Minnesota’s Civic Legacy

Minnesota has many historic municipal properties that have been successfully preserved or repurposed. The examples highlighted below represent a wide range of building types, current uses, and funding sources, and are from communities of all sizes throughout the state. Click on the bolded text to read case studies of each building, describing how these preservation successes were achieved and providing information and inspiration for other municipalities facing similar circumstances. We hope these examples will encourage other communities to advocate for the preservation of their civic landmarks.

1. Thief River Falls City Hall

The old Soo Line Depot in Thief River Falls, once a symbol of a thriving railroad town, was home to the Chamber of Commerce for nearly twenty years. In 1993, following several years of vacancy, the building was slated for demolition. A city council-appointed committee sought to change that by launching a “Save the Depot” fundraising campaign. Three years later, the building reopened in its new role as City Hall.

Thief River Falls Carnegie Library

With one successful rehab already under its belt, the city of Thief River Falls had no trouble envisioning a reuse for its recently acquired historic Carnegie Library. Mostly funded with private donations, the completed building now houses offices for the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber of Commerce, while common space on the main level is available for workshops, conferences, receptions, art exhibits, and other events.

2. Bigfork City Hall

When Bigfork residents Darla and Mike Kocian heard of the village council’s plans to demolish one of the only remaining historic buildings in their town, they took action. After researching rehab options and the true costs of demolition and new construction, they helped form the Bigfork City Hall Preservation Committee. Citizen support and small steps demonstrated that rehabilitation was possible, and the Bigfork City Hall – since listed in the National Register of Historic Places – is now in the process of being renovated.

3. Old Central School Marketplace

The preservation of the Old Central School Marketplace has been a collaborative effort between the city of Grand Rapids, the Central School Commission, and the tenants since the 1980s. Owned by the city and operated by an appointed commission, this landmark building on a central square in downtown Grand Rapids houses retail and office space.

4. Todd County Courthouse

The Romanesque Revival-style Todd County Courthouse sits prominently atop a hill in Long Prairie, surrounded by a stone retaining wall with a street-level entrance. Vacant since 2006, the courthouse was on PAM’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list in 2010 before a bond issue funding its rehabilitation was approved by voters in November of that year. The renovated courthouse, reopened in June 2012, is now once again the seat of county government.  

5. Little Falls Carnegie Library

The Little Falls Carnegie Library remained largely untouched since it was constructed in 1905 until 1989. As the city’s population aged, upgrades were needed for accessibility and enhanced use. A multi-year fundraising campaign was initiated by local philanthropist and preservationist Laura Jane Musser, and construction began in 1998. The addition, which wraps around the rear and both sides of the historic library, provides improved accessibility, increased space for books, programming, and circulation, and a multi-purpose community room while enhancing the architecture of the building. New mechanical and electrical systems were added as well as new windows, and a new staircase and elevator for improved accessibility. One person’s leadership, and a community vision, led to the enhancement of this civic landmark.

6. Paramount Theater

The Paramount Theater, once one of the grandest theaters in the St. Cloud, opened in 1921 and hosted vaudeville performances, “talkies,” films, road shows, and other performances until it fell into disrepair in the 1960s. Purchased in 1998 by the City of St. Cloud, the building was restored under the auspices of the Paramount Arts Resource Trust, which has maintained the theater as a valuable community asset.

7. Kimball City Hall

In 2000, local residents formed the Kimball Area Historical Society and rallied support from the community to restore the 100-year-old Kimball Prairie Village Hall. With commitment from the city council, donations, and grants, five phases of restoration work have been completed to date, with plans for more work in the future.

8. Atwater City Hall

The City of Atwater was in need of a building to house their library, police department and city offices. Instead of building new, Atwater residents and city councilmen looked to a former hotel building on the city’s one-sided main street. Donated by a local citizen, the building presented the city with an opportunity to restore one of its most prominent landmarks, and spur adjacent rehab development in its downtown.

9. Dassel History Center

In an ambitious project spanning seven years and six phases, the former Universal Laboratories building in Dassel has been rehabilitated for use as a local history center and museum. An expansion in 2008, housing offices, meeting rooms, a catering kitchen, rest rooms, a large community room, and a welcoming lobby, makes this historic building a primary venue for civic life in this rural community.

