Saturday, January 16, 2010

Finding More Sheltering Arms History

Guest post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Yesterday I asked the question of "Who will save the Sheltering Arms House" at 2648 Emerson Ave N. However, I know that regardless of how convinced I am that this treasure in Hawthorne must be preserved, there are plenty of people (its current owners at the city included) who may wonder not WHO will save this house but IF it should be saved. So with the help of a preservationist, I went to the Hennepin History Museum for the very first time.

Much of what I found there, I have uploaded to the Sheltering Arms House JNS pdf support site. I've summarized those findings and added more information below...

First off, the photo above is from the one of the directories available at the museum. These must have been what phone books were like before there were phones in every house - and before seven different companies tossed these things on your front porch whether you wanted them or not. These aged, leather-bound directories often do not even list a specific address, but instead reference a house as the only one at a specific intersection. The books are fragile, and cannot be copied.

Another directory referenced a Sheltering Arms house at 27th and Fremont Ave N as well. I went to that corner and saw several candidates, but the most likely ones were 2701 and 2653 Fremont Ave N. I made that guess based on the similar second-floor windows when compared to the Sheltering Arms House in Hawthorne:

The Sheltering Arms history document on the pdf site states: "1882...The Sheltering Arms founded as an orphanage by Sister Annette Relf, an Episcopalian nun. Incorporated as a private, non-profit, charitable organization to provide services to children without discrimination as to race, color, or creed. Control vested in a Board of Directors of thirty Episcopalian women, fifteen from St. Paul, fifteen from Minneapolis. Endowment funds gradually built up from gifts and bequests. Orphanages in various locations until...

"1910...When present main building was completed. (Hawkman interjects: Main building in this case refers to the former building at 4330 West River Road) Over time, social and philosophical changes decreased need for orphanage; it was discontinued in...

"1942...When Sheltering Arms became a convalescent hospital for treatment of poliomyelitis, under supervision of Mrs. Josephine Poehler and in conjunction with St. Barnabas Hospital. Later, prevention of poliomyelitis became possible, so in...

"1955...The Board of Directors sought advice from Hennepin County Community Welfare Council concerning community needs it might fill. Planning committee, under chairmanship of Dr. Maynard Reynolds, recommended program for mentally retarded children, in cooperation with Minneapolis Public Schools, to provide education, study family problems, develop parent education and counseling, study needs of trainable retarded. Mr. John W. Gregg appointed Business Administrator and Dr. Harriet E. Blodgett Program Director. School program began September, 1955, with two classes for trainables, one for educables, six to ten year olds. Older children soon knocking at doors led to addition of class for eleven to fourteen year old trainables in the fall of ... 1956"

(Hawkman skips ahead to 1968, see pdf site for full story)

"1968...The fruits of which you now see in our new building, Gregg Hall, named in honor of John W. Gregg, our Business Administrator and the man to whom Sheltering Arms owes much...whose first question always is not 'How much will it cost?' but 'How will it help our children?'"

Note: The ellipses (...) are often used during quotes to refer to material that is glossed over. In this case, the quoted items appear exactly as written. Also, the building/site referenced in these notes is the facility at 4330 West River Road. This is pertinent to the Sheltering Arms House on Emerson, though, because the River Road facility has been demolished. The only structures that remain as a historical testament to the initial work of Sheltering Arms are the orphanages scattered throughout Minneapolis. This blog currently does not know how many (if any) such structures still stand, or their conditions at this time.

There's a lot in there that's historically significant and impressive. What jumps out at me first is that the organization was directed by a board of thirty. THIRTY!!! Most boards I've been involved with are considered large if they're a fraction of that size. And even then, agreeing on something and taking action is, well, difficult at best. Even more striking is that this board was made up entirely of women. In 1882.

Also, bear in mind that at that time in history "orphans" weren't just what we think of as children with no parents at all. These could have been the currently held definition of orphans, or children of single or divorced parents, children out of wedlock, those with mental or physical disabilities, or otherwise indigent children. And for these orphanages to be dedicated from their very inception to providing services "without discrimination as to race, color, or creed" is nothing short of phenomenal.

