2004 Ten Most Endangered

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Development pressure, demolition by neglect and lacking creative reuse plans are several scenarios that threaten some of the state’s most historic properties. Ten properties and property groupings, representing buildings and landscapes, have been named by the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota to its list of the state’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Properties. The list has been released annually since 1992.

“Endangered historic properties often have no advocate that would provide reasonable and thoughtful alternatives to their demolition. These properties are all important to the state through their architectural design, historic context or community ties,” noted Preservation Alliance Board Chair, Tom Schroeder. “Elevating awareness of their situations is consistent with our organization’s mission to preserve, protect and promote Minnesota’s historic resources.”

A photographic exhibit featuring the Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties, created by Doug Ohman, Pioneer Photography and sponsored by Kodet Architectural Group will be displayed at museums, libraries and other public spaces throughout the state during 2004. If you would like to have the Alliance’s Top 10 Endangered Historic Properties display in your community, please contact us at director@mnpreservation.org

This list is selected from nominations submitted by citizens and groups from around the state. The selection committee included members of the Preservation Alliance; 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 © 2004 Doug Ohman / Pioneer Photography unless otherwise noted.

Ford Building,
St. Paul

Constructed as a factory and workshop for the Ford Motor Company in 1913, this early automotive industry building, located at 117 West University Avenue, was used to assemble 500 cars a year. According to a 1913 issue of Ford Times it was used to supply the “hardworking and prosperous” farmers of Minnesota. It was one of 18 assembly facilities located around the country to serve local dealerships. The building represents a long historic link between the state and Ford which included assembly plants in Minneapolis and the company’s current Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul. The building is currently owned by the State of Minnesota, which is planning to demolish it to create parking near the Capitol. A St. Paul community coalition that is involved in development issues along University Avenue, St. Louis County Jail,

The St. Louis County Jail is one of four government buildings that were built between 1909 and 1929 in the Duluth Civic Center. A landscaped block, designed by renowned Chicago architect, Daniel Burnham, forms the centerpiece of this City Beautiful Movement setting. Like its contemporaries, the St. Louis County Courthouse, Duluth City Hall and Federal Building, the Jail’s design by the architectural firm Holstead and Sullivan, is faced in St. Cloud granite with extensive terra cotta adornment. The building’s function as a jail was abandoned in 1995 and no acceptable reuse has been realized. Buildings, including the jail, are part of the Duluth Civic Center Historic District that was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

James Douglas House and Kassenborg Block,

Located side-by-side, these two properties in downtown Moorhead, represent one the community’s oldest homes and one of its last remaining turn-of-the century commercial buildings. Both buildings were threatened by a planned bridge rebuilding and development project. Contractor W. H. Merritt, whose firm was responsible for the construction of numerous historic Moorhead buildings, built the Kassenborg Block in 1898. The block is the largest historic commercial building in the city, which included many examples prior to extensive urban renewal in the 1970s.

The James Douglas House is a two-story wood frame structure that was built in 1872 and according to local historians is probably Moorhead’s oldest standing house. Douglas was the city’s first postmaster and first Probate Judge. He also helped establish Moorhead’s second school and launch a steamboat line. Like the Kassenborg Block, the James Douglas House, is eligible for listing on the National Register.

The City of Moorhead is to be commended for selecting the redevelopment alternative plan that best preserves historic aspects of the city’s downtown. The plan incorporates the Kassenborg Block into its overall design, using it as an anchor for reinvigorating commercial activity on Main Street. Although the City and the developer are committed to the preservation of the James Douglas House, its fate is less certain. Financial considerations and the feasibility of re-using the house make its preservation more challenging.

Danebod Folk School,

The 1904 Danebod Gym Hall is one element of a National Register of Historic Places District in Tyler. The wooden, Gothic style Gym Hall is one of several buildings that constituted a residential Danish folk high school established by Danish immigrants in the mid-1880s. Although the high school was closed in 1940, the Gym Hall still serves its original function as a place for music, dramatic performances, social occasions, and folk dancing. Members of the Tyler community feel the building is in imminent need of a structural analysis and stabilization.

Shaw-Hammonds House,

Dating to Minnesota’s Territorial Period, the Shaw-Hammonds House located at 302 Fremont Street, Anoka, is a handsome example of a two-story, Greek Revival temple with a story-and-one-half wing. The house contains several fine features found on houses in Minnesota River towns, including operating louvered shutters, dentil blocks, and a porch with bracketed columns. The clapboard siding and eight-over-eight windows appear to be original to 1852, the year the house was erected. If no one comes forward to save the structure, plans are to demolish it and build high-density housing on the site. The house has been on the National Register since 1979.

Neighborhood Schools,
Minneapolis, Morris, Red Wing

Historic neighborhood schools are an anchor for their communities. Readily accessible to students and their families, often on foot, they provide flexible venues for a range of educational and neighborhood activities and a tangible sense of community identity and continuity. Neighborhood schools are threatened in a variety of ways. Changing demographics can leave schools nearly empty or too crowded. New technologies or modern requirements can increase pressure to build new infrastructure. State policies tend to favor building new schools over the restoration of old ones, even though restoration is almost always less expensive.

