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The story of the fall of the Orth House will be told as part of a talk and exhibit on preservation advocacy sponsored by Preserve Minneapolis and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota. Anders Christensen of the Healy Project will narrate the two-year- long fight to save the 1893 Healy-built house from demolition. The story of the Orth House, along with other stories of preservation advocacy, will be part of a talk and discussion at the Hennepin History Museum, 2303 Third Ave. South. Thursday, August 17th, 6:30-9:30 p.m. The museum is hosting an exhibit of these stories beginning August 10th.
If you can’t make it to the talk or exhibit, you can read about the fight for the Orth House, its demolition and the aftermath on posts on this blog. It’s a story that’s painful for those of us who fought to save it. . . .and a story that members of the City Council, City Planning, and local developers would like to forget. But it should and must be told.
The deck is almost always stacked against old historic buildings when developers take their promises of higher density and higher tax base to City government. The big triumph over the small, the new over the old, the affluent over those of modest means. The Healy Project will keep fighting as long as old buildings are threatened. And they will always be threatened.
A previous post reported that the salvage operation preparatory to the demolition of the 1893 Healy-designed house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South, aka the Orth House, revealed that most of the architectural features of the house were intact.
A subcontractor involved in the salvage operation sent this e-mail to the Healy Project:
“So many people have either lied or credulously accepted lies about the interior of 2320 Colfax. I’d talked my way into a couple of rooms earlier this year so I knew there was more there than they were letting on but I had no idea… The entry, all 3 parlors and the dining room were essentially the same as you see them in those 2 old interior photos on the Healy site. Wainscoting, window & door casings, cove & coffered ceilings, huge paneled pocket doors, it was all there. The cased openings between parlors and about 4 feet of the North end of the dining room were sectioned off with easily removable drywall partitions.
The real surprise, however, was the 2nd floor, purportedly ‘gutted’ by fire. 5 of 6 bedrooms had all of their original millwork, cove ceilings, pocket doors, 10-panel closet doors. One of the bedrooms had a fireplace with a brown ceramic face/hearth and with a cabinet built into the wood surround. The only things new in each of these rooms were their doors communicating to the central hall. Anyone taken upstairs could be easily led to believe that the floor was a drywall gut-job, as long as they were kept in the hallway.
The 3rd floor still had some original millwork but, as was so often the case, it was relatively plain.
Seriously, this could’ve been a million-dollar house.”
To get to the link showing photos and video taken by Ezra Gray, click here.
This post will outline the process by which a property owner, by repeatedly lying, finally got City officials to issue a demolition permit for a mostly intact 1893 house that had been declared an historic resource.
Owner Mike Crow repeatedly misrepresented the condition of a house he wanted to sell as land. At neighborhood meetings, before the Minneapolis City Council and Heritage Preservation Commission, and in District Court, Crow asserted again and again that there was nothing left of the original, historic house at 2320 Colfax Avenue South.
At the hearing before the Heritage Preservation Commission on April 13, 2013, Crow testified: “The only pictures he [Anders Christensen] showed you is the only part of the house that still has anything left, and a good portion of that is not the original house. Everything on the second and third floor was completely gutted.”
The Minneapolis Planning Department, apparently eager to get the house down and the Lander Group’s apartment building up, accepted Crow’s word on faith, without visiting the site. Basing his opinion on four exterior photos instead of on an examination of the house itself, John Smoley, preservation expert for the Planning Department, repeated Crow’s assertions: “Fires in 1991 and 2011 have left little interior fabric. The second and third floors have been completely rebuilt [. . . ] 2320 Colfax has extensive integrity issues and is no longer representative of an intact Healy house.”
Thus began the spreading of the big lies about 2320: That fires had destroyed the upper two floors, that the second and third floors had been completely rebuilt, removing all of the original appointments, and that the only original components were those visible in the entryway and a front parlor.
