My Neighborhood, My Heritage

Brian Finstad

New years are born into Minnesota dark, cold and snowbound. This is not an optimistic season…

January 13, 2009 was the first Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission hearing for Pauline Fjelde House.

The hearing was held at 4:30pm in the Minneapolis City Council Chambers, a beautifully restored historic space where the public testifies and officials decide the fate of many issues.

It can be a great theater wherein many dramas are enacted and many battles won and lost.

After the December 13th, 2008 meeting and tour of the Fjelde house,
the Fjelde advocates were very active. Articles were written, neighbors were rallied,
the sponsorship of Councilwoman Elizabeth Glidden was sought for historic designation.

Representing the advocates were a multi-generational group of neighborhood activists
and preservationists. Some of the members of that group were Brian Finstad, Connie Nompelis, Ryan Knoke and Montana Scheff, David Piehl. There were also veteran preservationists, Susan Hunter Weir, Bob Roscoe and Bob Glancy and Diane Montgomery, and the chair of the newly formed Minneapolis Historic Homeowners group, Joel Baird and Elizabeth Gales of Preserve Minneapolis.

The owners of the Fjelde house had also been very active recruiting those who would
support their objective to destroy the house and replace it with a parking lot for the commercial buildings they owned at 701-707 E Lake Street.

Representing their group were James and Kristin Schoffman, their architect Tod Elkins, their attorney Daniel Kennedy, Joyce Wisdom of the Lake Street Council and Julie Ingebretsen of Ingebretsen’s and others.

The Heritage Preservation Commissioners are architects, historians, and realtors. They were all aware of the issue and had read the reports from the City planners. They were ready to make their decision to approve or deny the wrecking permit for the Pauline Fjelde House after they’d listened to the public testimony.

The City planners were members of the Preservation and Design group within CPED, headed by Jack Byers.
The two planners who had researched and written the report on the Pauline Fjelde house (with some materials from the Fjelde advocates) were Aaron Hanauer who had experience working with properties that powerful institutional owners wanted to destroy to expand their facilities… in other words…”lost causes” and John Smoley who was, perhaps, presenting his first case before the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission, was also experienced, scholarly and self confident.

I’d hired someone to make a video of the hearing, somehow anticipating the malfunction of the City’s ancient cassette tape recorder. The videographer was unskilled and the video taken from the back of the chamber was either adequate or awful showing the back or side profile of those who testified.

Although the Commissioners voted unanimously to deny the Schoffmans request for a wrecking permit for the Pauline Fjelde House, the advocates reactions were mixed. Some felt a sense of victory, others were aware that the City’s process lacked any real power and the difficult battle to defend the house was not won.

The Schoffmans and their supporters may have felt some disappointment that their request to destroy the house had not been immediately approved, but though annoyed, they proceeded to the next step undetered from achieving their objective.

The patterns were set, the City’s lengthy bureaucratic process was initiated. The games between the Fjelde Advocates and the Fjelde Destroyers had just begun.

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