Schools in Minneapolis, Morris and Red Wing exemplify these issues. Minneapolis’ Hiawatha (1916) and Pratt (1898) Community Schools may be closed as part of a plan to consolidate schools to achieve greater efficiencies. Morris Area Elementary School (1914, 1934, and 1949) is threatened by local citizens’ decision to build a new school next to the existing modern high school. Red Wing High School (1916) was closed in 1995 and acquired by Goodhue County, which does not want to maintain it.

Strategies to save Minnesota’s historic neighborhood schools include changing laws regarding state aid for new school construction and modifying Department of Education guidelines. Many fine examples of adaptive reuse of school buildings when they can no longer be used for educational purposes can be found throughout the state.

Guthrie Theater,

For the fourth consecutive year, the 1963 Guthrie Theater has been named to the Alliance’s endangered list. The theatre was designed by Minnesota Modernist, Ralph Rapson, and is recognized as the flagship of the American regional theater movement. Sir Tyrone Guthrie’s desire to bring his company to the American Midwest led to a competition between Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Detroit, with Minneapolis the ultimate victor. The facility’s early thrust-stage auditorium became the home of Guthrie’s repertory theatre company. The theater’s owner, the Walker Arts Center, desires to demolish the building for the expansion of a sculpture garden.
The Historic Guthrie Preservation Coalition, of which the Alliance is a member, has commissioned a reuse study that they believe will demonstrate the viable economic uses for the facility.
Far from being a “done deal,” the Coalition plans to re-visit the validity of the Minneapolis City Council’s earlier actions and to have the theater locally designated in the effort to save this remarkable piece of Minnesota’s recent past when the Guthrie Theatre relocates to its new Minneapolis riverfront facility.

State Institutions of Minnesota,
Willmar, Walker and Fergus Falls

In recent years, the State of Minnesota has closed or is making plans to close many of its institutional facilities. The Fergus Falls State Hospital, for example, has been previously listed on the 10 Most Endangered List. However, the issue is broader in scope that just this one facility.
Facilities at Willmar and Walker (Ah-Gwah-Ching) are also threatened with closure. The Willmar Hospital Farm for Inebriates Historic District, built between 1912-1933 has been on the National Historic Register since 1986. Both facilities were designed by State Architect Clarence H. Johnson, Sr. Ah-Gwah-Ching, built in 1907 as Johnson’s first work, is also listed on the National Register.

While it can be difficult to find new uses for these expansive, and often remote, facilities, a strong sense of stewardship for the State’s historic buildings is needed. Several facilities in the state have found successful new uses such as the former state hospital in Rochester that is now a federal minimum security correctional facility and West Hills, a former state run orphanage in Owatonna that serves numerous community functions including city offices and a local art museum. The State’s institutions have played an important role in Minnesota’s history, often exemplifying the state-of-the-art treatment philosophies of their time through unique and thoughtful architectural plans. Many will be lost or irreparably altered unless something is done now to change this pattern. The Alliance calls for the State to put in place a more deliberate process for dealing with its de-accessioned institutions and historic buildings. At a minimum, a preservation management plan and easements may substantially help to ensure the State’s heritage of public institutions.

Pilot Knob,
Mendota Heights

First listed on the “10 Most Endangered” list in 2003, the threat to the preservation of this important cultural site still looms. OHEYAWAHE, as it is known in Dakota, is a place of significance for Native Americans and for Minnesota state history. As both a sacred place to the Dakota community and the place where the Treaty of 1851 between the U.S. government and the Mdwakanton and Wakpehkute Dakota was negotiated and signed, Pilot Knob is a place of great significance to all Minnesotans. Largely remaining as undeveloped land overlooking the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers, the site is actively being considered for development. Organized into the Pilot Knob Preservation Association, citizens are working against the proposed development. After the City of Mendota Heights requested an Environmental Impact Statement be completed before development would be approved, the developer and two of the property owners sued the City, seeking approval of their project. The Alliance supports the efforts of the Pilot Knob Preservation Association, who post the current status on their web site, www.pilotknobpreservation.org.

Morehouse Dam,

The Morehouse Dam is related to an early sawmill and several nineteenth-century flour mills located on the northwest bank of the Straight River south near downtown Owatonna. In 1856 Nelson Morehouse, one of the first settlers in the area, oversaw the building of a wooden dam and establishment of a sawmill and flourmill on this site. In 1909 the dam was rebuilt replacing all woodwork in the dam with concrete and cement. From 1925-1927 the dam and mill was an early home for the Campbell Cereal Company that produced Malt-O Meal. Morehouse Park was given as a memorial to the City in 1913 by the Morehouse family on the condition it would remain a park forever. The dam and adjacent property became part of the park when the mill was torn down around 1942 and the property acquired by the City. Riprap and concrete abutments have been added to stabilize the banks. A 1940’s cast iron picket fence can still be found on top of the mill’s original foundation walls.

The City of Owatonna is considering removal of the dam because the structure is in disrepair and is considered to be a public safety hazard. Saving the dam and scenic river site has generated an outpouring of local support. The non-profit Save the Dam Committee is working to find alternatives to removing the dam.