Historic St. Paul house to be deconstructed, preserved in public-private deal

A stone building sits on a property.
The Justus Ramsey House along West Seventh Street in St. Paul is surrounded by caution tape on Tuesday. After a court order temporarily blocked its demolition, a new plan is in the works to deconstruct the 1850s-era stone house, and rebuild it at another site.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Plans are in the works to preserve St. Paul’s historic Justus Ramsey House by deconstructing it, preserving it, and eventually rebuilding it at a different site on West Seventh Street.

The St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, comprised of St. Paul City Council members, voted Wednesday to put $84,000 in public money toward the cost of disassembling and preserving the 1850s-era stone house.

Private funds and donations would cover the rest of the cost to reconstruct and restore the building for use as a private home, estimated to exceed $400,000 in total.

The Justus Ramsey House, currently located on what's now the patio at Burger Moe's restaurant, was built by the brother of Alexander Ramsey, who served as governor of the Minnesota Territory. It also has ties to the city’s early Black community.

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The limestone block building, however, appeared headed for demolition a few days ago amid concerns it could collapse. Neighborhood groups secured a court order Tuesday temporarily stopping the demolition.

A deal soon followed. At Wednesday's meeting, where the public funding for the preservation project was a late addition to the agenda, City Council Member Rebecca Noecker called the new plan a “win-win solution.”

A stone building sits on a property.
The Justus Ramsey House dates back to the 1850s.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“We can preserve one of our city's most historic buildings in a way that respects our history, and also allows the structure to continue with a new life,” said Noecker, who sponsored the resolution.

The new owners, Don Kohler and Rita Dalbec, spoke at Wednesday’s meeting and said they plan to use the building as their home. It would be moved to a vacant lot they own at 1072 W. Seventh St.

The proposal initially was to put $115,000 in city money toward the project, but some council members balked at the hastily added agenda item — and questioned whether that full sum was needed, now, to save the structure. Council President Amy Brendmoen said she wanted to focus any public spending on the most-urgent needs — and then possibly revisit additional spending toward the cost of rebuilding the home.

“I’m immediately more interested in solving the problem that's in front of us then allocating funds and committing towards a project that will happen sometime in the future,” Brendemoen said. “I feel like a project like that should be competing with other projects, and we should all have time to look at it and understand and wrap our heads around it.”

The $84,000 approved on a 6-0 vote Wednesday represents just the money needed to remove, stabilize and store the stone structure.

Burger Moe’s owner Moe Sharifkhani supports the plan.

“Moe is pleased that there is an outcome that addresses the current challenge while also making sure history is preserved and a better future for this building now viable," Sharifkhani spokesperson Mike Zipko said in a statement, adding that the plan for a new site and new owner is “the right way for all of us to move forward.”

The public money going toward the project is in the form of a loan that’ll be forgivable if the home is reconstructed using its original design within three years of being removed from its current site — and if a historic plaque or sign is installed at the new location.