All through the winter, 1721 Princeton sat empty, awaiting the results of negotiations between Macalester College and new owner Sherelyn Ogden. Supporters from all across the Twin Cities and country were rewarded as, at long last, as a purchase agreement between Mac’s High Winds Fund and Ogden was confirmed late Tuesday.
“We have a purchase agreement to buy the property, and expect to close sometime next week,” High Winds Fund director Tom Welna said. Welna was not able to comment further at this time.
The 1908 home, which belonged to long-tenured Macalester philosophy professor Henry West and his wife for 42 years, was sold to Ogden, a Minnesota Historical Society book conservator, late last year. The entire community was shocked when Ogden submitted plans to demolish the house, subdivide the lot, and build two 4,000 square foot homes on the lot.
After neighbors, community members and concerned preservationists created an uproar and spread their message via the Facebook page “Save 1721 Princeton from teardown,” which now has over 2,500 likes, the demolition permit was revoked, and Macalester began talking with Ogden about the possibility of purchasing the property.
The home’s status changed little over winter break, although there was a positive progress made in protecting a landmark of another sort that abuts 1721.
“The 100 year-old elm tree that is near the property line of 1721 has been made an official landmark tree by the City of St. Paul. [The status] doesn’t offer protection, but does recognize its historic and aesthetic value to the city and neighborhood,” said Victoria McCurdy, an involved community member and organizer of the group who originally rallied to save the house and created the Facebook page to support the cause.
The elm, which is one of roughly 400 left in the Twin Cities, was also prominently featured in Ali Selim’s short film “Emperor of the Air,” which focused on two neighbors arguing over the future of the tree. Selim found out about the efforts to save the home and sent the Facebook page three digitized stills from the movie that had 1721 in the background.
Tree experts believe that, had the two homes been constructed on that lot, the historic elm would have been killed.
of the Air,” which focused on two neighbors arguing over the future of the tree. Selim found out about the efforts to save the home and sent the Facebook page three digitized stills from the movie that had 1721 in the background. Tree experts believe that, had the two homes been constructed on that lot, the historic elm would have been killed.
The way forward
“This is not just affecting 1721—the teardown issue is a growing concern in St. Paul and other communities. We want to keep the character of St. Paul, and keep developers from coming into a neighborhood full of bungalows and building a huge house up to the lot line that dwarfs the homes next to it and ruins the quality of the neighborhood,” McCurdy said.
The residents of the Summit Hill neighborhood have been engaged with plans to demolish 27 Crocus Place, another historic home, and Hamline University caused even more controversy by proposing the demolition of residential properties close to its campus. These recent controversies are in addition to the onslaught of slightly newer midcentury homes being demolished in St. Paul neighborhoods like Highland Park, and inner-ring suburbs like Edina.
“Developers from the outside enter neighborhoods, build huge houses and leave. The teardown craze is something that’s been growing and gaining ground in the last five years or so, and it’s really hard,” McCurdy said.
This collection of teardowns spurred a new community action group, Neighborhoods for Community-Focused Development, which drafted a resolution that they brought to the precinct caucuses Tuesday.
“Right now, if a homeowner wants to build a garage or keep chickens, it requires a variance, the neighbors are notified, and there is a commentary period, but none of that is required if people want to tear down a house,” McCurdy said.
McCurdy hopes that the City of St. Paul will adopt new resolutions soon concerning teardowns, and emphasized the broad base of support that the historical protection and proposed policy changes have.
“I think sometimes there might a feeling that it’s just the neighbors who are calling and moping, but that’s not true—when the general public found out from news coverage, we got a Twin Cities-wide response,” McCurdy said.