A federal official revived efforts to place St. Paul’s Hamline Midway Library on the National Register of Historic Places, a victory for preservationists who opposed the city’s plan to demolish the 92-year-old building to make way for a new one .
Joy Beasley, administrator of the National Registry, sent a letter to Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer Amy Spong on Oct. 11, saying the library’s nomination should be presented to the State Historic Preservation Review Board despite objections from city officials.
“This was very good news for us,” said Barbara Bezat, a historic preservation researcher who authored the library’s nomination and appealed after city leaders halted the review process.
The Library at 1558 W. Minnehaha Av. has been a source of controversy for more than a year since the city began exploring the possibility of demolishing the building. A new library is to be built in its place. A coalition of neighbors and preservationists opposed the plan, saying the city should instead refurbish the existing Gothic-style collegiate church building.
The nomination still needs state and federal approval for the library to be included on the registry, and the designation would not prevent the city from demolishing the property.
However, listing would require the city to go through additional review procedures before construction, which could potentially impact the $8.1 million project’s schedule and budget, St. Paul Library officials said. Construction is scheduled to start next spring.
“The city continues to object to the building’s nomination on the National Register of Historic Places,” Barb Sporlein, St. Paul’s interim library director, said in a statement. “We are excited to move forward with our plan, based on community input and multiple building assessments by industry experts, to build a new library that bridges the past and the future and maximizes accessibility, is environmentally conscious, and meets current and contemporary needs long-term needs and desires of the community.”
Opponents of the city’s plan – who organized themselves under the name Renovate 1558 – have described previous engagement efforts as “a semblance of a process” designed to achieve a predetermined outcome. Almost 3,000 people signed a petition against the demolition plan.
Bitter emotions grew in August after the St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) decision not to influence the library’s nomination. Under federal law, the State Historic Preservation Review Board does not consider nominations when a city’s mayor and HPC determine that a property does not meet the registry’s criteria.
Mayor Melvin Carter sent the state a letter saying the library does not deserve historical designation. A subsequent letter from George Gause, the city’s historic preservation officer, said the staff committed a procedural error by allowing the HPC to vote on multiple motions — and that only the first vote, a failed motion supporting the nomination, the nomination should be considered an objection.
Bezat argued in her objection that Gause’s letter did not reflect the intent of the HPC – and Beasley, the registry’s administrator, agreed.
“Based on the information available, the property appears to meet the criteria for inclusion in the National Register … to be significant at the local level for social history and education, and that despite changes in its 92 years of service, the property appears to retain its integrity from site, Environment, design, materials, finish, feel and association,” wrote Beasley.
The State Historic Preservation Review Board will review the library’s nomination at its November 15 meeting, which begins virtually at 6:00 p.m. Members of the public may testify.
If a majority of the board believes the property is eligible for national registry, the state forwards the nomination to Beasley for final consideration.