2009 10 Most Endangered

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MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA (May 7, 2009) – A small-town creamery, a nineteenth-century hotel, a classic American ballpark, and a roadside icon represent just a few of the diverse sites named to the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s 2009 list of the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places.

This list, the 16th annual compilation the Alliance has released, profiles the state’s most endangered historic sites. Citizens and groups from around the state submit nominations for the list. Final selections are made by a selection committee including members of the following groups: the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota; 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; Preserve Minneapolis; the University of Minnesota; Pine Center for the Arts; and the Minnesota advisors to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The 10 Most Endangered program is designed to spotlight historic properties that face imminent danger through demolition, neglect, severe alteration, or inappropriate public policy. Through this program the Alliance seeks favorable outcomes that can be achieved through a preservation approach. Of the 132 historic places listed over the life of this important program, two-thirds have been saved in part through the awareness generated by their listing. Success stories include Midtown Exchange and the Ivy Tower in Minneapolis, Saint Paul’s Head and Sack House, the Stillwater Lift Bridge, the former Red Wing High School, the Litchfield Opera House, and Virginia’s B’Nai Abraham Synagogue. A full listing of previous 10 Most Endangered properties, and more information about the Alliance’s work to preserve, protect, and promote Minnesota’s historic resources, can be found at archive.mnpreservation.org.

A photographic exhibit featuring the 10 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2009-created by Katherine Scott of Black Box Images, Doug Ohman of Pioneer Photography, Kodet Architectural Group, and Drumminhands Design-will be displayed at museums, libraries, and other public places statewide throughout the coming year. The Alliance thanks the following sponsors for making this program possible: Duluth Preservation Alliance; Friends of the Graves Farmstead; Mantorville Restoration Association; Connie Lies, Litchfield; Society for Commercial Archeology; Friends of the Riverfront; American Society of Landscape Architects-Minnesota Chapter; Kasson Alliance for Restoration; Sam Dalluge, Saint Cloud; and Midtown Global Market.

The Alliance would like to thank the following sponsors for contributing to the success of this year’s 10 Most Endangered:

The 2009 – 10 Most Endangered Historic Places are:

The Big Fish, Bena

Map: 456 US Hwy 2 N.E., Bena, MN 56626

Minnesota is blessed with a number of colossal roadside attractions, from Paul Bunyan statues to giant loons, yet it is our fascination with fish that often garners the biggest concrete, fiberglass, or wood specimens. In that category is the Big Fish, the superlative example of Minnesota’s biggest aquatic lifeform, the muskie. Located on U.S. Highway 2 outside of Bena, this popular example of roadside Americana was originally called the Big Muskie Drive-In. The Big Fish is just a short cast from Lakes Winnibigoshish, Cass, and Leech, in the heart of Minnesota’s muskie fishing region about 35 miles east of Bemidji.

The 65-foot long, 15-foot wide Big Fish was built as an ice cream and hamburger stand in 1958, composed of wood and roofing material by sculptor Wayne Kumpla. The former food stand is now a storage shed located next to the Big Fish Supper Club, a seasonal restaurant. Tourists frequently stop along Highway 2 for photo opportunities with the Big Fish, including posing inside the fish’s walk-in mouth. The Big Fish has been featured on a number of blogs and at least three books on roadside attractions. Charles Kuralt called it his favorite building in the U.S. The structure also appeared in the opening credits of National Lampoon’s Vacation, starring Chevy Chase.

Unfortunately the Big Fish has fallen into disrepair and the wood frame is in danger of rotting. Guidance and help are needed so this vernacular folk art structure can be preserved for future lovers of roadside America.