This is in 1882 when they had this publicly stated vision folks. To think that 128 years later we're STILL striving for that kind of equity! The Sheltering Arms House was BUILT with the core values in mind that our community STILL aspires to! To demolish this structure today is to destroy and devalue what we as a neighborhood hold most dear.

The other principle that Sheltering Arms recognized was that their values did not have a dollar amount attached to them. They did not ask how much it cost, only to decide that the least among them were not worth the effort or dollars. That same mindset should be applied when preserving a piece of neighborhood history at 2648 Emerson Ave N.

The history and values inherent in our buildings have much to tell us. Here's hoping that we as a community are listening.


The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

Addendum: I was unable to make copies of the two Strib articles regarding the closing and demolition of the facility at 4330 West River Road. If anyone can track them down, please send them my way. Here are the titles and dates:

"Orphanage is gone, but those who lived there keep its warm spirit alive," 5/11/87

"Sheltering Arms School will embrace retarded kids no more" 1/22/83

(yeah, that last one could have been worded better, but that was 26 years ago)

MeganG. said...

I'm overwhelmed with emotion about this subject - so pleased you discovered this history before it was too late - so worried that it won't be saved. So impressed with having this totally open armed shelter in our community!

I hear the inside is amazing. Can we get some pictures from inside?

M. Clinton said...

Not only is the old orphanage on Emerson a gem architecturally, but the discovery of its association with Sheltering Arms is significant. I did not realize until reading your post today though about the organization being composed of a board entirely of women. Part of the reasoning behind designation of the Pauline Fjelde House was that the city of MPLS has very few properties deemed historic that relate to the lives / work / deeds of women. In fact, at the Heritage Preservation Commission hearing regarding the Fjelde House, a board member from Preserve MPLS spoke to that the number of designated properties in MPLS reflective of women's history was "deplorable." The Fjelde House was going to change that. And now that went up in smoke (literally). The original Sheltering Arms building on Emerson is deserving of at least some study to gauge its potential significance as a historic resource. I think its connection to women's history makes it particularly interesting.

Anonymous said...

The people interested in saving this building better make an argument pretty fast. The wheels of development turn pretty fast.

Here is a good crisis action guide.

This is from the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota

Anonymous said...

One really wonders whether a ton of money should be spent on one property in Hawthorne, or should it be spread around on a bunch of properties. There are very limited resources available and there are a lot of problems that need addressing.

I would hate to see all our efforts spent on just one property while the rest of the neighborhood is bought up by people like Mr. Kahn or Mr. Koening.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...


I do have numerous photos of the interior of this house. However, they were given to me in my professional capacity as Housing Director. I showed these photos at the January Hawthorne Housing Committee and Board meetings, but explained that they were not clearly given to me in a "public" capacity. I requested that all copies be returned to me as a result.

I will publish photos of the beautiful interior of this gem under one or more of the following scenarios:

1. If I can confirm with the city that what was given to me can be deemed as "public" or get their permission to publish the photos regardless;

2. If I legally gain access to the property and take my own photos;

or 3. If demolition of the property appears so imminent that questions of political decorum become irrelevant.

John may have different standards for when or if he would publish such shots, and it's ultimately his blog. But those are mine.

M. Clinton said...

I don't believe that the neighborhood or the city itself would necessarily have to spend a ton of money on this. It may simply be a matter of partnering with a nonprofit developer to purchase and rehab the property.

Johnny Northside said...

All those photos were provided to be passed around at a public meeting. I see the photos as public documents. However, the documents are in your possession, Jeff, and you might prefer to meet a higher standard of also being polite.

It's not like pictures of the interior of a house are a sensitive, classified subject.

Anonymous said...

Some history about Sheltering Arms role in creating the Dowling Community Garden, one of the oldest community gardens in the country.

Johnny Northside said...

Brian Finstad sent an email around to a bunch of public officials about this subject. Here is the content of that email.

Hi All,

After the destruction of the Fjelde House, I seriously doubted that I would have the energy or will left to invest into another "cause" - especially one that includes saving a building from demolition.