Despite these assertions by Crow and Smoley, the HPC declared the house at 2320 Colfax Ave. S. an historic resource. In May, by unanimous vote, the Minneapolis City Council, after hearing the same testimony that Crow and Smoley had presented to the HPC, reaffirmed the HPC’s declaration. The house was officially declared an “historic resource” of the City of Minneapolis.
However, after the 2013 election, Crow decided to appeal the HPC’s decision. In his request for a permit to demolish an historic resource (January 8, 2014), Crow declared: “We purchased the building in 1991 after it had been severely damaged in a fire. The second and third floors were taken down to the studs and rafters. Nothing on the 2nd and 3rd floor survived other than apiece [sic] of trim here and there, every room in the house had some damage from the smoke, fire or water. There is not one single room that is in its original state. The only two rooms that are the most intact in the entire building are the foyer or entry and the original living room with fireplace.”
Ironically, throughout this process, Crow had been adamant in insisting that if people had seen the house, they would know that his description was accurate—This despite the fact that he had shown the house to several representatives of the Healy Project–but not to John Smoley.
Smoley made his first on-site visit to the house in January 2014 in preparation for the HPC hearing on March 18th. Even after seeing the physical house, in the staff report for the hearing, Smoley repeated Crow’s assertions in architectural jargon:
“The property does not retain integrity of materials. The majority of the building’s original exterior and interior materials have been replaced or covered.. . Remodeling on the first floor has been very heavy, though nowhere near as extensive as on the second and third floor spaces. There, the character is almost completely late twentieth century due to a comprehensive 1980s-era remodel designed to repair fire damage. [. . .] Integrity of workmanship is evident in very few remaining exterior features apart from two bow windows and a brick chimney high atop the roof. On the interior, first floor spaces provide limited evidence of late nineteenth century craftsmanship, separated by far more evidence of late nineteenth century work. In any event, the presence of these few, scattered historic features is not sufficient evidence for this residence to retain integrity of workmanship or integrity in general.”
After hearing their testimony, Commission Sue Hunter-Weir commented: “[A] year ago we looked at this property; we knew about the fire, we knew about the siding, we knew all of those things and still thought of this property as an historic resource and that was appealed to both Zoning and Planning and City Council and they upheld that. So it seems to me like we’re being asked now to say it’s not historic enough.”
The HPC denied Crow’s appeal.
Crow then appealed to the City Council. In his “Determination of Historic Eligibility,” Crow sings the same tune, this time with ad hominem attacks (presented here verbatim): “The entrenched foes of new development encouraged the self promoting amateur historian, working in conjunction with a striving TV starlet to generate letters of opposition from folks ignorant of the property. Unwittingly damaging the Preservationist’s cause. With cries of wolf at every new development credibility is diluted, further inhibiting incubation of sound policy. Not everything can be preserved, but if anything it should be the masterpieces. 2320 Colfax was far from a master piece [sic] when it was built much less after three fires, one of which took off the second and third floor.
There is very little left at the property which was built by Mr. Healy.[…]The appellant cites original woodwork, leaded glass and a middle room of the first floor having a fire place. These peices [sic] will surely be saved prior to demolition if they have value. However approximatly [sic] 400 square feet of a total building square footage of over 4,400 means ‘little interior fabric’ of the original remains intact.”
At the April meeting of the Zoning and Planning Committee of the City Council, Crow and Smoley gave basically the same testimony as presented at the HPC. This time, Crow got what he wanted. The committee reversed the previous decisions by the HPC and City Council.
On a motion from new Z&P Chair Lisa Bender, who has publicly supported the Lander development from the outset, the committee approved Crow’s appeal. A month later, the full City Council voted 11-2 to issue the demolition permit for an historic resource. One of the dissenters was 5th Ward CM Blong Yang, who had in fact toured the house. CMs Elizabeth Glidden, Cam Gordon, Barb Johnson, Kevin Reich, and John Quincy, all of whom a year before had declared the house an historic resource, reversed course, and voted for demolition.
