2005 Ten Most Endangered

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The “birthplace of Minnesota” and an important Lake Superior steel industry site that helped shape twentieth century industrial America are just two of the nine properties and one historic district the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota has named to its thirteenth annual listing of the state’s ten most endangered historic sites.

“Building awareness for historic properties that face threat of demolition or neglect is an important aspect of our mission which is to preserve, protect and promote Minnesota’s historic resources,” noted Preservation Alliance Board Chair, Roger D. Randall. “This year’s selections represent a wide variety of building types and statewide geographic dispersion. While some properties have active preservation groups seeking to save them, others are quite anonymous. We seek to put them all in a historical context that recognizes their worthiness to be preserved for future generations.”

A photographic exhibit featuring the Ten Most Endangered Historic Properties, created by Doug Ohman of Pioneer Photography, and sponsored by Kodet Architectural Group, will be displayed at museums, libraries and other public spaces throughout the state during 2005.

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 © 2005 Doug Ohman / Pioneer Photography unless otherwise noted.

Fort Snelling Upper Bluffs,
Minneapolis/Saint Paul

The 28 historic homes and buildings that make up Fort Snelling’s Upper Bluffs complex occupy a unique and important place in Minnesota history. But this year may be a critical period for the complex if they are to be preserved and reused.

The Upper Bluffs buildings sit on 100 acres at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The Veterans Administration maintained these buildings and the land they sat on for many years. The VA abandoned it all in 1973, leaving the buildings to decay. The Minneapolis Park Board has since turned much of the more than 100-acre plot into baseball, softball and soccer fields, and two of the smaller structures into concession facilities.

But the rest, including the once stalwart officers houses, are shadows of what they once were. They have been looted of fixtures, and are in an advanced state of disrepair. Yet the structures still stand, and their slate roofs are still intact, though in need of much attention.

Last year the federal government gave up the right to reclaim the Upper Bluffs complex in case of a national emergency. This has now allowed the site’s owner, the state Department of Natural Resources, to consider selling the property to local government agencies, which could then sell them to a private developer. Some dream of transforming the Upper Bluff complex into something like Fort Worden near Port Townsend, Washington: a well conceived development featuring an arts center, restaurants, campgrounds and a youth hostel. The Upper Bluffs buildings are even better positioned than Fort Worden, with easy access to both downtowns, light rail, highways and the airport.

If the DNR can find the appropriate public agency to buy the buildings, things might yet turn out well for the Upper Bluffs complex. But this may take more time than the buildings have life left in them. And it is not clear whether the next owner will be willing or able to save the Upper Bluffs buildings. They may be reduced to a paragraph in a school textbook, or a plaque in a new development. Or they could be preserved as an important symbol of the state’s history, and a vibrant and important part of its present and future.

Agate Bay,
Two Harbors, Lake County

Agate Bay is a rare natural port on Lake Superior’s rugged north shore. In 1884, the Duluth and Iron Range Railway began laying tracks to haul iron ore from northern Minnesota mines to Agate Bay, where it was loaded onto ore boats for shipment to eastern steel mills. By the late nineteenth century, the community of Two Harbors grew alongside Agate Bay’s ore docks, rail yards, and maintenance shops. Activity waned by the mid-twentieth century after the best ore had been mined and foreign competition increased, but the development of the taconite process gave new life to the port.

Today, Agate Bay is still dominated by three early twentieth-century ore docks, massive structures built of concrete and steel. Two of the docks remain in use, although their long-term fate is not known. The railroad recently sold much of the land around the bay to a developer who is planning a 120-unit condominium complex on Lighthouse Point. This and other potential developments threaten the integrity of an industrial landscape that is significant to the history of the area, the state and the nation.

The lighthouse complex, railroad depot, and tugboat, the Edna G, are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and most of the bay has been determined eligible for listing in the National Register. Concern for the diminishing legacy of our industrial heritage prompted the Cultural Landscape Foundation(www.tclf.org) to include Agate Bay on its “Landslide” list of endangered working landscapes.