Learn more about the Big Fish at:

Society for Commercial Archeology – http://www.sca-roadside.org/

Read about the Big Fish in the New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/22/automobiles/on-the-byway-roadside-giants-icons-that-are-large-literal-and-loved.html?sec=travel&spon=&pagewanted=all

Or in the book Minnesota Marvels – http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/D/dregni_marvels.html
Visit Big Stuff blog http://thebigstuffproject.blogspot.com/

Roadside America http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/710

Join the cause “Fans of the Big Fish” on Facebook

Chaska Athletic Park, Chaska
Location; 725 W. First St., Chaska, MN 55318

Local residents built Chaska Athletic Park in 1950 out of modest materials, to serve as the home field of the Chaska Cubs baseball team and as a general recreational facility for the city. The park retains many of its original features, including the grandstand, wood bleachers, announcer’s booth, concession stand, and dugouts constructed of concrete blocks. The honest simplicity of the structure and the real grass infield differentiate Chaska Athletic Park from the gravel-surrounded-by-chain-link-fence fields that serve as ballparks in most communities. For nearly 60 years, Chaska Athletic Park has been a gathering place for area residents, for events, as well as baseball games.

However, a new alignment for Highway 41, proposed by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT), would run through the Chaska Athletic Park site. The highway would divide the property and eliminate the historic ballpark. As a notable and too-rare example of a mid-twentieth century recreational property that has functioned continuously as an important community asset since 1950, Chaska Athletic Park should be preserved. Mn/DOT should work with the community to reconsider alternative alignments, before this important piece of Chaska’s cultural history is lost.

Attend a ballgame http://www.chaskacubs.com/

Watch this video from the Star Tribune

Palace Hotel, Crookston
Location: 119 West 2nd St., Crookston, MN 56716

In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the Palace Hotel was one of ten hotels operating in Crookston, a thriving commercial and railroad hub that was essential to the development of the Red River Valley. The Palace Hotel, completed in 1896, anchors Crookston’s Commercial Historic District, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

The Preservation Alliance included the Palace Hotel on its 10 Most Endangered list in 2006, when it was acquired by Polk County through tax-forfeiture and its future was uncertain. As a result of that listing, MetroPlains Development proposed a substantial rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the hotel as rental housing. A portion of the financing necessary to complete the project has been secured, but additional funding is needed. The current national banking crisis and a poor investor market for federal housing tax credits have presented further challenges. This project would benefit from the resources provided by a state rehabilitation tax credit, if Minnesota had such a program.

Polk County still controls the Palace Hotel. The building has generated no tax revenue for several years and has become a drain on the county’s limited resources. The County Board voted in January 2009 to demolish the building if funding is not secured by October of 2009. If preserved and rehabilitated, the historic Palace Hotel could stimulate additional revitalization, playing an essential role in Crookston’s future.

Learn more about the Palace Hotel at:
Crookston Convention and Visitors Bureau – http://www.visitcrookston.com/home.php?pg=attractions

King of Trails – http://www.highway75.com/index.htm

Crookston Historic Commercial District – http://nrhp.mnhs.org/property_overview.cfm?propertyID=85

Dassel Co-op Dairy Association Creamery Building, Dassel
Location: 410 Simon Ave. W., Dassel, MN 55325

Once a common part of Minnesota’s small-town architectural and cultural landscape, dairy creameries are a rapidly dwindling feature of our agricultural heritage. All Minnesotans-from dairy farmers and feed producers to anyone who has enjoyed a fresh glass of milk or an ice cream cone-has benefited from these structures. With their distinctive brick construction, often featuring multiple gables, creameries represent a system of agricultural production and processing that provided the foundation of our economy and a way of life for generations of Minnesotans.

Today, the Dassel Creamery in Meeker County faces an uncertain future due to changing production scales and methods. This structure, constructed in 1914, is distinctive in its architectural style, but is also notable as one of the first dairy co-operatives in Minnesota. It was also one of the first to be part of the Land O’Lakes system of co-ops.

The owner of the building, the Dassel Co-op Dairy Association, plans to demolish the structure in the near future if a new use cannot be found and if funding cannot be identified for restoration. While the owners are willing to allow some time to develop an alternative plan before proceeding with demolition, time is running out. The Dassel Area Historical Society and other local residents are working against an uncertain deadline to preserve this important historical resource.

