We’re sorry, Pauline—Historic Minneapolis home in jeopardy after fire

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Threats of demolition, an arson fire, and now a failure to protect—the former home of Pauline Fjelde, who embroidered the first Minnesota State Flag and is known for her textile art and painting, has had a rough year. Although the home is on its way toward being designated as a historical resource, a damaged roof from a fire in September has exposed the house to the elements, and the current owner has failed to comply with an order to protect the building. 

James Schoffman, the current owner of 3009 Park, requested a wrecking permit to demolish  the home in 2008 in order to create a parking lot, but last January the Heritage Preservation Commission denied his request.  The commission established interim protection for the house, as it underwent a study to determine whether the home could be designated as a historic resource and thus protected from demolition.

On September 29, before the designation study was completed, a fire started in the building which destroyed its roof.  Police Information Officer William Palmer said that the MPD has classified the fire as arson, but no arrests have been made.   Since the fire happened, no tarp has been secured to protect the building from the snow and rain. 

On December 4, the city ordered Schoffman to secure the roof of the house to prevent weather damage, according to Grant Wilson of Minneapolis’s Problem Properties.  While Schoffman has boarded the windows, as of December 22 the roof was still open.   Schoffman has until January 1 to follow the city’s order, after which he will face fines, Wilson said.

Jack Byers, with the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, said that the city commission was about to send the designation study to the next step of review when the fire happened.  “We made additions to the study to take into account the damage,” he said. 

The study has now moved on to the state preservation office, which has 60 days to review and comment on the case, according to Byers.  In January, it will be presented to the City’s Planning Commission, which has 30 days to review and comment.  Then the case will be presented to the Heritage Preservation Commission, which has the authority to approve or deny the property as a historical building.   

Byers said that though damage has occurred to the property, the building can still be designated as a historical property.  There are seven criteria that are used to determine whether a property is a heritage resource, according to city ordinance.  While the architecture may be part of what makes the Fjelde house significant, the greater significance of the house is that it belonged to an important historical figure.  Byers compared the Fjelde House to that of Lana Olive Smith, a civil rights attorney who was the first female president of the NAACP.  The Smith House was determined to be a city landmark not because of the building’s architecture, but because Lena Smith herself was an important figure in history. 

Minneapolis Council Member Elizabeth Glidden wrote in an email to her constituents that she hopes to work with city staff about how to better respond to similar incidents in the future, including exploring a receivership model used in Portland, as proposed by Ward 8 resident Brian Finstad.  Portland’s Chapter 29.90 Housing Receivership is a process in which, instead of demolition, the property is placed in legal receivership, sold to a nonprofit for $1, and rehabbed for affordable housing. On Tuesday, December 29, the HCA staff will request an extension of the interim protection for the Fjelde house for six more months to allow for the completion of a designation study.  The meeting will be held at 4:30 in room 317 at City Hall.