Education Restoration Preservation

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Healy Block Residential Historic District – 3137 Second Ave So: Healy-Forbes House Healy Block Residential Historic District – Architecture Healy Block Residential Historic District – an Introduction Anders Christensen Receives Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Executive Director’s Award Anders Christensen’s Remarks on Receiving Preservation Alliance of Minnesota Award Healy Project Fundraiser at the Lowbrow, May 7th Winter Party Fundraiser December 2017 Talk: Preservation Advocacy, August 17th Open House at 1300 Mount Curve Avenue East Lake of the Isles Walking Tour May 21st New Research on the “Lost” Healy Block: Tour May 7th A Presentation on Master Builders Ingham and Parsons, Saturday, March 18th. Healy Project Winter Party Henry Ingham’s Yorkshire Healy Project Fundraiser at the Lowbrow, May 9th Healy Block Historic District Tour: April 17th Healy Project Holiday Old House Reception CANCELED–Healy Block Historic District Walking Tour–November 8 More Hauntings: Houses Built by Henry Ingham Healy House Hauntings Tour Intro to the History of the North Wedge North Wedge Architectural Walking Tour, October 3rd Healy Phoenix #2 Healy Phoenix #1 Report on the Event: A Great Dinner for a Good Cause A Child’s View of T.P. Healy’s Family Big Win for Healy Block Residents: Revised I-35W Expansion Plan T.P. Healy: Farmer, Commission Merchant & Wholesale Grocer in Nova Scotia Open April 25th: Restored 1885 House in Wedge Learn from the Past, Learn from the Present Grandstanding and Stonewalling at City Hall: Trashing the Public Trust Orth House Demolition An Open Letter to Minneapolis City Council Regarding the Orth House Demolition The Truth Will Out II: More Lies That Brought Down 2320 Colfax Avenue South The Truth Will Out: Lies that Brought Down 2320 Colfax Avenue South Judge Denies Injunction against Wrecking 2320 Colfax Avenue South Poisoning the Well: Testimony about 2320 Colfax Avenue South “City Ghosts” Visit Victorian House Historic North Wedge Walking Tour: Sunday, September 7th Combining New and Old: A New Vision for the Orth House A Place That Matters Healy Project Files Suit to Stop Demolition of the Orth House Happy Earth Day, Zero-Credibility City of Minneapolis Stop Demolition: Allow a designation study for the Orth House Perverting New Urbanism II: Greenwashing Demolition Perverting New Urbanism for Fun and Profit Size Matters: Development at Franklin-Lyndale DEN$ITY: Building Utopia in Gopher City Hypocrisy at City Hall: Planning Department Scorns Sustainable Development Déjà Vu All Over Again: Threats to Healy Houses Renewed Healy Project Special Kickoff Tour Saving Private Houses In Landmark Decision, City Council Stops Demolition of 2320 Colfax Avenue South What’s the Greenest Building? Who Lives in Lowry Hill East? Revoltin’ Developments VI: What You Can Do Revoltin’ Developments V: Sappy Citizens and Maudlin Attachments Revoltin’ Developments IV: Density and City Planning Revoltin’ Developments III: Density and Livability Revoltin’ Developments II: Healy Houses in the Wedge Revoltin’ Developments, Part I Healy Descendant Acquires the Bennett-McBride House On Memorial Day Lost Healys on the Healy Block More Lost Healys The Broom House: 3111 Second Avenue South More on Round Hill Happy Birthday, T.P. The Edmund G. Babbidge House: 3120 Third Avenue South Brightening the Corner: 3101 Second Avenue South 2936 Portland Avenue The Andrew H. Adams House: 3107 Second Avenue South Clones: 2932 Park and 1425 Dupont North The J.B. Hudson House: 3127 Second Avenue South Second Healy Family Home: 3131 Second Avenue South Schlocked: ‎2639-41 Bryant Avenue South 1976 Sheridan Avenue South: Preserved Exterior The William L. Summer House, 3145 Second Avenue South Two More in the Wedge Weapon of Mass Healy Destruction: I-35W Construction The Third: Healy Builds in the Wedge The Second: 3139 Second Avenue South Healy’s First House: 3137 Second Avenue South Anders Christensen, T.P.Healy, and the Healy Project

Saving Private Houses

If you have been in a fight to save an old house, you soon found out that these battles are political.  Who has the power usually determines who wins–which is why so many preservation battles are lost.  Money is power, and the forces of money are heavily weighted on the side of new development. Economic development is the name of the game, and if this means wrecking and rebuilding whole cities to keep the engine of late capitalism chugging, that’s what must be done (so they allege).

