Preservation group identifies endangered historic sites

ST. PAUL (AP) — Almost everything about the Armstrong-Quinlan House says “forgotten.”
The three-story duplex, empty since 1989, sits alone in the middle of an asphalt parking lot on the edge of downtown St. Paul, squeezed by a 10-foot wall of chain link and barbed wire.
Its windows are broken and boarded, decay has ravaged the pair of wooden porches leading to the two front doors and shingles are missing from the roof.
But the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota hasn’t forgotten the Armstrong-Quinlan House, naming it to the group’s 1998 list of Minnesota’s 10 most endangered historic properties.
The alliance included the century-old building because the NHL hockey arena going up next door makes the site a candidate for redevelopment.
“I think that their hunch is a good one,” said Aaron Rubenstein, a historic preservation planner for St. Paul. “The development pressure could threaten the survival of the building.”
Inclusion on the list brings no money. The group mostly hopes to raise awareness so someone might rescue the various properties.
“One of the things we’re trying to do with this list is say: Let’s stop and think about our historic resources,'” said George Edwards, executive director of the alliance.
It hasn’t paid off so far.
“We’ve had some of these structures fall to the wrecking ball a few months later,” Edwards said.
Several buildings on last year’s list have been demolished and others continue to deteriorate. Some are at least being studied. None has a secure future.
The Armstrong-Quinlan House is a traditional preservation target. But preservationists are moving away from saving single buildings and into maintaining more abstract cultural touchstones.
That’s why this year’s list includes “Early 20th Century Minnesota Resorts.” The alliance has no single operation in mind, but fears the extinction of the small “ma and pa” resorts that have been vacation retreats for thousands of Minnesotans.
“If they disappeared people would be poorer all over this state,” Edwards said.
Preserving a segment of an industry is different than saving an architectural landmark. The effort might include developing a cooperative marketing plan so that the small resorts can operate as efficiently as newer, larger tourist stops.
The city of St. Peter also made this year’s list after March tornadoes severely damaged more than a dozen historic properties.
The inclination following such a disaster is to raze the damaged site to make way for something new. But the alliance sent volunteers to St. Peter and discovered it may take less effort than originally thought to salvage some of the city’s famed historic landmarks.
The state has considered several possibilities for the Armstrong-Quinlan House, which it owns.
One was for part of an arts high school once proposed for the site; another was for a labor museum now going into a St. Paul building being vacated by the Science Museum of Minnesota.