The Hamline Midway Library’s newly won spot on the National Register of Historic Places doesn’t guarantee its future. The building could still be demolished. But the decision, announced at the end of January, was celebrated by those who have sought to save the 92-year-old structure.
“After a year-long effort, months of research, various appeals, and the dogged persistence against numerous city-created obstacles, Renovate 1558 is proud to announce that the Henry Hale Memorial Library, Hamline Branch, has been successfully listed on the National Register of Historic Places!” they announced in an e-newsletter.
The group thanked architectural historian Barbara Bezat, citing her “experience, tireless research, and determination in shepherding this nomination through the city, state, and federal review process.” That work was called “invaluable.”
The group also praised the professionalism of Joy Beasley, associate director, cultural resources, partnerships, and science, keeper of the National Register, in properly recognizing the actions of the Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) on Aug. 1, and directing that the nomination be considered by the State Historic Preservation Board.
The HPC made no recommendation on the library, which city leaders interpreted as a reason to reject the quest for historic designation. That was successfully challenged, sending action to the state board. The state board last year unanimously supported designation.
Renovate 1558 members hope that city officials will reconsider a library renovation option put forward by LSE Architects, or relocate the library to a new building and repurpose the building at 1558 Minnehaha. The city took similar action several years ago when it built the combined library-recreation center for the Arlington Hills neighborhood and sold the longtime Arlington Hills Library. It is now the East Side Freedom Library.
Renovate 1558 noted that achieving historic designation for a property against the wish of the listed owner is a “rare occurrence.” State and possibly a federal review would be needed for any actions to alter or destroy a National Register property.
Mayor Melvin Carter’s administration is determined to demolish the library and have a new structure built at its current site, despite deeply divided community sentiment.
“Our Hamline-Midway neighbors have clearly expressed their desire for a brand new, state of the art public library,” said Carter in a statement. “We remain resolved to deliver on that promise.”
A new library is estimated to cost $8.1 million. It could still go forward but with more steps before the current library could come down.
It isn’t easy to take away designation or to demolish a designated structure. In the most recent controversial case in St. Paul, Carter signed off on demolition of the historic Justus Ramsey House, saying it was unsafe. The property owner wanted the house off of his restaurant patio. Preservationists went to court to block demolition and instead worked with the city to reach a compromise. The small stone house has been disassembled and is in storage until it can be moved to a new site.
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