But a new property is going to be coming into our consciousness now as the city just purchased it last week with funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It is a structure
located at 2650 Emerson Ave N. My understanding is that the city purchased it with the intent to "land bank" (which basically means demolition). The
Northside has seen an incredible number of demolitions due to the foreclosure crisis and for the most part, it seems that the neighborhoods have been supportive of much of the demolition. However, this building is one that residents have given the message that they would like this particular structure spared.

That is what first peaked my curiosity as to why this building would somehow be special or different.
As you will see in the photo (link is below), it is quite an impressive structure. However, after doing some research, Jeff Skrenes (Hawthorne
Housing Director) discovered that it was the original orphanage of Sheltering Arms, a social service organization that existed from the early 1880's through the early 1980's. The staff report for the Fjelde House indicated that MPLS
has a lack of sites dedicated to women's history.

What is very interesting about the Sheltering Arms orphanage is that it appears to have been run by a
board completely of women. I believe this building has potential for designation and should be looked at to determine if it has potential as a historic resource.

As I said before, I can't even believe I am saying that I have any energy left in me, but I do think this building is worth fighting for. I feel this is
something I can invest energy in as the city will be the property owner we would be dealing with - not James Schoffman. Right off the bat, that makes
this whole scenario completely different. It would be nice to bring Northside heritage into the city's consciousness and give that part of the city something to celebrate - especially after the years of watching continual destruction following this foreclosure crisis. And it may have the potential to recognize a piece of MPLS women's history - something this city has been lacking and we all had hoped for with the Fjelde House (and literally watched those hopes go up in smoke).

I wanted to introduce this property to all of you now in order to bring this into our consciousness at an early point so that thinking and discussions can occur early on in a proactive manner rather than later down the road in a reactive manner.

Here is a link that has a photo of the building (she's a beauty!)

(Here, Brian includes a link to the original JNS blog post about the Sheltering Arms orphanage building on Emerson Ave. N.)

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ John - What you say is essentially true. However, I have been in meetings before where someone has said, "If I say this/pass around this document, then it's just going to wind up on Johnny Northside." This despite the fact that not once has anyone's request for confidentiality in this matter ever been broken by me.

So in order for me to be an effective Housing Director for Hawthorne, I believe I have to have a higher standard for what I consider "public" enough to share on this blog. Now if you or anyone else were to find these pictures in such a way that was identified as public, I'd be thrilled to publish them.

@ Anon 7:53 - I'm always in favor of objectively examining how funding is best spent in my neighborhood. However, I must reject the notion you put forth *at this time*. First off, nobody is yet advocating that agency "A" spend "X" amount of dollars tomorrow to rehab this property. We're just saying "Don't railroad The Sheltering Arms House towards demolition."

It may well be that the cost to rehab this property are so prohibitive that demolition is a tragic but necessary outcome. We're not anywhere near that point yet. Plus, the area is not part of any kind of coordinated redevelopment effort, so the parcel the house sits on is not integral to anyone's designs.

And I still contend that regardless of the demo or rehab/holding costs TODAY, if we rehab this 120-year-old property the right way, it will STILL be here 120 years from now. If we tear it down, how many other houses will be built, demolished, and rebuilt during that time. I GUARANTEE whatever formula CPED uses to arrive at a decision to demolish, it doesn't fully take that into account.

Now I'm going to flex my hyperlink muscles:

Here's anon 9:53's link.

And here is a link that goes to Sheltering Arms board minutes. I'll look into these more and will likely do another blog post about them, but I want to spread the information as quickly as possible in case anyone else beats me to it.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

Oh, and I'm not implying that John has broken anyone's confidentiality either. But I HAVE had it happen where someone tells me not to put something on "the blog," and then somehow John finds out that specific piece of info without even talking to me about it and it gets published.

Kevin said...

What an absolute gem! This one needs to be saved. If it takes some neighborhood money to do it, I say go for it.

I haven't opposed any of the recent demos in Hawthorne for a host of reasons already discussed to death by our Housing Committee. At the same time, it still bothers me to some degree at what we're building as replacements. Yes the new houses are nice and generally in character with the rest of the neighborhood, but at the same time there's a sameness to all of them. In a way we're almost creating another variation of what we don't like about the suburbs. We need houses like the Sheltering Arms House to at least visually remind us we aren't the suburbs. We have history.