10. Acoma Town Hall

In 2005, in rural Acoma Township (population 1,185), 150 people gathered at the small brick schoolhouse to vote on whether or not to save it. The outcome—133 people in favor of preservation, only 21 against—prompted the township to levy funds for rehabilitation.

11. Glencoe City Center

In 2007, the City of Glencoe and the Glencoe Area Chamber of Commerce launched a joint effort to seek funds to turn the old Henry Hill School into a much needed community and event center. With city bonds, donations, and grants, the project became a reality and was completed in 2010.

12. Willkommen Park Pavilion

When residents of Norwood Young America heard of the city’s plans to demolish their town’s park pavilion, they formed “Save the Pavilion, Inc.” and lobbied hard for preservation. The group’s persistence paid off when the city council reversed its decision the following year and began the structure’s rehabilitation. Today, the pavilion continues to be home to “Stiftungfest,” the state’s oldest annual celebration.

13. Lepak/Larson Historic Farmhouse

The Lepak/Larson Farmhouse is a successful endeavor between the city of Shoreview, and the Housing Resource Center. In 2000, Shoreview acquired the home with the intention of resotring it for a future new use in respect to its historic integrity as one of the oldest structures in the city. Additionally, the city saw its importance to a future plan to realign the Country Road in close proximity. The city undertook extensive rehabilitation work of the building including updating accessibility, while maintaining original features, and restoring others to its original state. Today, it serves as an office for the Housing Resource Center, who provides home maintenance assistance to families of all incomes.

14. Landmark Center

The Old Federal Courts Building in St. Paul became slated for demolition in the 1960s, creating a public outcry to save the building. In 1970, the Mayor had formed a committee to save the building, which became Minnesota Landmarks, Inc, a non-profit organization. The city acquired the building in 1972 with the Council of Arts and Sciences as their tenant. The renovation was completed in three phases and the building was re-opened in 1978. During the renovation period, Minnesota Landmarks took charge of operations and ownership was transferred to Ramsey County. To this day, the Landmark Center has been successfully run with the joint efforts of Ramsey County and Minnesota Landmarks and serves as offices for various organizations, and as a venue for hundreds of events every year.

15. Central Park Condominiums

After a number of Red Wing Heritage Preservation Commission’s denials for demolition of the Red Wing Central High School, Goodhue County agreed to conduct a reuse study. The study found that with some investment, the building had potential to be an economic asset to the area. A partnership was then formed amongst Goodhue County, the City of Red Wing, the Red Wing Area Fund, and a private developer. With everyone’s contribution, the school was rehabilitated and turned into condominiums by local contractors and suppliers. The project also provides residential housing within walking distance of Red Wing’s downtown businesses, thus contributing to the local economy.

16. Residences of Old City Hall

Rochester’s City Hall, constructed in 1931 in the Art Deco style, was largely vacant in the late 1990s when it was purchased by local real estate developer (and PAM board member) Jeff Allman. Although initially skeptical that there would be enough demand to justify residential reuse, Allman renovated the building as apartments, using funds from Tax Increment Financing and a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loan. Today, the building is in-demand by medical professionals and other people wanting to live downtown. The Residences of Old City Hall are an integral part of downtown Rochester, adding to the vitality and beauty of the city’s commercial core.

17. New Richland Library

After losing two of their buildings to demolition in the mid-1990s, New Richland’s former Independent Order of Odd Fellows Hall and Abraham family grocery store building became one of the only remaining historic structures on Main Street. By the time the city took ownership of the 1902 building, it had been vacant for twenty years and was in a state of disrepair. With the possibility of yet another historic main street building being razed, a small group of local citizens formed the New Richland Historical Preservation Commission. Funded by donations from the local state bank, together with grants from the Minnesota Historical Society, the building will become the public library and historic exhibit.

18. Red Rock Center for the Arts

When restoration efforts began in the summer of 2002, the former First Church of Christ Scientist building in Fairmont was in very poor condition after years of neglect. A group of several local citizens launched an immense volunteer effort to raise funds and to restore the building. They invested forty thousand hours of labor for interior restoration, excavating new window wells, interior woodwork, and window restoration. Today, the Red Rock Center for the Arts is owned by Martin County, operated by the Martin County Preservation Association, and is used for a variety of events including reunions, weddings, bridal showers, driver’s education classes, receptions, birthdays, fundraisers, youth arts programs, and other art events.