When the Healy Project took Mike Crow to District Court for his plans to demolish an historic resource, once again Crow and Smoley repeated their testimony that the upper floors had been burned and rebuilt, that the interior fabric was destroyed, that the house had no integrity of materials, etc., etc.–this time under oath.
These are the facts. All testimony is taken verbatim from the public record.
“. . .at the length, the truth will out.” The Merchant of Venice, Act 2.
Next: The testimony by the owner’s broker, Tom Dunn (Terra Firma Commercial); the developer’s hired historic preservation expert, Amy Lucas (Principle, Landscape Research); and Pete Keely (Collage Architects) of the Lander Group Development Team–all of which repeated the initial claims of owner Mike Crow.
Combining old and new buildings in adaptive reuse is a practice that Minneapolis has not embraced yet. Minneapolis lags behind many other cities, especially those on the coasts and in Canada, in saving old buildings by incorporating them into new construction. (See some examples of adaptive reuse here.) Developers in Minneapolis assert that adaptive reuse is “economically unfeasible”, and that it’s necessary to demolish existing houses in order for them to get the profit they require. On the other hand, some preservationists dislike combining old with new, insisting that the building (whatever it is) be preserved in its original configuration. However, if the building cannot be saved in its first or second incarnation (for example. as a single family home) adaptively reusing it with new construction is the green, economical, and smart choice.
In Minneapolis, the City has consistently taken the opposite course, approving wrecking permits for perfectly good buildings so that developers can maximize profits. On August 13, on behalf of the Healy Project, architects Peter Kim and Bob Roscoe presented a new idea to the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association’s Zoning and Planning Committee for redevelopment of the properties at 2320 and 2316 Colfax Avenue South. Their idea is offered as an alternative to the Lander Group’s proposed 44-unit, three-story apartment building that requires wrecking the historic Orth House at 2320 and the house next door at 2316.
“This design incorporates the existing two historic homes on the property. It is extremely important to the residents and neighbors of Colfax Avenue that the two historic properties be kept, rehabilitated and incorporated into the proposed design at this location. A modern blending of materials can be utilized while at the same time remaining sensitive to the nineteenth century use of wood, shingles, and decorative elements found on the original buildings. A plan that utilizes historic houses as a triplex with additional urban housing units that is sensitive to the urban fabric and to architectural language. Compared to the proposed development, this idea preserves street appearance and contains 72% of the number of proposed units. The Healy Project contends that utilizing historic buildings in this location will contribute to both the economic and cultural aspects of development in LHENA.”–Introduction to Alternate Idea for 2320 Colfax.
Roscoe and Kim’s plan provides for 32 units: 1 bedroom 18 units; 2 bedroom loft 6 units; 2 bedroom + 8 units. Total 32. It provides for 30 parking spaces: Basement 24, Off Street 6. The new apartment building is placed behind the two existing houses, which would be rehabbed and incorporated into the new housing development.
To view the plan, click here: 2320-Draft2
The first part of the Wednesday meeting was the presentation of the Lander apartment project’s most recent “tweaking”, with zoning variances, by Collage Architects. Apparently completely uninterested in any proposal involving preserving the house, after Collage’s presentation, CM Lisa Bender and all the other Lander proponents walked out of the meeting. Only Wedge developer Don Gerberding remained for Roscoe and Kim’s presentation.* It’s a sorry situation when City officials are so bound up in the same old, tired models for development that they can’t bother even to consider the new.
If the property at 2316-2320 were a vacant lot, there would be no controversy. New development would be completely appropriate. But it is not vacant land, and the houses to be destroyed, especially the Orth House, can never be replaced. (See blog post, “Greenwashing Demolition.”) When will the City stop favoring new, big apartment development, and start looking at the old buildings that make Minneapolis Minneapolis? Apparently not as long as the current City Council and Mayor are in office.
