PURPOSE:  SARPA, the Summit Avenue Residential Preservation Association, was organized to preserve the residential and urban park character of Saint Paul’s Summit Avenue for future generations through advocacy, communication and community building.

HISTORY:  In 1985, the City of Saint Paul requested the Planning Department develop the Summit Avenue Plan as part of the Saint Paul Comprehensive Plan.  The Summit Avenue Plan, a planning vision for the survival of the Avenue as an irreplaceable asset for Saint Paul, was adopted and published in September, 1986 (‘Plan’, excerpts attached).  Residents were encouraged to form an organization (Plan, p. 3) to help ensure that the plan would be observed. Within three months SARPA was born.

In intervening years SARPA has taken seriously its responsibility, outlined in the Summit Avenue Plan, “to sponsor historic district proposals; to serve as a ‘watchdog’ for the Avenue; to lobby on zoning or capital improvement items; to initiate improvement projects; to monitor implementation of this (Summit Avenue) plan; and to use peer pressure for design and maintenance standards” (Plan, p. 37).  In order to meet these responsibilities we work in close partnership with agencies such as the Planning Commission and the Heritage Preservation Commission, while keeping Summit Avenue residents informed of pertinent issues through mailings and meetings. On occasion, particularly when land use or historic preservation rulings are appealed, we need to bring our mission and standards to the attention of the Saint Paul City Council.

Concern for preserving the integrity of Summit Avenue, far from being a recent trend, is deeply rooted in the history of Saint Paul.  Early planners took measures to retain the avenue’s character throughout its 4 ½ mile length. For example, in 1886, property owners fronting Summit from Lexington Avenue west to the Mississippi River each donated a fifty-foot-wide strip of land to enable the creation of a wide, park-like boulevard. (attached excerpt, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, West Summit Avenue Historic District, section 7, p. 3)

Current residents of Summit Avenue are strongly motivated by awareness of the deterioration of similar historic avenues in many cities, and the knowledge that these irreversible changes were brought about through a series of individual exceptions to residential land use.  SARPA is concerned that incremental changes jeopardize the survival of Summit Avenue as envisioned in the Plan.

SARPA maintains itself as a forum of ideas, a clearinghouse of information, and a springboard for collective action to preserve and enhance the character of Summit Avenue.


Summit Avenue runs through the center of Saint Paul.  It begins at the Cathedral of Saint Paul, atop a bluff overlooking downtown Saint Paul, and runs west all the way to the Mississippi River, at the city’s western edge.

The two National Register-listed Districts are:

  • The Historic Hill District (listed 1976), an area roughly bounded by Lexington Avenue, Portland Avenue, Dale Street North, Marshall Avenue, Pleasant Street, and Grand Avenue.
  • The West Summit Avenue Historic District (listed 1993) running from Lexington west to the Mississippi River along Summit Avenue – see attached excerpt, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, West Summit Avenue Historic District.

Please see Results of National Register Property Search maps attached.

The locally designated Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Districts are:

  • Summit Hill, a triangular region from Lexington Avenue on the west, Summit Avenue on the North, and the bluffs (just north of Interstate Highway 35E) on the south.
  • Ramsey Hill, the area bounded by Summit Avenue, Dale Street, Interstate 94, and a line running north from the Cathedral of Saint Paul.



Revenue –

SARPA receives no public funding.  Paid membership ranges from 20 to about 45 households, most of which are on Summit Avenue or its immediate neighborhood.  Donations are principally from current and former board members in support of current activities (e.g. legal services, annual meeting, newsletter cost).  SARPA’s main source of funds is from Garden Strolls which occur in alternating years.

Garden Strolls –

The purpose of SARPA’s garden tours is to demonstrate the diversity of properties on Summit, to showcase these homes and gardens, and to increase interest in the street’s preservation to a broader audience.  Such tours increase interest in our preservation activities, are educational for attendees, and help raise funds for other outreach.

Revenues for the past four events has ranged from $6,700 to $8,400, netting just under $2,000 after expense on average.  At $10 per ticket, attendance has averaged about 750 people. Attendees come from all over the metropolitan area, with a few from the greater region.

Showcased gardens are along Summit Avenue and vary with each stroll.  No vendors are involved. Tours take up about 15% of our activity, but only every two years.  Our next Garden Stroll will be on Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Social Activities –

Annual Meeting.  SARPA’s principal social event is our annual meeting held each November.  This helps Summit Avenue residents meet each other, build community, and foster communication. These serve as educational forums in that attendees are updated on issues faced by Summit Avenue – pedestrian and biker safety, traffic calming, parking, challenges in maintaining homes in a historic district, etc.

Attendance of 60 to 80 is almost exclusively Summit residents and/or SARPA members.  Expense for each of the past two annual meetings was about $2,700, including food, beverage and venue.  Expense for earlier years was lower in that SARPA board members hosted the annual meeting in their homes.  Annual meetings make up about 5% of our activities.

Speaker Events.  Occasional speaker events have ranged from a tour of a stained glass restoration business attended by eight SARPA board members to talks on the history, architecture, and preservation of Summit Avenue.  Talks generally involve unpaid speakers and venues on Summit. Attendance ranges from 30 to 70 – almost exclusively Summit residents. Speaker events can range from 5 to 15 % of our activities year to year.

Luminarias.  The purpose of setting out luminarias on Christmas Eve has been to beautify Summit Avenue and showcase the residential nature of the street. This project has been done for two consecutive years (December 2017 and 2018). Volunteers from SARPA and the neighborhood have donated their time to help assemble the luminaria bags, set up and light the luminarias on Christmas Eve, and then remove the bags. There is no revenue involved. The approximate cost is $600 for paper bags, candles, lighters, and kitty litter to weight the bags down.  Luminarias make up about 5% of our activities.

Web Page –

SARPA’s web page and social media allow us to educate and communicate about Summit Avenue and preservation issues in a different manner than in-person gatherings and the newsletter.  They allow us to respond to issues more quickly than printed communications. The online presence provides another way to provide education and communication about preservation related issues, thus supporting our mission of “advocacy, communication, and education” and related exempt purpose.

Revenue is $0 and expense for web hosting, etc. is about $200 a year.  We do not track web hits. In general, each Facebook post is seen by about 90-150 people.  No ads or vendors are included. Our online presence is about 10% of our activity.


Public Policy Meetings and Other Community Issues –

Public policy meetings are held as appropriate.  For example, 2015‘s pressing issue was the permitting process to convert an existing Summit Avenue property to a “boutique residential hotel”.  The current year’s issue is the conversion of a historic Summit Avenue church – the “Church on the Hill” – to a commercial business enterprise. Summit’s residential zoning includes allowance for non-residential use for churches and colleges, but expressly prohibits commercial development.  The developer was successful in obtaining permits and variances. However, significant restrictions on permitted commercial use were incorporated, particularly for the church property, in large part through SARPA’s efforts.

For such preservation related issues, newsletters and social media, together with impromptu community meetings, are most timely and effective.  SARPA’s origin mission is “to preserve the historic, residential, and urban park character of Summit Avenue” through advocacy, communication, and education, and related exempt purpose.  See newsletters attached.

Public policy makes up approximately 20 to 50% of our activities as issues arise.