Cathedral Hill at the turn of the century was a time of nine-course dinners and evening dress, salt cellars and sterling on starched white linens. An abundance of servants supported life for the newly-made society families on the Hill.
By the late 1800's, these entrepreneurs-turned-gentlemen and their wives traveled by carriage on freshly laid cobblestone streets. Each year saw grand mansions rising on Summit Avenue along with new businesses to support this first blush of high society. In 1889, subscribers to the St. Anthony Hill Graphic, read of the new Dacotah Building at the southeast corner of Selby and Western Avenues.
In 1889 the $70,000 spent to build the Dacotah was a tremendous sum. The building, in the Richardson Romanesque style, has arched doorways and windows, copper cornices, and walls of sandstone and brick.
Appealing to Gentlemen and Ladies…
The Hennessey brothers built the structure to last with stone foundations 14 feet deep. The upper floors were fine apartments, each with fireplaces, ornate plasterwork and tile floors. They had such modern features as electric doorbells and a system of speaking tubes. The main floor of the Dacotah housed a ladies' bath and manicure establishment, and the pharmacy of Mr. William A. Frost.
W.A. Frost became a well-respected figure in the Cathedral Hill community with the opening of his second pharmacy in St. Paul. Men and women of society frequented W.A. Frost for "drugs, chemicals, and medicines, medicinal wines and liquors and fancy toilet articles of great variety."
The St. Paul Cathedral enriches the neighborhood…
Through the early 1900's the Hill continued to prosper. In 1905, the Archdiocese began construction on the Masqueray-designed Cathedral of St. Paul. Its first mass was celebrated on Palm Sunday in 1915.
The neighborhood flourished through the Twenties and Thirties. Mentions of the neighborhood appear in the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who resided at the Commodore up the street. In his short story, Winter Dreams, the character Dexter Green has just left the University Club with Judy Jones for a drive along Summit Avenue.
A great neighborhood falls from grace…
After World War II, life on Cathedral Hill changed. The great houses, once filled with servants, began to empty. W.A. Frost and Company closed its doors, and Mr. Frost died about the same time the Dacotah and the surrounding neighborhood began to decline.
The Seventies saw new life on Cathedral Hill as a generation of urban pioneers fell in love with this faded neighborhood. Armed with enthusiasm, they set to work restoring homes, businesses and apartment buildings.
The rebirth of the Dacotah Building…
The present owners, attracted by the arched windows, bays and fanciful brickwork, purchased the largely empty Dacotah Building in 1974. They turned the upper floors into offices, and began creating a small restaurant and bar that would reflect the historic ambiance of the neighborhood. In December of 1975, against the advice of everyone they knew, they opened W.A. Frost and Company.
Architectural salvage restores beauty to original charm…
The interior of the bar, which was the first phase of the restaurant, is full of architectural salvage. The tin ceilings are original, but the back bar was rescued from a burned-out building in Superior, Wisconsin. The marble tables are the walls of the old Northwestern National Bank building in Superior, Wisconsin.
The banisters and newel posts were brought in for the staircase, which was added to gain access to the rooms below. Many of the doors were from the old James J. Hill School on Oxford and Selby. The stained glass window of a peacock is a copy of a Tiffany design.
Love, care and dedication create a successful fine dining restaurant…
W.A. Frost became a success despite its location, and the fact that there was no kitchen. In 1977, the kitchen and first dining room were added, the first fireplace was built, and big windows overlooking the new patio were cut into the thick brick walls.
Oriental rugs were laid and original oil paintings were hung on the walls. The following years saw more expansion: another dining room and fireplace, banquet rooms and a larger patio with the gazebo grill.
What started in 1975 as a lovingly restored bar with food brought in by local caterers, has turned into a full service restaurant with an award-winning wine list, fine dining menus, patio dining in the summer time, fireplaces, steaming coffee drinks come fall, and catered events year 'round. The site of many a business deal, or marriage proposal, and a cozy place to gather with friends, W.A. Frost once again welcomes neighbors and visitors to Historic Cathedral Hill.