Support the Dassel Area Historical Society http://dassel.com/DAHS/dahs.htm

Saint Louis County Jail, Duluth
Location: W. 2nd St., between 5th and 6th Aves. W., Duluth, MN 55802

In the early 1900s, the “City Beautiful” movement transformed urban landscapes across the country.The Duluth civic center was built between 1909 and 1929 following the design of renowned Chicago architect and City Beautiful proponent, Daniel Burnham. The civic center is a National Historic District, a designated Duluth landmark, and a model of the classical revival style that symbolized the ideals of American government. The St. Louis County Jail, built in 1923, is included in the Civic Center Historic District but it has been empty since it was closed in 1995, and has suffered water damage.

The county wants to tear down the structure and replace it with a 40-car surface parking lot. Although the jail retains certain protections through its historic status, the power to prevent demolition is in question. On March 24, the Duluth Heritage Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny the county’s demolition permit application. The case is now being appealed to the Duluth City Council, with an expected hearing date on April 27. Adaptive re-use of the structure would be challenging, but not impossible.

Duluth’s civic center, located on an elevated site that overlooks Lake Superior, stands as a monument to the city’s history-its industrial production and output, as well as the money and power that flowed into the western-most port of the Atlantic. The St. Louis County Jail-part of the unique history and geography of Duluth-must not be lost to a parking lot.

Rock Island Swing Bridge, Inver Grove Heights
Location: spanning the Mississippi River between Inver Grove Heights and Saint Paul Park

When 200 feet of steel and concrete fell from the Rock Island Swing Bridge in November 2008, people were understandably alarmed and afraid that Minnesota would experience another bridge tragedy. This double-decker vehicle and railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi River was built in 1894. It was a privately owned toll bridge before becoming the joint property of Washington and Dakota counties due to tax forfeiture. The bridge was closed to rail traffic in 1980 and to vehicle traffic in 1999-its swing span locked in the open position to allow barge traffic to pass-but the unusual structure still holds popular and historic appeal. The National Park Service, which administers the 72-mile-long Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), believes the historic bridge could be linked with the regional river trail and provide a unique view of the river as a lookout point or fishing pier.

Preservation plans will be tempered by concerns about public safety, however. Washington County began demolishing the east side and swing span in March, and three spans of the Dakota County side were removed to limit trespassing. The City of Inver Grove Heights and Dakota County Parks are amenable to MNRRA’s proposal, but they do not want to own or be responsible for the bridge, and they lack funding for rehabilitation. At this time, the best outcome would be to preserve the remaining spans, connect them to the river trail with a new, sensitively designed approach, and interpret the history of this unusual bridge and the trains, wagons, cars, and people who once used it to cross the mighty Mississippi.

Foley-Brower-Bohmer House, Saint Cloud
Location: 385 3rd Ave. S., Saint Cloud, MN 56301

In 1889, architect A. E. Hussey designed this impressive Richardson Romanesque mansion in St. Cloud for lumberman and industrialist Timothy Foley. In addition to the corner turret and the artful use of stone and brick, the most important architectural features of the house were its 70 windows, many of which incorporated stained or curved glass. In recent years, the house has suffered numerous insults, including a fire in 2002 that damaged all three stories, unauthorized replacement of twenty windows with inappropriate commercial grade units, an aborted conversion to apartment units, and the removal of the offending windows, which were left boarded. Finally, the house fell victim to the foreclosure crisis in 2007 and stood derelict.

Fortunately, the house was recently acquired by a new owner who wants to return the manse to its former state of prestige. Without the financial incentives for rehabilitation, however, the new owner’s goal of restoring this 8,300 square-foot house is challenging, at best. Minnesota’s former “This Old House” program abated property tax increases for improvements made to historic homes, but the program ended several years ago. The extension of federal and state historic rehabilitation tax credits to homeowners would supplement financial and sweat equity investments. Building rehabilitation that is supported by financial incentives such as these not only brings old structures back to life, it employs local labor and spurs further improvements to Minnesota’s historic neighborhoods.

