Classic architecture must be preserved as city grows

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January 22, 2014
By: Paul Ryan
Paul Ryan

As the City of Minneapolis encourages development in its quest to become a high density city, let us as a city commit ourselves to preserving our historic pre-World War II classic structures.

Minneapolis is a prosperous city with a rich history. Unlike many American cities, Minneapolis is blessed to have significant numbers of Victorian and pre-World War II residential and commercial structures. At the turn of the 20th Century, the city of Minneapolis was a thriving metropolis of 200,000 residents. Current and future generations are blessed to be heir to beautiful pre-World War II structures: classic structures which are irreplaceable.

Exciting new development opportunities have become possible with the City Council’s recent ordinance relaxing the requirements of minimum lot sizes per dwelling. At the same time, the danger presents itself of returning to disastrously destructive development trends reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s. In that time, single-family homes were especially vulnerable to developers who would buy two or more grouped homes and have them torn down in order to build higher density structures on comparatively small lot areas.

In no neighborhood is this more evident than Lowry Hill East, known as the Wedge neighborhood of South Minneapolis. Structurally unattractive 1960s and 1970s multi-unit two and three story walk up apartment buildings were interspersed among stately Victorians and pre-World War II multi-unit brownstones. Thankfully, neighborhood activists and historic preservationists banded together in the 1970s to put a stop to this development and save these classic homes for future generations to enjoy.

The City of Minneapolis is a city full of classic buildings despite itself.

Decades of city planners and developers have turned their backs on the city’s classic facades. Anyone who has ever thumbed through a copy of “Lost Twin Cities” knows the pain of what we have lost. The Metropolitan Building is perhaps the most infamous example. Citing “urban blight”, the Gateway neighborhood, which housed the Metropolitan Building, lost 20 blocks of classic structures. Minneapolis lost a cozy neighborhood that could now house interesting store fronts and housing full of old world charm. Left as parking lots for decades, the recent development in the area is no match to the beautiful facades that were lost.

Sadly, the destruction haunts us up to the present. The Totino’s building on Central Avenue was demolished for seemingly no reason other than convenience for a development being built on that site. This is a case where the City Council should have demanded that the Totino’s building be incorporated into the new development. With little foresight, too often Minneapolis has destroyed itself.  Before the city implements new density ordinances, this issue must be addressed.

A goal of higher density should not be a pre-eminent concern above all others. Preserving classic architecture must be a priority. I, for one, like high-density cities and find them exciting. I would actually like to see Minneapolis become a higher density city, but not at the expense of losing our classic facades. Replacing classic structures with higher density ones that look like they came mail ordered from IKEA, does not a great city make.

As an airline crewmember with 20 years of service, I have traveled the world long enough to know that the world’s truly great cities preserve their old facades. Most European cities exert great effort in preserving their classic architecture. Perhaps they realize these buildings are a reflection of where they have come from as a people and a statement of their cultural identities for all to see. These beautiful cities are rewarded for their efforts by being top draws in new residents and millions of tourist dollars.

It is time for the City of Minneapolis to implement a formal historic preservation policy to ensure that classic pre-World War II buildings are given every effort to be preserved. The days of destroying these structures because it is a cheaper or a more convenient option must end. Minneapolis shall preserve these icons of its rich and glorious past: doing so will create a rich and glorious future for the City of Minneapolis. 

Paul Ryan
Lowry Hill East