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Monday, December 5, 2022

Justus Ramsey Stone House reports raise possibility of demolition

Moe Sharif, a restaurant from St. Paul, described the building as a “storage shed” when he asked the city for a demolition permission this summer. Thought to be the city’s oldest limestone house still surviving in its original position, the historic Justus Ramsey House is everything but in the eyes of historic preservationists.

The odd 1852 building is located on Burger Moe’s patio on West Seventh Street, and since one of its side walls partially collapsed, it has attracted the attention of a large cross-section of the city’s downtown civic leadership, including the mayor’s office.

The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission decided 4-1 on Monday to postpone making a final judgment about Sharif’s application for demolition — as well as public testimony — until Dec. 5. This will give all parties more time to negotiate an agreeable resolution.

After the vote, Elyse Jensen, president of Historic St. Paul, stated, “This is really disappointing.” “This is completely unneeded. We have no business being here. Deconstruction via negligence establishes an extremely risky precedent.

This summer, Sharif presented to the city an engineering assessment from BKBM Engineers that deemed the dilapidated building unsafe for the general public and ready for removal.

The opposite was discovered by a rival report from MacDonald & Mack Architects, which was commissioned by the city’s Department of Planning and Economic Development: two-foot limestone walls that could still be repaired and a house that could be picked up and moved to a different part of the city if necessary.

According to the city-commissioned evaluation, “returning the inside to a suitable finish would not be difficult or expensive due to the simplicity of the design.”

The work necessary to fix the damage is “not exotic,” according to the Justus Ramsey House condition assessment, which was submitted on October 7 by MacDonald & Mack, a Minneapolis-based design firm that specializes in historic preservation. According to the article, limestone can be added to the stone in the debris pile to help with reconstruction.

The investigation also identified proof that chimney brick, sheathing, studs, and roof rafters were removed in a manner other than by natural means and were not discovered among the wreckage. Through his lawyer, Sharif has cited building modifications that most likely took place in the 1940s, some 60 years before he bought the home.

The roof, chimney, and two home walls have sustained the most serious damage. The detected damage “does not accord with normal deteriorating mechanisms,” the city’s study noted.

The study notes that it is uncommon to find holes in a roof if there isn’t evidence of decay in every layer of the assembly nearby. “It is uncommon to discover a chimney in bad condition that is not being utilized to vent hot air and gases… The chimney’s rapid degradation and structural collapse, particularly the missing portion of stone under the roof, must have been brought on by some other circumstance.

According to the city’s assessment, the most of the damage to the Justus Ramsey home looked to have been brought on by neglected upkeep and a lack of structural repair, and the damage to the chimney and north wall was seen months earlier but “no corrective action was done at the time.”

Following the hearing, Sharif issued the following statement: “Moe is really interested in the neighborhood and the history of Saint Paul. He welcomes any discussion about how to best protect the historical significance of the building and its heritage. The necessity for an immediate fix since the building is now unsafe is the other obstacle to be addressed.

The structure was in desperate need of repair, according to a letter from Advanced Masonry Restoration dated Nov. 3, but removal, storage, and reconstruction elsewhere would probably cost in the neighborhood of $132,000. His attorney, Brian Alton, entered the document into the public record.

Vice President of the masonry business Andrew Kromroy stated, “It is our judgment that the existing condition of the structure constitutes a life safety hazard. “The inside of the southwest gable wall has fallen. The northwest wall was demolished at some point in the past, leaving the northwest side of the roofing joists unsupported.

Richard Dana, a former chair of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission and a construction consultant, informed Sharif in a separate letter dated October 31 that the original house was almost three feet wider and had undergone extensive modifications, including the removal of an entire wall and an eave overhang, most likely in the 1940s to make way for construction on a nearby lot.

Over the course of the century, more changes are believed to have been made, such as the insertion of two rectangular windows to the northeast wall. A plywood subfloor revealed evidence of the floor’s complete removal at some stage, most likely to create way for plumbing, and the addition of roof holes without a permission.

Dana wrote, quoting from the MacDonald & Mack report, “I really don’t know how you maintain a building when everything you should do is a code violation caused by actions taken in the past.” He suggested that the building be taken down, moved, and rebuilt at “another site, where the work could be done safely” and thoroughly.

The Justus Ramsey House’s exact location is 252 W. Seventh St., however Semple Excavating entered the wrong address for the “shed” on the demolition permit that was submitted this summer on behalf of property owner Moijtaba Sharifkhani (Eddy Sharif).

According to Crystal King, a representative for St. Paul Planning and Economic Development, Sharif submitted a typical demolition application to the city on June 29 in order to demolish the building, claiming concerns about public safety. The home is protected since it is listed on both the national and state historic registers, but if a structural examination identifies an immediate threat to public safety, the demolition permission procedure can be skipped. After Historic St. Paul and other preservationists submitted an urgent appeal to the state’s Environmental Quality Board for a required environmental study, the building’s demolition was put on hold.

Sharif requested on October 14 that the Heritage Preservation Commission evaluate his demolition proposal.

According to St. Paul Councilmember Rebecca Noecker, “I haven’t talked to the property owner so I’m not exactly sure what the intentions are, but it looks like he doesn’t seem to feel like the existence of that structure is advantageous to his company.” “This is a certified historic structure, so it’s generating a lot of anxiety to think that that may possibly be torn down,” the neighborhood has said to me frequently.

Noecker advised all parties to appeal the HPC’s decision on the Justus Ramsey House to the city council if they disagree with it on December 5.

On September 21, the city formally condemned the building.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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