*Note: Gerberding currently has a controversial proposal in the works to redevelop the northwest corner of Franklin and Lyndale Avenues in the Wedge. The day after this presentation, an article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Gerberding has defaulted on a $400,000+ loan from the City from 2008, and the City is looking into suing him.
On this day that celebrates Planet Earth, residents of our beautiful planet are urged to conserve dwindling resources by recycling everything from plastic bottles to buildings. The “Zero Waste” initiative of the City of Minneapolis similarly encourages citizens to conserve resources:
“Zero Heroes strive to have Zero Waste. They do this by working to first prevent waste, and then by recycling all they can of the waste that remains. To lower this amount of waste we need to take a step beyond recycling: waste prevention. Waste prevention is reducing the amount of waste and the toxicity of waste. Waste prevention saves natural resources, energy, and may even save you money.” City of Minneapolis Web Site
However, while the City Solid Waste and Recycling Department is urging citizens to compost and recycle bottles and papers, the City Planning department has been facilitating the demolition of an historic house–which will send 180+ tons of materials to the landfill. This disconnect between saying and doing shows a gobsmacking hypocrisy: Citizens recycle while the City cancels out their efforts by a thousandfold in the demolition of one house.
“The facts are in – no matter how much green technology is employed, any new building represents a new impact on the environment.It makes no sense for us to recycle newspapers, bottles, and cans while we’re throwing away entire buildings and neighborhoods.It’s fiscally irresponsible and entirely unsustainable.”Jerri Hollan, FAIA
“Zero Waste” makes zero sense when the City shows blatant contempt for the most important piece of sustainability–recycling existing buildings. City Planning sent staffer John Smoley to the HPC twice to argue for its “save only the best buildings in the best neighborhoods” policy–and twice, after vigorous debate, the HPC affirmed that that the Orth House, 2320 Colfax Ave. S. is historic and should be placed under interim protection while a designation study is completed. But when the owner’s appeal to demolish was heard before the City Zoning and Planning, CM Lisa Bender, taking the unsupported testimony of the appellants as fact, declared that no viable alternatives existed to wrecking the house, and made a motion to overturn the HPC’s decision. The motion passed with no debate.
“By 2030, we will have demolished and replaced nearly 1/3 of our current building stock, creating enough debris to fill 2,500 NFL stadiums. How much energy does this represent? [E]nough to power California (the 10th largest economy in the world) for 10 years. By contrast, if we rehabilitate just 10% of these buildings, we could power New York for over a year.”UrbDeZine SanFrancisco
The hypocrisy of the City regarding recycling would be laughable if it weren’t so appalling. Minneapolis needs to start practicing what it preaches. Citizens recycling cans and bottles is wasted effort if the government is not encouraging the recycling of buildings.
Demand that Minneapolis, the “Zero Waste” City, allow the ordered designation study for the historic Orth House to be done.
Last week the Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee, after listening to an hour of testimony, voted on a motion from CM Bender (Ward 10) to approve the owner’s appeal to demolish the Orth House, 2320 Colfax Ave. S. Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) was the lone dissenter. This vote overturned the decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission to allow the house interim protection (180 days) while a designation study is done. CM Bender must be called to account.
Last year the HPC declared the house to be an “historic resource” and the City Council unanimously upheld this decision. The owner, Michael Crow, and developer, Michael Lander, came back to the HPC this year, saying a designation study hadn’t been done and asking again for a permit to demolish an historic resource. The HPC reaffirmed their previous decision, and ordered a study.
Why wasn’t a designation study done? So far, we have no answer. The issue before the City Council is whether or not viable alternatives to demolition exist for the house. Ignoring the testimony of experts like architect John Cuningham (whose firm did the Uptown small area plan) and structural specialist John Jepsen, who both examined the house inside and out, CM Bender based her opinion on the testimony of those who would reap substantial financial gain from the house’s demolition: the owner, his broker, and the developer.
