The property that once was the Fjelde House gets continued protected status after the Minneapolis Preservation Commission voted on Tuesday to extend the interim protection of the property until the end of February. The house, which was in the process of becoming a historical landmark, suffered an arson fire on September 29 and was ordered demolished by the City of Minneapolis on Christmas Eve after a Menards worker dropped a load of lumber on its roof on December 23.
Staff of the MPC recommended that protection status be extended so that they could assess if any materials in the rubble were salvageable, and whether there was a possibility that the historical preservation study could still go forward, despite the house being demolished.
Patrick Higgins, Building Official of Construction Code Services of the City’s Regulatory Services, spoke at the meeting and said that the building was “already in a minor state of collapse” prior to the incident on December 23. “The support system for the roof was missing areas in it,” he said. He also said the structure was being supported by the stucco of the exterior, and by rusty nails. Higgins was questioned by the commissioners about whether he notified HPC staff and he said that he did write them an email and copied the director Jack Byers.
The city was set to begin hauling the debris from the house to a landfill, but after Tuesday’s hearing, they will need to meet with HPC staff, the building’s owner James Schoffman, and community members about salvaging the materials from the rubble.
Around 40 community members attended the hearing, including Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who was near tears as she spoke to the commissioners. “This is absolutely devastating,” she said, but noted that she had to watch her words because she may at some point have to play a judicial role in the case.
Other community members used harsher language. John Hoff, (otherwise known as Johnny Northside) was at first asked to leave the meeting for videotaping, but he ignored that request. Later, Hoff spoke , and said that people were telling “big fat lies.” Hoff called for a criminal report. “The corbels were smashed!” Hoff said. “Pauline’s trunk was smashed.” After pronouncing a swear word, Hoff was again asked to leave, and this time he did, shouting “Pauline’s House will be a rallying cry for preservationists everywhere!”
House historian Bob Glancy also spoke, saying, “The bigger issue of the Paula Fjelde house is that there hasn’t been any protection of this property.” Glancy said that owner James Schoffman unboarded the building twice after the city boarded it, and didn’t remove the debris after the fire. “We need to force owners to do things properly,” he said. “There needs to be greater penalties than a slap on the hand.”
Dan Kennedy, James Schoffman’s lawyer, asked the commissioners to not extend the home’s protection, to terminate the designation study, and to require the staff to make the designation study public. Kennedy said that to continue to pour resources into a property that was not, in his opinion, worthy of historical preservation in the first place, and now longer existed, was a waste.
In the end, the commissioners did vote to extend the protection status. The chair of the commission, Chad Larsen, said he was “encouraged by you all.” Meanwhile Commissioner Deborah Morse-Kahn encouraged neighbors to think of creative ways that they could preserve Pauline’s memory, such as plaques or kiosks. “There is nothing left to protect except the story, but much can be done with that.”