Historic district would preserve Wedge’s core

Proposed district includes more than 50 century-old residences

THE WEDGE — More than 50 century-old residential buildings would be protected in a proposed Lowry Hill East Residential Historic District.

Clustered just north of Mueller Park on Aldritch, Bryant and Colfax avenues, the building date from 1882–1913. The area was a “streetcar suburb” in an era when development was expanding outward from the downtown core along streetcar lines, according to a report prepared by Community Planning and Economic Development staff.

The Heritage Preservation Commission granted the district interim protection Feb. 17 and directed city staff to complete historic designation study.

“The initial reports indicate it’s a very nice concentration of Queen Anne and Colonial Revival-style residences built around the turn of the last century and in an area whose development was influenced by the proximity of street car lines going down Lyndale and Hennepin (avenues),” John Smoley, a senior city planner, said.

One structure in the proposed district is already listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The John G. Gluek house at 2447 Bryant Ave. S., completed in 1902, was built for the son of the Gluek Brewing Company’s founder.

The Orth House at 2320 Colfax Avenue South, subject of a pitched battle over historic preservation, lies just across the street from the proposed district. Constructed in 1893 by master builder T.P.  Healy, it had been through several fires and undergone conversion into a rooming house, and in April a majority of the City Council voted to allow demolition of the building.

The Lander Group plans to construct a four-story, 42-unit apartment building on the site.

Other Healy-built homes would be preserved within the proposed district. Originally a neighborhood of middle- and upper-class Minneapolitans, the area retains examples of work by several prominent architects and builders of the time, the staff report notes.

Ward 10 City Council Member Lisa Bender, whose own home is located just across the alley from the district boundary, nominated the area for study. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, which in February voted to support the historic designation, hired Mead & Hunt to prepare an initial report on the area back in 2005, and in 2008 and same firm recommended historic designation in a second report to the city, but the process hadn’t advanced since then.

“These historic homes are a really important part of the neighborhood and why so many people love this community,” Bender said. “Certainly, we were attracted to the neighborhood because of these beautiful homes.”

Bender hosted a community meeting for residents of the potential historic district in September and later went door-to-door to meet with homeowners. The majority of responses were positive, she said, although a few homeowners were opposed to historic designation and others expressed concerns about what potential limitations could be set on future home renovations.

Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association President Leslie Foreman said some neighborhood residents advocated for a larger historic district, one with boundaries extending as far south as 27th or 28th street.

The Heritage Preservation Commission could decide to enlarge the district, although Smoley said that’s unlikely. Structures outside of the proposed district are of more recent construction and retain less of their original exteriors, he said.

The Lowry Hill East neighborhood, better known as the Wedge, has seen its southern edge transformed in recent years by apartment development along the Midtown Greenway. But some residents are wary of redevelopment intruding further into the neighborhood’s core.

Meg Tuthill, the area’s previous City Council representative, was among those who urged the city to explore rezoning portions of the Wedge to preserve its remaining turn-of-the-last-century homes. Much of the neighborhood was up-zoned in 1963, and patches of R6 zoning remain today, although the proposed historic district is entirely R2B.

“I’m much, much more concerned about the protection of the housing stock north of 24th Street and south of 26th (Street),” Tuthill, whose house is included in the proposed historic district, said.

Tuthill and her husband, Dennis, moved to the Wedge over 40 years ago, a time when older homes were being demolished and replaced by two-and-a-half story walkup apartment buildings. Now, she’s concerned redevelopment could make the neighborhood less bike and pedestrian friendly.

“My big concern is we’re going to lose that,” she said. “I saw it in the ’70s, I’m going to see it again. It’s starting all over again with the Orth House and it’s just a real crying shame.”

Bender said she agrees “the R6 zoning, in particular, is too high,” but noted city staff have resisted a new rezoning study in the area. She said it’s a separate issue from the historic district.

“I think they’re part of the same conversation about the future of this neighborhood, (but) they’re really two separate tracks, I would say,” Bender said.

The city has 12 locally designated historic district currently, but with four to five areas slated for study that list is likely to grow in coming years. The city recently received federal grant funds through Minnesota’s State Historic Preservation Office to study “properties emblematic for their street car history or street car-related development,” Smoley said.

The John G. Gluek House and Carriage House, below, is listed in the National Register and is a locally designated Minneapolis Landmark.