Jacob Schmidt Brewery,
Saint Paul, Ramsey County

The Schmidt facility’s roots trace back almost as far as the state’s. The 15-acre complex evolved over nearly a century of construction from 1855 to 1951. It was once the centerpiece for a thriving culture of German brewing families who lived within sight of the brewery and its castle-like facade. The main buildings along Seventh Street were built between 1900 and 1905 with guidance and supervision by renowned brewery architect Bernard Barthel. After Prohibition ended, Schmidt Brewery became the seventh largest in the country, and went on to employ 400 workers and brew about 200 beers at its pinnacle.

Schmidt Brewery was most recently home to the now defunct Gopher State Ethanol plant, and currently faces an uncertain future. The first attempt in February to auction off the site failed to reach minimum bid levels and the site may be sold piecemeal. The historic red-letter sign has already been destroyed. Any new owners may choose to demolish what is an important historic structure for the West Seventh St. neighborhood, St. Paul and the state. Neighborhood organizations favor a mixed-use development incorporating many of the historic structures.

Willkommen Park Pavilion,
Norwood Young America, Carver County

The Willkommen Park Pavilion, built in 1876 as the “Singers Pavilion,” is home to the state’s oldest annual town celebration, the Stiftungsfest. For over a century, the pavilion was a welcoming place where revelers could enjoy hearty meals and listen to the German music wafting from the nearby tent. Today, the sturdy and practical wood-frame pavilion is one of the last links between the town’s past and today’s residents.

The City Council of Norwood Young America had begun the process to construct a replacement building that would result in the demolition of the pavilion. The pavilion does need repairs and upkeep, but it is not obsolete, and could stand for some time longer with some attention. Citizens have organized to form “Save the Pavilion, Inc.” because they believe a modern building will not convey the heritage that the Pavilion and the Stiftungsfest represent.

In February 2005 the City Council of Norwood Young America unanimously approved an Alternate Pavilion Restoration proposal. Pursuant to the proposal the city has stopped construction of a new pavilion and entered into an agreement with Mark McGowan, owner of McGowan Development Corp., with a one-time $50,000 project management fee. Local citizens and businesses are being enlisted to donate the time, money, labor and materials needed for the restoration. A website has been established (www.nyapavilion.org) to help the fundraising efforts.

The Minnesota Stoneware Company Tunnel Kiln,
Red Wing, Goodhue County

The Minnesota Stoneware Company tunnel kiln is today an overlooked and neglected building. But it is a notable remnant of Red Wing’s historic pottery industry with a fascinating story to tell. From the 1920s until 1960s fires blazed inside the 300-foot kiln every day of the year. Rail cars holding unfinished pottery would slowly pass through the flames, taking as many as 80 hours to emerge from the kiln with the finished product ready for shipping.

The kiln is part of a complex of Minnesota Stoneware Company buildings that were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The main four-story building of the complex has been preserved and reused for retail. However, the buildings that once housed the kiln have been demolished. Today the brick structure is a poignant relic-exposed to the elements and surrounded by a parking lot, threatened by deterioration and demolition. Without any interpretive context or preservation, the tunnel and its significance to the industrial history of Red Wing and the state will be lost. Perhaps this historic aspect of the company can be integrated into the daily tours of the modern factory.

Saint Anthony Falls Historic District,
Minneapolis, Hennepin County

Many consider the Saint Anthony Falls to be the “birthplace of Minnesota.” The once great cataract fueled the flour milling and other industrial activity that made Minneapolis the main economic engine of the upper Midwest, and put Minnesota on the map.

The long, slow decline of riverside industry has since provided extraordinary opportunities for city leaders to remake the historically designated district into a successful mix of recreational amenities, rehabilitated housing, offices and cultural places-all created with respect for the area’s heritage.

But the district’s successful mix of modern and historic is delicate and faces constant threats. The first comes in the form of an athletic complex proposed by an educational institution. A planned retaining wall and tall lights for the athletic field are out of scale with the nearby Nicollet Island neighborhood, and may degrade the island’s unique but fragile historic character.

The second threat is a proposed high-density housing project on the Mississippi River’s east bank. The developer has so far taken a careful approach, and is mindful of the district’s historic qualities. However, community members and preservationists are concerned that planned buildings will violate local height standards, and may be out of scale with the surrounding historic structures. The Preservation Alliance believes a design process with more creative input by all interested participants would help ensure architecture that will become an example the era’s history.

