Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Why Save This House?

Post, image, and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Just a few blocks to the north of me, there sits a boarded and vacant home that has gone into tax forfeiture and is owned by Hennepin County.  At first glance, it looks like a pretty obvious candidate for demolition.  The siding that doesn't have lead paint on it is peeling away, the remaining siding will need to be stripped or removed entirely, there may not be much left on the inside, and it sits on a very non-conforming lot.

The subject property is one parcel to the east of the highlighted property, which we'll get to in a moment.
Contrary to the initial reaction one might have, that last supposed reason for demolition is precisely why I want to see this house saved....

2215 29th Avenue North is one of two properties on the block that face 29th.

Clearly these two houses were designed to complement each other.  Granted, the beige property has been bastardized with a stairway up to a "second" unit even though it's on a postage stamp-sized lot and the house obviously does not fit as a two-unit property.  Who DOES this?  Who shoehorns in units where they have no godly reason to exist and the property already functions just fine as a one-unit structure?  It's almost as if the house is owned by someone as bad as Stephen Meldahl--oh.

On a North Talk Facebook thread earlier this week, one forum member wrote about how a potential demolition on her block would ruin what little character and overall architectural integrity was left on that stretch.  The same is true here.  If the boarded and vacant house is demolished - and it's owned by Hennepin County, so a sale to the City of Minneapolis for that purpose is a strong possibility - then there will be an unusable vacant lot just sitting on the alley.

After a while, the Meldahl house will fall into (more) disrepair and (more) tax delinquency until it too is acquired by the County.  If the white house is torn down by the time that happens, there will be no "sister" property to compare it to.  The vacant lot will become the norm that defines this little section of 29th Avenue North.  And the only thing that anyone will be able to do, since the vacant lot will likely be considered unbuildable, is tear down a second house so that the more conventional lots can be squared away with full alley access.

I've said before that demolitions remove the character of a block until there is nothing left to do but tear down more houses.  Usually I'm referring to a block that already has some tear downs, and my rant is met with glassy stares.  Here is an example of that phenomenon before it happens.


  1. What does the inside of both houses look like? The beige house must be a duplex, with the outside stairway in front. You know, you can't always judje a book by its cover! The siding and trim look pretty good. How's the roof and chimney look? You can't tell from your picture.

  2. Anonymous 3:43 PM, what you don't seem to get is that it is never acceptable to change a single family home to a duplex. That is the point here. We need to create more separation and start to convert these multiplex units back to single family home status.

  3. According to City records, as far as they go back, this property (the beige house) was built as a duplex and it usually is almost financially impossible to convert a duplex to a house, let alone re configure it to have a good floor plan!

  4. Costs are not important. What is important is the neighborhood and keeping it from looking like the suburbs. We cannot afford to have more vinyl siding housing built on vacant lots. This requires we use community dollars to convert duplex historic homes to single family homes to properly space our residents.

  5. Um, I don't know of any house in this economy that is "economically" advantageous to invest in, but spending public dollars to tear something down only to replace it with a new throw-a-way vinyl claded and windowed cracker box doesn't reinforced those theories.

    What happens in 20 years when all those ugly publicly funded low income shacks start falling apart? Do we fund to have them knocked down and rebuilt also?

    WAKE UP! The problems aren't with the structures, it's with the trash we attract with our planning failures.

  6. What? Why can't duplexes be turned into single family homes? All I ever hear is that "those old homes don't fit modern lifestyles". What does this mean... it means 2 bathes, extra large kitchens, an office, and a Master bedroom with walk-in closet. There is nothing more economical than tearing out some lath and plaster to extend some room sizes.So why can't a duplex be turned into a single family home?

  7. It appears that the house is on a substandard lot and should therefore be used as a community garden or annexed by the beige duplex so a garage can be built.

  8. Several responses, in chronological order:

    @Anon 3:43, I don't know what the insides of each house look like. That might factor into decisions about what to do with either house.

    @Anon 5:40, I'm not so sure about "never." It is never historically accurate to change a single-family house into a duplex. And most original single-family homes function better as a whole if they are restored to that. I've seen good conversions too.

    @Anon 8:01, you just made that up. Here is the link showing this property is classified on the City's website as being converted to a multi-family dwelling.

  9. It does not say when it was converted. Many buildings were converted during WW II when there was a shortage of housing. How does one find that out? Based on current zoning, it could not have been done after 1967.

  10. This particular building was converted in 1940 to accommodate a solder back from the war as housing was not readily available. From there it went on to house many other families in need of a safe and secure place to live. Some would disparage homes like this that were converted out of a need from another time. For those lucky enough to benefit from the upper unit they are glad that the current owner didn't turn their nose up as the elite of NOMI seem to.

    1. I'd like to believe you, anon 5:26, but with no evidence to back up your claim, I find it rather dubious. The fact that the comment was submitted on Veterans' Day also makes the BS detector start to buzz like crazy.

  11. Back from the war in 1940? What war, WWI?? We didn't start the Pacific or North Africa campaign until 1942, Italy in 1943, and the Allied Invasion in 1944. And if you survived one theater you were shipped to the next, not to a duplex in NoMI.

  12. This is addressed to the anonymous replier @9:13; I was referring to the Finnish Winter War of 1940. Check your record books and you will find that there was an influx of refugees from this war and North Minneapolis has a rich tradition of housing those that returned from fighting for the right to take a sauna when it is 100 degrees outside. OOFTA, Huggly!!

  13. Americans fought with the British in 1940. They just did it in the British forces.

  14. Maybe Anon 10:50 is correct, but be explicit in providing information. Almost no one is familiar with the Finnish Winter War, and for that reason, making the statement 'in 1940...back from the war' doesn't sound incomplete, it just sounds wrong.

    Anon 8:28, yeah, and there were plenty of hawks and ex-Pats who fought WWI in Europe before 1917, Hemingway comes to mind, but not so many that there would have been a huge flux in housing demand if and when they returned PRIOR to a draft when the US officially entered the war.

    Anyway, I think the point was the house wasn't built as a duplex, war vet or no. I wouldn't have diverted the topic but I'm tired of reading posts that are made-up crap, so I questioned it.

  15. Not only was the beige house originally single family, but look at the geometry, roof lines, porches, etc. - these houses were originally built identical. We've had enough of demolition on the Northside. Lets start finding constructive rather than destructive solutions.


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