Frustrated neighbor paints SOS sign on house

Gary Rosenbaum stands in front of the message he painted on the side of his house. He faces significant health challenges, and he says he’s frustrated with the pressure he’s feeling from the city. (Patrick Larkin/Review)
Gary Rosenbaum stands in front of the message he painted on the side of his house. He faces significant health challenges, and he says he’s frustrated with the pressure he’s feeling from the city. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Gary Rosenbaum is proud of his Victorian-style home in Dayton’s Bluff.

The intricately decorated, boldly painted home at 400 Bates Ave. was built in the 1880s, and features teal paint, detailed, brightly-colored woodwork and other flourishes.

And that’s just the outside.

The inside is a meticulously decorated collage of colors and design elements, from unique, detailed flooring, ornate fixtures, modified crown moulding, a half-finished hand-restored fireplace, handmade doors, and a kitchen island made out of an old piano.

But Rosenbaum also recently added a new decorative twist — he painted a message on the broad side of the home that reads: “SOS, losing pride on the East Side.”

The message is clearly visible from busy East Seventh Street, near the intersection of Bates Avenue.

Rosenbaum said he put the sign up there after he says he experienced frustration with the city. He says he wants to build a garage, but claims he is not allowed to.

He’s also frustrated with Metropolitan State University’s new parking ramp, which blocks his view of downtown St. Paul, and the soon-to-come Dominium senior housing project, which will go in right next door along East Seventh Street, just down the hill from the new Mississippi Market Food Co-op which is still being built.

There’s even been a petition started by one of Rosenbaum’s friends, which states “the city wants to take Gary’s driveway.”

But Eduardo Barrera from the city’s Planning and Economic Development department says the city, in fact, gave Rosenbaum the driveway land in question in May.

Rosenbaum’s house has a narrow driveway right beside it, but there’s a second driveway beside that which was part of an adjacent house that has since been torn down. The city transferred that driveway to Rosenbaum’s property, and the rest of the lot was tied into the former Hospital Linens site, which will be developed into the Dominium senior housing complex.

It’s unclear whether the land the city gave Rosenbaum will be enough to allow him to build a garage. At this point, he has not applied for any building permits.

Barrera says Rosenbaum has also recently asked for a few extra feet of land the city used to own, but the city had already put it in the agreement with Dominium for the senior housing development.

Barrera concedes that Rosenbaum has experienced some difficult times lately, which made city staff inclined to help him out.

Rosenbaum, who’s in his 50s, says he spent over three months in a coma after he fell off of some scaffolding last fall. While he was in the coma, his long-time partner Deb passed away.

Coming out of the coma, he lost some hearing, had a bout of pneumonia, and couldn’t walk. He still suffers from back pain and can’t work, so he’s living on a fixed income, he says, making it difficult to work on his home.

“I’m at the bottom of the barrel,” he says.

And while these personal crises were occurring, the new parking ramp was going up across the street and the senior housing next door was in the offing.

Hoping for a “win-win”

Barrera says Rosenbaum’s difficult situation made city staff inclined to go the extra mile to help him.

“We’re trying to be as helpful as we can, because what he’s going through is hard enough,” Barrera says. “There’s only so much we can do, unfortunately.”

On a separate issue, the house that Rosenbaum owns at 400 Bates Ave. is a Category-2 vacant building, so he’s not allowed to live in it. He’s working with city staff to clear this up, and it could be resolved as early as next week.

While a lot still remains to be sorted out, Rosenbaum has seen the support of a number of neighbors, who’ve expressed concern over his frustration.

He’s received some help from Jane Prince, an attorney and former St. Paul City Council aid who’s a candidate for Kathy Lantry’s former Ward 7 City Council seat.

She’s still trying to understand his situation, but she says that after talking with city staff, “the news was better than I was expecting.”

“I was very impressed with Eduardo’s role in all of this, because I think he definitely understands the issues that are there for any homeowner being so immediately adjacent to a development site,” she says. “I think his efforts have demonstrated that the city wants to create a win-win for Gary.”

She said support from neighbors and city staff could result in a good outcome for Rosenbaum — “the neighbors are looking out for Gary’s best interests ... and at least in this case, the city is too,” she says.

Sage Holben, a Dayton’s Bluff resident who’s active in neighborhood politics, said she took a liking to Rosenbaum and has been trying to help him out.

She met him after walking by his house, and was one day given a tour of the unique piece of history.

“I was just fascinated by it and his creativity,” she says. “He struck me as somebody so ultra-creative and just in love with life.”

Though he’s not sure what’s in store for him and his house yet, Rosenbaum says he’s happy to get support from neighbors.

“I feel the energy from the neighbors,” he says.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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