Selby Streetcar Tunnel
Saint Paul, MN

“Not so lost.”
“Nope. Let’s write Larry.”

One of my favorite books growing up is the excellent, if depressing, Lost Twin Cities by Larry Millet. Everyone that loves history and lives in Minnesota should own this book. Everyone that makes decisions about historical preservation or urban planning should own this book. Everyone who loves buildings more than people should carry this book around with them to explain their life choices. All this said, there’s an entry I have to take issue with: Selby Tunnel is not filled in. Let’s go.

In 1906, Twin Cities Rapid Transit (TCRT) started service on their Selby-Lake line, which traveled from the intersection of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue (Minneapolis), traveled along Lake across the Mississippi River, where it turned onto Selby Avenue, eventually terminating at the bottom of Wall Street.

Near the end of the route was the steep St. Anthony Hill, topped by the St. Paul Cathedral, which the humble electric streetcars could not power over. In 1888 the city approved installation of counterweighted cable cars to negotiate the 16-percent grade, but a more permanent solution had to be found. The Selby-Lake line was the most popular route in the whole system, and service up and down the hill was slow and dangerous. Not only could the cable cars not travel more than 10 miles per hour, but occasionally one would break loose from the cable and careen down the hill, injuring (and in one case, killing) its passengers.

Selby Tunnel solved this problem when TCRT opened it in 1907. It measured 1,472 feet and reduced the grade to 7-percent. The last streetcar passed through the tunnel in 1954, three years after General Motors promised to finance 525 city busses with the understanding that, in exchange, all streetcars would be taken off the streets and the rails would be sold or destroyed.

One of my favorite pictures of the tunnel. I am holding a bike rim and wearing a headlamp. My friend triggered the flash just behind my lower back. The fog is a temperature inversion at the entrance of the tunnel; it was 102 degrees outside of the tunnel and about 50 degrees inside, and humid.
One of my favorite pictures of the tunnel. I am holding a bike rim and wearing a headlamp. My friend triggered the flash just behind my lower back. The fog is a temperature inversion at the entrance of the tunnel; it was 102 degrees outside of the tunnel and about 50 degrees inside, and humid.

The top portal is filled in and paved over in the middle of the avenue, but the tunnel remains intact below, sealed by concrete at both ends.

EAST SIDE TCRT STATION

As a bonus, I want to include some pictures of the former TCRT East Side Station. The station first opened in 1891, and it was expanded in 1910 with central office space. East Side TCRT’s largest station, with a capacity of 178 cars, and it serviced some of the most high-demand lines: Como-Harriet-Hopkins, Oak & Xerxes, Hennepin Avenue, Kenwood & Johnson, Western & 2nd Street, Bryn Mawr, Minnetonka-Deephaven, Robbinsdale & St. Louis Park, and Calhoun Beach.

It was the last of the car barns to shut down, shutting its doors in June, 1954. In 1956, Superior Plating bought the building for its electroplating business. They owned the building until it was demolished in April, 2014–not before I got to explore it, thankfully.

A firedoor dating to the original car barn is roped off, anticipating demolition.
A fire door inside the East Side Station, dating to the original car barn, is roped off, anticipating demolition.