In Thomas Pynchon’s novel about New York before and after the 9-11 attacks, two characters are at the Pireus Diner, a funky old survivor of yupdating:

I can’t believe this place is still here.”
“Come on, this joint is eternal.”
“What planet are you from again? Between the scumbag landlords and the scumbag developers, nothing in this city will ever stand at the same address for even five years, name me a building you love, someday soon it’ll either be a stack of high-end chain stores or condos for yups with more money than brains. Any open space you think will breathe and survive in perpetuity? Sorry, but you can kiss its ass goodbye.”
Bleeding Edge (2013), p. 117.  

That’s the observation of New Yorkers, but the scene could take place in any city in the world.

One of the lions guarding the entrance to the New York Public Library (Carrère and Hastings, 1897-1911).  This beloved landmark is currently the center of a heated controversy about Norman Foster’s scheme to radically alter the building’s design.

If old, cherished buildings are to be saved, preservationists need to have a clear idea of what they want to do and why. Who are these “preservationists”? Many disparate voices speak up for old buildings, and their reasons for doing so are as diverse as the groups they belong to.  On one end of the spectrum is the Establishment.  These are the people who come to mind most often when the word “preservation” is mentioned, the group(s) with both money and influence in government.  

Chief among these is the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which, according to their website, is “a privately funded nonprofit organization [that] works to save America’s historic places. We are the cause that inspires Americans to save the places where history happened. . . . As the leading voice for preservation, we are the cause for people saving places.”  The Trust and state-based organizations like the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota do great work–for example, funding studies on preservation-related issues (building green, encouraging tax credits), serving as liaisons with government entities, advocating for endangered buildings, running house museums. 

A Trust ad encouraging people to join in the cause of protecting historic tax credits.

Many of their members are Players, or those connected with Players, people in government and the private sector who have influence over the outcomes of preservation battles. Some Players are elitists, those who are primarily interested in important monuments, like the homes of Victorian industrialists and elegant old apartment buildings. If they have enough money and political influence, they can have dazzling against-the-odds successes.  Take, for example, the fight to save Grand Central Terminal (Reed and Stem, Warren and Wetmore,1903) in New York from being redeveloped with an enormous tower built over it.  The battle, led by prominent New Yorkers like Jacqueline Kennedy, wound up being decided by the Supreme Court in 1978–the first case to be heard by that body on a preservation issue.  Grand Central stands today because of the prestige and influence of its defenders against big money/big developers.

The ceiling in Grand Central Terminal concourse, looking up from the main floor.

At the other end of the preservation spectrum are the Grassroots preservationists.  These are the small groups and individuals who, for reasons of aesthetics, sentimentality, or practicality, want to preserve old houses and their urban neighborhoods. They love the houses not because some big name architect designed them, or someone important lived in them, or something important took place there, but for other, perhaps more obscure reasons. Maybe they like the way an old house looks (or might look). Maybe they appreciate the craftsmanship and quality of materials in the old building. Maybe they simply can’t afford to buy a house of similar size and quality in a more upscale neighborhood. Or maybe it’s a combination of all of these. Whatever the reason, these preservationists of modest means band together when one of their own is threatened.

What distinguishes many of these Grassroots preservationists is that they are standing in the front lines of the battles with irresponsible landlords and predatory developers. They are the ones who are often at odds with city planning departments and the developers they are in cahoots with.   Livability matters to them. If the once-beautiful old house next to theirs is rented to party-all-night cokeheads or hookers, or if two houses across the street are slated to be torn down and replaced by a soulless, fake-green apartment building, they are the ones who take action. Their cries for help may or may not be heard by the Establishment–usually not. Instead, they function as voices crying in the urban wilderness, banding together with like-minded homeowners, business owners, and tenants to save the old neighborhood from the bulldozers.

Grassrooters don’t have the money to fund a complete or even partial rehab or restoration of a house as soon as they buy it.  Instead, they chip away at the rehab, doing some of the work themselves, bit by bit, as finances allow. I know because I am one of these preservationists.  When we bought a ramshackle 1885 Queen Anne in 1976, it was in very sorry condition. All the woodwork had been painted, the exterior had two layers of siding, and all ornamentation had been removed. Alarmingly, some fool had removed part of a load-bearing wall to install a cold-air return, and the middle of the house was settling cellarwards. It took a lot of hard work and not a small amount of change over a 33-year period to whip the house back into shape.  Over those decades my family endured frozen pipes, drafts, broken stair treads, carpenter ants, and dozens of other ills that old houses are heir too–including a haunting by a former owner. On one occasion, carrying a heavy can filled with old lathe and plaster, I fell through the floorboards of the summer kitchen. It was like living in the Money Pit, but without the money.

The mantlepiece in the front parlor of my house. In 1976 the bottom part had been painted, and the top part stuck in the attic. The original tiling and firebox were long gone. The missing center mirror was replaced and the wood stripped and refinished.  The 1950’s brickwork remains as it was.

Whatever kind of preservationist you may be, If you care about Healy houses, or any other old house, the most effective way to preserve them is to join together. The best way to fight City Hall (or MnDOT or yupscalers) is to define your goal, band together, and spread the word.

Next: Examining what’s happening in and around the Healy Block Historic District in South Minneapolis.  Despite their historic designation, the Block and other houses on nearby blocks are facing threats ranging from arsonists to a MnDOT scheme to widen Interstate 35W–which already took the west side of Second Avenue in the 1960s.  Their historic designation itself is threatened by City approval of a variance allowing the “opening up” of the interior of the Bennett-McBride House, the only remaining Healy house with an intact original interior.


Answer: The one standing.  
     So says Carl Elephante, Director of Sustainable Design at Quinn Evans Architects.  Last year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation released a study, “The Greenest Building: Quantifying the Environmental Value of Building Reuse,” with data that supports this contention. The report uses Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to compare the relative impacts of building renovation and reuse versus new construction. The description of the study says that it “examines indicators within four environmental impact categories, including climate change, human health, ecosystem quality, and resource depletion.” 

copyright, National Trust for Historic Preservation

According to the study, wrecking a building and replacing it with a new one comes with very high environmental and economic costs. Let’s look at what how these costs apply to the wrecking of the historic Orth House at 2320 Colfax Ave. order to build the Lander Group’s new four-story apartment building:
     First is the cost of destroying the existing structure. Wrecking the Orth House (and its neighbor at 2316) will cost the developer approximately $30,000 each.  Add to this cost, the waste of the building materials of the house. The Orth House, a large 6,000+-square-foot house, is estimated to weigh 180 tons, not including the foundation (John Jepsen, Jepsen, Inc.). The Orth House was built in 1893 of lumber from Minnesota’s virgin forests.  This irreplaceable resource will be hauled off to a landfill, never to be used again. The plaster, lath, windows, and mechanical systems will similarly be trashed.  Yes, some of these features could be removed for salvage; however, the sad fact is that staircases, doors, and windows in a house of this size and vintage cannot easily be fitted into an existing structure. To reuse them, one would have to custom build a structure they could fit into. And what’s the point of that when they are already serving their purpose in the existing house?

2320 front
The Orth House today.

Second is the cost in labor and materials to build the new structure. New construction consumes many resources. The developer’s claim about energy savings makes no sense because new construction consumes so much energy upfront in producing new materials. (U.S.Green Building Council) The proposed apartment building is not one that uses a variety of “green” features and technologies, but a run-of-the mill structure.  Recycling bins and bicycle racks do not a green building make. In fact, according to the Trust’s study, when replacing an average existing building with a new, more efficient building, it still requires as many as 80 years to overcome the impact of the construction.

The Orth House c. 1900
Minneapolis City officials and planners have been long giving lip service to sustainability–without doing much to promote or implement it.  Take, for example, the squandering of resources via the City’s federally-funded Green Homes North” initiative. Because the “green” money funds new construction only, the program has resulted in the demolition of houses that could be rehabbed. As the Trust study shows, the “new construction” caveat of the program produces the opposite of what “green” building actually is.
     In the seven months since the Lander Group brought forth its proposal to wreck 2320 and 2316 to build a four-story apartment building, nothing has changed to make their project more environmentally friendly.  On the contrary, at a hearing in March, architect Pete Keeley announced changes to the building that would require zoning variances to make its footprint even larger–this despite previous assurances to the contrary to the neighborhood association.
     From the outset the developer has proposed what is unimaginative at best.  At worst, the Lander project will squander irreplaceable resources, replacing a beautiful, historic building with one that is commonplace and built of inferior materials. The Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission has declared the Orth House an historic resource.  It has stood proudly on the corner of 24th and Colfax for 120 years, and with a little help, could stand for another 120.  To reduce construction expenses and maximize profit, the new building will be constructed to have a functional life of 20-30 years. Then it will go to the landfill–and nobody will be appealing to the Heritage Preservation Commission to save it.
     Heritage is green. The time has come for the City to consider cultural infrastructure as well as physical infrastructure. The Orth House, the former home of Minneapolis’s first family of brewers (Grain Belt), and the transition design in the distinguished career of master builder T.P.Healy, is the repository of local history, architectural heritage and culture–a legacy that should not be destroyed for the short-term gain of a few. 
Recycling existing buildings is essential to creating sustainable cities.

Recycling existing buildings is essential to creating sustainable cities.

     “Every brick in building required the burning of fossil fuel in its manufacture, and every piece of lumber was cut and transported using energy. As long as the building stands, that energy is there, serving a useful purpose. Trash a building and you trash its embodied energy too.”–Robert Shipley
Minneapolis, do the right thing: Support sustainability and save the historic Orth House from the landfill.
Preservation is an international issue. Desregarding public outrage, in 2007 the City of Panama wrecked dozens of exquisite old houses like this one, the Castillo El Millon, in a frenzy of high-density redevelopment.
Despite losses and setbacks, Panamanian preservationists repeatedly took to the streets to protest demolitions for redevelopment.
     The question I’m asked most about my comments on this blog is, “What can I do?”  When one sees the power of the government (City officials and planners) and the wealth of the financial institutions lined up to promote and support developers, it’s easy to get spun around.  Most of us, myself included, do not like to spend our valuable evenings attending hearings and meetings, especially when it seems few on the board or commission care about anyone else’s opinion.  
     However, our doing nothing means that the City and the developers will proceed with their plans to redevelop inner-city neighborhoods into high-density residential, historical buildings and community opposition be damned.  The City has made this agenda clear in the Wedge, where R6 (high density) zoning remains in place, even though over the decades LHENA has made repeated attempts to downzone the affected areas to R2B.
      A common misconception is that preservation is a top-down process.  Those  who expect organizations such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation to swoop in and save the day will be sorely disappointed.  The people who care about a building or a community are the ones who must defend it. The National Trust and other preservation organizations provide communities with resources to help them articulate their positions and fight their local battles; they don’t fight the battles for them.
      But there’s a lot individuals can do for preservation, based on their interests and priorities.  Here are some general things you can do in the current struggle between Big and Small:

1) Acknowledge that this will be a long-term process. Historic preservation action is political. The machinery of government from planning departments to heritage preservation commissions is oiled for development.  The City has a whole stable of paid professionals standing by with their studies, plans, and regulations. In addition, the moneyed interests that are driving high density residential redevelopment will not give up without a fight.  If they’re stymied with a project in one neighborhood, they’ll seek another place for it.

2) Keep informed and get constant updates through the Healy Facebook page, this blog and other preservation blogs (such as that of the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota) and by reading local newspapers.

3) Spread the word to friends, colleagues, and neighbors about what’s going on.

4) Speak out by attending meetings and/or communicating with city officials by e-mail, letters, or phone calls.

5) Network. Make alliances with like-minded people and groups regarding preservation issues important to you. Recruit people with special skills (organizers, attorneys, architects, business leaders) to join the alliance.

6) Concentrate on the task at hand: slowing the high-density juggernaut. Set aside political differences with allies on unrelated issues.

7) Accentuate the positive. Ignore the voices that keep saying we can’t win.
8) Enjoy what we have now.  Celebrate community in our Minneapolis neighborhoods.
More specifically:
9) Serve on committees dealing with zoning and planning, or, if this is not your thing, go to important hearings that affect your neighborhood.  On January 30th, the LHENA Z&P Committee has scheduled the first of a number of meetings revisiting R6 zoning in the Wedge. This is a good opportunity to speak out on the issue.
10) Volunteer as an on-the-ground soldier.  The best way to combat the half-truths and false allegations by City officials and developers is to have command of the facts. For example, the North Wedge Historic District group (on Facebook) needs people to research its architectural and social history, photograph the buildings, and collect stories from residents.

11) Work to elect officials that support their communities, not moneyed interests.   Mayor R.T. Rybak, a booster of high density residential development, is not running for office again.  This is an excellent opportunity to elect someone who will listen to neighborhood concerns. Also, we need City Council members who support the people who live in their wards.  Go to candidates’ forums and ask what they think about these issues. Of course, they can misrepresent their positions or change their minds (as Rybak apparently has done), but at least we have them on record.
The “emergency” demolition of the historic Fjelde House on Christmas Eve, 2009, is one example of the City’s stealth attacks on sites it wants to redevelop.  
Another example is the middle-of-the-night demolition in 1975 of Calhoun Elementary School (built 1887) on what was to become the parking ramp for Calhoun Square.