CM Bender declared that it is not feasible to rehab the house as a single-family home. No one testifying suggested that option, focusing instead on the need for affordable multi-family housing in the city. The owner, Michael Crow, declared that he has spent $250k on improvements to the house. City inspections records show that he spent less than $24k. Last year Crow’s broker, Tom Dunne, when asked directly if he marketed the property on residential MLS, said yes, but admitted this year that he has not. Is the Minneapolis City Council simply going to accept the claims of the owner and broker as fact? Shouldn’t all allegations by appellants be fact-checked by the City?
The City Council should not be taking the word of the owner or developer, or anyone else, on faith. Unless the designation study is done, we have no way of knowing who is giving an accurate, fact-based assessment of the house. Since the vote last year, nothing has changed with the condition of the house or the City ordinances governing historic resources. Ask the CMs on Z&P who voted to grant the house protection last year to justify their change of position (Kevin Reich 1, Barbara Johnson 4). Ask the other CMs who voted last year to follow correct procedure and allow the designation study to go forward (Cam Gordon 2, Elizabeth Glidden 8, John Quincy 11). Copy Mayor Betsy Hodges, who served as CM Ward 13 last year. Ask the new CMs to let the study proceed. Send an e-mail to CM Goodman, thanking her for her support.
Let the City Council’s decision about the Orth House be based on verifiable facts, not the appellants’ unsupported allegations.
The full vote of the City Council on this motion will be held, without public hearing, on Friday, April 25th, at 9:30.
Contact city council members NOW and ask that the City follow correct procedure and allow the designation study to be done. Keep your message short and to the point. Request a response. For a list of current Council members, see http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/council/
What the facts are:
Re: Sustainability. While the City is touting its “Zero-Waste” initiative, City Council is heading towards approving the demolition of a sound, historic house, sending 180+ tons of materials to the landfill. The City and the developer are using “trickle-down” sustainability, putting the responsibility on the project’s residents, who are expected to sell their cars, bike, use public transportation, and recycle.
Re: Density. The developer claims that his so-called “Eco-flats” will provide needed density on transit hubs, a goal of the City Planning Dept. Density and transit hubs already exist in the Wedge. These amenities are there now, new development or not. The population of the Wedge is being increased by 47% by new development along the Greenway. How much density can the neighborhood absorb?
Re: Neighborhood support. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association does not support the Lander development. A motion to approve the project did not pass the board. A survey of e-mails to the City regarding this issue shows overwhelming support for the house by residents with addresses in the Wedge.
Re: Affordability. Rent in new buildings, to be economically feasible for the developer, must be set at market rate or higher. The 1,800 new units in the Wedge are luxury housing. The Lander project will bring more gentrification, marketing to affluent white people. The affordable housing is the existing houses and apartments, not new construction. A perfect site for an apartment project is available at Franklin and Park. Why doesn’t the City urge Lander to build there, rather than facilitating the wrecking of an historic resource?
Re: Preservation. As noted in the 1981 article in Twin Cities magazine, 2320 Colfax is the transitional design in the career of celebrated master builder Theron Potter Healy. The Heritage Preservation Commission determined that the house is an historic resource. But the City thinks historic houses are worth saving only if they are in “good” neighborhoods. As CM Goodman observed, “This house will see an untimely death as a result of its location. If this was in Lowry Hill or Kenwood we would not be having this conversation.”
Ask CMs to pay attention to the presentation of these facts at Z&P last week. Demand that the City follow protocol and allow the study ordered by the HPC to be completed.
Council Members by Ward:
1. firstname.lastname@example.org, 2. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 4. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,11. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 13. email@example.com
Thank Lisa Goodman for her support firstname.lastname@example.org
This Healy house, a design descendant of the Orth House, is on Lowry Hill.
In promoting their new projects, developers repeatedly trot out claims based on the tenets of New Urbanism: affordability, diversity, easy access, and sustainability.
