The Hamline Midway Library and the neighborhood received welcome news in October that will hopefully lead to the building receiving designation on the National Register of Historic Places (NHRP). The Keeper of the National Register agreed with an appeal of the decision by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) not to forward the nomination of the building to the State Review Board in August, a decision based on faulty evidence presented by the City of St. Paul regarding the intentions of its own Historic Preservation Commission (HPC). As a result of the Keeper sustaining the appeal, SHPO has now been directed to present to its State Review Board on Nov. 15 the nomination to the NRHP. If the State Review Board votes to approve the nomination, it will be up to the Keeper to make the final decision whether or not to list the library on the NHRP.
The criteria for the library’s NHRP designation is based on a history of significant educational impact as demonstrated by a two-decade effort of the Hamline-Midway community to establish adequate library services in the neighborhood leading to the building’s construction in 1930. The Hamline Midway Library has deep ties to women’s clubs in the early 20th century expanding their work from social activities to making a lasting impact in the public sector. This demonstration of resolve by the community and local groups to establish a local library branch represents a lasting educational impact that lives on today in the building.
We feel strongly that the nomination to the NHRP, which highlights the unique community activism that led to this beloved community gathering space being built in 1930, is an inspiring testament to the strength of what is possible when we work together to build a cherished place for every one of us to learn, laugh, and nurture one another. And we continue to stand firmly in favor of historic preservation – in support of the city’s comprehensive plan policies on preservation – because it is environmentally friendly, aesthetically powerful, and important to the diverse character of our community.
From the outset of the discussion about the future of the library, leaders in St. Paul had the opportunity to bring people together to develop an outcome favorable to all, either through a thoughtful renovation of the existing building or by moving the library services and repurposing the building. Unfortunately their predetermined outcome neglected robust dialogue and the exploration of alternatives to demolition at every turn. We continue to call on St. Paul Public Library, Mayor Carter, Councilmember Jalali, and the Hamline Midway Coalition to put an end to the proposed demolition of this building, especially if the library receives national historic designation. A demolition is senseless and unnecessary.
Preservation does not preclude us from creating a welcoming 21st century library that serves historically marginalized communities and provides dignified accessibility to people with disabilities, concerns that have rightly been raised by many supporters of a new building. Addressing these concerns in no way requires the destruction of the library, but rather it demands a collective effort to design a more accessible building; improve technology services; implement targeted outreach to people who do not readily use the library; develop programming that meets the needs of neighbors with diverse interests; and most important, to treat every last person in the library with dignity and respect. Community members should never have been presented with a false choice between progress and historic preservation.
Together we can take inspiration from those who dreamed a century ago of a beautiful free library open and accessible to all and then made it a reality. This history – one of generosity, ingenuity, determination, and selflessness – is the basis for the nomination of the library to the NHRP, and this legacy, which resides powerfully within the walls at 1558 Minnehaha Avenue, should remain standing for centuries to come.
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