The last time I can remember the neighborhood rallying behind saving a house was with the Queen Anne across from Farview Park. That battle went on for over a year as I remember, but in the end the house was saved and look at what we have now. Without a doubt, the Queen Anne is one of the most beautiful houses on the Northside.

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

I have to say that if my choices are between the city demolishing and a slumlord preserving this house, I'll side with the slumlord on this one in the hopes that the house will outlive whatever damage someone like Khan or Koenig would do.

Furthermore, the fact that we need the city and other partners to come into our neighborhood instead of having normal market forces at work is a sign of an unhealthy housing market. I think that many of their actions are intended to guide us towards that vibrant housing market where we don't need their help anymore.

But one of the ways we attract more owner-occupants and good landlords/speculators is by preserving housing like this.

Johnny Northside said...

To Jeff (Hawkman)

That does happen. We operate in a relatively small social circle. For example, the other day you told me about an accelerant being used on the Fjelde house according to what somebody told you. I called up the "somebody" and found out the information was "out in the open," it had been discussed at a public meeting, and the source was OK with the info being promulgated.

When I have time to promulgate it.

(Commenting from Laverne, Oklahoma)

Johnny Northside said...

Brian Finstad has been burning up the email on his new crusade, the Sheltering Arms Orphanage on Emerson Ave. N. Here's a portion of an email he sent recently and cc'd to me...

The photo is not the clearest, but the entire original clapboard exterior and porch columns are not only intact, but in impeccable condition.

After it ceased to be an orphanage in 1910, it was converted into a four plex. The interior is then of the 1910 vintage. While I have not yet seen the
interior, I am told that it has very nice woodwork and features. In fact, the conversion was so well done that we were shocked to find it was not originally designed as a four plex!

Johnny Northside said...

Brian Finstad needs to have his own blog. I'm just saying.

Here's another interesting email excerpt sent around by Brian, in which he talks about how changes in neighborhood demographics caused a lot of historical memory to be lost.
I think there is a lot if "buried" history in NoMi. It is as if...

...the majority of the oral history and
collective knowledge of North Minneapolis disappeared. Or it exists fragmented
with folks who scattered to many different places. It's very significant that Bob Roscoe is interested in this. Bob is not only a former HPC Commissioner
and cofounder of Preserve Minneapolis, but also is a structural engineer and architect who has worked on many notable projects in the city from houses on the Healy Block to the saving of Milwaukee Avenue, to the restoration of the Hinkle Mansion. He is one of the most well known names in preservation in MPLS and well respected too. I already think we have made enough if a splash that
we don't have to worry about it getting dozed quickly.

Just by scratching the surface and finding as much as we have, I don't believe the HPC will sign off
immediately on a wrecking permit without a staff report and formal hearing. That is the first step!

Anonymous said...

Hawkman, why do you say the city owns the property? The city website says the owner is scummy Deutschebank and the taxpayer is Barclay's Bank. Did CPED buy it and the website not get updated yet?

The Hawthorne Hawkman said...

@ anon 4:06 - That's exactly right. The city had an anticipated closing date of Friday, January 15, 2010. I'm assuming that closing went as scheduled, but it's possible it was delayed. Even if it closed on time, the website wouldn't be updated for a while.

We usually see the Hennepin County website as being more up-to-date with ownership information than the city of Minneapolis' site, by the way.

1915bung said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of Historic Preservation Hawkman!

Great work in identifying so much history.

Anonymous said...

Dyna reports:

I was by today and had a looked at the house. The foundation doesn't look bad and the house is pretty well square- I wonder if the city's evaluator looked at the stone walls and automaticly put the cost of a new foundation into the estimate? There's busted windows, but otherwise it's in no where near as bad a shape as most of the buildings the city has torn down. In conclusion, the city needs to get some better repair estimates from contractors before they consider demolishing this historic home.

M. Clinton said...

@ Dyna - I had the same impression. As far as the exterior goes, it is actually in amazingly good shape. Oftentimes with "double decker" porches there are structural issues and some apparent sagging of some sort. In this case, they are amazingly in great shape and if you go stand on the front porch, the concrete base looks almost like new.

Johnny Northside! said...

Sheltering Arms is saved.

For details, see Jeff's blog.

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