2003 10 Most Endangered

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Historic open spaces, a rural church, a world-famous theater, a motion picture theater, two historic industrial sites, an opera house, an art deco elementary school and a contemporary guest house have all been named by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in its annual release of the state’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties.

“Properties cited on this year’s list all share the common thread of their historic significance to the state,” noted Preservation Alliance Board Chair, Jack Manley. “Elevating awareness of their situation is consistent with our mission of preserving, protecting and promoting Minnesota’s historic resources.”

The list is released in conjunction with Preservation Week, sponsored nationally by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as a way to showcase preservation efforts nationwide. A photographic exhibit featuring the Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties, created by Doug Ohman, Pioneer Photography and sponsored by Kodet Architectural Group is scheduled to be displayed at museums, libraries and other public spaces throughout the state during 2003.

This list is selected from nominations submitted by citizens and groups from around the state. The selection committee included members of the Preservation Alliance Executive Committee and Communications Committee, along with participation from representatives of the State Historic Preservation Office of the Minnesota Historical Society; the Society of Architectural Historians, Minnesota Chapter; Historic Resources Committee of the American Institute of Architects–Minnesota; University of Minnesota College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture and the Minnesota advisors to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

All photos © 2003 Doug Ohman / Pioneer Photography unless otherwise noted.

Farmers Equity Elevator & Sack House,
St. Paul, Ramsey County

Farmer cooperative history, commercial river navigation and Minnesota’s prominence as a grain-marketing center are all intertwined in the history of the Farmers Equity Elevator and Sack House located on the Mississippi riverfront in downtown St. Paul. Constructed between 1915 and 1917, it was the nation’s first successful farmer-owned river terminal elevator. The facility grew out of a rivalry between farmers and the Minneapolis grain exchange over trading and
pricing, which led to the founding of the Equity’s own exchange in St. Paul in 1914. The elevator, strategically located at the northern point of commercial navigation on the Mississippi River, was one of the first major commercial developments along the riverfront. It now stands as a rare remnant of this history and as a challenge for reuse. A recent reuse competition yielded few realistic designs. A development agreement for the site states that if an adaptive reuse and a funding stream are not identified by the end of 2004, the structures will be torn down.

Guthrie Theater,
Minneapolis, Hennepin County

Two years ago, the Alliance’s inclusion of the demolition-threatened Guthrie Theater to its Ten Most Endangered list mobilized concern for this 1963 landmark performance place, designed by world-renowned Minnesota architect Ralph Rapson. Now for the third year, the Guthrie’s threatened demise reminds Minnesotans that they enjoy one of the most important works of performance architecture in the world as measured by international perspective — an admiration that has propelled this region’s performing arts reputation into the world’s cultural scene. The Walker Art Center, which owns the building, plans to raze it to make room for their planned museum expansion after the Guthrie Theater Company moves into a new facility on the
Mississippi Riverfront. However, during the past year, the Alliance’s “Most Endangered” has been joined by the Minnesota Historical Society’s declaration of the Guthrie’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, and the placement of the Guthrie on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places List of 2002. SaveTheGuthrie.org, an ad hoc group countering the demolition threat, utilized the National Trust’s assistance to form the Historic Guthrie Preservation Coalition, which is sponsoring a reuse study for the theater. But as owner of the theater, the Walker is unrestricted to act on its demolition approval granted by the Minneapolis City Council in 2001.

Litchfield Opera House,
Litchfield, Meeker County

Designed by St. Paul architect William T. Towner in 1900, the Litchfield Opera House stands vacant at 126 N. Marshall Ave. Sporting a unique Renaissance Revival façade, the National Register building is composed of yellow brick with designs in red brick and terra cotta. Until 1935, the Opera House served traveling theater troupes and local musical performances. It is believed that Sarah Bernhardt once performed there. Remodeled in 1935 as the Litchfield Community Building, the structure remains in the hands of the city, but suffers from extensive mold problems and underutilization. The former Opera House is an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse.

MacDougall Farm,
Bellevue Township, Morrison County

The William Warren and Peter MacDougall farm site stands in Morrison County, three miles west of Royalton, amidst a heron colony preserve owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. This abandoned National Register of Historic Places property serves as a monument to William Whipple Warren, author of the 1885 History of the Ojibways, and the four MacDougall brothers who farmed there between 1873 and 1962. Named “Two Rivers” by Zebulon Pike, the site was home to Warren’s trading post between 1847 and 1853. Now only a ground depression, the post accommodated fur traders along the St. Paul-Pembina oxcart trail. In 1847, Duncan MacDougall, a Canadian immigrant, was the first brother to settle at Two Rivers. Today, the 1874 four-bay barn, a Georgian Revival house and several outbuildings still stand, although in a state of near ruin and a frequent victim of vandalism. The buildings, the
surrounding woods, and a magnificent Mississippi River vista provide a haunting image of Minnesota pioneer life.

