Tour features renovated tornado-damaged homes

Home tour
Alexander Zachary, left, and his partner Jason Wermager rebuilt and renovated their 1922 craftsman home in north Minneapolis after it was damaged in last year's tornado. The home is featured on this weekend's Minneapolis & Saint Paul Home Tour.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

It's been almost a year since a tornado lifted the roof off the home that Alexander Zachary shares with his partner Jason Wermager in the Camden neighborhood of north Minneapolis.

Zachary's memory of that day is so vivid, the storm could have been yesterday.

"Going upstairs and realizing that it was just pouring rain upstairs, coming down the walls and then this overwhelming thought I didn't know what to do," Zachary said, recalling the storm. "I called my dad and I was just screaming into the phone because I didn't know what was going on and he didn't even know who it was because I was so crazed."

Wind shook the house so hard the walls cracked. Almost every room in the 1922 Craftsman-style home was waterlogged. The second story was unstable and unsafe. The home sustained at least $180,000 in damage.

Like some other north Minneapolis homeowners, Zachary, 36, said they saw opportunity in the ruins. The result: A showpiece in this weekend's Minneapolis-St. Paul Home Tour.

The couple moved out for almost a year while crews restored or replaced virtually everything. They were able to save much of the original woodwork, cabinetry and floors. A specialized contractor created new fixtures and details to reflect the home's century-old style.

"You know, everything I did in this house, I wanted to do in the past but never had the money to do it. And I think that is where a lot of people said all of a sudden, 'OK, yeah I'm going to change that siding finally because I get to. I'm going to put a different color roof on because I get to,'" Zachary said. "I think a lot of people were able to take that, and when you put that kind of investment into your home you want to stay there and take care of it better for the next generations."

"Everything I did in this house, I wanted to do in the past but never had the money to do it."

Zachary's and Wermager's home is just one of several tornado-damaged homes featured in the tour.

One of the eight north Minneapolis properties on the tour was declared a disaster by its insurance company. But rather than see the Emerson Avenue home torn down, the homeowner donated it to Urban Homeworks, the north Minneapolis housing organization that has been heavily involved in tornado recovery.

Even though the house was severely damaged, experts determined it could be saved, said Mike Spicer, homeowner program director for Urban Homeworks.

"We brought in a structural engineer to look at the house," Spicer said, "In most cases if a tornado took off the roof, the complete roof line and most of the second story of the home, we wouldn't be able to repair it.

"But even the structural engineer who looked at it was surprised at how intact the rest of the house was. So it was almost like it came from God that it was meant to be in a sense."

With help from federal funds, trained volunteers and neighborhood contractors, Urban Homeworks completely reconditioned the home. Crews added a story and expanded it from three to four bedrooms.

The house was finished just in time for the Home Tour. It already has an interested buyer.


In all, about 3,700 north side properties were damaged by the May 22 tornado.

There has been a great deal of progress since then. Nearly 200 properties with major damage have been repaired or demolished, said Jill Kiener, a consultant with the Northside Home Fund, a coalition of community and government groups coordinating tornado recovery.

"Our goal when we started this was to find every homeowner who wanted to stay and make sure that they had the resources to do so," Kiener said.

Neighborhood groups and volunteers went door-to-door across the tornado zone for months to connect people who could not afford repairs to those who could offer financial assistance.

Despite that effort, 113 properties in the tornado zone still have roof damage. Officials say they are working with property owners to finish repairs.

Back at his home in north Minneapolis, Zachary says this weekend's Home Tour is a chance for the community to show off the recovery.

"A lot of people really did take that effort and it's kind of 'Hey, everybody, it's been a year since the tornado, come up and see what we've done with our houses, and what a great community this is and how strong it is despite weathering the storm literally and figuratively,' " Zachary said.

The Minnesapolis-St. Paul Home Tour is free and self-guided and runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

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