It was the way the last rays of the setting sun lit up the red brick of the old Hamm's brewery that struck Murph Dawkins one evening six years ago. "It glowed like a ruby," she recalls. As she stood agape in Swede Hollow, a ravine park on St. Paul's near East Side, Dawkins said to herself, "Wow, I've got to share this."
Dawkins called Karin DuPaul, hoping to spark interest in the wondrous if fleeting sight she'd just beheld. DuPaul, who heads the Friends of Swede Hollow
group and is a longtime organizer for the Dayton's Bluff Community Council
, is quick to recognize a good idea and handy with a phone tree. "She doesn't need any extreme encouragement," Dawkins says.
The pair dreamed up a community gathering, dubbed simply "Watch the Glow
," to be centered on viewing the sun's spectacular lighting of the brewery. The first "Watch the Glow," on a late October day in 2005, drew about 50 people who took in the transitory sight of the glowing brewery then shared a picnic dinner.
Saving the vacant brewery complex was a not-so-hidden item on the revelers' agenda. When brewing ceased in the mid-1990s, private developer Everest LLC
took over the property, successfully renovating buildings on the north side of Minnehaha Avenue for artists' lofts and other uses.
But the discovery that the brewery land included part of Swede Hollow itself led the City of St. Paul to purchase the parcels south of Minnehaha that also hold the historic buildings neighbors hold dear. "Watch the Glow" invitations went out to city leaders who then were considering demolition--a threat that has now passed, DuPaul says. The buildings are safely mothballed, and three are poised to house an Asian Pacific Cultural Center
when funding is found.
Some years, cloud cover or uncooperative weather mutes the event's eponymous effect. DuPaul recalls one year when the assembled were resigned to the show having been a bust--before the sun burst through at precisely the right moment to set the vacant Hamm's brewhouse ablaze.
This year's Watch the Glow was held last Saturday, preceded by a performance of the operetta "Tales of Hoffmann" in the Hollow. DuPaul was ready to document the glow, should it happen. She snapped a photo from the back of the crowd as they watched the sunset's sudden appearance. By the time they turned to face her for another picture, the show was over.
Sources: Murph Dawkins, Friends of Swede Hollow; Karin DuPaul, Dayton's Bluff Community Council
Writer: Chris Steller