Planning for a new Hamline Midway Branch Library continues, with a decision in August to not consider National Register of Historic Places designation for the 92-year-old structure.
The State Historic Preservation Review Board opted Aug. 16 to not consider a historic designation for the building at 1558 W. Minnehaha Ave. Earlier in August the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) didn’t take a position on a register nomination, after the commission split on motions for or against designation.
The nomination was written by Barbara Bezat, a historian who served on the HPC for several years. She made several arguments that the library building is worthy of preservation and met National Register criteria.
One argument is that the library is locally significant in the areas of social history and education given the strength of community involvement in its construction and the way in which the building served the community as a library and center for neighborhood activities. Many community groups worked together to get the library built.
Bezat wrote, “Community input played a large part in persuading the St. Paul Public Library system to construct a building in the area. Storekeepers had, by 1908, volunteered to set aside space in their retail locations for book ‘lending stations’ … The significance of the Henry Hale Memorial Library, Hamline Branch building in the Social History/Education context is (also) evident in the participation of the residents and businesses in the area for their continued efforts to persuade the library system that their neighborhood strongly desired a nearby, permanent library facility. It is also important to note that the Hale Memorial Library is one of the first two branch libraries built after the construction of the three Carnegie Libraries in St. Paul, the Riverview, Arlington Heights, and St. Anthony Park, all completed in 1917.”
It’s unusual for the HPC to not forward a National Register nomination. It’s also unusual (if not unheard of) for a nomination to be stopped by objections of the type the library faced. The state board received letters from St. Paul’s historic preservation supervisor, George Gause, and Mayor Melvin Carter recommending against the nomination. Library staff also indicated that had the national register nomination been approved, it could have created uncertainty for the $8.1 million new library project.
Gause’s letter stated that the HPC was allowed to erroneously vote on several motions. What should have counted was an initial 5-4 vote to not support the nomination. But that claim is disputed by members of library preservation group Renovate 1558 and others wanting to see the Hamline Midway Library preserved. They continue to argue that the library should be saved and renovated, and not torn down, and continue to accuse library administration of misleading the public.
Meanwhile the process of planning for a new Hamline Midway and renovated Riverview and Hayden Heights libraries has continued. The latest design survey closed Sept. 6, with the public weighing in one continuing design work for all three locations.
The full pre-design reports from LSE Architects for Hamline Midway, Hayden Heights, and Riverview are posted online at https://sppl.org/transforming-libraries/
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