Graves Farm,
Sauk Rapids, Benton County

The Willis A. and Emily Graves farm site is a rare and striking example of Minnesota folk architecture. The farm sits in a forested section of Benton County with 3,300 feet of undeveloped property along the Mississippi River. It is also adjacent to a Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Management Area and directly across the river from a Stearns County Park. The site features a ca. 1910 Victorian/Craftsman house. Its outbuildings are unique specimens of “salvage architecture” thoughtfully cobbled together from old granite blocks, pressed metal and boxcar siding.

The site is a beloved one, and members of the local community are thinking up ideas for reusing some of the buildings. One idea is to turn some of the buildings into warming houses for cross-country skiers. Ten acres of farmland will be converted to native prairie and an official park name of “Bend in the River Regional Park,” has been given to the site. The county has established a park endowment fund to get donations and do fundraising for the site. A master plan for the site will be developed in the next one to two years.

Roseau City Hall,
Roseau, Roseau County

The Roseau City Hall was designed by St. Paul Architect Frederick C. Klawiter and constructed in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration, an agency of the federal government established to provide employment in the construction industry and ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression. The Moderne style, two-story concrete building features a center bay tower that extends one-half story over the main entrance, and window bays that are defined by vertical, corrugated concrete bands stretching from foundation to the roof.

It has been used as a city hall, jail and fire station and although the building’s interior has been remodeled, it retains a large auditorium with a cantilevered balcony. When the Roseau River flooded in June of 2002, it affected downtown and residential areas of Roseau, including municipal service buildings. The city and the Minnesota Design Team in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Center for Rural Design proposed the construction of a unified city center complex and the demolition of the historic city hall.

In November of 2004 the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Minnesota officials traveled to Roseau to meet with city officials and members of the Citizens Committee for the Preservation of Historic Roseau City Hall to explore alternatives that would retain the 1936 building. The group found that alternatives do exist, but it remains to be seen if the City of Roseau will embrace an alternative that preserves this building.

Julian A. Weaver House,
Granite Falls, Yellow Medicine County

In 1878 Julian Weaver built his Greek Revival/Italianate inspired house in Granite Falls near the banks of the Minnesota River. It was listed on the National Register in 1986. The construction of his house corresponds to his arrival in the city to serve as the depot agent for the Hastings and Dakota Railroad, a position he held for 33 years.

The Weaver House is one of the most intact examples of 1870s residential architecture remaining in west-central Minnesota. Most of the houses on the flood plain, except for the Weaver House and one other early home, have now been demolished or moved. The City of Granite Falls is investigating preservation options including moving the house to a historically appropriate lot, but failing this, demolition could follow.

“Cap” Emmons Auditorium,
Albert Lea, Freeborn County

Cap Emmons Auditorium is nestled among a complex of school buildings that once formed the musical and cultural hub of Albert Lea. Designed by Toltz King and Day in 1938 and built by WPA workers, it stands as a classic example of Art Deco architecture. As many as 2000 people could sit comfortably on upholstered seats and enjoy excellent sight lines and acoustics at each performance.

In 1991 the school district refurbished, repainted, re-draped, and updated the lighting and sound systems leaving the building in excellent condition. When a new high school was built in 1998 voters for the referendum were told the auditorium would be saved. In 2001 the district sold the former school complex, including the auditorium, to a developer hoping he would incorporate the auditorium into a residential and commercial area. No development occurred and the building sat empty and cold.

February 1, 2005 Albert Lea Medical Center, a branch of Mayo Medical Systems, purchased the complex. Prior to the sale the mayor and city manager apprised Mayo of the public sentiment for the auditorium. Within one week following the sale citizens had collected over $100,000 and 1,200 signatures in support of the auditorium but were stunned when Mayo stated their plans for demolition and replacement with a parking lot. Preservationists are not asking for financial help but immediate help in stopping demolition.

Update: As of mid-February, 1,200 local signatures were gathered but could not sway the Mayo’s decision to demolish the auditorium. Demolition is scheduled to begin within the next few months and construction of the parking lot completed by the end of the year.