Renovate 1558 threatens lawsuit to save building.

The city of Saint Paul’s plan to demolish the Hamline Midway Library and replace it with a new library is moving forward despite the building’s recent inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The public library at 1558 Minnehaha Ave. will close on May 28. Itwill be demolished this fall. Construction of the new $8.1 million library is expected to take 18 months.

Hamline Midway Library
An artist’s rendering of the city’s plan for a new Hamline Midway Library at 1558 Minnehaha Ave.

The plans for the new library have divided Hamline Midway neighbors. Some want a new library, citing the current structure’s age and condition. Some object to the demolition and maintain that the city process was stacked against the existing library all along. They have accused the city of neglecting the building’s maintenance and letting the 92-year-old structure deteriorate over the years. Others question why the building cannot be saved and a new location chosen for the library, possibly in conjunction with a replacement of the Hancock Recreation Center two blocks away.

Senseless and needless demolition

“We are saddened but not surprised that the Saint Paul Public Library, with the support of Mayor Melvin Carter, council member Mitra Jalali and the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library, continues its push to senselessly and needlessly demolish our historic neighborhood library,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer is a member of the ad hoc group Renovate 1558, which urged city officials to rehabilitate the library. “As we’ve documented extensively, there was a coordinated, secretive and dishonest campaign by the Saint Paul Public Library, aided by the mayor’s office, to push through this demolition,” Oppenheimer said. “Proponents of preservation have been repeatedly ignored and smeared over the last three years with little to no acknowledgment by any city officials of the widespread support for preservation in our community.

“It is a travesty that we have gotten to this point, given there are multiple win-wins for the community, including a renovation design commissioned by the city or a relocation of the library, something that has never been seriously considered but would serve the community better on a number of levels,” Oppenheimer said.

“Our group remains open to finding that win-win and preserving this beautiful building that remains in solid condition and deserves to grace our neighborhood for another 90 years,” Oppenheimer said.

“Our group remains open to coming to the table to find that win-win and preserve this beautiful building that remains in solid condition and deserves to grace our neighborhood for another 90 years,” he said. “We intend to fight the city in court to save the library. There it will become evident just how duplicitous the Saint Paul Public Library has been and how unprofessionally and dishonestly they’ve treated us as citizens the past three years.”

Renovate 1558 worked with architectural historian Barbara Bezat on the application for the National Register designation. However, the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission made no recommendation on the nomination. City leaders interpreted that as a reason to reject the quest for historic designation.

New building has support of mayor and City Council member

The construction of a new library building is supported by Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library and Mayor Melvin Carter. “We’re thrilled to be moving on to a brand new state-of-the-art library,” Carter said. “This is an exciting time as we continue to bring our Transforming Libraries vision to fruition.”

The final design for the new Hamline Midway Library includes an outdoor reading garden, an interactive children’s area, a teen area, study rooms, two meeting rooms, a wellness room, and space for public art that reflects the variety of cultures in the Hamline Midway neighborhood. Elements of the current building will be saved and used in the new structure, including the arch over the front entrance.

Maureen Hartman, Saint Paul’s interim library director, said a new building will allow everyone to be served. “We’re grateful to all community members who participated in the process and are excited to welcome even more neighbors to the new Hamline Midway Library,” she said.

“I’m ready for a new library, and the community I represent is ready for a new library,” said Ward 4 City Council member Mitra Jalali. The plans for the new building were shaped through “four years of listening to community members,” she added.

Historic designation will necessitate extra steps

Although it appears the Hamline Midway Library’s historic designation could not save the building, it will force the city to take additional steps before demolishing it, including extensive documentation of the building.

The library is the last remaining Henry Hale Library in the city. Hale was an early Saint Paul attorney, investor and philanthropist whose estate helped fund the building of the Hamline Midway and the old Merriam Park Library. Both were constructed in 1930.

Merriam Park experienced similar fight over library

Mat Hollinshead recalled the fight over the demolition and replacement of the Merriam Park Library in the early 1990s. Now a Highland Park resident, Hollinshead was a resident of Merriam Park then and chaired the Merriam Park Community Council’s library planning committee.

“Normally, I’m a pretty strong preservationist,” Hollinshead said. But the old Merriam Park Library building was sinking due to unstable soil and it could not be remedied, he added.

Hollinshead has followed the debate over the future of the Hamline Midway Library. “For those who have lived their lives at that library, it’s hard to see the building torn down,” he said.

— Jane McClure


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