Vacant house tour

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Last weekend there were home tours in both St. Paul and Minneapolis, but on May 3-4 Dayton’s Bluff will have its first vacant house tour. Of the 8 to 10 homes that will be shown, all are owned by banks except one, which is owned by the city of St. Paul. The Dayton’s Bluff vacant house committee wants to save homes from the wrecking ball.

Some 232 homes stand vacant in Dayton’s Bluff, with 1700 vacancies in the entire city of St. Paul. Three to four years ago residents the city had only 400 to 500 vacant homes.

The Dayton’s Bluff vacant home tour is free of charge and open to the public from noon-5 p.m. on Saturday, May 3, and from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, May 4. Meet at 798 E. 7th Street for maps and free trolley rides. For more information email karin@daytonsbluff.org or call 651-722-2075.

For information on the City Living Program for low or moderate-income families, call 651-266-6598.

The Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood sits on the east side of the Mississippi River, on a plateau across from downtown St. Paul. Lyman Dayton (1810-1865) developed the area as a suburban residential location in the 1840s. Because of attractive landscape and scenic vistas, many wealthy residents chose to construct handsome estates on large lots. A sizable group of prosperous German-Americans clustered together.

“Dayton’s Bluff has the largest concentration of old Victorian homes,” says Karin DuPaul, “some of which are over 100 years old.”

However the Bluffs were never exclusive to the rich. During the prosperity of the 1880s through the early 1900s, the middle class built the majority of the homes. Residents worked at nearby lumber, farm equipment, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (3M), or Whirlpool companies.

“A healthy neighborhood has mixed incomes households living together,” says DuPaul. “There are high end Victorian homes and worker cottages on the east side.

“In the 1980s and early 1990s we had similar [foreclosures and vacancies] happening. You could then buy a house for one dollar but strings were attached, with the renovations and mortgages sometimes being $250,000 at the end of the project. For those wanting to buy a vacant home today, [rehabbing] will require skill, money, and lots of commitment. Vacancies are due to bad mortgages and it often requires families with two incomes. If nothing is done about these vacancies, these houses could be broken into with the intent for drug use or stealing of copper pipes.”

DuPaul, board member of the Dayton’s Bluff vacant home committee, became interested in her community in the 1970s when she studied the history of her own Dayton’s Bluff home. She started working with Steve Trimble, a local historian, as a board member for Dayton’s Bluff History Project in 1978.

Next, DuPaul started a block club that became known as Upper Swede Hollow Neighborhood Association.

“Community development is great when you have successes,” says DuPaul. “Otherwise you just have to be strong. I will consider our tour a success if we get lots of interest or even purchases of homes.”