The former Saint Paul Casket Company building, 1222 University Ave., could house 55 apartments if plans unveiled by developer JB Vang come to fruition. The Union Park District Council (UPDC) approved a letter of support for the project on February 2, following a January 24 recommendation of approval from its land use committee.

If financing falls into place, work on the building could start later this year and be completed in the spring of 2023.

District council support could help with funding applications, including Low Income Housing Tax Credits for historic buildings. Early last year, the building was named to the National Register of Historic Places. It also won support from the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission and state Historic Preservation Office.

Jackson Cruikshank and Justin Fincher of Hamline-Midway-based JB Vang have spent several months looking at ways to reuse the four-story structure, which features a 104-foot-tall central tower. Plans call for a mix of 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments, plus common spaces.

1222 university
The central tower of the former Saint Paul Casket Company building at 1222 University Ave.

The developers are looking to set rents for some units at 30 percent of the Twin Cities Area Median Income (AMI) and some at 60 percent. Cruikshank said neither the final housing mix nor the rents have been finalized.

The most recent AMI was $104,900 for a family of four, which drops to $31,450 at 30 percent and $62,940 at 60 percent.

“I think everyone is excited to see something neat happen with that building,” said UPDC land use committee co-chair Dean Cummings.

 

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“It’s been sitting with a fence around it, looking like an abandoned building,” said committee member Roger Meyer.

The developers plan to retain the building’s distinctive lattice window details and restore the steel-sash windows. The stucco will have to be repaired in places and the tower’s iconic clock will also have to be restored. The tower was built to house a water tank.

“I think everyone is excited to see something neat happen with that building,” said UPDC land use committee co-chair Dean Cummings.

Garage doors on the Griggs Street side of the former warehouse and showroom will be turned into windows that preserve the appearance of the original openings.

Though the building has some large windows, the developers said interior bedrooms will have to be designed to provide more natural lighting.

The developers plan to keep a surface lot behind the building that will provide 55-60 residential parking spaces. Plans call for the lot and grounds to be landscaped and improved. No zoning changes or variances are anticipated. The property is zoned for Traditional Neighborhoods 2.

The building’s original occupant was the North Saint Paul Casket Company. The company moved to Saint Paul and changed its name in 1923.

The concrete and stucco building was erected in 1922-23 and designed with “modern gothic” details by the Saint Paul architectural firm of Allen H. Stem. It cost $150,000 to build (about $2.5 million in today’s dollars), according to the National Register application. It is considered an example of a vertical manufacturing building, with different floors used for various phases of casket manufacturing. 

The building housed a variety of commercial functions after the casket company moved out in 1951. For the next decade or so, it was the office and warehouse for the Snyder Drug Stores chain. The building sat vacant from 1962 until the 1970s. Cheapo Records later used the building as a warehouse and operated the Landfill Books & Music store there for several years.

— Jane McClure

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