk a short distance to 475 Summit. This was the home of one of Scott’s best friends, Marie Hersey. Scott fell in love with her cousin, Ginevra King, when he was eleven, and he kept in contact with both girls through college. When Scott and Zelda were first married, Scott objected to Zelda’s fluffy Southern style wardrobe. He asked Marie to help Zelda choose clothing more appropriate to New York City.

Go about one block to 513 Summit. This Queen Anne style house was Mrs. Porterfield’s boarding house. Scott visited several other young authors here while he was revising his novel. One of them, Donald Ogden Stewart, later wrote screen plays in Hollywood with Scott. Across the street, at 516 Summit, lived Sinclair Lewis. He was supposedly writing a book about James J. Hill, but it was never published.

Walk another block to 593/599 Summit. Scott’s family had moved to this Romanesque brownstone building while Scott was away at school. They lived in two apartments here, 593 and 599. Scott’s grandmother had died, leaving an inheritance to pay for his education at Princeton. Scott did poorly in college, but his participation in writing and acting in plays made him popular. He got sick one semester, either with malaria or tuberculosis, and dropped out. When he returned to class, his poor grades made him ineligible for rejoining his favorite clubs. Unhappy at school, he joined the Army just as World War I began. He partied and danced well, but he was a poor officer. He met Zelda when he was stationed near her home in Alabama. Each thought the other was rich, but neither was. When Scott got out of the army and got a job as a poorly paid copywriter in New York, their romance cooled. Unable to afford New York city, Scott returned to his parent’s home in this building, which he described in a letter as “a house below the average on a street above the average.” Here he rewrote his novel, hoping to win Zelda’s love back by getting a book published. In 1919, when he received word that the publisher had accepted it, he ran up and down Summit Avenue, stopping traffic to tell drivers of his success. He and Zelda were married shortly after the publication of This Side of Paradise, but they had many unpaid bills. Scott bought a huge ledger to start keeping better track of his money. He used that same ledger until his death at 44, carefully recording his novels, magazine stories, expenses and brief summaries of each year.

Continue to the corner. Across Dale Street, you can see one of Grandma McQuillan’s houses at 623 Summit, built after her husband died in 1877. She might have had a horse and carriage there. Summit Avenue was thought of as just a wide country lane upon which people exercised their horses each day, stopping to chat with their neighbors on the way. Some people stabled their horses on Maiden Lane by the Cathedral. Others boarded their horses at Kittson’s Stable and Racetrack at Snelling and University avenues.

Turn right onto Dale. As you walk two blocks to Holly, notice the Academy Office Building at 25 Dale, with a new Fitzgerald statue created by Aaron Dysart. The building was formerly St. Paul Academy, the private school Scott attended.

Turn right at Holly. 586 Holly was a boarding school for girls: Mrs. Backus’s Boarding School. Scott was enrolled in a dancing school for boys and girls here. Scott kept a diary from age 14 on. He wrote about wanting to be better in sports, but he found his success in writing skits and acting in plays. His grades were so poor that his parents decided to send him to a Catholic prep school in New Jersey. So, from age 15 on, Scott was only in St. Paul for holidays, after a long train ride from the East.

When Edward lost his job out East, the family returned to the safety of Grandmother McQuillan’s money. They lived in three different houses on this block. One has been torn down. The five years Scott lived on this block were important because he later wrote about his childhood activities in the magazine stories that he sold to Scribner’s and the Saturday Evening Post. In the 1910 census, the family lived at 514 Holly (pictured). Edward was 56, Molly 48, Scott 13, and Annabel, 8, with one servant living in their household. They also lived in an apartment at 509 Holly.

Walk another block to 472 Holly. This sturdy brownstone house is the home of Scott’s grandmother, Louisa McQuillan. Her husband, Philip Francis McQuillan, died in 1877 at the age of 43, twenty years before Scott was born. Mr. McQuillan began as a bookkeeper in a wholesale grocery business. He soon owned the company and also the tallest building in downtown St. Paul. Mrs. McQuillan’s brother, John H. Allen, had been a partner in the business. He eventually assumed control, and built a large home at 335 Summit Ave. 472 Holly is one of Mrs. McQuillan’s smaller houses. The largest house was downtown on 10th Street, where 500 guests could be entertained. The McQuillans also maintained a winter home in Washington D.C., which is where Edward Fitzgerald and Molly McQuillan were married in 1890.

Continue on Holly to Western. Scott and Zelda lived at the Commodore Hotel when their baby girl Scottie was born. There are many stories about their drinking and partying at the bar here, and also at the University Club. Their realtor friend Alexandra Kalman insisted they move into another of her rental homes, 626 Goodrich, about eight blocks away. The hotel was remodeled into offices and condos after a fire damaged it in 1978, with the entrance moved to the side of the building.

Turn left and walk two blocks to the Angus Hotel. Scott’s parents eventually moved back to Edward’s home state of Maryland, but Molly lived at the Angus Hotel for a short time after his death. It’s now the Blair Arcade, with shops and condos.

Scott may have had cokes and ice-cream sodas at W.A. Frost when this was the neighborhood drugstore instead of a restaurant. The tin ceiling inside has been preserved.

Turn left on Selby. Walk through or around the Blair Arcade building to the parking lot. Cut through the parking lot to Arundel, to Laurel, past 481 Laurel, back to where you began.