(Very) Brief Reflections on Preservation in Minneapolis

Demolition of the Minneapolis Public Library.  Photograph by Charlene Roise. 

It’s been nearly six decades since the demolition of the Metropolitan Building in the winter of 1961-1962—the birth-by-wrecking-ball beginning of the city’s preservation movement—and we have learned from our mistakes. Passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966 created the National Register of Historic Places, a powerful tool for raising awareness of the historic properties in our midst. Minneapolis gained Minnesota’s first National Register district in November 1969 when the Minnehaha Falls Historic District was listed in the National Register. Two years later, the city claimed the state’s second district, the massive Saint Anthony Falls Historic District, with its exceptional collection of mills, warehouses, bridges, and dams.

Minneapolis is often scolded for being more interested in “progress” than in preservation but Minneapolis can no longer be slammed as being anti-preservation..”, Minneapolis’s Sears building, for example,  has a well-established new life with offices, residences, and the wonderfully unique Global Market and the Grain Belt brewery in northeast Minneapolis was revived for office use at the dawn of the twenty-first century, only recently to be joined by the Schmidt Brewery downriver.

As a community, practitioners and public alike, we are gradually (sometimes, grudgingly) moving beyond the easily huggable Victorian mansions and Streamline Moderne diners to value properties that emerged from the urban renewal tsunami.

It’s important to recognize that not everyone views each preservation issue through the same lens: idealism and pragmatism can cause clashes within our ranks. In the end, though, we need to remain focused on the common goal of using the tangible products of our history, good and bad, to make the world a better place. The short history of the movement in Minneapolis proves that this approach works. Turns out that progress and preservation are compatible.

A note on the guest blogger Charlene Roise

Charlene is an architectural historian and preservation specialist in Minneapolis.  Her firm, Hess Roise and Company, consults on historic preservation issues and regulatory compliance projects.  She is also a board member of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, which recently worked with the City on the rehabilitation plan for Peavey Plaza.