“New Urbanism promotes the creation and restoration of diverse, walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities composed of the same components as conventional development, but assembled in a more integrated fashion, in the form of complete communities. These contain housing, work places, shops, entertainment, schools, parks, and civic facilities essential to the daily lives of the residents, all within easy walking distance of each other.”–NewUrbanism.org
Let’s look at the claims of the Lander Group for its proposal at 2316-2320 Colfax Avenue South and see how they square with the aims noted above. Lander wants to wreck the Orth House at 2320 to clear the site for a 45-unit apartment building. The Lander website says that the 2320 project is “geared to more affordable budgets with the smaller sizing, and real transportation options.” To be cost-effective for the developer, the rents in new units need to be set at least at market rate. Currently, rents for 500-square-foot studios in new Wedge buildings start at $1200 per month. This is not “affordable” housing by any stretch of the imagination. Even if Lander/At Home do as stated keep the rent under $1,000 to start with (still above average for the area), there’s nothing to stop them from raising it afterward. This is exactly what happened at the joint Lander-Gerberding apartment project at 46th and 46th. They were initially advertised as market rate , but now are luxury . If the developer is serious about affordability, let him sign a contract with the City for a fixed-rent range.
The fact is that the older rental units are the affordable ones. New apartment construction, to be cost effective for the developer, must have rents set higher than for existing structures. The result is what we now have in the Wedge Greenway: 1800+ units built or under construction that are inhabited largely by young, affluent white people. The aim of the marketing campaigns for these Greenway apartments is to attract young suburbanites to the city for a few years before they settle down in neighborhoods of mostly single-family homes: “Don’t get hitched until you enjoy your year at Lime”, “I don’t remember her name, but her apartment” (Elan). This kind of marketing and pricing does not produce a racially, socially or economically diverse community, but an enclave of privileged “urban tourists,” slumming in the Wedge for a few years. So much for developers adhering to the “diversity” and “affordable” parts of New Urbanist planning.
The Lander website touts “real transportation options” (as opposed to imagined options?) available to future tenants. “The building concept promotes ‘green’ living – close to and providing a variety of transportation options, services, recreation, and green space.” Lander’s “concept” has not produced these amenities, which are available to anyone living in the area. Bus lines run on Hennepin, Lyndale, and Franklin right now.The Wedge has always been a very walkable part of the city, close to lakes, parks, and shopping. Minneapolis is currently the most bike-friendly city in the country. Hour Cars are available now at Franklin and Dupont, a short walk away; bike racks can be built into any structure.
In addition, the developer and development supporters totally ignore New Urbanism’s mandate to conserve resources: to lift people out of poverty, to use energy wisely, and to build community. An important part of this mandate is to preserve the cultural resources and history of the community–an aspect developers conveniently forget, and in fact, as is obvious in the case of 2320 Colfax, scorn.
“Regional architectural styles, historic preservation and shared public space are also crucial.”—Charter for the New Urbanism
The Lander proposal is designed with one primary goal: to maximize profits for the developer, with no regard for the neighbors or neighborhood. Let’s not forget that the Lander project did not win approval by the LHENA neighborhood board.
Lander, the property owner, and their for-hire expert contend that the Orth House does not have structural integrity. But don’t just take the word of people who will make hundreds of thousands of dollars from its demolition. John Jepsen of Jepsen Structural Services, a company specializing in structural shoring, lifting and straightening, has examined 2320 Colfax. Last year he testified before the City Council that the house is structurally sound, “built of old growth timber, straight and true.”
The owner and the broker who engineered the deal with Lander also contend that it would economically unfeasible to rehab the house. Again, are we to simply take the word of those who will reap substantial financial gain from its demolition? Those who have been inside the house, like myself, have found that many of the original features remain on the first floor and on the exterior.The upper floors were redone after a fire, but this provides interesting options for redesign.
A redevelopment that would include the Orth House would be the green, sustainable, affordable option, a reuse that would be sensitive to community concerns, city history, and fit in with existing buildings in the North Wedge.