Morris Area Elementary School (Old Morris High School),
Morris, Stevens County

The Morris Area Elementary School has been a neighborhood anchor since its original construction in 1914 as the Morris High School. Later additions, such as the Art Deco auditorium (1934) and another wing (1949), illustrate the evolving use of the central educational facility. In November 2002, the citizens of Morris passed a $27 million bond issue to construct a new
elementary school on land adjacent to the existing, modern high school. As a result, the fate of the old school, eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, is in great question. A reuse study conducted in the fall of 2001 recommended that the best use of the building complex was its current school use. Alternative uses identified for the historic portions of the complex have included university housing for the adjacent University of Minnesota Morris campus, or art-related housing. Although the University is not interested in the buildings, a private developer could create university housing in the school complex.

Pilot Knob (OHEYAWAHE),
Mendota Heights, Dakota County

Sitting high above the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers in Mendota Heights, OHEYAWAHE, commonly known as “Pilot Knob,” is an important cultural site for Native Americans as well as for Minnesota state history. Historical documents support OHEYAWAHE’s identity as a traditional burial place for the Dakota people, who regard it as a sacred site. Pilot Knob is also the likely location for the negotiations, and ultimately the signing, of the Treaty of 1851 between the U.S. government and the Mdwakanton and Wakpehkute Dakota, which opened vast amounts of land to settlement by European Americans. Today, private developers want the city council to consider zoning a portion of the area for residential development. Several communities and organizations have banded together to push the city to require further
study of the area to determine the impact of the proposed development. Although this step has delayed the developers, the long-term fate of this historically and spiritually significant site remains uncertain.

St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church,
Cherry Grove Township, Goodhue County

Since this 1878 church was placed on the Alliance’s 10 Most Endangered list in 2002,
community members have rallied to preserve and protect this important symbol of frontier Minnesota heritage and faith. A grassroots effort formed the Friends of St. Rose to gain the time necessary to outline and fund a master plan for preservation. Their efforts have already gotten the church determined eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The group has also entered into negotiations with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which controls the fate of the building and now supports its preservation. Concerns about the liability for the
deteriorating structure and the challenge of finding and funding acceptable uses of the sacred place have dominated the conversation. In the meantime, with a lack of use and financial resources, the church is threatened by natural elements, which continue to deteriorate the roof, windows and native limestone walls.

Shoreham Yards and Roundhouse,
Minneapolis, Hennepin County

The Shoreham Yards represents one of the last major vestiges of Minneapolis’ prominence as a railroad center. The facility in Northeast Minneapolis served as the primary locomotive repair and maintenance facility for the Soo Line Railroad and its predecessor, the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie and Atlantic Railroad. The railroad was founded in 1883 and was completely financed by Minneapolis interests, primarily flour-milling companies, to provide an alternative-shipping route east that bypassed Chicago. The 48-stall roundhouse was designated a Minneapolis historical landmark in 2000. The facility has been considered as a potential focal point for a commercial development along Central Avenue. Although the owner of the property, Canadian Pacific, plans to continue the use of the site for railroading, they have not committed to preserving the roundhouse and yards.

Terrace Theater,
Robbinsdale, Hennepin County

The boldly modernist tower of the Terrace Theater has been a landmark in suburban Robbinsdale since 1949. Designed by noted movie theater architects Liebenberg and Kaplan, the building was a departure from their more streamlined creations and ushered in the arrival of early modernism. The building features an angular style, with flat planes, clean surfaces and vertical fins that result in a striking geometric composition. The theater was constructed with a
1,300-seat auditorium, an ample parking lot and a luxuriously appointed interior. Built at the dawn of the television age, the Terrace also included a television room with sofas and chairs, perhaps used for husbands and fathers to watch a ballgame while their wives viewed a romantic tearjerker or children watched animated features. Although the letters atop the tower still read
“Terrace,” it beckons no patrons these days. The theater has been closed for years and stands vacant. The site has been the focus of redevelopment proposals over the years, some of which would include the demolition of the Terrace. Its continued existence seems tenuous. Community
members hope to find a reuse for this increasingly rare example of Twin Cities mid-century modernism.

Winton Guest House,
Orono, Hennepin County

In 1982, architect Frank Gehry fused three separate-seeming shapes juxtaposed into a guesthouse for a prominent site near Lake Minnetonka. Its quirky sculptural shapes provide a landscape feature for the rolling and wooded site, as well as act as a foil for the mid-1950s modernist brick box designed byPhillip Johnson as the main residence on the property. But changes in land economics increase the pressure for subdivision of the 11-acre property, and in that context the real estate value of the guesthouse may be limited.