Minnesota Jail Saved
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Mar. 10, 2010
Last week, after 20 years in limbo, an ornate granite-and-terra-cotta jail built in 1923 in Duluth, Minn., escaped demolition.
The county of St. Louis, Minn., vacated the building 15 years ago and applied for a demolition permit last year. Because of the building's history, however, the permit was denied. In the meantime, a buyer stepped forward, offering to restore the structure as offices and storage space. On March 2, county commissioners voted unanimously to sell the building to Minneapolis-based Grant Carlson for $56,000. The sale will be finalized on April 16.
"We see a lot of potential in that building," says Carlson, who has overseen the renovation of historic buildings in Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis. Carlson is in Duluth today, seeking tenants for the building.
"It is true that finding a viable new use for a jail is not easy, but it can be done," Duluth native Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, told the Duluth News-Tribune last year.
The jail needs a new roof and repairs to walls in the lobby, according to Erin Hanafin Berg, field representative for the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, who toured the interior last year.
Fighting for a Jail
The National Trust's Midwest Office provided testimony and advice in support of the St. Louis County jail.
"It's in pretty good condition," Berg says. "It was built as a jail, so it's a pretty sturdy building. I think it would take more than the 20 years the county neglected it to do that building in."
Carlson is confident that he can renovate successfully. "It's going to take some extra time and effort, but it's nothing we can't fix."
The county's sudden decision to sell the building to a preservation-friendly developer was a surprise to some residents. "We were about to give up on this one, to tell you the truth," Berg says. "There has been stalwart opposition to seeing this jail preserved all along."
That changed when one county supervisor retired last year. "That change in county administration really helped a lot," says Carolyn Sundquist, who serves on the board of advisors of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and on the board of the Duluth Preservation Alliance. In addition, Sundquist says, "It was the coalition of local, state, and national preservation interests that made the local government officials aware that this was serious business, and that we meant business."
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