Ryan Park, at Thomas Avenue and Avon Street, was until 1974 the site of Benjamin Drew Elementary School. Benjamin Drew Elementary School was designed by prolific and prominent Saint Paul architect Clarence Johnston. It was known as one of Johnston’s forays into neoclassical design. Built in 1895, the three-story building was made of cream-colored brick with white stone trim. Pilasters extended the length of the building. A large Palladian window lit the front stairway landing. It had detailed brickwork and window trim. One distinctive feature was atop its roof, where two chimneys were separated by a railing. It was similar to other schools Johnson designed at the time, including Whittier School in the city’s North End.
The school was named for Benjamin Drew, a pioneer civic leader with a long involvement in education. He was Saint Paul’s superintendent of schools in 1859. Drew also served on the school board and as a state senator.
Drew School was a neighborhood school and is remembering fondly by former students. Its wide, sunny windowsills often held teachers’ plants. Teachers at Drew tended to stay there for much of their careers.
The property was purchased by the city as a site for single-family housing development. Those were the days of widespread urban renewal in Frogtown, of city leaders wanting to clear and redevelop entire blocks. Many neighborhood residents staunchly resisted these changes.
Meetings about redevelopment and change were attended by hundreds of people and often lasted into the night.
The block sat undeveloped for a time but became a park about a decade later, after a successful lobbying effort by what is now the Frogtown Neighborhood Association. Residents argued that their children had to walk many blocks and cross busy streets to get to other parks.
Ryan Park is named for local businessman and community volunteer Dennis Patrick Ryan, who was murdered during a 1984 robbery of his plumbing store at 811 University Avenue.