Schmidt Brewery, Saint Paul
Location: 882 7th St. West, Saint Paul, MN 55102

The Jacob Schmidt Brewery covers 15 acres and is the anchor of the West End neighborhood of Saint Paul. With its crenellated towers, Gothic details, and basement rathskeller, Schmidt’s main brewhouse is a superb example of turn-of-the-century German breweries in the U.S. and likely the largest and most intact design by Chicago architect Bernard Barthel. Other buildings in the brewery complex were added over time, designed by other architects.

Beer was brewed at the plant, under various owners, until 2002. The complex housed an ethanol plant until 2004. A recent plan for the property, called Brewtown, was to be developed in collaboration with the West 7th/ Fort Road Federation and private investors. This plan for a mixed-use complex of artist lofts, apartments and condos, retail, office, and entertainment space, fell victim to funding constraints. The brewery’s owner is working with the local community and city officials to develop an alternate plan, but redevelopment may be difficult in the current economic climate.

Rehabilitation of the enormous Schmidt Brewery complex would be a catalytic development for Saint Paul. It is important to secure and maintain this site, to complete necessary historic designation studies, and to pursue a state rehabilitation tax credit so that when a viable redevelopment opportunity arises, the Jacob Schmidt Brewery can be brought back to life.

Distressed Urban Neighborhoods

Throughout Minnesota, communities are razing vacant and foreclosed homes to prevent vandalism, criminal activity, and blight. Typically the homes that are demolished are not historic architectural gems. But with limited regulatory review, we may be losing structures that, while perhaps not architecturally significant, are otherwise historically or culturally significant. These houses are essential to the urban fabric that instills neighborhoods with a sense of place and history.

The problem of foreclosed and vacant older homes is experienced statewide, but is most acute in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Minneapolis has plans to use $5.7 million in federal funds to demolish at least 320 properties in the city. Saint Paul plans to raze at least 100 homes in the coming months. As troublesome as this trend is, good alternatives are few. Even when properly secured, houses that are unoccupied and unheated quickly deteriorate. Crime and blight, which negatively impact community safety and property values, have neighbors justifiably concerned.

One alternative to demolition is to rehabilitate these houses and sell them to homeowners or neighborhood investors. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul have programs to purchase, rehabilitate, and sell vacant homes, but the funding cannot stretch far enough to meet the need. Our urban neighborhoods run the risk of looking like gap-toothed, grimacing jack-o-lanterns unless we find tools to support rehabilitation instead of demolition.

Historic Wood Windows

Existing tax credits, as well as new federal provisions, support weatherization and energy efficiency improvements to our homes. These programs tout environmental responsibility and sustainability but threaten historic wood windows, which in many cases will be replaced with modern windows. A more sustainable solution would be to repair existing windows whenever possible.

Original wood-frame windows, when provided with basic maintenance, proper repair, and fitted with storm windows, can be just as energy efficient as new windows. Windows over 60 years old were likely constructed of high-quality, dense and durable old-growth wood. Individual parts are easy to replace and are often available at the local hardware store. The cost to fix existing windows is often less than replacement and can be a do-it-yourself project, or homeowners can employ local craftsmen for more complicated repairs. New vinyl or metal windows are more energy-intensive to manufacture, can be difficult to maintain or repair, and have a definite life expectancy. Plus, window replacement results in more building waste in our landfills. (more)

Admittedly, not every wood window can be repaired and replacement is sometimes appropriate. But in most cases, original wood windows contribute to the character of our historic homes and repairing them is the soundest way to preserve our communities and sustain our environment. For more information and window repair tips, visit the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s webpage: archive.mnpreservation.org

Want to learn more about wood window?  Check out these resources: