Minneapolis Council committee votes to demolish historic rooming house

MinnPost photo by Karen Boros
On Thursday, a Minneapolis City Council committee voted 5-1 to approve a demolition permit for 2320 Colfax Ave. S.

A southwest Minneapolis house constructed in 1893 by master builder Theron Potter Healy appears to be headed for demolition.

On Thursday, a Minneapolis City Council committee voted 5-1 to approve a demolition permit for 2320 Colfax Ave. S., currently a 15-unit rooming house and designated historic resource. For more than a year, property owner Mike Crow has battled the city for permission to make way for a four-story, 45-unit apartment building just off Hennepin Avenue in the Wedge neighborhood.

“Staff feels the property does not retain its integrity,” said John Smoley, a city planner and historic-home expert. “A fire in the 1980s and a series of renovations at that time have made, in staffs opinion, the interior character decidedly 1980s.”

Some historians say the home is the first example of Healy’s move away from his popular Queen Anne style dwelling and into the Colonial Revival Style that followed the example of architecture at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition the same year he built the house on Colfax.

Crow first petitioned to have the home demolished in 2012 and received a permit in February 2013. But that was appealed to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) which granted the appeal, blocking demolition. Crow then appealed that decision to the City Council which also denied his application for demolition.

But he was back again in this year with an application for demolition of an historic resource. The HPC denied that application, and established interim protection for the property. Crow again appealed the decision to the City Council, leading to Thursday’s approval.

There are currently more than 100 Healy houses in Minneapolis, many with historic designation, and 27 in the area of 2320 Colfax. Most of the arguments, for and against demolition, during the public hearing focused on the condition of the Colfax building.

“During my examination I discovered that beneath the vinyl siding, which is equivalent to a blanket being pulled off, that the original siding is still there and the foundation is in perfect condition,” said John Jasper, who has done numerous historic restorations and inspected the building to determine if it could be moved.

Jasper also said the original front wall is still in place as are the some bowed windows. “This is potentially 180 tons of waste that could go into a landfill.”

The house’s first owner was Edward Orth, whose father owned the Orth Brewing Company. He lived in the home, which also had a large barn on the property, until 1904, when the home was sold to Thomas Kenyon, a pharmaceutical salesman.

“I have been put in a position where I have to make a choice between having a private life and losing everything I have left,” Crow argued, saying that selling the property is imperative to him.

He said he has had not offers from anyone to buy the property despite the publicity the potential teardown has received.

2320 Colfax Ave. S. apartment rendering
Lander Group
For more than a year, property owner Mike Crow, has battled the city for permission to make way for a four-story, 45-unit apartment building just off Hennepin Avenue in the Wedge neighborhood.

“They’ve never listed this house on MLS; they refuse to do it,” said Ezra Gray, who is restoring his home in the same neighborhood.  “It has to be sold as a rooming house, and as Crow’s own Realtor put it, rooming houses are a dying industry. They might as well be trying to sell it as a VHS rental shop.”

Others speculated that other Healy houses in the neighborhood might also be demolished if the Colfax house were to be torn down.

“This is my neighborhood, many of you are my neighbors,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who chairs the Zoning and Planning Committee and who moved to allowed the demolition that was halted a year ago.

“Today we’re talking about the economic value of this home,” Bender added, “I can’t imagine anyone investing $500,000 or more to restore this building as a single-family home.” 

Responded the lone Council dissenter, Lisa Goodman: “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.”

Anders Christiansen, a student of Healy houses, filed the original appeal in 2013 to halt the demolition process. He pointed out that the year the Colfax home was built, Healy constructed a total of four houses. Only the Orth House survives.

“I’m just shocked,” said Christiansen following the pro-demolition vote. “We have a City Council and Mayor who talk about zero waste and about equity, but yet when it comes down to it we don’t really care about those issues.  We care about serving developers and supporting landlords who don’t take care of their property.”

The vote to approve demolition now goes forward to the full City Council, which will in turn vote, on the matter April 25.

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Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by Steve Lindsey on 04/17/2014 - 04:52 pm.

    Looks good to me…

    Specious logic?

    I would say other factors are in play… The Great Recession. The deference to the developer. The overall weakening of the historic preservation movement while the property rights movement seems to be in the hearts of most Americans…

    We going to see a lot more of this in the next decades.

    • Submitted by Peggy Barnett on 04/18/2014 - 09:38 am.

      Tearing down Histooric Homes

      In the southwest we do not have beautiful old homes like that. To tear it down and replace it with an apt complex is inviting crime. As they will be not be home owners and therefore not have the concern about wanting to keep the place up. They can just move unlike a home owner who owns and takes pride in how the place looks. That is asking the neighborhood to go downhill. Please save that beautiful home as some things do not have a price tag on them.

      • Submitted by Adam Miller on 04/18/2014 - 02:13 pm.

        It’s a rooming house now

        The future renters will be no less invested in the new property than the current renters are in the current property.

        Also, if you’ve been by the place, you wouldn’t be calling it a beautiful home. Maybe it could be if someone wanted to spend a large sum of money restoring it, but it is not a beautiful home in its present state.

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 04/17/2014 - 10:16 pm.

    That’s a great location for more density

    And we need more density if this city is to continue to thrive. Keeping an old house, simply because it’s old, is not the way to promote growth.

    Now there will be more people patronizing stores in that urban neighborhood, more people and eyeballs on the sidewalks, more people riding the bus.

    The preservationists are being short-sighted in this case.

    • Submitted by Andrew Mutch on 04/18/2014 - 08:38 am.

      Density

      John – I agree with your point about the benefits that density can bring. But density doesn’t get to trump other important benefits that would come with maintaining this home including preserving the architectural history and character of this neighborhood. Also, most people want to live in Minneapolis because of the presence of these old homes and the character of neighborhoods where they are located, not because some developer built a faux “green” development after tearing down a house like this. Tear down enough of these old homes and people are going to stop wanting to move to these neighborhoods.

      There’s plenty of places in the city where infill development can take place that doesn’t involve demolish homes like this. When we’ve run out of those places, then we can debate the relative merits of saving these homes versus increasing density. But right now, we’re not to that point and your arguments sounds like the old “we had to destroy the village to save it”.

      • Submitted by Adam Miller on 04/18/2014 - 02:18 pm.

        The neighborhood

        Across 24th Street there’s a beautifully restored mansion. Next to that one, there is another nicely redone one (not sure all of the wrought iron is historical, but it looks nice nonetheless). Across Colfax there a stately brick house. The neighborhood is going to be just fine.

        Except now more people are going to get to enjoy it and an under-maintained and somewhat unattractive rooming house is going to be replaced with an attractive and hopefully well-maintained apartment building.

        The corner of 24th and Colfax is about to get a lot more appealing.

  3. Submitted by Sally Baur on 04/17/2014 - 11:54 pm.

    Offers have been made and refused by owner

    Actually, Nicole Curtis of the popular TV remodeling and historic preservation show “Rehab Addict” who has saved many historic homes in worse shape than this one, has made offers for this home and was rejected.
    The Historic Society has asked twice according to this article, that this home not be razed. It could be converted back into single housing, I have seen Ms. Curtis do this on her show numerous times. I think her offer to buy and restore should be considered as this home is important to the history of Minneapolis and is part of it’s architectural history.
    A building such as the one shown would destroy the character of the neighborhood, and the council has a responsibility to consider the impact on families living there, as well as the responsibility they have to preserve important buildings such as this one. Once gone, it’s gone forever.
    Please give Ms. Curtis the chance to save this beautiful building and bring it back to it’s original beauty.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 04/18/2014 - 09:11 am.

    Well at least…

    It won’t be replaced by a cookie cutter design that will be dated in ten years and an eye sore in twenty.

  5. Submitted by Peggy Barnett on 04/18/2014 - 09:41 am.

    That is so sad to tear down a beautiful home like that just to stick some apt. in that nobody cares about keeping the place up. Old homes like that are not built anymore. I am not from there but I love old homes.

    • Submitted by John Reinan on 04/18/2014 - 10:02 am.

      I love old homes too, Peggy

      But when they have been carved up into rooming houses and gutted of their essential period character, then I think it’s time to let go of them.

    • Submitted by Andrew Smith on 04/18/2014 - 11:44 am.

      Renters

      This neighborhood is already full of apartments. Something like 70% of the residents of the Wedge are renters, and they haven’t exactly brought the place down. I don’t understand this prejudice against renters.

      This is one of the ugliest houses on the block. There are thousands of old houses in south Minneapolis that are nicer. We should save the best but I don’t see the point in saving everything. Minneapolis needs to grow its’ tax base to maintain its’ aging infrastructure and projects like this help do that.

  6. Submitted by Ian Stade on 04/18/2014 - 01:19 pm.

    Holding the owner hostage vs. preserving a worthy Healy house

    I heard two hearings on this house. It is a rarity for the time period Healy built it, the Panic of 1893.

    After our first HPC meeting I met one of the residents of the property. Talk about affordable housing – I can’t imagine there is a place more affordable ($100/week) in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood. He thanked me for saving his place to live. I voted to save the building in the first vote.

    The second HPC vote was more difficult, it was obvious that the owner no longer wanted to run a rooming house but there were good points about the need to preserve the house.

    We have torn down much more historically important buildings than this one. In the end I voted for density (16 units to 45 units) and for demolition. That house is built like a tank but I believed the owner (who had taken good care of it) should be able to sell it.

    One sad thing about this is that house has been there for over 110 years. Will the apartment building that replaces it last 50 years? I doubt it.

  7. Submitted by Amy Anderson on 04/18/2014 - 04:15 pm.

    Was this rooming house called the Medallion Manor?

    Does anyone know if this particular rooming house was called the Medallion Manor? I think my sister lived there in the early 2000s.

  8. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 04/18/2014 - 04:26 pm.

    Economics vs. aesthetics

    Although restoring this house appears to make little to no economic sense, the last thing the Wedge needs is another low-rise apartment building. It’s full of old but decent-looking ones from before World War 2, and cheap-looking 2.5-story walk-ups built in place of big houses back in the decades when almost no one cared about historic preservation or neighborhood aesthetics.

    Single-home property values in the Wedge likely aren’t high enough to make sense of buying the house and putting $500,000 into it as a single-family home. But could it not be restored and made into a two or three unit property?

    If, in fact, there was an old-home rehab expert (Nicole Curtis) willing to buy it, why not sell it to her? I suppose because the property can be sold for far, far more to a developer who wants to put nearly four dozen units on it. Also, the city can reap far more property tax from an apartment building with so many units.

    I think the city council made an unfortunate call on this property, even if it is economically advantageous to just about every one involved (except the current tenants, of course, but no one lets them get in the way of big money).

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