The Legendary Writer was Born in this Wonderfully Preserved Victorian Neighborhood

St. Paul, Minnesota is less populated and well known than its twin city Minneapolis. However, St. Paul can boast being Minnesota’s state capitol and birthplace to one of America’s greatest authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald. A broken and forgotten writer upon dying in 1940 at age 44 of a heart attack in Hollywood, Fitzgerald’s reputation was revived to legendary status and his classic jazz age novel “The Great Gatsby” is required reading in schools.

Now over one hundred years since his birth, St. Paul has embraced Fitzgerald as its most famous native son. The city celebrated the centennial of Fitzgerald’s birth with several commemorations. On September 27, 1996, St. Paul hosted the First Day of Issue ceremonies for the United States Postal Services 23 cent stamp honoring Fitzgerald. The city’s main downtown legitimate theater was rechristened the Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald admirers finding themselves in the twin city area should make a pilgrimage to Fitzgerald’s birthplace which is a registered national historic site. The address and directions are readily available in print and Internet sources. The most informative source is the primary Fitzgerald biography “Some Sort of Epic Grandeur” by Matthew J. Bruccoli which provides many pertinent addresses from around the country and explains Fitzgerald’s connection to them.

A map and car are necessary to reach 481 Laurel Avenue where Frances Scott Key Fitzgerald was born September 24, 1896. The building is located in the quiet Summit Avenue neighborhood of twelve square blocks that Bruccoli described as the country’s best preserved Victorian area. The four and a half mile Summit Avenue boasted a millionaire’s row and was once considered St. Paul’s finest address. There is residential street parking.

The structure is called “The San Mateo Flats” whose six units are still private residences. In beautiful pristine condition. 481 Laurel Avenue appears remarkably unchanged from photos taken over one hundred years ago and the entire neighborhood projects a magnificent air. The porch is dotted with landmark plaques. During this writer’s visit, a female resident explained they were used to visitors and pointed out the flat Fitzgerald was born in. Imagine living in the actual birthplace of someone so famous.

The Fitzgerald family were in the neighborhood because Fitzgerald’s affluent maternal grandmother Mollie McQuillan owned a house still standing at 294 Laurel Avenue. Having lost his job in 1898, Scott’s father moved his family back east in hopes of securing employment. They returned in 1908 with Scott and sister Annabel moving into their grandmother’s while their parents lived nearby. This was done for economic reasons since money was always a pressing issue. The Fitzgeralds were lifelong renters (as was the adult Scott) who reunited at an apartment at 514 Holly Avenue.

There are a variety of Victorian homes to be admired and a walking tour is worthwhile as one can feel a sense of being transported back into time gazing upon these lovely houses. A block away at 25 North Dale Street stands the St. Paul Academy, a private school Fitzgerald attended for three years beginning in 1908. His first published stories appeared in the school magazine “Now and Then.” A statue of Fitzgerald as schoolboy greets visitors at the school’s entrance.

Summit Avenue is the neighborhood where Fitzgerald lived and played as a boy and inspired many of his stories. For a fleeting moment, you can summon a gentler era when a future literary giant walked to school with a head full of stories to be told.